Inbound is typically perceived as the marketing superhero; outbound marketing as the pantomime villain, as the following observation suggests:
“Inbound marketing gives your prospects information when it suits them. Outbound marketing gives your prospects information when it suits you.”
Both have a place in the MSP’s marketing tool-kit, but MSPs are relying increasingly on inbound marketing techniques to grow their business. We look at why inbound makes sense.
But first, what are the pros and cons of each?
Outbound marketing (also referred to as ‘push marketing’ and ‘interruptive marketing’) typically uses the following techniques to reach out to the audience:
- Cold calling/telemarketing (probably topping the list in terms of unsolicited interruptions)
- Advertising (including online pop-up ads and auto-run videos)
- Unsolicited email/mail campaigns
An excessive and intrusive use of these techniques has helped to generate the bad press for outbound marketing, but it should still have a place in your marketing strategy, with the following provisos.
To execute it effectively, you need to invest in:
- Building up an organic prospect database for outbound campaigns. This effectively means applying your ‘buyer personas’ to a list of contacts so you can tailor messages and focus on those most likely to buy your managed services.
- Carefully crafting messages on ‘hot button’ issues that demonstrate your expertise and value.
It’s worth focussing on email as your outbound technique: emails are less intrusive, plus they can be created and sent quickly to react to specific opportunities. Also, email platforms provide valuable metrics (open and click-through rates, the most receptive addressees and so on), which will help you to shape future campaigns.
(For more details on email marketing, see ‘Is email delivering for your MSP business’)
The thing to bear in mind is that outbound marketing is a numbers game: send enough mails, make sufficient cold-calls and you’re bound to find a prospect. For most resource-strapped MSPs, however, this can be an expensive and time-consuming way of generating leads. And it gives you one shot; you’re not building up an ongoing relationship.
Plus, outbound is becoming more difficult to execute effectively: just think of the spam filters, call-blocking and ad blockers designed to thwart your beautifully crafted communications.
As a result, outbound marketing can be a more expensive way of generating leads and growing your business.
Enabled by the expanding use of the web and social media for B2B purposes, inbound marketing helps prospective customers to identify potential MSP partners through the distribution of targeted content. And they can do this at a time that suits them – and usually when they have a specific need.
But that doesn’t mean you just sit back and wait for potential customers to find you.
Inbound marketing relies on your having a content programme that engages prospective buyers at all stages in the buying process; a programme that positions you as a trusted IT adviser – and your MSP business as the solution to their problems.
At the heart of this, and because most B2B buyers begin the process with a web search, is your website. Optimised, easy to navigate and informative, your website should focus on prospects’ pain-points – and further down the line, how your services can resolve these.
The website should include:
- Proof statements of how you have helped similar companies (case studies, videos and testimonials)
- Evidence of your technology expertise and knowledge of the sector/location in which your prospects are operating (white papers, eBooks..)
- Clear calls to action (CTAs) (download a white paper, attend an event, take up a free trial, contact a salesperson…)
Publishing regular blogs that address issues of topical concern will help to position you as a thought-leader among those seeking related information – and will also help to move you up the search results by ensuring a regular supply of fresh content to be picked up by search-engine algorithms.
MSPs are also using social media to increase engagement with prospects and customers and to point to new website content.
The ‘persona’ is pivotal
The term ‘buying persona’ crops up frequently in inbound marketing; but to be honest, the persona should be at the core of all of your marketing strategies. If you haven’t identified exactly who is likely to buy your IT services (by, for example, what size of company, job role, seniority, vertical market, country) it is much more difficult to engage with them, tailor content to suit their needs and guide them towards your MSP business as the solution.
Why is inbound increasingly popular with MSPs?
- It levels the playing field in terms of the marketing spend/resources needed for execution as it is largely online.
- It can be finely targeted to reach those prospects who best fit the buyer profile (persona).
- For this reason, you are likely to get a higher ROI from your inbound efforts.
- You don’t just have one shot at engagement as with outbound. Inbound could be the beginning of a beautiful ongoing relationship – with prospects initially and later customers. When they respond to an inbound campaign, prospective buyers are making a conscious decision to engage with you. They are usually willing to leave contact details to access gated content or to receive subsequent communications from you.
- This ongoing communications channel can deliver better-qualified sales leads.
- Inbound marketing gives prospects the chance to discover you in the earliest stages of information gathering – before they show up on your sales radar.
- Inbound marketing gives prospects access to online reviews, social media recommendations and comments on blogs. They trust this to provide a ‘warts and all’ picture of your MSP business since you don’t control all the information.
- It is more flexible, giving the opportunity to tailor content to match different levels of interest depending on the stage reached in the buying process.
- It delivers measurable results: tools are available to track how your prospects find you, what content interests them, what CTAs are being taken up and much more.
Out with outbound, in with inbound then?
No need to be quite so drastic.
Outbound marketing is not all bad. It is just not always executed as well as it could be: buying lists rather than building an organic prospect database; using scattergun mailings/emails; indiscriminate cold-calling are just a few of the reasons it has failed to deliver.
There are times, however, when the ‘pull’ of inbound needs to be tipped over into action, and the direct engagement offered by outbound marketing can help to achieve this.
So, there is room in your marketing strategy for both inbound and outbound techniques – but for all the reasons outlined above MSPs are increasingly focussing their resources on inbound marketing.
To find out how you can free up more time for marketing strategies by partnering for NOC and Service Desk, contact us