Inbound Marketing: A Square Peg in a Round Hole?

square-peg-round-hole-21Two weeks ago, I wrote Just Say NO to Marketing Advice. Inbound marketing is a great example of popular marketing advice and it may makes sense for most marketers. But it doesn’t make sense for all.

Most B2B marketers are not providing pure commodity products, even in commodity markets. Every company is looking to differentiate by meeting specific business needs. But as this story illustrates, that doesn’t mean inbound marketing or other modern marketing tactics are always good advice.

I sat next to a gentleman on a flight who sells a commodity manufactured product to trucking companies. He sells the exact same product as his competitors, made in the same factories to the same specifications. He sells to knowledgable buyers that know he is selling the exact same product.

He charges more and consistently wins repeat business because he creates unique offerings around his (commodity) product that increase the value of purchasing through his company.

This company’s marketing consists of a catalog. Period. The sales team calls on every mid-sized and large customer and meet with most in person regularly. They are not a large company compared to “Enterprise” B2B marketers, but they are not a small company either. They have successfully differentiated with additional services and logistics, and they have become one of the leading businesses in their category.

Here are three reasons this company should simply say no to today’s inbound marketing advice.

  • Inbound marketing assumes that people are looking for something, being found is a desired outcome of that search. But what if they are not searching?
  • Inbound marketing assumes building a database or becoming an information or educational resource fits with the company’s overall strategy. But what if your focus is providing excellent service and going above and beyond to support your customer’s business?
  • Inbound marketing assumes you need a way to reach your audience. But what if you are already reaching them?

At the core of this is the assumptions that underlie all marketing advice, assumptions about the situation of a company and their strategy, and these assumptions are often not right for an individual business. This is why every company needs to own their own strategy.

Do I see a time in the future when this company may need to revise their approach? Sure, but given their market share in a commodity market, there are many other marketing changes they will hopefully make before embracing inbound marketing.

Your Turn

Do you have other examples of companies that the currently in vogue marketing advice simply does not apply to? If so, please share your example in the comments below, or with me on Twitter (@wittlake) or Google+ (+Eric Wittlake).

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  • Pingback: Inbound Marketing in B2B: Does it Always Fit? — B2B Digital Marketing | Social Media Sociables |

  • Great post Eric. I have many years of direct sales in the B2B space. The leads we often got from marketing via inbound were weak at best. Unless you sell something that everyone uses like a copy machine, a good sales team can identify all the targets in their market and succeed much faster with bigger pay off knocking on doors and building relationships.

    • Howie, thanks for the comment and for adding your sales experience to the discussion!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for displaying that you don’t understand demand generation and why people buy. It will save me time in future.

    But before you go public in future to display your lack of knowledge, I suggest asking these questions in private may be more profitable.

  • I liked your post, Eric.  I would only suggest that you include an example of a company (could be hypothetical, or course) where inbound marketing would make sense.  I completely agree that inbound marketing is *not* a one-size-fits-all solution for B2B, but it shouldn’t be written off completely.  Just like any marketing solution, there is always the possibility that at least one component (such as certain CTAs on their website) might end up being invaluable to a company.

    Any lead can be a potential client…just my 2 cents.