In the past decade or so, the success of inbound marketing has come largely at the expense of traditional outbound tactics.
Inbound marketing has long been recognized for its effectiveness in building brand awareness and generating traffic, leads, and conversions. But there’s been a lot of talk in the marketing community lately about how inbound isn’t quite as effective as it used to be.
Some of the biggest sources of inbound, organic traffic—search engines and social media sites—are sending less referral traffic to websites than ever before. Community content promotion isn’t generating as many referrals as it used to.
Even HubSpot—whose founders coined the term “inbound marketing”—recently changed its stance on ads, writing: “If you’re not using ads in your marketing mix today, you’re likely not doing everything you can to provide customers with helpful, relevant content at every stage of the buyer’s journey.”
So If you struggled last year to hit your marketing goals using inbound-only tactics, this year may be the perfect time to incorporate some outbound marketing into your overall strategy.
Outbound marketing is any kind of marketing where a company makes the initial first contact with its audience and potential customers. Examples of outbound marketing activities include TV ads, radio ads, trade shows, print media, cold calling, cold emails, and so on.
What is the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is the direct opposite of outbound marketing. In inbound marketing, the customer reaches out to your brand when they want and when they need you. Inbound marketing examples include SEO, content marketing, email marketing, and similar.
This form of marketing is less invasive and the messaging is positioned in such a way that it caters to the customers’ pain points. As such, customers are more likely to be receptive to your product or service because they actually need them.
Over the years, outbound marketing tactics have received a lot of negative criticism. However, these marketing techniques have drastically evolved and changed over time. Today, the best way to approach outbound marketing techniques is through the lens of inbound marketing tactics. For example, by combining the two approaches, you can come up with better and more personalized email campaigns, remarketing and retargeting campaigns, paid search campaigns, and much more.
The 4 Most Effective Outbound Marketing Tactics in 2021
So, which outbound marketing tactics are worth considering/adopting this year, and which aren’t worth your time and money? According to the results of our latest survey, cold emailing should be at the top of your list of outbound tactics to consider:
When asked to choose the outbound marketing tactic that they believed was the most effective going into 2021, our respondents selected cold emails, cold calling, direct mail, and search ads as their top picks.
Press releases, TV and radio ads, and print ads—on the other hand—didn’t receive a single vote between them. Not surprisingly, then, they earned lots of votes when we asked respondents which outbound tactics they thought would be least effective in 2021:
We also asked our respondents to describe how they use these tactics in their overall marketing strategies. The result: tons of actionable advice for 4 the most effective outbound techniques that you can use to start incorporating outbound into your marketing strategy this year.
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How to Succeed with Cold Outreach: Cold Calls and Emails
“At the beginning of every year we get a fresh batch of ‘Is cold calling/emailing dead?’ articles,” says demandDrive’s AJ Alonzo, “but the truth is cold calls and emails are still very much alive.”
“The thing with cold outreach,” Alonzo says, “is you have to make it fun. Now, more than ever, sales is a human-to-human connection. Cold marketing techniques work when you treat a prospect like a human rather than another name on your list.”
So what are some outbound calling best practices? how do you make cold outreach more personal and fun? Our respondents offer these tips.
1. Do Your Research Before Reaching Out
Alonzo argues that “The trick to succeeding with cold outreach is that it can’t be truly cold. All of our ‘cold’ outreach still has an element of research behind it. We know these companies could benefit from our service. We know the prospect is the right person to speak with. We aren’t blindly reaching out; there’s a science behind it.”
Futurety’s Andrew Hulse agrees: “Cold calling is not dead. Cold calling off of a random list with no prior research is dead. I do not make 100s of calls each day. I make 10-12 warm, researched calls each day and have been experiencing upwards of 40% conversion rates for discovery meetings.”
Our respondents shared several outbound calling best practices and unique ways to go about doing the research required to make cold outreach a little warmer.
Text Request’s Kenneth Burke recommends looking for companies that are similar to your existing customers: “We take an industry we’re already working with. Then we look for more companies in that industry in a given town. We go to their websites, grab their contact info, and send them an email.”
As far as what visitor identification software to use, Resolute Technology Solutions’ Colton De Vos recommends Leadfeeder: “It uses Google Analytics web data to give you a view into which companies are visiting your website. These visitors or prospects are already warm leads because they’ve been to your website and are already aware of you.”
De Vos continues: “If you can find contact information, you can follow up with these companies with a cool call instead of a cold call. If they found you by searching online for a particular service you offer, you also have a point of reference to start the call from—rather than going in blind.”
Nettly’s Thorstein Nordby agrees and offers a few more outbound marketing tools to consider: “The way we do it is by using solutions like Albacross, Leadfeeder, or HubSpot Prospects. That gives us a daily list of companies that have indicated some interest in what we do, and we follow up quickly with those companies.”
2. Personalize Your Outreach
Many of our respondents also asserted that the key to successful cold outreach is taking the time to personalize the message.
According to LeadFuze’s Justin McGill: “You just can’t do everything completely automated. You need to spend the time to personalize your outreach.”
Gigworker’s Syed Irfan Ajmal agrees, explaining how his team has had success earning backlinks and, as a result, boosting revenue with cold email outreach:
“While it is cold email outreach, it is by no means mass emailing. Instead, we make sure that we focus on quality (i.e. customized and personalized email) rather than sending the same template to ten times more sites. For a previous campaign, we were able to get monthly revenue from $160K to $200K by doing exactly that.”
There are several ways to make your cold call and emails more personalized.
Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray argues that personalization must be more than just using the prospect’s name: “Don’t just say ‘Hi [First Name].’ This isn’t personalized enough. You should say something like ‘Hi [First Name], I saw that you’re the [Job Role] at [Company Name]. You probably often bump into [Problem]. We have the solution.’”
McGill recommends “finding someone your contact works with and including that person’s name in the email. This shows you’ve done some level of research. We’ve seen response rates increase by nearly three times compared to emails without this.”
Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin suggests simply introducing yourself. “Once we find a promising new client or networking partner, the natural next step is to introduce ourselves. It’s not a sales pitch, just a friendly invitation to open a dialogue. It gives us a chance to show someone who we are and what sets us apart from the rest in our field.”
And Accelity Marketing’s Cass Polzin argues that cold calling is always more personal than cold emailing: “With cold calling, prospects have a better opportunity to get to know you. They can hear your voice, your tone, and get a better sense of your personality. With that, you’re able to generate a higher level of trust from your prospects.”
Polzin continues: “We also get a lot more information out of prospects when calling. It’s easier for them to ignore an email, but on the phone, they’re more likely to commit to another conversation at a later date. All in all, most deals aren’t closed via email or direct message; they’re closed person-to-person.”
In our digital world, direct mail marketing may feel outdated, but many of our respondents replied that direct mail marketing is still a great way to generate leads.
So what are some of the direct mail tactics marketers can employ today?
ClearPivot’s Chris Strom offers this advice: “You really only need automated follow-up if you have an extremely large pipeline. Sales trainer Rick Roberge uses the following rule-of-thumb: if you have fewer than 100 leads per month, follow up with them manually via direct mail or phone call.”
HFB Advertising’s Harris Brown recommends postcard marketing: “The mailer goes out directly to our exclusive target audience list. We send out around 1,000 postcards a month, and we typically get back anywhere from 10-25 responses.”
Direct mail also works well if your business—or a client’s business—isn’t 100% online.
LyntonWeb’s Roman Kniahynyckyj describes how this works for one of his agency’s clients: “Part of Squadron.com’s revenue is still driven by catalog sales. We built a pop-up for them that asked visitors to sign up for a newsletter, and it gave them an additional option to sign up to receive the Squadron catalog in the mail.”
“With this campaign,” Kniahynyckyj continues, “we generated over 2,600 new catalog subscribers who will receive the Squadron catalog four times a year.”
Combining Digital and Direct Mail Marketing
If you’re considering adopting direct mail marketing this year, Denamico’s Emily Hulstein offers a solution for integrating your digital and analog marketing efforts:
“We’ve built post mail marketing into our inbound marketing campaigns by integrating a modernized post mail platform with HubSpot. Using a webhook, we are able to trigger post mail sends when a prospect visits specific pages on a site, downloads a specific content offer, or digitally engages with a company in a specific way that we’ve identified we want to follow up on.”
Hulstein continues: “We’ve also used it as a way to start conversations with companies when going after a new niche. In these instances, we upload a list of ideal-fit customers to the mailer platform and trigger a send on that static list. The mailer we send has a URL for a custom landing page with a content offer that we’ve tested and know is valuable to that persona.”
Then, she says, “We use a gated download of the offer to capture a lead’s email address, and it also enrolls them in a workflow that allows us to nurture these leads through a combination of email, post mail, and potentially calls, depending on their level of engagement on other channels.”
According to Hulstein, this combination of digital and analog marketing is very effective: “We’ve seen engagement rates on post mail marketing ranging from 5-15%, compared to .5%+ on email.”
Additionally, she says, “It provides us a less saturated channel to connect with buyers in a way that grabs their attention, and it allows us to showcase how we could help them pair their digital and non-digital marketing channels to connect with buyers and grow their businesses.”
How to Succeed with Search and Social Media Ads
Content marketing, SEO, and social media marketing are great inbound tactics for long-term traffic growth. However, they’re not always as effective for short-term traffic growth, particularly if your site/company is relatively new with minimal inbound links and few social followers.
Search and social media ads can be an effective way to drive traffic to your site while you wait for your content marketing and SEO efforts to pay off, and according to Referral Rock’s Jay Kang, these inbound and outbound tactics can be complementary:
“We mostly focus on SEO and creating new content based on keywords we are trying to rank for. Once we publish an article Google indexes it, we go through Google Search Console to identify keywords the article isn’t ranking well for.”
Then, Kang says, “We use some of those keywords (ranking positions 10-30) to create titles for both search ads and social media ads. This helps with ranking for the keywords as well as targeting user intent.”
For social media marketing, Design Extensions’ Casey Bowden agrees that boosting posts with ads is key: “With so much competition for consumer attention, boosting is almost essential. We try to post at least once a day, and spending a few dollars to boost posts helps us reach more customers.”
But does combining inbound and outbound methods in this way actually work? According to AmpMyContent’s Daniel Daines-Hutt, it’s highly effective: “We blend paid promotion with our content, which lets us write less often but still get in front of new readers. We run paid traffic to a cold audience, directing them to our blog content, and get a $22:1 ROI promoting these posts.”
And while ads can help boost your reach and revenue in the short-term, they can also be costly. In good news, our respondents provided lots of tips for keeping advertising costs low.
How to Minimize the Cost of Search and Social Ads
To take advantage of search and social ads without blowing your budget, consider these tips.
For search ads, Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi offers this advice: “A trick to making the most out of your budget and gaining quality leads is using a phrase match bidding type instead of an exact or broad match. Using this kind of bidding type allows you to hone in on your intended audience more than a broad match, but isn’t as limiting as an exact phrase match would be.”
Smallpdf’s Hung Nguyen agrees and offers this tip for reducing costs: “Target the most engaged group of users through close examination of your current user base. On Facebook, you can go to Insights > People > People Engaged to check for the location and language of those who are most responsive to your content.”
“Furthermore,” Nguyen says, “try not to overlap the audiences you’re targeting to ensure that you don’t show the same ads to multiple users. This point is even more crucial if you are paying by impressions and not clicks.”
How to Succeed with Trade Shows, Conferences, and Networking
“Going to conferences is a great way to build brand awareness and get face time with potential clients,” says Daniel Lynch of Empathy First Media.
Spitfire Inbound’s Darren Leishman agrees: “Trade shows and events still deliver great leads, especially when combined with inbound methods. We use events to attract new, interested customers and engage with prospects on a one-to-one basis.”
But according to Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls, the advantages of connecting with others doesn’t have to be limited to conferences and trade shows:
“Most of my business comes from networking. My rule is that you should network in person during the business day and do it online after hours. People do business with people they know, like, and trust, so you have to get out there to build your reputation online and off.”
She continues: “Prospective customers can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime, so you should always be on your best behavior and make a great lasting impression. I join groups, get involved in the planning and organizing of events, sponsor events, and bring clients and prospects to events as an effective networking strategy.”
Of course, attending conferences isn’t your only option. You can also host your own conference.
Weidert Group’s Kelly Wilhelme explains: “We host an annual event, Experience Inbound, and make sure to incorporate it into all aspects of our inbound marketing program, such as developing email campaigns both pre-and post-event and promoting the event on social media.”
Wilhelme continues: “We also incorporate related editorial into our blogs—things like speaker interviews, session takeaways, and best practices shared at the event—and we get backlinks by posting guest blogs on third-party sites that relate to the event.”
The Most Effective Outbound Tactic for 2021
When asked to list which outbound marketing tactic is most effective going into 2021, CIENCE’s Eric Quanstrom replied, “Just one?”
He continues: “We are an outbound agency and see success with a wide variety of tactics across four main channels: phone, email, web, and social. If I were to recommend one method, it is combining all of the above channels into your outbound cadences. We typically see multi-channel outbound campaigns outperform mono-channel campaigns by 2:1 (or greater).”
Maybe you’re not yet up for taking Quanstrom’s advice and adding multiple outbound tactics to your marketing strategy this year. But if you struggled to hit your goals with inbound-only tactics last year, adopting one of these suggested techniques could help you move the needle in 2021.
About the author
Jessica Greene writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.
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