Market like it’s…1999? What Era is your B2B Marketing Living In

October 10, 2019 | Kirsten Lyons

B2B marketing has evolved significantly since the first spam message and banner ad were used in 1994. 

First banner ad drove users to

Marketers have the vast expansion and adoption of the internet to thank for substantial changes to B2B marketing over the past several decades. Tactics that were the gold standard several years ago now seem outdated thanks to rapid shifts in technology and changes to B2B buying behavior. 

Over the past several decades marketers have had to employ varied tactics to meet the needs of increasingly tech savvy buyers. Eras of outbound marketing, inbound marketing, and content marketing paved the way for the tactics top marketers are using to connect with today’s buyers. 

Find out what era of B2B marketing your tactics fit into below (and how to update your game if you’re behind).

Outbound Marketing

In an outbound marketing model, marketers use a “push” strategy to deliver their message to as many prospects as possible, catching their attention with product features, flashy ad campaigns, or promotions.

Outbound classics:

  • Cold calling
  • Direct mail
  • Trade shows
  • Email marketing

This met expectations of B2B buyers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, who were used to direct brand communication and guidance from sales reps. However, today’s buyers prefer to do independent research, and find hard sell outbound tactics offputting.

Modernize your outbound tactics: Because outbound marketing tactics treat all prospects the same, they teach your buyers to ignore marketing outreach. Engage overwhelmed buyers with personalized outreach and campaigns that speak to their needs. 

Hint: Start your personalization efforts by building buyer personas. This exercise will help you create content and campaigns to address diverse pain points your buyers experience.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing evolved as a marketing methodology alongside the explosion of user-generated content in the early aughts. Inbound marketers work to attract a qualified audience, rather than pushing a solution. Instead, they engaged prospects on the channels where they were already looking for information.

Inbound classics:

  • Social media marketing
  • SEO
  • Email nurture campaigns

While inbound marketing tactics play an important role in a modern marketing effort, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. Inbound marketing often fails to assign different value to channels that indicate different levels of engagement and buying intent, treating all conversions the same regardless of the source. 

Modernize your inbound approach: Instead of treating all conversions equally and handing them off to sales, marketers can make their inbound tactics more effective by prioritizing leads based on buying intent. 

Hint: Recognize the difference in buying intent in a lead that converted on a paid channel vs. and organic one. Then treat your leads accordingly, designing appropriate nurture campaigns built to highlight buying intent

Content Marketing

Increases in the availability of content and decreases in the B2B buyers’ trust in sales led to a buying environment where marketers were fighting an uphill battle to get in the door with their prospects. This dynamic gave rise to the widespread adoption of content marketing.

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable and relevant content to attract and convert a clearly defined audience.

Content marketing classics:

  • Blogs
  • Ebooks
  • Email (newsletters, nurture campaigns)
  • Infographics

Content marketing tactics are still useful in engaging today’s buyers. However, the overall approach treats engagement with content like buying intent, when it really only indicates that a prospect is interested in your content.

Modernize your content marketing tactics: Relevant and valuable content still plays an important role in building the case for your solution over time. But instead of sending every lead who downloads an ebook to sales, use your content to prove value to prospects within a nurture process.

Hint: Focus on using your content and campaigns to learn more about your prospects and engage them. Start with these 3 content hacks to move prospects down the funnel effectively.


Prospect-centric marketing

Today’s buyers demand a new approach to marketing. B2B marketers are tasked with connecting with a generation of buyers who avoid salespeople, and conduct more independent research on nonlinear buying journeys. 

Behaviors that used to be indicators of sales readiness, like downloading a gated whitepaper, no longer reliably signal buying intent. Whereas in the past, a salesperson may have worked to uncover buying intent and qualify leads on a discovery call, buyers now engage sales much later in their decision-making process.

This means that marketers need to gather this qualifying information in their content and campaigns through prospect-centric marketing.

Prospect-centric marketing tactics:

Getting started with prospect-centric marketing: Prospect-centric marketing is all about learning about your prospects to effectively qualify leads. Think about opportunities to uncover qualifying information on your prospects to see if they would be a good fit for your company. 

Hint: Start by getting on the same page as your sales team about what makes a great lead for your business. Then you can design opportunities to gather that information from prospects in the marketing activities that already work as conversion points in your marketing, like webinars and gated content. 

Final Thoughts:

Marketers have adapted to substantial changes in B2B buying behavior over the past several decades. However, by employing prospect-centric marketers can effectively engage today’s buyers and qualify leads effectively to drive revenue. 

Learn more about how to employ prospect-centric tactics in your marketing in our guide.

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