September 2016 saw the release of two research reports that caught my eye – the ‘State of Inbound Report’ by HubSpot and ‘Digital First?’ by ITSMA. They’re the latest in a host of studies published by marketing technology providers and professional bodies that are characterized by bold yet spurious claims. At worst, they’re inaccurate. At best, I think they pose a threat to the positive direction much B2B marketing is heading in. I thought it was worth picking on these two to show you what I mean. Let’s take this HubSpot stat as an example:
"59% of marketing and salespeople say their highest-quality sales leads come from inbound sources."
‘Inbound sources’ – what are those? I’m guessing it harks back to that old HubSpot mantra: that ‘outbound’ is a byword for out-of-date marketing. For cheesy airport adverts and cold calls. Inbound marketing is everything that’s good about modern marketing. Outbound is everything that’s bad about old marketing. Inbound is Justin Bieber. Outbound is Cliff Richard. Inbound. Outbound. Shake-it-all-about-bound. Some of the survey questions seem to assume this false dichotomy (inbounds vs. outbound) actually exists – they ask what the most ‘overrated’ marketing tactics are, without clarifying the objectives of those tactics, why they’re being used, and to whom. Cue a quote from our Chief Digital Officer, David van Schaick, who I asked for an opinion on this blog:
"They (HubSpot) have a tendency to ascribe to tactical approaches some universal properties which aren’t really valid (i.e. inbound is more effective than outbound; social selling is better than events). Context is important and strategy should drive appropriate tactics for that context."
I’m going to take this HubSpot claim to its conclusion. If tactic and channel selection is the main influence over success in B2B marketing (which is a fair inference from their studies), is the modern B2B marketer just a tactician and nothing more? I’m hoping you’ll agree the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This is my next favorite stat (courtesy of ITSMA):
"Digitally-savvy B2B buyers make 49% of buying decisions offline, and 51% online."
Do you make decisions online or offline? Decisions are made over time and with careful consideration. In B2B, they’re most often made by a group of decision-makers, which makes it even harder to assess whether the decision’s offline or online. And don’t get me started on the phrase ‘digitally-savvy’. But overall, ITSMA does a better job of its report. And that’s where I want the conversation to go. It at least looks at the balance of online and offline and makes a completely outrageous conclusion: people actually still do things offline, so B2B brands need to have an offline presence. Shocking, I know. In fact, ITSMA went and found out the most common information sources for buyers at the beginning of the buying process. They realized the most important channels were almost all offline and people-based. Yet despite that, 82% of marketers expect online marketing spend to increase in FY16. And this is my point about the challenge for B2B marketers inherent in these reports. My worry is this: is that future spending based on sound marketing strategies, or is it a response to the drive towards tactics and channels promoted by providers like HubSpot? Do people really know what they’re buying? If there’s one thing I think we need to start stressing, it’s the importance of marketing strategy to inform spend. And a genuine understanding of how strategy differs from tactics. For further reading, have a look at David van Schaick’s blog about the role of customer experience in B2B marketing
and how that could be a really positive bandwagon to jump on instead.