Outbound Marketing Fail: A Real Life Story

I’m a huge advocate of a marketing philosophy called “inbound marketing.” This term was coined by a company in Cambridge, Mass., called HubSpot. Basically, the idea is to focus on getting your company found by people who are already interested in what you’re offering. In other words, it’s much easier to sell a rhinoplasty, for example, to someone who is already looking to reduce the size of her nose than it is to sell a rhinoplasty to someone who is perfectly happy with her nose.

Inbound marketing includes:

  • Optimizing your website for search engines so people looking for your products and services can find it
  • Writing content that attracts, engages, and converts visitors – this can be done through myriad ways, such as blogging, tweeting, interacting with a Facebook audience, providing free/useful content on your site
  • Nurturing leads every step of the way
  • Nurturing current customers and helping them to spread your message

Outbound marketing, such as unsolicited emails, direct mailers, radio spots, TV commercials, etc., casts a wide net that may or may not include people who are interested in your services. You end up spending more money, yet you usually end up with fewer conversions.

Okay…lesson over.

Here’s a real-life example that just happened to me. Tell me what’s wrong with this approach:

  • I received an email with a subject line: newsletter
  • The body said, “Do you have a newsletter?” and came complete with a signature. The guy’s signature included a title (account executive) but the company name could only be gleaned from the guy’s email address.
  • I responded (a bit skeptically, I’ll admit, since I have a newsletter sign-up on each page of my website and a clear “newsletter archive” in the navigation). I said that I did indeed have a monthly newsletter and I provided a link to the sign-up and my archive.
  • The guy responded right away with this:

I would like to introduce myself, my name is Sam (last name redacted) at <company name redacted> leading providers in email newsletter management solutions.

Several clients in your industry use our service. The reason I contacted your organization is because we provide a solution to help you better manage and broadcast your email campaigns (e-newsletters).

I would like to show all possibilities that our program can give you. Would you be available for a short conversation this week? That won’t take much time but will give you fresh ideas and show other opportunities.

Ugh. (Yes, that was my reaction, although I spouted it in a more earthy term.) I decided to respond, only because I was curious how far Sam would take me on this fishing expedition. Here was my response:

Thanks, but I’m really happy with my current vendor.

Never heard back. Sam didn’t engage me further (which, in this scenario, was a smart move). But what a waste of time–on his part and mine.

I realize the email software industry is crowded. But this isn’t the way to stand out. What should Sam be doing? Here are three ideas off the top of my head (and this goes without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: as an email software vendor, Sam shouldn’t violate the #1 rule in email marketing by sending an unsolicited email. Duh!)

  1. Have his current customer base – his current tribe, as Saint Godin would say – refer him potential clients. Start a referral program or simply call up a very happy customer and ask the customer to introduce Sam to a few of his colleagues (there are ways to get more creative with this…again, I’m just thinking off the top of my head).
  2. Optimize the website for people who are actually looking for email software. They’re out there–including people who are looking for the first time and people looking to make a switch. Provide engaging content and figure out how you’re going to persuade me to use your software rather than some other software (yes, this might require you to take a step or two back and conduct some marketing and messaging research).
  3. Hold webinars on the product’s capabilities and on email marketing in general (it shouldn’t all be self promotional, but rather it should share tips, best practices, etc) – a great way to introduce people to your platform is by holding free webinars…people who sign up might be looking for the first time or they’re looking to make an immediate switch or they’re shopping around – all of these are good things and people you can continue to nurture and market to because they’ve shown an interest in what you have to offer.

I was going to “out” the company and website but have decided not to. (Trust me when I say that the website isn’t optimized.)