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Push versus pull marketing: in B2B, you need both

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing.  “Outbound is bad,” she said.  What?  Well, I guess her feeling is understandable.  Inbound marketing is all the rage today.  Hubspot promotes it.  Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it.  With the new popularity of pull marketing, B2B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be.  How wrong they are.  And here’s why.

Simply put, B2B marketers need a mix of push and pull.  Limiting your strategy to pull alone will reduce your market, and limit your ability to identify all the prospective buyers who might need your solution to their problems.

In B2B, pull marketing generally means making yourself visible, or being helpful, and hoping that people will get the idea that they should visit your website or otherwise reach out to find out more about you and your offerings.  The theory is a good one.  And it works great for luring prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, especially when they have already identified a need and are researching potential solutions.  Bingo, with pull marketing tactics like providing educational content, you have a good chance of snagging a fairly qualified prospect.

Push Pull Marketing
Photo credit: Aimar (Nidde)

Typical pull tactics in B2B include:

  • Developing informative, non-salesy content, to educate all comers on how to solve their problems, and what a great partner you can be in helping them.  This can be in the form of blogging, downloadable white papers, videos, infographics, and others.
  • SEO and SEM, which will pull them to your site and your content when prospects are looking for particular information.
  • PR, or media relations, to persuade others to write interesting and favorable things about your products, or highlight your expertise and experience.
  • Social media, for distributing your content to followers, and inviting them to share it with their networks.
  • Speaking engagements, whether online or in person, where your expertise is on vivid display.

But what about prospects who don’t even know they have a problem?  Or who haven’t defined the problem yet, not to mention considered a solution?  Or maybe you have a solution that is so new, prospects don’t even know how to research it.   To get all the business you deserve, this is where push marketing is essential.

In B2B, push marketing includes all the outbound messaging that have proven themselves for decades, most notably:

  • Direct mail, including dimensional mail.  Keep in mind that the list business in the U.S. is so mature, and so sophisticated, you can find just about every prospect using mailing lists, no matter how narrowly you may target.
  • Telephone calls, using the same lists, when the list owner gives you permission to call.
  • Advertising, online and offline, with a strong call to action to generate a response.
  • Event marketing, such as trade shows and conferences, where you can not only kick off relationships with new prospects, you can also convey your expertise through speaking engagements.

Sure, these methods may be intrusive—and unfashionable.  But this is what we marketers do.  To fulfill our mission of market coverage, scalable lead generation, and profitable sales growth, the modern B2B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this?  You can comment below, or you can take issue with me in person.

With Biznology collaborator Mike Moran, we have a unique offering for companies with on-site training called JumpStart Workshops; one is specifically designed to improve your B2B Digital Marketing at your company.

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Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective. She consults on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAge,, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at

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  1. Avatar Tom Judge

    Ruth, Thank you for being spot on and truthful to b2b marketers. Yes, the trend of hyping inbound only is only a trend until someone does the math. As a lead management services firm we see the inbound response flow, or lack there of, and find that the balanced approach of inbound/outbound is more successful for hitting sales numbers.

  2. Avatar Bart Lambrecht

    Good post.
    It’s not about a choice between push or pull. The choice we have to make is the choice between the best of both worlds.
    Ps: Push is a good term but I personaly prefer : interruption marketing for push marketing

  3. Avatar Ms.Brandy.X

    Thanks, Ruth, for a very informative, yet easy-to-digest article detailing push and pull marketing. Your insight has been very helpful in assisting me in my final BBA assignment. Would you mind granting me permission to reference you and your article?


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