One interesting thing about marketing is its capacity for wide pendulum swings.

Sometimes, it’s the right-brain creatives, those who help us re-imagine the world, who hold the power. Other times, it’s the left-brain analytical types, those who claim they can measure everything they do, who rule the roost. In years past, there was a lot of interest in outbound marketing as companies exploited the possibilities of everything from outbound calling to direct mail to email. Now, there’s a growing fascination with inbound marketing, which harnesses the possibilities of search engines, social networks and compelling content.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the hype of the moment and end up fanatically applying marketing theories to your business that aren’t all that appropriate.

I think that’s particularly true right now. If you’ve tuned into all the marketing forums and Twitter-Talk, you might get the impression that buyers simply aren’t that into you. They want to do things at their own pace. Make their own choices and decisions. They don’t want to be bothered or interrupted. They can make up their own minds, thank you. And when they do, they will call you…maybe.

That’s why there’s so much attention being focused on inbound marketing. The theory is that you can win in the marketplace by creating truly rich and compelling content that draws prospects into your sphere of influence and opportunity.  If your content is good enough, you won’t need to do much selling or educating at all. They will have educated themselves. After all, they’re smart. They can think for themselves. They can make their own decisions. They can take you or leave you. Got it?

Let me offer another point of view. I think it matters — a lot — what the buyer is buying. I think it matters — even more — how much is at stake and how much the average deal size is.

If the buyer is buying an iPod or even an iPhone, well then, the inbound theory is perfectly valid. Not much is really at stake. On a continuum of decision complexity, we are closer to the point of impulse buy than we are with, say, a home purchase, which tends to be (though not always, alas) a deeply and carefully considered decision.

Well, I would argue that B2B decisions probably start getting much more difficult when they rise to, say, $10,000 or so. It’s at that point (or some point that probably varies by context or industry) that buyers expect reliable and trustworthy guidance. Indeed, they probably expect to be pursued as opposed to being the pursuer.

At some point, the decision becomes so difficult and the stakes so high that the buyer is likely to be most impressed by and drawn to trusted authorities who can guide them through the decision and change process.

Smart suppliers or service providers, in these instances, are going to realize that the array of prospective buyers is not infinite. They can define and engage their target markets with targeted thought leadership, relevant value propositions and personalized “provocations” (as Geoffrey Moore puts it). I’m not simply buying ad words, posting on Twitter and waiting for them to come to me. Assuming the potential is big enough to justify my efforts, I’m actively reaching out to them. There’s still lots of money, as I see it, in intelligent outbound marketing. But it has to be intelligent.

None of this is to dismiss the mighty power of inbound. Even when I reach out to my targeted prospects and engage them with provocative new approaches that they likely couldn’t have come up with on their own, I am still prepared for an inbound action. I need valuable content to lend credibility to my efforts — and support the prospect’s decision team members (who I may not have met in prior meetings or spoken with in prior conversations). My company’s web site, in other words, should still be loaded with thought leading and decision-driving content. It’s important that my reputation is solid — and we are well regarded by our existing customers and other market influencers. 

But it’s not all about inbound marketing. For companies engaged in a complex sale that carries a heavy price tag, it’s even more important to be superbly skilled at outbound marketing. The key is that these outbound efforts are 1) deeply relevant to the prospect and 2) economically justified by the potential deal size. In the absence of those two criteria, I am fully onboard with the inbound marketing mania.

If you are selling a $5,000 product to millions of different small or mid-sized enterprises, you probably can’t afford a direct, field sales force focused on outbound efforts. If, on the other hand, your solution carries a six- or seven-figure price tag and only the Fortune 1000 can afford it, then maybe you shouldn’t be relying so heavily on your prospective clients to show up at your door. Indeed, you should be knocking on theirs with a very good reason for them to open up and let you in.

So, with this in mind, I suggest we think very seriously about unified marketing. It may be more appropriate than getting overloaded with inbound or outbound. Mike Damphousse of GreenLeads offers us a very good term: Unified Demand Gen “Harnessing the full potential of B2B demand generation requires the unity of both inbound marketing and outbound marketing,” his company states. “Together, the two disciplines produce measurable ROI, accountable results, and direct contribution to the top line.”

The point is: We need to strike a balance. We need to assist and advise, observe and assert. Sometimes we have to be very persistent — much like project managers who must keep everyone on track, keeping the distractions of life and business from undermining a strong mutual opportunity. That’s the real world for many of us — certainly those of us engaged in a deeply complex sale. The question is: Will we confront that reality or take our chances with the pendulum’s blade?