There are many reasons to be skeptical of the claims made by inbound marketing (or marketing automation — the terms are virtually synonymous). Here’s one. Here’s another. And here’s a third:

Inbound marketing seems to be adopted by B2B companies that don’t account for this: The higher the price point of whatever’s being sold, the less likely direct sales (i.e., self-initiated transactions on a website) are to succeed.

One of my associates, a web developer, recently integrated a pricey marketing-automation app in a site for a company that sells enterprise software systems. The client, apparently taking the automation part way too literally, was frustrated that it didn’t yield a tidal wave of inbound leads. As the developer remarked to me, “They think it’s a matter of set it and forget it.”

As always, the devil is in the details. Here’s why inbound marketing falters at high price points:

Bad: Instead of using data to better understand prospect behavior and market predilections, many companies use inbound marketing or marketing automation to eschew personal relationships in favor of compiling more data.

Worse: Instead of finding the right tool for the job, they amend the job to serve the tool.

Worst: At the expense of accessible presentation, they turn websites inside out to enable trackability and lead scoring. At the expense of clear calls to action, they pack emails with multiple hyperlinks in the hope of scoring and ranking clicks.

Disastrous: They see inbound-marketing and marketing-automation technology as a surrogate for work. They forget websites, software, and automated output don’t make big-ticket, high-risk sales. People do.

Most books on the subject are of little help. For example, the seminal tome, Digital Minds: 12 Things Every Business Needs to Know About Digital Marketing, says this:

You’ll need to identify your goals and objectives. For most businesses, these goals and objectives break down into three categories: lead generation, brand awareness, and customer retention.

What it doesn’t say is this: If whatever you’re selling requires a big-ticket, high-risk transaction, you’ll never attract attention without first establishing the brand. You’ll never generate leads without attracting attention. And you’ll never convert leads to sales without the trust only an established, authoritative brand can ensure.

Yes. Digital marketing, inbound marketing, and marketing automation are here to stay. They’re highly successful in B2C contexts and for small-ticket B2B sales. But at the point at which B2B transactions entail higher prices and higher risk, people share risk with other people. Outbound marketing software provides precious little reassurance.

Build your brand first. Select your inbound-marketing tools second. And make sure you cultivate personal relationships.

The rest of the details will take care of themselves.

Bruno Barral (ByB), via Wikimedia Commons.