First of all, I’d like to extend a big “Thank You” to my readers and followers who responded to an invitation last month to participate in the 2010 B2B Marketing Budgets and Mix survey that Forrester fielded together with MarketingProfs.  Without your responses, the research would not be as broad or relevant — so thank you again! 

After closing the survey and digesting some of the results, I was really surprised by one finding. After reviewing our process and validating the data, my researcher, Zack Reiss-Davis, and I believe that the result is not a technical problem with the survey instrument nor its execution. I decided to share what we found and get your thoughts on why B2B marketers may have answered the question as they did. 

In January 2010, we found that 65% of the 249 B2B marketers we surveyed at firms with 50 or more employees use inside sales/telesales as part of the marketing mix. This percentage is slightly greater, but not dissimilar, to what we found in early 2009 (62% said they use inside sales).

Of the 65% who use inside sales, 34% said they found it “highly effective” for driving brand awareness.   Brand awareness?   Really?!?  That’s on par with webcasts and the company Web site for effectively building brand, according to the same survey respondents.

I act incredulous because in prior years, many fewer marketers rated inside sales as highly effective for building brand.  In 2009, for example, only 21% (of the 62% who said they use inside sales) rated it highly effective for building brand.  They did rate it very effective for generating leads — which makes sense since inside sales is one of the “moments of truth” when buyers and sellers engage person to person. And personal selling is essential in B2B marketing.

But for building brand?  How does that work?

So I decided I should run this mystery by my readers/followers and hear what you think.  Which of the following possibilities would you pick as the most likely explanation for this result?:

1) It’s an anomaly. Either the respondents didn’t understand the question or interpreted it in some unexpected way and their answers are not consistent with actual practice.

2) It’s the economy.  Many firms slashed marketing program budgets last year.  To try to compensate, firms turned their inside sales teams into outbound, cold-calling machines tasked with reaching out to buyers to chat about products and services. Remarkably some buyers paid attention.

3) Inside sales begins to play a bigger role in lead incubation.  Respondents are starting to see inside sales/telemarketing play a larger role in educating, building relationships, and “keeping in touch” with prospects than simply just dialing for dollars.  New sales enablement tools help telesales see what “leads” look at when visiting the site, and can better inform subsequent conversations when used properly. Personally, I would call this “lead generation” but — because the activity may not produce qualified leads this quarter — marketers may see telesales helping to create a positive brand experience beyond building pipeline.

As I ponder this result, I have to admit that I’m favoring explanation #3 right now.  However, what I really wonder is “Am I missing something?”  Is there some new way — that I have yet to run across — where companies use inside sales to create awareness, answer buyer questions, or do something other than advance deals to close this quarter?

Let me know what you think.  Best answers get credit in my upcoming report.

If you would like to preview the results of our B2B marketing mix and budgets survey– and see where your B2B peers are heading in 2010 — please join me Tuesday, February 9, 2010 (11 am Eastern, 8 am Pacific) for my Forrester Teleconference where I will talk about our findings prior to the report publication.  Hope you can join me then!

[cross posted at B2B Marketing POSTs]