Consumers and business purchasing agents have never been more empowered than they are today. The ability to resist marketing messages from companies is easily accomplished by pressing a remote control button or clicking a mouse.
Innovations like the digital video recorder (DVR) allows a person to bypass television commercials with ease and subscription satellite radio stations allow commercial-free listening in our cars. Phone books are a thing of the past, and attendance at trade shows is dwindling.
Getting a prospect's attention for your business has never been harder.
Why is this?
Quite frankly, people are tired of the old methods of generating business like commercial advertising or buying lists and bombarding people with unwanted emails or intrusive cold calls.
Because of this consumer fatigue, inbound marketing has become the most effective marketing method of DOING BUSINESS ONLINE...WHERE YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE AT!
Why Does Inbound Marketing Work?
Inbound marketing is the proven marketing methodology for the digital age. Since its inception in 2006, inbound marketing has become the most effective marketing strategy for doing business online. Inbound marketing focuses on the development of quality content that pulls people toward your company and product.
Why has it flourished?
Because inbound marketing allows the consumer to become acquainted with your company on their terms not yours.
By creating content aimed at your buyer personas (fictionalized representations of your ideal customers), you can attract targeted traffic to your website with the chance of developing qualified leads for your sales team.
As we've discussed, the way that people WANT AND EXPECT to make business purchasing decisions has changed. People do not want their lives or their business days spent dealing with intrusive marketing messages or pushy salespeople.
The availability of online content and the growth of social media have made B2B buyers more educated and informed about their options than ever before. And not only is information widely available, but it is also instantly accessible.
Here is a telling statistic:
"Prospects are spending more time doing independent research and obtaining info from peers and other third-party sources. According to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process." (Source: Salesforce)
Much of the research for a buying decision is done early in the buying process ONLINE before ever speaking with a company representative. As a result of easy access to information, prospects no longer have to engage with sales reps in order to obtain the most basic information about a company and its products or services. In fact, most B2B buyers would prefer NOT to deal with a salesperson early in the sales cycle.
Prospects can easily search online and quickly find information such as reviews, feedback, pricing, technical information, and competitive comparisons. This doesn't mean that the role of the salesperson is over, prospects still need the sales rep to guide them through the increasingly complex sales process, build the business case, offer value-add insights and negotiate pricing. Customers just don't want to interact with a salesperson at the early stages of a deal anymore.
AND because of the internet and search engines, THEY DON'T HAVE TO!
This is why it is important for businesses to have a robust online presence that provides VALUE, educates and informs purchasers, and that is easily found online.
Here is a scary statistic for those that have a weak online presence from research think tank Gartner. “By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human.” (Source: Gartner Research)
This online shift has already happened and if you haven’t made the transition, you risk being out of business soon, or at the least being in business, but struggling to get by.
So what is inbound marketing and how does it work?
Before we delve into the specifics, you may need to answer the questions, is inbound marketing right for my business? And if it is right for my business, is hiring a marketing agency right for my small business? What types of marketing services does a marketing agency provide?
For a more thorough overview of inbound marketing, visit Everything You Need To Know About Inbound Marketing. This article covers a lot more topics and how you should use them in your business.
The Four Inbound Marketing Phases
In the first phase, we are looking to attract the right traffic to our company website. We are looking for those people who are "MOST LIKELY" to become leads and the most qualified prospects for our products and services.
Who are these people?
This is where the buyer personas come in. They are fictionalized ideals of what your customers are really like. Personas encompass the goals, challenges, pain points, common objections to products and services, as well as personal and demographic information shared among all members of that particular customer type. Your personas are the people around whom your whole business is built, and the individuals that you would most like to work with.
The most important tools to attract the right users to your site are:
Blogging - Blogging is one of the most important things that you can do for your business. A blog is the single best way to attract new visitors to your website. In order to get found by the right prospective customers, you must create educational content that speaks to them and answers their questions. Research tells us that B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads than those that don't.
SEO - Proper Search Engine Optimization (SEO) allows your blog posts and company pages to be found online. Customers usually begin their research with online queries in search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. It's crucial that your company is found on the search engines when customers make queries. In order to accomplish this, you need to carefully select keywords that represent your business, optimize your web pages, create content, and build links around the terms your ideal buyers are searching for.
Pages - Your website pages are your representation online. They are available 24/7, 365 days per year. It is important that your company website is customer centric and not me-centric. This means that your website needs to be filled with helpful content to attract the right strangers to visit your pages. If your company website is nothing more than an online brochure or business card, it may be time for a website redesign.
Social Media - Successful inbound requires great content. Pushing that content out through the proper social media channels allows your work to be found. Make sure to select the right networks where your buyer personas hang out online.
Once a prospect visits your site, the next step is develop them into qualified lead by gathering their contact information. Typically at the early stages of contact, you'll need just their email address, however as they move down your sales funnel, more information may be requested.
This is where extraordinary content offerings come in. In order for a prospect to offer up their information willingly, they'll need VALUE in return. Typical offerings include eBooks, whitepapers, or tip sheets - whatever information would be interesting and valuable to each of your personas. Offerings will vary by the type of products and services your firm offers, but it is important that offerings be something of value.
Some of the most important tools in converting visitors to leads include:
Forms - Online forms are crucial to lead generation. Forms should be optimized to make this step of the conversion process as easy as possible for contacts to provide information.
Calls-to-Action - Calls-to-action (CTA's) are buttons or links that encourage your visitors to take action, like “Download a Whitepaper” or “Request A Free Quote” If you don’t have enough calls-to-action or your calls-to-action aren’t visible or clear as to their purpose, you won’t generate leads.
Landing Pages- A landing page is where a visitor is sent once they click on a call-to-action button. Generally, a landing page will describe your offer in greater detail and have a form where your prospect will submit their contact information to become a lead.
Contacts - Contacts should be tracked in a centralized marketing database such as Hubspot or Salesforce.com. Having your contacts organized in one place helps you track your interactions and marketing activities with your prospects.
Now that you have attracted your visitors and converted them into leads, it's time to transform them into customers. There are certain offers, tools and strategies to get the job done.
At this stage, closing tools include:
CRM - Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software allows your sales team to keep detailed records on your contacts and track the sales pipeline.
Email - Most customers are not ready to buy at the first contact with your company. It's important to keep in touch during the your prospects buying journey. Email is the perfect medium to keep you front and center in your prospects mind. A series of emails focused on useful, relevant content can build trust with a prospect and help them become more ready to buy.
Marketing Automation - Marketing automation refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions. Many marketing departments have to automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier and allows you to nurture those leads that are not currently ready to buy.
Inbound centers on providing valuable content to your users, whether they are visitors, leads, or existing customers. Once a lead becomes a customer, it doesn't mean that you can forget about them. By continuously providing value in the form of content to both your qualified prospects and satisfied customers you can upsell your client base or turn them into promoters of your business that will provide valuable referrals in the future.
Tools used at this stage include:
Surveys. The best way to figure out what your users want is by asking them. Use feedback and surveys to ensure you’re providing customers with what they’re looking for.
Smart Calls-to-Action. These present different users with offers that change based on buyer persona and lifecycle stage.
Smart Text. Provide your existing customers with remarkable content tailored to their interests and challenges. Help them achieve their own goals, as well as introduce new products and features that might be of interest to them.
Social Monitoring. Keep track of the social conversations that are important to your business. Monitor social media channels for your customers’ questions, comments, likes, and dislikes – and reach out to them with relevant content. Also, be sure to reply if a customer has a complaint or bad review for your company. Many times solving an issue of poor service or resolving a customer complaint can have a positive impact to your bottom line, and letting bad comments or reviews with no company response can be seriously detrimental.
David, a HubSpot Certified Inbound Marketer is the Chief Content Creator for InTouch Marketing and its clients.