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Inbound Marketing: Stop Selling & Start Helping

You’ve likely heard the value of inbound marketing touted by the agencies you work with, blogs that you follow and conferences you attend. But what is inbound marketing and how do B2B marketers effectively use inbound methods to achieve their objectives? Read on to learn more about the inbound methodology and how you can take a few steps to begin incorporating inbound into your B2B marketing playbook.

What is inbound marketing?

The abundance of information accessible online has fundamentally changed the relationship between buyers and sellers. As a potential customer I am now in control. With a few quick searches I can find your competitors, pricing, and read reviews from your customers. I can go through the entire buying process and make a purchasing decision without ever involving you or your company in my journey or only connect with you at the very end, after my mind is already made up. B2B Businesses need to adjust to fit the new world order. How? By anticipating customer needs and developing meaningful, valuable content (i.e. blogs, e-books, videos, etc.) that helps their customers and prospective customers do their jobs better. In comparison to outbound marketing which forces your message out, inbound marketing is all about drawing people in, particularly via the search and social channels your customers use, with the great information you provide. This helps you be viewed as a business partner, not just a salesperson selling a one-off solution.

Inbound methodology: The new buying process

The new buying process necessitates that you provide value at each stage to support potential customers on their individual journey through the buying lifecycle. There are 4 simple stages and the different marketing methods and content pieces associated with each below tend to work best, but you may find a different mix works best depending on your customers and their needs. When in doubt, think of your customers and design the right campaigns for them!

Attract the right visitors. Marketers should be most comfortable with this stage – it’s all about attracting potential customers with your great content. For this stage you want to think of your ideal target customer or buyer personas and design specific content pieces and a content plan to draw them in. Do your products service HR professionals? If so, a well-researched e-book, article, or video on the latest tax and legislative updates could save them time and provide immense value. Once you have your pieces of content developed, make sure you’re promoting them across all your channels, and optimizing them to be found in online searches.

Convert the right leads. Once you’ve attracted your target customers to your pages, you want to convert them into leads. Adding email opt-in forms is a great first step for all businesses to collect prospective customers and continue to provide value to them down the road through tailored email marketing methods. If your company offers free trials, product demonstrations, or introductory meetings/consultations adding specific forms to fast-track these requests to sales is another great offer for prospective clients, and an easy first step for your company’s sales teams.

Turn leads into customers. You may be thinking this sounds like sales, not marketing. While your company’s Sales Department should be actively working on leads in this stage, you can support their efforts and present a consistent company message and experience to all prospective customers in this stage. For example, if your sales team regularly gets a common push-back from prospective customers you could address it in a personalized email template that your sales team can access and tweak to their prospect’s unique needs each time they send it. This helps save your sales team time, and helps validate the “business partner” message you worked hard to create in earlier stages.

Encourage customers to be promoters Congratulations, you’ve converted a prospect into a customer! Many companies greatly decrease communication with their customers once they’ve “captured” them. But you’ve worked hard to have your company and staff viewed as a business partner, so you’re not going to stop providing value now. This is a great stage to provide instructional videos and resources on how to use or implement your solutions via automated emails and customer-only email newsletters. If you have a community of customers online, you can also grant new customers access, so they can connect, ask questions and learn new tricks. If you don’t have an online community, making a private LinkedIn group for your customers can be an easy (and free!) first step. Finally, have members of your team check in on a 1:1 basis to see how the onboarding process went, address any questions and ask for feedback so you can continue to refine and improve your process.

Image Source: Hubspot Inbound Marketing

How B2B marketers can get started – Attract the right customers

The easiest and fastest way to start incorporating inbound methods into marketing programs is in stage 1 – attracting the right customers. Think about the content and marketing resources you currently have and are working to produce. Would you target customers find them useful? Are they things prospective customers are actively searching for more information on?

If yes, great! Start brainstorming other challenges your customers face, or better yet, conduct a customer survey to identify the top challenges your customers struggle with.

If the marketing resources you currently have focuses on your business strength and acumen instead of focusing on your customers needs and wants, you have a great opportunity to improve your resources and start attracting new customers. Gather people from a variety of departments across your company and have them identify key challenges they hear from customers. As a group, discuss how your customers could overcome these obstacles, and offer ways your company helps solve them. From there, start working on blog posts, social shares, e-books or videos and sharing your helpful tricks.

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