Marketing has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Cast your mind back to this time ten years ago: things like social media marketing and content marketing were in their infancy compared to today. How many people back then had even heard the word ‘influencer’, yet alone had any idea what it meant?
Today, marketing is a much more sophisticated business. For a start, we know much more about consumers, as we have more data at our disposal, giving us a finely-detailed picture of the buyer’s journey from start to finish. This makes it more straightforward to devise effective marketing campaigns, ensuring that they’re pitched to the right audience, as well as tracking their overall effectiveness once they’ve been rolled out.
B2B marketing, too, has changed a great deal in a relatively short space of time. This has had real upsides for businesses, specifically those who splurge on digital marketing campaigns in order to deliver the goods. With even a modest helping of strategic thinking and imagination, marketers can go a long way.
Another thing is also clear: lead generation is the cornerstone of success when it comes to B2B marketing. This is, in short, the process of converting prospects into customers. Efficient and effective lead generation, as well as boosting your sales team’s morale and driving sustained revenue growth, can also provide your sales cycle with a timely boost.
Driving lead generation, however, requires B2B marketers to take a look at the bigger picture, and examine the most fundamental elements of their inbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing has been widely embraced by B2B firms, but at the same time, marketers need to be able to prove that they’re delivering genuine return on investment.
In this guide, therefore, we’ll provide you with the lowdown on how to create B2B inbound marketing strategies that resonate and deliver results. We’ll start off by providing a concise definition of B2B inbound marketing, exploring how it might help you grow your business and analyzing in more detail just how effective it is in that regard.
Once we’ve done that, we’ll compare inbound marketing and content marketing, then we’ll look more closely at the modern B2B buying process. After that, we’ll discuss what it takes to start a B2B inbound marketing strategy organically, before listing nine top tips and tricks to help you take your strategy to the next level.
To help you quickly find the particular bits you’re looking for, we’ve broken this post down into separate categories. Use the links below to jump straight to a specific section.
In short, then, inbound marketing—as the name perhaps implies—involves giving potential customers a helping hand in finding your company through the creation of high-quality, compelling and relevant content. This way, you can reach customers before they’re actually at the purchasing stage of the buyer’s journey, potentially introducing them to something they hadn’t considered before.
The objective of B2B inbound marketing is to build brand awareness through content that’s relevant to the needs and interests of potential customers. This fosters positive sentiment towards your brand, favourably disposing consumers towards it. This content—which could take any number of forms, including blogging, infographics, white papers, or case studies—gives prospective customers something interesting and insightful to engage with.
To tempt these customers to take the next step in their buyer journey, taking further steps along the sales funnel, you should make careful and strategic use of calls to action (CTAs). A combination of effective CTAs with an intelligent, relevant content strategy can tempt customers—including key decision makers—to investigate your offering further.
Inbound marketing provides businesses with a great way of engaging with their customers; today, customer engagement is especially crucial to attracting new customers. By providing customers with good content—from landing pages and email newsletters to webinars and thought leadership pieces—you can build up a loyal and engaged customer base.
As we’ve just been discussing, succeeding with inbound marketing requires you to deliver consistently valuable content. The types of content involved can vary dramatically; we’ve just listed some of the written and visual content you might provide, but it can also include podcasts with thought leaders, for example.
The key objective of your inbound marketing approach must be to build trust. Prospective customers will be looking closely to see whether they can trust your business, and whether it really has the kind of expertise that it purports to have. The content you provide will do much to help them work out whether or not they can really take your business seriously.
As well as having a rock-solid content strategy and razor-sharp messaging, you must set yourself clear objectives from the very outset of your content marketing strategy, along with appropriate metrics for measuring its success (or otherwise). Start with your revenue goals and work from there to determine how your marketing strategy can help you meet them.
In today’s business environment, customers are more demanding than ever before. The fact that there’s so much choice at their disposal gives them a great deal of power (and every business is well aware of the damage bad reviews can do). This is why you need to devote real time, thought and effort to building strong and enduring relationships with your customers. This should therefore be central to your inbound marketing strategy.
Of course, there’s a plethora of content out there in any given field and on any given subject. Standing apart from the crowd, and providing content that potential customers genuinely find useful and interesting, can be very tough. But for those businesses that succeed in this regard, the rewards can be very lucrative indeed.
We’ve already alluded to the ways in which customer expectations have changed over the last decade or so. Indeed, this has had a big impact on content marketing as well. Customers increasingly expect brands and businesses to provide them with a steady supply of quality content; those that don’t are likely to lose custom. Content—whether written, visual or audio—can have a big impact on B2B buyers’ decision-making process.
Inbound marketing can be highly effective in generating leads and boosting conversion rates for B2B companies. Needless to say, businesses have adopted many marketing tactics—including search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC)—to help them glean an advantage in the marketplace. Inbound marketing is proving particularly successful.
One of the key advantages of inbound marketing is that it can help prospective customers overcome any reticence they might have about making a purchase. As we discussed earlier in this guide, it can be difficult for buyers—especially in those initial stages—to work out whether a business is all that it’s cracked up to be. This can hinder purchasing decisions.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is a good way for businesses to convey their authoritative understanding of their particular field. When potential customers see this, it helps to reassure them that the business in question is genuine and that its stated credentials are credible, and this in turn can drive lead generation.
There are, of course, other benefits to B2B inbound marketing. In particular, inbound marketing allows firms to target a specific target audience, thereby saving resources that can be used elsewhere. Also, inbound not only generates leads in general but quality leads in particular; in other words, people who are more serious about making a purchase.
A well-thought-out B2B inbound marketing strategy can help your business deliver consistent, clear, and insightful messaging that helps it stand head and shoulders above its competitors. This is why so many businesses have already embraced inbound marketing.
You’ve no doubt seen the terms ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘content marketing’ used alongside one another, and you might be a little confused as to what the difference between them actually is. Of course, there are varying definitions and uses of both terms, which doesn’t exactly help clear matters up.
However, we prefer to look at it like this: inbound marketing covers a wider strategic approach to marketing efforts, whereas content marketing is more of a tactic. Inbound marketing encompasses a variety of digital marketing techniques, including SEO, PPC, email marketing and so on. Content marketing is more limited, and refers specifically to the creation and dissemination of material such as blogs, videos, and social media posts.
You may also have read about outbound marketing, and perhaps you’re wondering what the difference is between that and inbound marketing. In a nutshell, outbound marketing involves actively pushing messaging out to prospective customers and clients, including seminars, telemarketing, and trade shows, for example.
There’s a number of reasons why businesses have either turned away from outbound marketing or sought to complement it with a greater focus on inbound marketing. In particular, it’s expensive, and offers a considerably lower return on investment than inbound marketing. There are also indications that outbound marketing is becoming less effective.
The objective of outbound marketing, in essence, is to generate leads by diffusing campaigns as widely as possible. This is quite an imprecise way of doing things, however, and the proportion of leads generated is likely to be relatively low. Plus, people are bombarded with so much marketing material these days, many have simply learned how to tune it out, whether through things like spam filtering or simply by ignoring it.
Taking all this into account, then, it’s clear that B2B marketers need to develop methods allowing them to target specific niches. ROI is likely to be significantly higher if you’re reaching people who are likely to be interested in what your business has to offer, and you’ve got a better chance of nurturing qualified leads.
In order to turn a lead into a customer, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the B2B buying process. This is constantly in flux, changing as the needs of businesses evolve. Once you’re equipped with a solid grasp of the B2B buyer’s journey, you’ll understand their thinking much better, and you’ll be able to position your own products accordingly.
One thing is clear: the hard sell no longer delivers the goods. Indeed, a pushy approach to sales can be counter-productive, alienating prospective customers and leading them to take their custom somewhere else. Let’s take a closer look at the modern B2B buying process and its respective stages.
The first stage in the B2B buying process is the awareness stage; in other words, where the buyer is aware that they have a problem or a need and is looking for ways of addressing it. At this stage of the process, they are likely to be looking for resources and information that will help them get to the bottom of the issue and introduce them to potential solutions.
In other words, at the awareness stage, buyers are looking at the challenge before them and weighing up whether it’s worth investing in a product or service that will help them. They will also be working out whether or not to prioritize the matter.
The next stage in the B2B buying process is the consideration stage. By this point, the buyer will have zeroed in on the problem or challenge before them, and will have a decent idea of the kind of solution they’re looking for. So at this stage, they’ll be researching the various options available, and looking for the one that’s best suited to their needs and budget.
By the time a buyer has reached the consideration stage, then, they’ll be looking for resources to help them decide which product or service can help them address the issue at hand, without blowing a hole in their finances.
By the time they reach the next stage—the decision stage—the buyer will have decided on which approach to take to resolving the problem concerning them. All they need to do now is run through the relevant options available to them, and settle on the one that’s best—making a final purchasing decision.
Many buyers will note the pros and cons of the various vendors and solutions on the market. They’ll be looking for content that assists them in making this final decision, convincing them that a particular solution is the right one for them.
By understanding the various stages of the B2B buyer’s journey, you should be in a much stronger position to deliver the kind of content that will help prospective customers solve whatever problems or issues they might have. You should develop content that’s tailored to each stage of that journey, thereby giving buyers a gentle nudge along the sales funnel.
There are four key stages in Hubspot’s B2B inbound marketing strategy, which align loosely with the buyer’s journey: attract, convert, close, and delight. The attract stage involves creating content that will draw visitors to your site, answering key questions. Blogging remains one effective way of doing this, particularly when coupled with SEO targeting for higher SEO rankings.
At the ‘convert’ stage, you should be looking to capture leads’ contact information. You will, however, have to offer them something for their trouble—so think white papers, webinars, ebooks, case studies, and so on. The next stage—the ‘close’ stage—requires content that’s in line with the final stages of the buyer journey, with personalized messages to foster the blossoming relationship with the prospective customer.
The ‘delight’ stage comes after the first purchase, and involves the continued nurturing of strong customer relationships. Keep existing customers in the loop with regular content, such as blog posts and social media discussion. Send them regular email digests keeping them up to speed, though be careful not to bombard them.
In this section, we’ll look at how you might kick-start an organic B2B inbound marketing strategy. The important point to remember here is that inbound marketing doesn’t require you to splash the cash, splurging money on organizing real-life events, or PPC and Google AdWords. Instead, interesting, relevant content is worth its weight in gold.
First and foremost, your B2B inbound marketing strategy needs to set clear and attainable goals. These goals need to be realistic—there’s no need to shoot for the moon—measurable, and based on a thorough evaluation of your existing position. Your goals should also be specific, providing you with clear metrics to aim for and measure your success by. The more concrete your goals are, the likelier your ultimate success will be.
A detailed understanding of your target audience is also indispensable to inbound marketing. You must have a good idea of what your audience is looking for at the respective stages of the buyer journey, and what it will respond positively to. There are various ways by which you can deepen your knowledge of your target audience.
Many businesses design client profiles and buyer personas to help them understand existing and prospective customers that bit better. We’ll talk about buyer personas subsequently, but start with an ideal client profile. What sort of B2B firms are you trying to target? What are they likely to be looking for? An ideal customer profile can be a very useful exercise in deepening your own understanding.
Likewise, developing a hypothetical buyer persona can also be helpful. Who’s going to make the final decision about whether or not to purchase your products or services? These can be separated into two categories: decision-makers and doers. Decision-makers are those more concerned with overall strategy, while doers are the people who tend to be responsible for day-to-day use of a particular product.
Craft buyer personas for each of these categories and think about what their typical characteristics and pain points are, as well as what they might be looking for and why they might need it.
You should also carry out thorough research at the account level. Look at what’s happening with your customer accounts, reviewing such areas as company news and industry reports, social media posts, content audits and so on. This should help you craft messaging that’s better tailored to their specific needs.
It’s also worth carrying out buyer research, to help you get a clearer idea of what buyers are looking for at every step of their journey. It’s important to be aware of buyer expectations and how these have changed. In particular, buyers don’t expect to be bombarded—they want to be left to do their own research, and to take control of the process.
This might seem like an obvious point but it really is worth emphasising. Your content must be authoritative and engaging. There’s a lot of content out there, and it’s no good just regurgitating the same things that everyone else is doing. You must find ways of making your content stand out from the herd.
That said, if you’re creating great content, you also need to exploit it fully. One way of doing this, and of putting content before a wider audience, is to repurpose it. There are numerous ways by which you could do this. For example, you could use a blog post as the basis of a podcast discussion, or turn testimonials into shareable social media content.
To resonate with customers and give them a reason to keep engaging with your business, your output needs to be consistent. Consistent, that is, in more ways than one: not only in terms of the volume of content you put out, but also with regard to its quality. Content must be consistently good, insightful and authoritative, or else customers will switch off.
As we’ve highlighted throughout this guide, putting out content is a great way of fostering lasting, long-term relationships with customers. This kind of enduring loyalty is an increasingly rare thing in business, but it can be the difference between success and failure. You should always view your content in this light, and with this objective in mind.
B2B buyers are looking for reassurance that a particular brand is trustworthy and genuine. Your content, therefore, is an important way of building up your brand reputation and providing buyers with the reassurance they’re looking for. Use your content to play up your expertise and demonstrate the talent and authority you have within your team.
Content should be created with the customer lifecycle in mind, from initial contact to long-term, loyal buyers. Your content should be relevant to buyers across as many different stages of the lifecycle as possible, including new and old clients, promising prospects, and lost customers.
It’s one thing adopting an inbound marketing strategy, but quite another to deduce whether or not it actually works. You must take a solidly data-driven approach when analyzing the success (or otherwise) of your strategy. This means you need to invest in the right tools, from marketing automation systems to content tracking software. These tools will provide you with detailed insights and information to help you analyze results.
Finally, you must avoid neglecting the process itself. Make sure workflows are consistent and transparent, and that there’s an appropriate balance between the rate at which you churn out content and your quality control (project management tools are very useful here). Also, don’t forget to notify partners or clients when they’re featured in a piece of content, and suggest to them that they might want to share it on their own channels.
Now that we’ve covered the key bases of inbound marketing strategy, we need to look at how you might go about implementing that strategy successfully. Here are nine of the best tips and tricks to help you along the way.
Blogs are the cornerstone of any inbound marketing strategy, and they’re crucial in drawing traffic to your site. Your posts must be well-structured, well-written, and insightful, as well as regular: at least one per week, ideally. Be patient, however. It usually takes between 12 and 18 months for blog posts to bear fruit and drive exponential traffic growth.
Video content has grown rapidly in the last few years and so it, too, occupies a central place in inbound marketing strategy. This content can take many different forms, from product demos and video blogs to customer testimonials. However, make sure you get the presentation right as audiences can be unforgiving. Your videos must look professional.
Email marketing remains essential to a robust inbound marketing strategy. Regular email updates are very good for keeping existing customers engaged, updating them about your recent content. Nurturing individual contact lists also enables you to send targeted content to particular niches of your customer base.
More and more businesses are making use of marketing automation. This has a number of upsides. In particular, it helps to save sales teams unnecessary time and effort, helping them to concentrate on warmer prospects who’ve already been cultivated with the help of content. This content, in turn, is more precisely targeted and therefore delivers better results.
Marketing automation with digital marketing tools can also enable businesses to automate and scale their lead nurturing workflows, so content is promoted according to the buyer’s journey. So, for instance, a buyer who visits your pricing page can be added to a workflow, and then provided with relevant content to encourage them along the various stages of the buyer funnel.
We mustn’t forget SEO and search engine marketing. This, too, remains a key pillar of inbound marketing. Thorough keyword research can help you understand what users are looking for, allowing you to target them with well-tailored content. Without good keyword research, it’s much more difficult to understand what sort of content would be of interest and therefore to reach leads.
A voice of the customer (VOC) program can help you learn about your existing customers and attract new ones. Customer testimonials are, of course, a tried-and-tested method of securing new business. Through a VOC program, you can solicit compelling testimonials, as well as asking your customers—whether by contacting them individually or by inviting them to fill in surveys—pertinent questions about their experience.
Creating great content is all well and good, but you also have to know how to promote it. Before you start promoting and distributing your content, make sure you know your audience intimately. Look into what types of content they’re engaging with and sharing, and where they’re finding that content.
Also, don’t rely on potential leads to find your content on Google (as important as SEO strategy is). Promote it on social media, and think about what type of content works on different social sites. What works on Twitter might not work so well on LinkedIn, for instance.
Advanced content typically refers to content which delves deeper into specific topics than blog posts, for example. This content comes in numerous forms, including whitepapers, case studies, how-to guides, ebooks and so on. Advanced content is valuable not only for generating new leads but also for nudging existing leads further along the sales funnel.
You should look to produce around one piece of advanced content every month. This is a very useful way of demonstrating your business’s expertise and the talent at its disposal, underlining its credentials to potential customers.
Accelerate is driven by a passion for data-led content marketing and SEO. We can help you connect to your audience through evergreen content that delivers long-term results. Learn more about what we can do for your business—book a consultation today.
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate agency, a SaaS SEO agency. Nick has launched several successful online businesses, writes for Forbes, published a book and has grown accelerate from a UK agency to a company that now operates across US, APAC and EMEA and employs 160 people. He was also once charged at by a mountain gorilla