4 Advantages and Disadvantages Of Inbound Marketing

Before considering the advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing a definition is appropriate. According to David Meerman Scott ‘inbound marketing is about developing marketing activities that ‘pull’ people into your site, generally through compelling content creation, rather than those that go out and interrupt prospects with advertising messages.”

THE ADVANTAGES OF INBOUND MARKETING

The four key advantages of inbound marketing are:

-Reduced friction.

-Increased credibility/authority.

-Builds long term relationships.

-Lends itself to an ongoing marketing process.

Let’s consider each in a little more detail.

Reduced Friction

Outbound marketing interrupts the prospect and that causes friction. We have all been there rushing around the office getting everything together for a meeting or concentrating hard on the latest spreadsheet when in comes the telephone call from someone pitching something we did not ask for or prepare for.

Inbound marketing assumes the prospect searches out the information they need when they are ready. It assumes useful, engaging content placed where the prospect may find it and leads them down a path to ultimate conversion. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve – as discussed below.

Inbound Marketing Builds Credibility

The above example showed outbound marketing often leaves the prospect with a bad impression of the company reaching out to them. Inbound is the opposite, it builds authority and credibility.

Assuming content is relevant, solves a problem, and is of high quality then prospects perceive the company is real, in good shape, and on top of their business, product or service offering.

Inbound Marketing Builds Long Term Relationships

Most outbound marketing tends to be a one-hit wonder. It is often campaign driven and relies on the prospect taking action upon delivery of a single telephone call, Email, advertisement or piece of direct mail. The response rate to such outbound marketing is low. Typically, anything from 0.5% to 2% of those contacted may move to the next stage.

With a limited potential customer base, it is not practical to burn through a list to achieve only a few results. Inbound is based on ongoing delivery of appropriate relevant information over an extended period of time to build trust and a relationship. The ultimate aim is to stay relevant to the customer until the point they are ready, and comfortable, to buy.

Process Driven

Inbound marketing is not campaign driven but an ongoing, long term process and this may be one of its biggest advantages. In B2B markets decisions are often made by a team rather than one person. All members of that team need to be engaged and all have different needs and information requirements.

Building an outbound process to engage all decision makers can be difficult. Traditionally, sales people are tasked with building relationships at multiple levels within a target customer. With inbound marketing information (content) is tailored to the particular needs of the decision making team. It is delivered to the point it is most likely to be read and bring the prospect back to a point (the website) where they can find out more.

From the above, it may appear that inbound marketing devalues the impact of sales. The reverse is actually true as a solid inbound marketing process brings sales and marketing closer together. Marketing must understand the information needs of the key members of the customer decision making team, and sales is best placed to provide that information.

DISADVANTAGES OF INBOUND MARKETING

The above all sounds positive but there is a down side. The problems with inbound marketing include:

-The time taken to deliver results

-The costs

-The required skill set

-The content marketing bubble

It Takes Time

With outbound, you may burn through a significant number of prospects to achieve one hit but results are possible within weeks. The same is not true of inbound marketing where it will take six months minimum from starting the process to see any meaningful returns.

Content creation takes time, reformatting existing content takes time, publishing the content takes time building an inbound marketing strategy takes time. The whole process is much more of a slow burn than outbound.

Channels of content distribution must be researched and built and audiences developed. if running the process in-house some re-training of existing personnel or hiring new people will be required. All of which takes more time and resources.

Inbound marketing requires a change in company culture (more on that below) and often re-organization of sales and marketing operations and that is not something that can be achieved overnight.

Inbound marketing costs more than outbound

There is a widely held belief that on average an inbound lead costs significantly less than an outbound lead but sorry, I don’t buy it. It is true inbound marketing has a low cost of entry but that has only resulted in a mass of poorly planned and executed inbound marketing campaigns.

As discussed above inbound marketing takes time to implement and several months to start to deliver leads and time costs. There needs to be a content manager (or at least a content champion) and a solid plan. Inbound marketing requires a wide variety of skills sets (see below) and that comes at a cost.

The Inbound Marketing Skill Set

To succeed in inbound marketing requires skills in website development, blogging, social media, content creation/sourcing and SEO to name but a few. Expecting one person (or even a small team) to have the full inbound skill set is a big ask. Either people must be trained or hired or the process needs to be outsourced and automated.

The solution for many is to hire an agency with all the required skills in house but this approach has its problems. The agency can never understand your products and markets better than you. They can never know your customers and (in B2B) their decision making teams better than you. So who is best placed to understand (and produce) the content required for any successful inbound marketing process? You guessed it you are?

Who has the best understanding or the type of phrases your customers are likely to use to search for your products or services? Who has the best understanding of their pain points and common questions? Right again you do. My point is if you do hire an agency don’t expect it to be like the old days where you could engage and forget. You (and your team) will need to be actively involved in the process.

The Content Marketing Bubble

This is perhaps the main reason content marketing fails. Inbound marketing cannot be left to the marketing department (or an agency). It needs buy-in from the very top of the organisation. It needs to be given the time to deliver results. It often needs some reorganisation especially of how sales and marketing interact.

Yes the marketing department can produce a variety of content but how do they know who they are targetting with that content? How do they know what type of content is needed for various stages in the sales cycle? That information comes from sales.

How can marketing know the typical questions customers may ask their pain points? That information comes from customer services and sales.

How do they know which channels they should use to deliver content? Where do they obtain the technical information they may need to build their content? Marketing cannot be left in their own little bubble with no link to the real world.

Without matching content to the real concerns and information needs of members of the customer decision making team at various points in the sales process inbound marketing is destined to fail.

There is a mass of false information and myths online. There is little doubt that inbound marketing has some real advantages but it is also important to understand the disadvantages that too many seek to gloss over. What matters is the mix of inbound and outbound activities that generate the required outcome regardless of the situation a business may find itself in.

How To Choose The Best Content Delivery Channel

To succeed in inbound (content) marketing requires both the creation of valuable, engaging content and the delivery of that content via the most appropriate content delivery channel.  If either element is missing then the required result will not be achieved.

To prevent your organisation from being cut out of the loop before they get anywhere near an opportunity it is essential your business information and content is available to potential customers whenever they may need it. Research from Marketing Leadership Council shows B2B business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. They are sourcing information on products, services and suppliers, making comparisons and decisions long before engaging with a supplier.

What Information Do Customers Require

Detailed analysis to find the best content delivery methodIt is clear B2B buyers are sourcing their own information but what information are they looking for and where do they look for that information that is the key. Content delivery is often the number one challenge for any inbound marketer and a subject that is often glossed over. Get it wrong and the entire inbound marketing process can be a complete waste of time and money.

Let’s take a typical example and assume a business is looking for an electronic component for a high reliability application. What information are they likely to search for? Design will often look for a datasheet and perhaps application notes, quality will look for qualification data and supplier approvals, buyers will look for price and delivery information, purchasing and project management will look for financials, potential supply issues and compare suppliers.

If the product is available as standard from a number of known suppliers then, in reality, each member of the decision team will have their own pre-conceptions of the potential supplier. There is little doubt this has a major influence on the ultimate decision. If trying to overcome a weak position all that can be hoped for is a change of that perception based on a positive experience as information is collected at every touch point.

What Content Delivery Channels Are Available

The most likely information resource used by members of the decision making team will be the internet via a simple organic search. If the search is relatively trivial, for example for a part number or datasheet page position is critical. If each possible supplier is shown at position 1, 2 and 3 then there is no real distinguishing factor. It is only if one or more suppliers are down on page 2 or below there is an issue. The key is to make information as easily accessible as possible by employing search engine marketing to boost the profile of the website online.

For none standard products research shows white papers are used extensively for product / supplier research and offline resources like print (press releases) and exhibitions and seminars still have a place. Despite the hype social media is not a well-read medium in B2B markets but video (you tube) can be effective for the right type of business.

Extensive research into exactly which resources potential customers utilise can ensure significant resources are not wasted on content production that has little chance of reaching the audience. The sales department can help if they ask the right type of question during general conversations with customers and feedback the response. Sales and marketing need to work closely together to identify likely touch points for various members of the decision making team at various points in the sales cycle.

For suppliers trying to crash the party of an entrenched competitor where it is difficult to deliver information to a point where it may be read and have an impact then Email remains a useful marketing tool. The key is to forget the traditional salesy type Email and deliver a well-designed E Newsletter instead based on the best content available with links back to the main business website to read more.

The choice of the best content delivery channel then is vital. That choice must be based primarily on detailed research of which delivery channels are used by potential customers. Only with this research in place is it possible to focus on how to best compete for customer attention on those channels.

How B2B Inbound Marketing Compares With Outbound

Historically, B2B Marketing tactics changed at a much slower rate than in B2C. However, the game is changing, and it is clear B2B strategies that worked well just a few years ago fail to deliver results today. Businesses are moving away from traditional outbound marketing and embracing B2B inbound marketing as an alternative, but how does B2B inbound marketing compare with outbound? Where is the evidence inbound is more effective? What are the main problems associated with inbound marketing?

Obsolete B2B Marketing Practice

Many manufacturing and other businesses in B2B markets waste significant time and resources on outdated sales processes. Most sales value tends to come from long established customers with minimal new customer acquisition. This may be fine if the vast majority of those existing customers continue to grow but can be real issue in a market downturn.

Winning new customers is too often a problem solved (on a short term basis) by hiring sales people from competitors or with an industry background that have a chance of bringing some customers with them. Although this can work in the short term it is not, in general, a long term solution.

Sales directors still persist in playing the numbers game by setting directives on the number of calls and visits in the hope a small percentage will result in securing a new customer. This only tends to result in visits to reluctant prospects with no current demand or with no real intention of buying the product just to achieve the specified numbers.

Prospects that turn down the initial opportunity to meet are routinely discarded in the chase for immediate sales, seriously reducing the available market in the process. Research from Sirius research shows that over 80% of leads discarded by sales go on to make a purchase (from the supplier or competitor) within 24 months.

The Rise Of Inbound Marketing

A survey by BaseOne across four of the major European economies (including the UK) found 87% of B2B buyers look for advice before making a purchase and of those 71% used the web as their primary source. The key secondary source,not surprisingly, was word of mouth (read more here ). Research from Knowledge Storm/Marketing Sherpa shows 85% of technical buyers said they need to encounter at least three pieces of content before engaging with a solution provider.

B2B marketers switching to inbound marketingToday, inbound marketing is widely accepted as the best (and lowest cost) way to generate sales. It is based on developing a way to keep touching prospects (in a non-aggressive non-intrusive way) with relevant, current information (content) and to stay front of mind until either a potential customer is ready to engage or the time to purchase arrives.

Inbound v Outbound Marketing – A Comparison

So what are the main differences between inbound and outbound? As noted by Eric Wittlake in his post on the subject the primary difference is friction. Outbound, be it telemarketing or traditional advertising, is based on interruption, The marketer takes it upon themselves to stop whatever the prospect may be doing to present their message. For many years this process worked but prospects are increasingly resistant to this process.

Inbound is based on delivering relevant and useful information to the prospect that they may consume at their leisure. Not pushy sales messages but information that builds credibility and delivers what the prospect may need at various stages in the sales process.

Inbound Marketing – The Supporting Evidence

There is a mass of information, surveys and research online promoting the virtues of inbound marketing. Although it is often difficult to find fault with the research methodology I personally tend to avoid the research published by those with a vested interest in promoting the virtues of inbound.

Although CMI and Hubspot are excellent organisations publishing a mass of credible information their businesses are based on promoting inbound marketing. I have therefore avoided their data and will quote instead from Gartner ‘Skilfully executed inbound marketing is 10x more effective at conversion than traditional outbound marketing‘. Although outbound marketing still has a place in the mix there is nothing credible I have found (please correct me if I am wrong) to discredit this statement.

The Problem With Inbound Marketing

Perhaps the greatest issue is change itself (read more in this great post from Ardath Albee)  but if that hurdle may be overcome there are several other issues to address. To deliver results any inbound marketing process must be fed with content, and lots of it. That content needs to be of high quality, engaging and relevant to the appropriate point in the sales cycle.

content marketing processFor marketing departments brought up on outbound marketing processes building a content plan and creating (or sourcing) the required content can be a real challenge. To be blunt, many B2B businesses are involved with products and services that, on the face of it, are not too exciting and this adds to the problem. Building content is a resource intensive process and it is difficult to show an immediate return on this investment in the short term so higher management support for the process is vital

There is little point creating content if it cannot be delivered to the required prospects and customers. Delivery issues are often overlooked but are vital to success. An intimate understanding of online (and offline) delivery channels is required together with highly developed internet marketing skills and this can often be beyond the current skill sets of in house teams.

Conclusion

To find new customers in today’s B2B markets requires strategies designed to keep touching prospects and existing customers on a regular basis until they are ready to buy. The evidence shows that for most (not all) B2B businesses inbound marketing is increasingly more effective than outbound. However, the challenges associated with inbound are far from trivial and should be considered with care before making any decisions on the medium to long term marketing strategy for a business.

How Relevant Is Content To B2B Search Engine Marketing

Website search engine optimisation in B2B marketsThere is little doubt organic B2B search engine marketing is becoming more complex and time consuming. So much so that the conspiracy theorists claims that Google real intention is not to improve the organic search experience but is actually to drive more search to Pay Per Click.

Google (and the other major search engines) have attacked what they perceive as poor quality linking strategies (black hat) for several years but as those attacks have become both more regular and aggressive over the past 18 months (Panda and Penguin) inbound and content marketing has increased its profile.

Content v Search Engine Marketing

Traditional search engine marketing was primarily based on technical on page factors (HTML, Meta, page load, schema, Alt tags), keywords and keyword placement and link building.  The theory goes that since Google has clamped down on some link building practices effort should be switched away from this activity and towards building lots of high quality, engaging content instead.

High quality content, in theory, builds its own high quality links over time and is a key element of the inbound marketing process. As outbound marketing becoming is less and less effective, particularly in B2B markets, inbound marketing is increasingly the main method used to engage with customers, build credibility and generate more high quality sales leads over time.

The Problem With Content Marketing

The problem is content marketing, like so many new and shiny object marketing techniques, has become over hyped to such an extent that some say all is required for successful SEM is publishing more and more quality content. A quick look at the websites ranking highly for any B2B product or service show that it is clearly not the case. Google (and the other search engines) use many ranking factors to decide where a website should be ranked. While it is true content that changes regularly is one of those ranking factors and can have a positive impact on several more it is far from the only factor.

Search Engine Marketing Best Practice

Traditional SEO is alive and well; some valid back linking techniques may not work as well as they did in the past but they still have a positive impact and the technical aspects of SEO are just as important as they ever were. It appears Google in particular has placed more emphasis on content, the quality of that content and how often it changes as a measure of quality but it is certainly not the only factor to be considered. There is a body of opinion the Google ranking algorithms are taking more notice not of so called social signals but how much impact this has (at present!) is up for debate.

The value of content should not be measured by its impact on search engine marketing but on how it engages and delivers value to identified prospects and the number quality sales leads it delivers as a result. Content marketing does have an impact on B2B search engine marketing but this should be a secondary concern.

A B2B Content Marketing Toolbox

content marketing toolsB2B content marketing can deliver high quality sales leads at low cost but it can also place high demands on company resources. This post considers the minimum the content marketing toolbox should include to deliver results.

Before even considering what marketing tools may be required it is essential to put a plan in place. Careful thought should go 

The plan should specify what content will be produced, for which market segment, at which point in the sales process, on what date and what will be the delivery method. The overriding principle should be if content is not of value to the target customer then time should not be wasted on its production and delivery. In an increasingly competitive online environment only the best content, delivered by the most effective delivery method is likely to deliver results.into considering exactly what the business would like to achieve and (crucially) defining precisely who are the business target customers and segments. Without this information the content marketing process can easily get out of control, lose focus and waste resources.

Content Marketing Website

The most important element in the content marketing toolbox is the website. This should be the information hub and the point prospects are guided back to for more information. When a prospect lands on the website there should be sufficient information of interest and value to persuade the prospect to return to the website for more if they do not respond to the immediate calls to action.

It is important to also engage with prospects who may be searching for information on line so another important set of marketing tools are those associated with search engine marketing to ensure the website is found should a prospect type in relevant search terms.

Content – Blog

A blog is an excellent way to deliver content on a regular basis, build credibility and an ongoing relationship (RSS feed). Blog posts written around relevant keywords (search phrases) can rank at a high position on the search engines as standalone items and therefore bring in traffic to the website. They also show the search engines that the website content is updates on a regular basis and improve the search engine ranking factor for the main website.

Content – Other than Blog

Content can take many forms some of which may be created from scratch and some that may be adapted from existing resources. The key is the content is of value and sales can have a valuable input at this point. To implement a content marketing process copywriting and editing skills are vital to both to modify existing sources of content and to write new copy.

Existing sources of content may include excerpts from existing printed sales material, existing company presentations, selected quality information, production information that may be converted to how to guides and market / trends information (non confidential) circulated internally.

Opt In Email List And Newsletter

The website may contain several items of real value to prospects including guides, research papers or product whitepapers. These items may be utilised to secure an Email opt in as a return for the free download. A key element of the content marketing toolbox is Email marketing skills and the ability to craft appealing and engaging E-Newsletters. The Newsletter should be crafted to generate traffic back to the website for further information.

B2B Content Delivery Channels

Content is of little value if it is not read and engaged with therefore to avoid wasting a significant amount of time and resources delivery channels must be researched appropriately. Sales can again have a significant input at this stage but marketing require the research, channel knowledge and delivery skills to ensure content reaches its intended target.

Analysis Tools

Any B2B marketing toolbox must include a range of analysis and reporting tools but this is particularly important for content marketing. Measurement of the success (or not) of a wide range of process elements is required to maximise return on investment. Content marketing is resource intensive and any activity that is not producing the required response should be dropped at the earliest opportunity.

The main element of any content marketing toolbox then is the business website as without this it is impossible to engage (and convert) prospects. This is closely followed by the choice and implementation of various content delivery channels and analysis tools. However, without an effective strategy and plan any tools and services delivered are unlikely to deliver the required results.

How To Build An Effective Inbound Marketing Website

 

Relationship between inbound marketing and website designWhen building a website to support any outbound or inbound marketing campaign the objective has to be to secure more quality sales leads from clearly identified prospects. General sales leads just lead to wasted sales time in follow up and qualification.

It is generally accepted the impact of traditional outbound marketing is in decline with inbound (pull) marketing perceived as the way forward to improved results at a lower overall cost per lead. However, inbound marketing takes time to deliver results so the best option is often to mix the best elements of push and pull marketing.

The prime purpose of inbound marketing is to build credibility and an ongoing relationship with a prospect or existing customer. The aim is to position the business so it is front of mind and best placed to capitalise on any opportunity when it arises. To be effective it is essential to research exactly what information elements of the target customer decision making team are likely to search for. What information is of value to them at various points in the sales process and where they are likely to look to find that information?

The company website should be constructed as an information hub and the prime means to engage with a prospect or customer and keep them coming back for more. Therefore, all other content delivery channels should link back to the website as a source of more information.

After all the effort to drive prospects to the website every effort should be made to deliver an appropriate experience. Navigation should be simple, the look should be clean and uncluttered, key information .should be positioned appropriately and there should be prominent calls to actions and the means to secure email details to facilitate ongoing communication.

With a keyword list in place, complete with an idea of search volumes and competition, it is then possible to allocate keywords to website pages, plan a series of ongoing blog posts and build the search engine marketing process to ensure the website is found. Once in place the website may be used to support the outbound marketing process and the sales team.

The key to any effective inbound marketing website is to ensure that once a prospect lands on the website they are retained in some way. They may be either encouraged to return to source more information or leave their Email details in return for something of value so that the conversation may be continued.

Where To Find High Quality Engaging Content

It is universally accepted that any content delivered must be both engaging and of the highest quality if it is to stand out in an increasingly competitive online landscape. The challenge is where to find such content in sufficient quantity.

To research and write quality new content requires specialist skills and significant time and effort. In many cases generating sufficient new content to satisfy the requirements of the marketing plan is just not practical. Finding existing information in the business that can be converted to something of value to customers and prospects should therefore be a priority.

Use Existing Sources Of Quality Content

Many businesses sit on a wealth of information that could easily be updated or modified to be of use to prospects and customers. Old sales information is often a great place to start but remember the purpose of content marketing is to inform, not deliver pushy sales messages. Old press releases, newsletter content, exhibition brochures and information packs are all useful resources.

The company sales department will be in constant communication with the customer base. They should therefore be well aware of the most common questions and issues that arise. It is probable these issues will have been addressed previously leaving a trail of information that could be converted into high quality content or even a mini case study on how a customer problem was resolved.

Whatever market issues or trends are raised in company meetings or inter department communication are, most likely, also of interest to the prospect or customer base. If confidentiality issues can be addressed then this information can be of real value to the customer base.

Developing New Content

Most businesses employ people, often outside the sales and marketing department, who have a strong (often controversial) opinion on the market, technology and / or trends. If these people can be persuaded to deliver a regular post or article it can be some of the most engaging content available. Publishing this content also takes some of the new content generation load off the marketing department.

A New Focus For Content

Reading back through old posts or articles can prove to be useful. Some articles may be completely outdated and / or inaccurate and should be deleted but many more will benefit from updating, re-writing or focussing on an entirely different area than originally planned.

The above covers just a few of many potential existing information sources that may be converted into high quality, engaging content. Producing new content is a constant challenge that is time consuming and requires specialist skills. Anything to reduce the workload should be welcomed.

How To Make Content Marketing More Effective

Plan to make content marketing more effectiveA recent report by CMI / Outbrain concluded (unsurprisingly) that the major content marketing challenges faced by B2B marketers are producing enough content, producing content that engages and producing sufficient content variety. A 2013 CMO Council report concluded that the delivery method has a major impact on the trustworthiness of content.

Several other research papers conclude that one of the major reasons inbound marketing fails is the failure to plan effectively before starting the process. It is suggested the plan should contain both the overall strategy and required outcomes and a detailed schedule detailing what type of content will be delivered, by what delivery method, on what dates and (critically) who will be responsible for creating the content.

Some content may be new and created by the marketing department but much is often created by others within the business with a view of value to customers and prospects. A great source of content, that requires considerably less effort, is information on products, how to guides, quality, manufacturing etc that already resides in the business and simply needs editing to be of value to customers.

The Problem With Inbound Marketing

One of the problems with any inbound marketing process, particularly in B2B markets, is securing higher management buy in to the process. Businesses used to outbound marketing often find it difficult to see the value in a new way of working with only the promise of medium to long term results rather than immediate returns.

Without a detailed plan the content marketing process will tend to drift, after the excitement of the initial push. Enthusiasm may soon wane among the mass of other priorities within the business and content may be delivered on an ad hoc basis (if at all). This reduces (or at best delays) the prospect of any returns and leads higher management to believe their initial suspicions were correct and cancel the process.

The Content Editor In Chief Role

One potential solution is to allocate a single person to drive the process, to provide help and support to those tasked with delivering content, to ensure the plan is achieved and to write, edit and source content that has the best chance of engaging customers. This is a demanding position but without it the content marketing process has little chance of delivering results.

The person may be recruited from within or brought in from outside on a temporary basis. Appointment of an internal person has some distinct advantages as they will be best placed to identify existing information that may be converted and thought leaders in the business able to create useful content. With existing personal relationships in place an internal person will be best placed to cajole those involved to deliver on their promises.

An external person with the appropriate experience will be more likely to understand the complexities of an inbound marketing process and deliver more effective content to the marketplace. An experienced external person is also more likely to have more refined content writing and editing skills than a person promoted from within.

How To Start A Content Marketing Process

Although many businesses recognise the advantages of a content marketing process they find it difficult to know where to start. Bitter experience shows it is all too easy to in and waste time and effort before finally establishing a way forward that delivers consistent results. What follows are some suggestions, which if followed, should at least eliminate some early mistakes and save time and trouble.

One important point to note is any inbound marketing process will take time to deliver. Various research papers show that once established a content marketing process delivers a consistent supply of high quality sales leads, but it does takes time.

There are a few key points to remember when first starting out, they are:

  • Produce content that is of value to your target market.
  • Start small and be focussed.
  • Be Consistent.
  • Measure / Adapt / Improve.

Content marketing sometimes requires a complete change of mindset. It is not about pushing out promotional messages but about delivering information that is of genuine use to customers and prospects and giving it away for free. Most of the time the content will not even mention what your business may supply, its selling points or even the business name.

To avoid an immense amount of time and trouble a detailed plan is required before starting out. Without a plan you will often find yourself going back to what you have already created, making changes then starting again. A plan should define:

  • What you would like to achieve (more leads?) and in what timescales.
  • Your target customer – focus.
  • What information is of use to them at what stage in the sales cycle?
  • How you are going to reach prospects and give your content the best chance to be read.
  • What content already exists and how to produce new content.
  •  A detailed schedule of events.

To avoid the process becoming too cumbersome and time consuming in the early stages it is important to start out by focussing on a well defined but small target market segment and targeting all resources on that segment. Of course, this will limit the initial returns but it will deliver useful experience upon which a more extensive process may be built and developed.

Generally the marketing department will be responsible for developing any inbound marketing processes but it is essential to reach out to those with an intimate relationship with customers and their needs (the sales department) when trying to establish what information should be delivered to support the sales cycle and what channels should be used to deliver that information.

Various reports show that the biggest challenges faced by content marketers in B2B markets are producing enough content, producing the type of content that engages and defining the most appropriate delivery channels. Generating new content in the marketing department is important but it is not sufficient on its own and it is resource intensive.

It is important to capitalise on all existing information resources in a business, to filter this information to determine what may be useful to the target audience and to re-write or adapt it to use in the marketing process. The responsibility for creating new content should not fall to only the marketing department but should be distributed throughout the business and allocated to those with a useful view on markets and trends, technology, quality and reliability or product and service issues.

With content resources and channels identified it is then essential to deliver to the target prospect base on an ongoing, consistent basis. A start / stop approach, or worse a content marketing process that runs for a few months only then stops will not deliver results and can be a significant waste of valuable resources.

The final step in any content marketing process should be to measure the results of each activity and its impact on the desired result and to adapt, change and improve the process over time. As with any business process without measurement there can be no control.

9 key inbound marketing skills

What inbound marketing skills are required in B2B markets?

In B2B markets there has been a shift (see below*) toward inbound marketing in recent years driven by changes in buyer and decision maker behaviour. This in turn has modified the skill sets required by marketers. Direct mail, advertising and print are all less effective than they once were. The key new skills required by marketers are:

  • Strategy, planning, segmentation.
  • The ability to write high quality, engaging, thoughtful content.
  • Content sourcing and editorial skills.
  • Detailed knowledge of information delivery channels.
  • Decision maker profiling.
  • Search engine marketing.
  • Website development.
  • Project management.
  • Email marketing.

Of course some of these skills may be acquired in an outbound based marketing department but some are entirely new and not easily acquired in the short term, taking each in turn.

Strategy, Planning and Segmentation

These are key skills for any marketer but even more so when using pull marketing. It is essential to identify exactly what the business would like to achieve, what really sets it apart from the rest and its key customer groups. Planning relates not just to the standard marketing planning process but also embraces the complex task of creating an effective content marketing plan.

Content Writing Skills

Any inbound marketing process relies on the ability to deliver high quality, relevant and engaging content. Any content should flow well, be grammatically correct and engage the reader from the start. Writing for the web requires a particular style that is not too dry or over complicated and more chatty in style than would be expected in traditional printed media.

All of the above takes time to learn but it is crucial to success. As more businesses realise the potential of pull marketing then more and more content is published on line. The challenge is to stand out in the crowd.

Content Sourcing

Not all content needs to be written from scratch as most businesses sit on a large amount of existing information of potential use to customers and prospects at various points in their buying cycle. This may include engineering information, how to use guides, quality information, qualification reports and so on. A re-writing process may be required but the bulk of the information may already exist.

Most businesses will employ a range of people with detailed product or market knowledge. There may be some with a slightly controversial view on future trend or what is happening in the market place. These people may be persuaded to write a regular post – perhaps on a monthly basis.

The challenge for the marketing department is to take the array of information available, re-write, update and schedule as required, effectively assuming the role of editor in chief.

Content Delivery

Content is of little use if it cannot be found by prospects and customers. If content does not stand out from the crowd and engage sufficiently to ensure it is read then it has not served its purpose. The marketing department must therefore carefully research which channels have most chance of reaching and engaging the prospect or customer. The sales department are a key source of information at this point. With the most appropriate delivery channels identified the marketing department requires detailed knowledge of how to work those channels to deliver the desired outcome.

Profiling

Closely coupled with the above is the ability to profile the decision maker the content is required to engage. Different decision makers may need different content and the content may change depending on the stage of the sales process. Again, sales are a valuable resource at this point.

Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing and the website are closely linked and it is difficult to decide which should be handed the highest priority. However, as there is little point having a website if it cannot be found on line when a prospect searches for a relevant search term then search engine marketing wins out.

It is important to remember that there are two elements to consider, direct and indirect traffic. The power of blogging as an indirect traffic generator,  a content delivery medium and as an effective search engine marketing activity should not be underestimated.

Website

There needs to be a hub for all the information the business may publish. That hub can be a more aggressive sales medium than the content itself and it can be the primary tool to secure customer / prospect sign up (see Email – below) to facilitate ongoing communication and relationship building.

Any website must be designed to facilitate frequent update and should concentrate primarily on information and content rather than design and technology.

Project Management

Inbound marketing done on an ad-hoc basis will not succeed as consistency is required to produce any meaningful results. Project management involves delivering to the plan (see above) which in turn involves progressing those who have promised either rough or completed content to deliver on time.

Email marketing

It is debateable if Email marketing should be classed as inbound or outbound but for pull marketing it relates to designing processes to secure prospects Email addresses in return for something of value, building contact systems to hold that data and using the Email address to continue to communicate with prospects offering something of value (not bombarding with sales messages)

Some of the skills required to implement a pull marketing process can vary month to month and special projects like a product launch or a new venture can cause a peak in demand in any one month.

The transition to inbound marketing often requires the existing marketing team to acquire new skills, some of which (for example writing content) take time to develop. Sometimes outsourcing part of the process can give the existing team to get up to speed and can be used to deal with short term peaks in demand.

*Hubspot state of inbound marketing report 2012

The Rise Of B2B Inbound Marketing

What is driving the popularity of B2B Inbound Marketing

When considering what is driving the move towards inbound (and away from outbound) marketing in B2B markets it is wise to consider both the recent history of search engine marketing and the changes in B2B buyer behaviour.

Recent Changes To Search Engine Marketing.

Three years ago it was possible to build a site with minimal content, stuff what content there was with the chosen keyword, build a high quantity of incoming links with little to no relevance to the site subject and rank at a high position on the search engines as a result. Did that approach deliver a relevant search engine experience to the masses? Did it bring in relevant prospects to the website?

The search engines companies’ prime focus is to deliver a relevant search experience hence they updated their algorithms to give sites using bad practices a much lower chance of ranking in a high position. First to be hit was keyword stuffing then low quality linking practices. However, at this point it was still possible to rank a site using higher quality (some may say still a little Grey Hat) back linking strategies.

Over the past 18 months things have changed dramatically with the introduction of the Penguin 1 and 2 and Panda algorithm updates. These focussed on content, relevance and social signals more than ever before and took a particularly hard line on dubious back linking strategies.

Why Inbound Marketing

As a result so called content marketing has risen in popularity as a major component of best inbound marketing practice. Distributing, relevant, helpful, high quality content is now said to be the key to generating high quality sales leads and improving the rank of a particular website.

Inbound marketing is becoming popular in B2B markets were the old style push marketing techniques are less and less effective. Buyers and members of the decision making team are now much more likely to seek out the information they need (pull) rather than wait for it to be pushed their way.

There is however a problem that is rarely mentioned. Inbound, and in particular content marketing, is time consuming and it only really works with the active participation of the business. The old ways, when back links were all important, meant it was possible for a business to hire a SEM agency and simply leave them to get on with the job. That is no longer possible, and for many small and medium sized businesses that is a problem.

Many businesses are simply too busy or lack the skills to develop and run an inbound marketing process. Outsourcing to a external marketing agency is an option but not as a hire and forget situation. The best way forward for businesses with limited time and appropriate skills is often a partnership between an inbound marketing agency and the business.

 

The Best B2B Content Marketing Tactics

A recent survey by the CMI / Outbrain identified the primary B2B content marketing tactics used by small (10-99 employee) businesses in B2B markets to distribute content. The top ten tactics were (in priority order):

  • Social media (other than blogs)
  • Articles on own website
  • E-Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Case Studies
  • Video
  • Events
  • Articles on other websites
  • White papers
  • Webinars

Which of these tactics are used (either singly or in combination) very much depends on if the target is new customers or existing customers. The high rating of social media is a little difficult to understand as only approximately 5% of B2B sales leads are generated by this medium (source). Its popularity may perhaps be explained by its ease of use and its perceived potential future importance to SEO but due the low conversion rate it is excluded from the following discussion.

Combining B2B content marketing tactics to extract more from existing customers is relatively easy to achieve and measure. As an example blogs, videos, articles, case studies and white papers may reside on the business website and be pointed to via a regular E Newsletter.  An existing customer aware of the company website, and the free information available, may use it as an ongoing resource, raising credibility and keeping the business front of mind.

The main challenge is in delivering useful, engaging content to potential new customers. The first step is to build a profile of who those customers are the contacts within those customers and to segment them appropriately. Either those contacts need to find the published content for themselves (the ideal) or they need to be directed to the content so a two pronged attack is required.

If prospects are to find content then obviously it needs to be placed where they are likely to find it. Research is therefore vital into what resources prospects are most likely to use to research / view content. This task is both critical to success and difficult to implement. If prospects do view content it is important to try to gain their details and the opportunity to keep communicating by giving away some information of value for free in return for a Email address.

The second approach involves connecting with identified prospects via professional telemarketing, direct mail or some other medium to gain permission to keep communicating. Once this permission is secured then the E Newsletter type approach discussed above may be employed.

There are therefore a wide range of tactics to employ to deliver on the goals of content marketing. In all cases it is important to choose the right tactic, or group of tactics to have the best chance to reach the target audience.

Key Elements Of A B2B Content Marketing Plan

What are the key elements of a B2B content marketing plan and how does it fit into the overall inbound marketing process?

The objectives of any inbound marketing process must be to:

  • Maximise customer retention.
  • Develop strong content of interest to both potential new customers and existing customers.
  • Up sell / cross sell to existing customers and / or persuade them to take more.
  • Position a business as supplier of first choice.
  • Secure more customers

There is little doubt any pull marketing process requires an ongoing commitment of time and resources to succeed. Results are seldom immediate and generally take several months of hard effort before they are delivered.

A solid content marketing process, combined with a well thought out content delivery plan will result in an ongoing, consistent supply of high quality sales leads but the process must be built on solid foundations as follows:

  • Business Strategy and marketing review.
  • Existing customer profile – how can they be reached, what channels do they use, what is of benefit to them, what is the message and what is the sales process.
  • Identify new customers – What market segments, who are the targets, who are the decision makers, how can they be reached, what channels do they use to source information, what content is of benefit to them.
  • Content resources – what is of benefit, does it already exist, how can it be created
  • Raised business profile – How can the business profile be raised, how to increase credibility.

Without a thoroughly thought out and researched B2B content marketing plan any inbound marketing process is destined to fail, wasting considerable time, cash and resources in the process. Many B2B businesses miss the business strategy and review stage (or give it little thought) and fail to achieve their objectives as a result. Failing to analyse where a business is now and where it would like to get to is a fundamental step in any marketing process.

Failing to identify what makes the business different, why it has acquired its existing customer base and what more the business could do for them will ensure any content delivered will be of little value. Without a specific new customer type to attack and a specific message to deliver the chances of securing sufficient new customers is minimal.

A typical B2B content marketing plan can be downloaded here

The Value In Content Marketing

Is there any real value in content marketing? With all the hype it is difficult to find any comparative data comparing content marketing with other lead generating activities. This post compares a content marketing approach with telemarketing by comparing cost per lead.

If we assume a cold caller can make 20 calls per hour and 3 of those calls reach a decision maker (optimistic) then 20 decision makers can be reached reached per day -100 per week. As most telemarketing campaigns invest little in targeting the best prospects I find it difficult to believe more than 5% of decision makers reached will agree to meet / move to the next stage.  Therefore, assuming an operator is paid a minimal rate the cost per lead will be (best case) GBP50.

This cost does not include the costs of any calling lists or any pre-qualification of contacts before the call is made. An assumption is also made that the purpose of the call is simply to generate a lead and not (as in best telemarketing practice) to develop a relationship that develops to a lead over time.

To make a direct comparison let’s again assume the purpose of the content marketing campaign is to generate leads and disregard its other potential benefits. From a real life example a content (inbound) marketing campaign run by a medium sized business (36 people) in a B2B market (component manufacture) over a 12 month period shows each sales lead cost an average of GBP61.

At first sight then content, or pull marketing is more expensive (22% more) but the quality of the lead is so much higher. The prospect makes their own choice to make an enquiry and has not been cajoled into it by a telemarketer. In addition, it is probable the prospect persuaded by content marketing has already done some research and comparison and is therefore further through the buying cycle.

Telemarketing is probably one of the cheapest methods of generating sales leads (the reason it is still performed – even if so annoying). From campaign start up it will also generate the first sales leads faster than a content marketing campaign but the real value in inbound, or content marketing is the quality of lead it generates for only a relatively small increase in cost.

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B2B Content Marketing – An Overview

bigstock-Content-Computer-Concept--D-I-40612324What is inbound and content marketing and how does it differ from traditional B2B marketing? The profile of inbound marketing has grown rapidly over recent months and many now believe it is the most effective way to raise a business profile. This post set out to define inbound and B2B content marketing and its potential advantages for businesses in B2B markets.

Traditional marketing is based on pushing the message out to prospects and customers.  It involves building close relationships, delivering presentations, advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, Email marketing and a number of other means to push the chosen messages about the business, the brand and the benefits of the product or service

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing still works well for some but others have noticed increasing customer and prospect resistance to these techniques. There has been a shift in consumer behaviour to collect the information they need to make a purchasing decision themselves (pull) rather than wait for it to be delivered (push). There is an increasing break down in trust of advertising, telemarketing and other push marketing techniques.

The alternative is pull marketing where it is not about the messages the business may wish to deliver but about the needs of the customer or prospect. Pull marketing is based on delivering the information potential customers need to make an informed purchasing decision and guiding them appropriately. B2B Content marketing is a key element of the pull marketing process.

B2B Content Marketing Defined

There are many definitions of content marketing but one of the better ones states ‘it is a mechanism to engage with existing and potential customers, build credibility and trustworthiness and ensure the business is front of mind when any opportunity arises’. Potential customers spend more and more time researching suppliers and their products via the internet. It is important to ensure any business has an appropriate internet presence that services those information requirements, builds credibility and ensures the business is front of mind when the time comes to purchase.

To run a successful pull marketing campaign requires quality content delivered on a consistent basis but where does that content come from? The problem can often actually be there is too much content rather than too little and the issue is filtering what is available and placing it into an appropriate order to match the marketing plan. The main challenge is often converting the raw information available into something that reads well, is useful and relevant to prospects and customers.

Existing Sources of Content

Many businesses in B2B markets sit on a large amount of information that may be useful to customers. Any business should have a view (perhaps controversial) of the market it operates in, changes to that market, legislation and trends, all of which may be of interest to prospects. There will often be thought leaders within a business with a relevant view.

There may be information readily available to help customers improve how they use the product or service. Or information in house that can be converted to allow prospects to make informed decisions but not a sales document that will destroy trust in an instant. It could be useful application or quality information is available.

Pull marketing obviously requires well written information but it also requires detailed research into how that content may be engaged with by customers and prospects and how is it best delivered. There is little point in putting significant effort into preparing engaging and relevant information if nobody will read it. A wide range of marketing expertise is required to implement the delivery (copywriting, website build, blogging, social media, Email marketing etc) via the most appropriate channel.

B2B Content Marketing Tactics

A recent survey of B2B businesses showed the most popular content delivery tactics were social media (other than blog), articles on own website, e-newsletter, blogs, case studies, followed by in person events. To give an indication of the complexity the survey lists 26 different tactics and indicates businesses utilising content marketing use an average of 12 different tactics to reach their audience.

The above is only part of the story as the survey also shows the businesses surveyed rate in person events as the most effective tactic, followed by case studies and blogs. Social media does not rank in the top 10! Another report shows that the delivery channel used is critical to the level of engagement. It shows that customers trust case studies and information delivered by professional associations and trade groups more than any other.

Of the key objectives of inbound marketing customer acquisition, lead generation and customer retention not surprisingly all rank in the top 5. The survey shows the top challenges of content marketing are producing enough content (64%), producing engaging content and producing variety of content.

Inbound marketing then can be both complex and challenging but the long term reward of a consistent supply of quality sales leads can justify the effort. In addition implementing good quality content marketing can have SEO benefits, boosting the profile of the business website. Search engine optimisation has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. Good SEO is more about delivering valuable and engaging content than it ever was in the past, which fits perfectly with a content marketing strategy.

The use of content marketing, as part of a inbound marketing process, continues to grow in B2B markets. There is little doubt the process has some real advantages over traditional push marketing but there are also some significant down sides to be aware of. A content marketing process is resource intensive and it requires expertise in a wide range of marketing disciplines. There are challenges associated with generating enough of the right type of content in sufficient quantity and delivering it via the appropriate channels.

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B2B Inbound Marketing – Is All The Hype Justified?

B2B Inbound marketing has been around for some time, so why all the hype all of a sudden? This post dInbound marketing in B2B marketsefines inbound marketing and investigates its recent rise in popularity.

So what is inbound marketing? There are many definitions but as the name suggests the process is based on bringing in warm leads to a business rather than reaching out to cold and unqualified prospects. It is primarily based on a process (also much hyped) known as content marketing that is delivery of relevant, engaging, useful information to prospects to aid them on their journey through the sales process. Its aim is to raise business credibility and keep that business ‘front of mind’ with prospects when the time comes to purchase.

The Sudden Growth In B2B Inbound Marketing

The rise in B2B inbound marketing could be due to the convergence of three key factors. First, particularly in B2B markets, the old push marketing techniques have become less and less effective over recent years. Decision makers, buyers and the population in general  have taken control and are much more inclined to seek out the information they need (pull) than rely on it being delivered (push).

Second, the major search engines (Google in particular) made dramatic changes to the way they rank websites during 2012 with the process continuing into 2013. It appears the search engines are looking for quality content and how that content is shared and engaged with as a major website ranking factor.

Finally, many have been sucked in by the impressive (at face value) statistics surrounding inbound marketing. One report from Hubspot (survey completed in Feb 2013 based on 3,339 respondents) showed 60% of marketers will employ some level of inbound marketing in 2013, 48% intend to increase spend on inbound marketing and 41% agree that inbound marketing delivers a measurable ROI. All that said it is always important to dig into the vested interests of those publishing such statistics rather than take them at face value.

Problems With B2B Inbound Marketing

It is however true to say inbound (or pull marketing) does have its problems. Some tend to focus only on the SEO benefits and forget quality content and engagement is actually the most important. This leads to businesses throwing together as much content as possible without actually focussing on what content is relevant and useful to the target customers.

Integration of sales and marketing is also a problem with various reports showing that sales often simply do not see the benefits of content marketing leading to ongoing friction between sales and marketing. At CEO and CFO level the benefits of inbound marketing are still not fully understood; probably as a result of a failure of the marketing department to prove the benefits.

Creating content is a time consuming task and to deliver that content requires expertise in a wide range of marketing tools and services. Creating enough content, creating content of true value and delivering that content via the most appropriate means to ensure it is read are all ongoing problems.

Given the reduction in effectiveness of traditional push marketing and the impressive statistics associated with the alternative inbound marketing all the hype is perhaps understandable. However, there is no magic bullet and B2B inbound marketing is not without its problems. It requires hard work up front before any ROI is achieved and requires ongoing commitment from the very top if it is to succeed.

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