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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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