As inbound marketers it's our job to be ridiculously helpful to prospects who would benefit from using our products or services. If we can do this at each stage of the buyer’s journey, our efforts will produce results to the tune of new customers and net new revenue.
But success isn’t that simple. It requires a system. Effective inbound programs move people from the Attract Phase when they're Googling answers to an ill-defined problem, all the way through to the Delight Phase when they're a customer and an enthusiastic promoter of your brand.
This post is designed to be a quick reference guide. It outlines the tactics we include in the inbound marketing programs we develop and run for businesses who are selling a high-value B2B product or service (more on this in a few seconds). If your business sells this type of product or service our hope is that it will help you:
- Discover one or two tactics that you haven’t tried yet
- Refine a tactic you’re already executing
- Build your understanding of all of the moving parts in an effective inbound marketing program
- Decide to try out inbound marketing
A Note For Those Just Getting Started: You don't need to do all of the tactics below at once. This post is a quick reference guide. Our latest ebook does a better job of giving you 1-2 tactics to get started with in each phase of the buyer’s journey. You can download it here.
In Case You Doubt Inbound Will Work For A High Value B2B Product Or Service
We’ve talked with a lot of people through the years who doubt that their website can become a consistent source of qualified leads because they have a niche high-value product. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s true that you probably won’t close a ton of sales through an online shopping cart if you sell something worth $50,000 or above to other businesses. BUT, if this is the type of business you’re in, we think you’re a perfect fit for an inbound marketing program. There are a few simple reasons why.
- High Value = Long Sales Cycle: Any company that has a long sales cycle needs to find ways to build a universe of prospects before they’re ready to buy. Inbound marketing does just that.
- Complex Sales = Research: If you’re selling something complex, then your target audience is going to do a lot of research into the right solution before they buy. A content-driven lead gen program should make that research easier for the prospect.
- Complex Sales = More Decision Makers: For the most part, no one is going to make a large B2B purchase without involving all of the stakeholders. When executed correctly, you could use a lead gen program to build relationships with all decision makers before your sales team gets involved.
- More Trust = Higher Close Rate: A lead gen program that focuses on being ridiculously helpful to prospects will create trust in your company as prospects move through the buyer’s journey. This will result in a greater close rate once the sales team gets involved.
If you make an investment in generating the right leads using inbound marketing, you’ll turn your digital channels and your website into the engine for your business. Read our latest ebook on generating the right leads now.
Ok, enough preamble. Let's get dive into the tactics.
The first step of any inbound marketing program is setup. Our goal is to build a firm foundation in three specific areas: People & Roles, Systems, and Brand & Audience.
As you read through this list keep in mind that this is a lot of work. We usually take 90 days to accomplish these tasks, but we don’t wait that full time to start marketing. Our commitment to clients is to start driving leads within 30 days of working together. It’s better to start executing while you complete your setup so you’re able to drive the results you need from the start.
1) People & Roles
- Project Management vs. Program Strategy: Strategy and project management are two different skill sets. It’s beneficial to decide up front who is handling each side of the program. This will remove frustration further down the road.
- KPIs and Program Objectives: Although most inbound marketing programs focus on lead generation, qualification, and customer acquisition, there are many different approaches you could take to measuring success. One of our early onboarding activities is sitting down with all key stakeholders and getting a firm grasp on the KPIs that matter.
- Workflow & Approvals: As you start running an inbound marketing program there’s lots of strategy work and content to be reviewed. It’s best if your team can focus on doing the actual work required of them rather than wondering how to do it. Take a few moments to write down the process you’ll use to get the work done. For more complex organizations this could be a series of flow charts. If your organization is simple you could write the process on an index card. Either approach works, just write down your process to save everyone headaches down the road.
- Turnaround Times: If there are stakeholders or key executives who will need review content, work with them to establish defined turnaround times. You probably can’t expect them to look at your work as soon as they receive it. On the other hand, it also isn’t fair for them to hold onto it for weeks. Establishing norms will help keep everyone accountable in the process.
- Meeting Schedules/Cadence: Don’t give in to the temptation to handle everything about your program through a project management system. We start out with a weekly status meeting to report on setup progress. We also have a monthly meeting to report on KPIs.
- Sales Team Involvement: If you sell a high-value product or services, there’s likely a sales team involved. People just don’t buy products for $50,000, $100,000 or more online without interacting with a real person. It’s valuable to identify the level of involvement you’ll need from the sales team at the beginning as well as who on the sales team will be your key collaborators. At a minimum, we shoot for monthly meetings with the sales team as we try to narrow in on sending the right leads
- Marketing Software Selection & Implementation: There's a lot of software out there. As an agency we believe Hubspot is the best tool for inbound marketing. We're a Hubspot Solutions Partner There are many other high-quality software solutions to choose from. The important thing is to choose one and embrace it. Most platforms have a significant number of apps and other software that can be integrated. Keep that in mind.
- CRM Integration: Your marketing software needs to speak to your database of record. This is especially important if you would like to report on the financial impact of your marketing efforts. Take some time to map out what data needs to be passed back and forth and get it connected.
- Lead Management: Take some time to write down how you will manage leads within your system so that once they start flowing there is a clear and repeatable system. By creating some simple documentation, you can ensure that your data stays clean and everyone has the same definitions when they talk about leads moving through your inbound funnel. For more information about lead management, check out this post.
- Lead Scoring: Once you have a clear understanding of your audience and your strategy, you should use your marketing software to score prospects based on the information they provide you and the things they do on your site. Then, build a workflow to hand the prospect off to sales when they reach a certain score. Make sure you talk to your sales team as you build out your lead scoring.
Brand & Audience
- Brand Standards & Styles: Do you have a style guide? That would be one of the first things that we’d ask during our kickoff process. This isn’t a must to get rolling with your inbound efforts, its best to dust them off if you have them. If you need help capturing your brand’s voice, follow these tips from our content expert Brad Steinbacher.
- Audience Research: Audience research is essential if you want to attract the right audience with your inbound efforts. Many people want to skip this step. Our experience shows this is a big mistake. Understanding the core needs of your audience will fuel your content creation. If you're looking to get started, Erika Hall's book: Just Enough Research is one of our favorites.
- Persona Development: Once you’ve completed your research, it needs to be formatted that’s easy to reference. Enter the persona. Our personas typically have a name, a photo, some biographical information, a list of needs & desires, a list of turn offs, and some quotes from our audience research. Remember to base this persona tightly on research, because a persona that makes false assumptions is usually worse than no persona at all. You can learn more about our persona development process and download a persona development worksheet here.
- Content Strategy: You need a strategy for your content. At the most basic level you need to think through what topics your business wants to own. And you need to make sure that those topics are things your prsonas care about (see above). We dive a little deeper in our content strategy efforts by defining things like a content strategy objective, brand voice, content themes, and the workflow needed to create content consistently. We use a modified version of Brain Traffic's content strategy quad to guide our efforts.
Big Lift Tactics
There are a number of activities that you need to work on a consistent basis for your program to be successful but do not have to be completed on a monthly cadence. We recommend calendaring out this work early in the year so that you work backwards with your schedules to hit launch dates.
- Strategic Planning:Every once in a while make sure you and your team step away to do some strategic planning. It's important to get your heads out of the tactics and ask the big questions.
- Editorial Planning: We conduct monthly or quarterly editorial planning with our clients. It's how we stay focused in our content creation efforts. You’ll also need an editorial calendar, we have a free Airtable template for you to try out here.
- Premium Content: Ebooks and white papers are the primary lead generation tools in the inbound system. We use them to capture email addresses.. These long-form content pieces should be built to solve problems and challenges your prospects face as they move through the stages of the buyer’s journey. They must build value. They shouldn't read like an advertisement for your business.
- Videos: Video should be part of all inbound strategies in 2020. We typically record all of our background interviews for blog posts so that we can easily cut short snippets and place them in posts. We also recommend working on one or two longer videos if that fits into your strategy. Worried about the costs of equipment? We’ve created a simple breakdown of how much it will cost you...you can get started for as little as a couple thousand dollars.
- Pillar Pages: In your content strategy you should have identified key topics you would like to own as a business. A pillar page is an exhaustive resource about that topic that will help you rank well with Google and will serve as the cornerstone of your blogging efforts. Check out Hubspot's awesome resource on this topic to get started.
- Automated Nurture Pathways: Automated nurture pathways focus on cultivating a lead after they've provided you with an email. They should focus on building a deeper relationship with the lead through a series of micro-interactions. Ultimately, the goal of a nurture pathway should be to either qualify the lead for sales or motivate a purchase. Our B2B Guide To Creating High-Performing Email Nurture Campaigns is a good playbook to get started.
The Month In And Month Out Tactics
Here’s where the consistency comes in. The monthly work requires discipline to stay on top of it and keep moving. You don’t have to all of these activities, but chose a set and stick with it.
- Blogging: We recommend blogging at least one time per week. For most of our clients, and ourselves, we blog more than once per week. Hubspot has some interesting recent research on the right cadence based on your goals. Your blogging should center around the topics in your pillar pages to demonstrate your expertise on that topic to search engines and the people who search on them. If at all possible your blog posts should incorporate visuals and video. The world is multimedia today. Take advantage of it!
- Digital Media Management: Demand generation using paid digital media works. We use it to drive results as the organic impact of your inbound program builds. We use digital media to drive traffic to blog posts and to advertise white papers and eBooks. Still not convinced? Read why advertising should always be paired with an inbound strategy.
- Social Media Posting: In addition to paid media, you need to post content at a regular cadence on your organic social channels. Ideally this will be a mixture of your own content and content that others have created with your information attached.
- On-Page SEO: Make sure you're doing everything you need to make your content friendly to search engines. Moz has a nifty guide if you haven't done much thinking about this.
- Email Newsletters: Email newsletters are magic. They're the perfect way to reengage with your prospects (and customers) on a consistent basis. I could tell you many stories about how a simple newsletter reengaged a customer and led to a sale. A great way to start is to use your newsletter to send out a monthly roundup of blog posts. Then build on it with original content.
- Results Reviews: It's easy to take the ball off of the results and just focus on hitting deadlines. A scheduled monthly results review will help you avoid this temptation.
- Optimization: Nothing in your inbound system should be set and forgotten. Marketing software like Hubspot gives you unprecedented insight into the effectiveness of each element of the system. We spend time prioritizing an optimization queue for each of our inbound clients every week. You should be doing the same for your program.
A FINAL NOTE ON Consistency & Discipline
Let’s talk about the dirty little secret all good marketers know but none of us like to say out loud. Success is about 85% consistency and discipline, and only about 15% exciting new ideas.
This principle is even more important when you’re selling an expensive product that has a 6-12 month sales process. If you want to read more about this topic, check out my recent post about waiting 6 months to judge your inbound success. To achieve results you must commit to consistent execution.
If you feel like this is a lot of work to bite off at all at once, you're right. But don't despair, if you tackle one or two items at a time, you'll make progress in no time. Check out our latest ebook to see how we would prioritize efforts.
Editors Note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.