An inbound marketing website is an ideal fit for most B2B businesses. Research shows that B2B purchase journeys are generally long and complex, eschewing the linear models popularised in the early 2000s for a looping, "maze-like" process that sees people returning to a potential vendor's site six or seven times before they arrive at a purchase decision (source: B2B Marketing).
Sometimes, buyers will just be comparing features or shopping for the best price, but studies also show that they're often trying to answer burning questions about your product/service, work out whether it'll solve a specific challenge or justify their preferences to the 6-10 other people normally involved in a purchase decision (source: Qualified).
Unfortunately, traditional forms of B2B marketing don't really accommodate this 'back-and-forth' decision-making process. Tactics like direct mail, email spam, media buying or PPC advertising allow you to put your brand in front of a prospect, but they don't provide the detailed, informative and valuable content needed to answer important questions about your expertise – or nurture potential buyers as they work to decide between you and your key competitors.
That's why experts at the Harvard Business Review say that many traditional B2B sales and marketing techniques are no longer suitable (source: Harvard Business Review). It's also why The Precision Marketing Group have inbound marketing pegged as 62% cheaper and 54% more effective than outbound tactics (source: Precision Marketing Group).
See, inbound marketing focuses on providing fantastic, educational content that promotes your brand's expertise and addresses the hurdles your ideal customers are currently struggling to overcome. This content can be shared across multiple channels, supports all stages of the sales and marketing process, nurtures long-term relationships and supercharges your online growth.
But some B2B businesses still haven't switched to inbound marketing. If you're reading this blog post, there's a good chance you're one of them. It's hard to pick out a specific reason for this general reluctance. Some marketing experts point out that B2B businesses are often slow to adopt new marketing technologies – and frequently lag behind their B2C counterparts (source: CMO).
Others blame a lack of available information or a general unwillingness to embrace something that requires such a massive investment in terms of time and effort (source: Marketing Week). But we're inclined to disagree. We think B2B marketers have been slow to adopt inbound marketing because they don't have a good model for it.
And we're going to correct that problem here – showing you, step-by-step, how to build a good inbound marketing campaign for your B2B business using a four-stage process that's easy to replicate.
Successful B2B Inbound Marketing Starts With Personas
You'll want to start by building some solid buyer personas to kick things off. Buyer personas are semi-fictional models designed to be one of the five fundamental pillars of good inbound marketing, but they're a lot easier to build than you might think. All you really need to get started is solid data about your existing customer base. Focus on drawing out statistics that tell you something important about their approach to the buyer's journey. Demographics like age, location or gender are good, as are details about the web-based platforms they prefer to use, their browsing habits and pain points.
Things can get a bit 'fluffy' when you try to hone in on their motivations, preferred language or personality traits, but there's no need to get bogged down with the fine detail here.
Ultimately, the idea is to build a solid understanding - and working model of - your potential customers and their problems so we can start working out how to reach them. We don't have to be 100% accurate.
After all, A lot of the generic advice about B2B inbound marketing orbiting on the web focuses on the idea of providing 'helpful content'. This is genuinely great advice, but 'helpful' means different things to different people, and the success of any campaign hinges on your ability to sniff out real pain points.
Let's pretend you're an IT services company aiming to onboard manufacturing businesses that are stuck in the dark ages – and desperately need to embrace digitalisation.
You could spend months publishing detailed and well-optimised content about cloud migrations and data security, only to discover that your target audience isn't tech-savvy enough to be Googling those terms and actually engage more with content (and providers) that show them how to do things like speed up a slow computer or network their printers correctly.
You could spend months going down the wrong track while your competitors engage your core audience with problem-solving content that lets them reach the door and up-sell digital transformation services further down the line.
Building a solid understanding of your target audience's real-world behaviour and problems is key to ensuring you target your content appropriately – and provide something that's actually going to engage people. Anything else opens the door to situations where your B2B inbound marketing campaigns waste a lot of time, effort and money.
Keyword Research Is Equally Important
Once you've grasped your audience's pain points and preferences, you may be tempted to dive in and start building content. Don't. In our opinion, this is a trap and one of the main reasons most B2B inbound marketing campaigns are dead on arrival. See, as a solutions provider, you're uniquely unqualified (yes, unqualified) to judge the language people use when they ask a question on Google, TikTok or any other web-based search engine. Returning to the example above, IT consultants are often immersed in a world of buzzwords and jargon that mean nothing to the average business owner.
They talk about things like 'digital transformation' and 'cloud technology migrations' while the research shows that their audience is often Googling using much more basic terminology like "moving to the cloud" or "find business software solutions:.
The same applies to architects, manufacturers, oil and gas field service companies, SaaS providers and digital marketing companies. If you do it day in and day out, you're probably too close to making an objective assessment of the language your audience use.
And most search engines are still pretty basic when it comes to ranking content for a specific keyword. If you produce the world's most informative guide to finding business software but optimise it for a different and more complex keyword, what are your chances of ranking for the term your audience actually use? Well, that shrinks dramatically.
So, ensure you follow up on your new personas by diving into some proper keyword research – aimed at identifying the specific language your newly identified audience uses to solve problems relating to your core product/service.
We've already written a detailed guide to keyword research here, so we won't re-tread old ground. But it's worth a read if you're looking for specific tactics or want to sharpen your skills.
B2B Inbound Marketing Is About Building A Website With Real Staying Power
Once you know who you're trying to reach and how they're searching, you need to produce fantastic content that ranks for the appropriate keywords – and leaves anyone who reads it with the warm and fuzzy glow that comes from solving problems. The 'just' here is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek because producing killer content is undoubtedly the hardest part of the equation, and no playbook works here. Simply put, every industry, market and vertical works differently.
People have different expectations. They respond to different things. There is no right way to appeal to them. Imagine a family doctor (or GP) shopping for admin software that'll help them improve the efficiency of their practice.
Their preferences, the way they want to be engaged, and the sort of content they'll find interesting will be worlds away from the content that engages a self-employed builder who's too busy and rushed to sit down and read an essay.
Some verticals are hungry for snappy video content that answers their questions in 20 seconds or less. Others require detailed and well-sourced articles that drill down into the nitty-gritty. Sadly, the only way to build a website with real staying power is to work out what your audience wants and create accessible content that gives them exactly that.
Sound like hard work? Good. Because it is. But it's well worth it.
Most people are familiar with the Duracell battery adverts. Duracells - we are told - keep going when other batteries have long since gone flat. Good B2B Inbound marketing's a bit like this. For example, a blog post we wrote about HubSpot in August 2020 has generated 68 visitors to our website this month, 685 this year to date, and almost 2200 since it first went live.
Think about that for a moment. Some marketing collateral - to use the right terminology, or so I'm told - that took perhaps an hour to create is generating opportunities for us almost two years after it was written. But we did spend quite a lot of time on it. In fact, it was a bit of a labour of love.
Follow the methodology and focus on creating real value, and you can do the same. If you'd like some advice on the nitty-gritty of content writing, we recently wrote a helpful article for Be Your Own. You'll also find plenty of content marketing advice on our blog.
Don't Worry About Giving Away The Crown Jewels
the idea of showing off, bragging or even demonstrating competency sits uncomfortably with many people, particularly British people. With inbound marketing, it's important to demonstrate your ability, but not by simply stating it; you need to provide useful and helpful content that shows you know your stuff and can solve your prospects' problems. Now, that does mean you're helping your competitors. We say, so what? We're comfortable with the fact that our so-called competitors read our blogs and benefit from our expertise.
In fact, we actually get requests for help from businesses who claim to be SEO experts but, for some reason, need help with their SEO, and while we know that won't be true for everyone investing in B2B inbound marketing, we think the value of giving detailed information to your target audience far outweighs the negatives.
It's all part of the process of becoming a thought leader in your area of expertise, and we don't think it's something you should spend a lot of time worrying about. Enjoy the fact you're giving information away for nothing and relax in the knowledge your potential clients will see you as a leader and want to work with you.
After all, if you can't be specific, offer actionable advice and drill down into the specifics, your content isn't really going to add any value. The guide you're reading is a literal blow-by-blow playbook that other marketing agencies can use to steal and repurpose.
We know that there's nothing we can do to stop them, but we also know that the value this article adds - and the leads it drives - will make up for the fact that we're arming our competitors with a useful resource.
Your Tech Stack Matters
Key to the inbound marketing methodology is the idea that you will "engage and delight" your audience. This sounds a bit gimmicky, but it's a solid principle. We know that most B2B buying journeys require at least seven 'touches' or impressions (source: Incognate). Simply reading a user guide or watching a helpful video isn't enough to turn someone into a buyer, so follow-up is essential. Follow-up, in this case, means emails designed to cultivate conversation, helpful updates or ebooks designed to help people move through the purchase process.
It means retargeting ads on LinkedIn or Google Ads, Youtube shorts that they'll see once they hit the next stage in their journey or more written content designed to pop up in search when they Google a follow-up question.
And this stuff is hard. Take it from us; most B2B businesses make an absolute hash of organising their follow-up marketing because there are always a lot of moving parts to manage, and most B2B marketing teams lag in terms of smart automation.
At a bare minimum, you'll need good email marketing software, a way of managing all of your paid advertising, a way of building landing pages for re-engaged prospects and a way of uploading and tracking the download of marketing collateral like case studies or ebooks.
You'll also want a good CRM to keep your sales and marketing coordinated and running in sync.
You can, of course, rely on several different bits of tech; cobbled together to provide some semblance of cohesion, but we think it's better to find all-in-one software like HubSpot – which allows you to manage all of these disparate processes from a single, unified dashboard.
After That, It's Down To You and Your Team
Iterate and refine everything. While it's tempting to assume your first attempt at writing "The Definitive Guide To Pipeline Management" is perfect, the truth is that there's always room for improvement. Engaging with data around engagement rates (time on the page is a critical metric) will tell you whether your content is engaging your audience. And looking for changes in organic traffic with Google Search Console, Analytics, or any of the many SEO tools on today's market will tell you whether you're doing a good job of putting your data in front of them.
Whenever we run a B2B inbound marketing campaign, we find that we learn most of the important lessons once we've stuck some content up and measured the results. As we said before, this is a long and difficult process, but it is key to honing in on the perfect way to reach your ideal customer.
Offering up our site as an example, we started with pages dedicated to explaining the basics of SEO and slowly moved towards a model that saw us writing content on much more specific issues around search or inbound marketing strategy, HubSpot, video marketing and lead generation.
Now, a typical prospect's buying journey looks something like this:
- They search for an answer to a specific question, like, what is SEO?
- They land on an educational page on our site.
- They search for another, more specific question, like what is helpful content.
- They click some of the links on that page to other educational content.
- They may look at some of our "sales" pages, listen to our podcast or visit our youtube channel.
- They click an offer, such as getting an SEO review or downloading an e-book (more education).
- We follow up with an email to determine their struggles and offer specific advice.
In this example, we help people understand SEO (search engine optimisation), and we did this because our research established people were confused about it.
We understood they might want to buy our services at some point, but we know the journey involves multiple touch-points and that there's no point trying to rush people to the finish line. Follow a similar strategy, and you should be met with success.
To learn more about inbound marketing strategy, download our helpful checklist. Alternatively, you can get in touch at any point. We'd be more than happy to talk through your ideas/pain points and offer obligation-free advice that's designed to help you grow online.
From our point of view, that's much more helpful (and fun) than trying to sell you a service that may not solve your problem.