Warning: This blog post contains some hard truths.
Why do inbound marketing? Here's why. At its core, inbound marketing is about building long-term relationships with potential clients – and showing them that you're the ideal business partner. Assuming you're in the B2B space, your customers probably take a long time to decide between potential suppliers and make a firm purchase decision.
There may be multiple decision-makers involved, there may a significant amount of vetting to be done, and there's also a good chance that the person responsible for pulling the trigger will spend a long time researching potential partners online.
In fact, a recent (2020) Gartner report found that the average B2B buyer spent 27% of the buying process conducting independent online research into potential partners (source: Gartner).
This is a stark contrast to the measly 17% apportioned to meeting with and talking to the suppliers they were considering. In Gartner's own words, you have fewer opportunities to influence the buying process via sales, and other outbound tactics is shrinking fast.
But you've now gained the opportunity to reach them while they're trawling the web for information required to move through the buying process, and that's where inbound marketing comes in.
Inbound Marketing Is Smart Marketing – Tailored To Modern Buying Habits
As discussed in our seminal blog post on the subject, inbound marketing is all about creating genuinely useful content that answers burning questions and adds real value. It's all about finding the phrases people Google when they're looking for a product or service like yours, and creating genuinely brilliant content that:
- Deserves to rank for your chosen keywords
- Provides insightful information that moves someone towards a purchase
- Establishes your authority, expertise and trustworthiness
- Persuades potential customers to stick around and keep engaging with your brand
To be clear, this content will not instantly generate sales on its own, but it will help to build a rapport with your target audiance; convince them that you're a potential supplier and make it clear that you have something to offer vs. the competition. And this is more than enough to make a tangible difference to your bottom line. B2B purchasing decisions are complex. Research from Qualified, Gartner and Google reveals that 77% of B2B decision makers think their latest purchase was "difficult"(source: Gartner).
And by difficult, they mean that between 3 and 6 people were involved, a significant amount of rationalisation to be done, and a multi-stage process involving multiple touch points with every prospective supplier's website. (source: Qualified).
More importantly, this same body of research reveals that 39% of B2B decision-makers make their final decision based on their perception of a brand (source: The Marketing Blender) and 80% say that experiences with vendor websites play a significant part of the decision-making process (source: Google).
So if you want to sell to people in the B2B space, you need to provide content that helps them navigate a complex and difficult buying process – and leaves them with a positive impression of your brand. Failure to do so will see you losing out to the competition.
What Does Good Inbound Marketing Look Like?
To be clear, this content can't be a thinly-disguised sales pitch. Diving into the Gartner report on B2B buying journeys, it's evident that people need a lot of support as they move through the purchase process. They go back-and-forth between different stages; downloading and sharing documents, comparing different solutions and trying to answer a multiplicity of complicated questions. They also spend a lot of time on requirements building and validation which does mean that the content your supplying has to be convincing and authoritative; clear and optimised to leave a lasting impression on prospective customers. Every article, PDF download and blog post has to position you correctly and say all the right things about your business which can be a bit of an uphill challenge for B2B businesses that are new to inbound marketing.
But that doesn't change the fact that we have a situation where buyers are desperately looking for helpful information that's geared towards solving their problems, and finding a real dearth of insightful content on prospective supplier's websites. To us, this looks like a huge opportunity. To stand out in this space, you just have to work out what people need help with and provide the information needed to show them you've got the solution.
In fact, the Gartner report on B2B buying journeys shows that brands capable of doing this are 3x more likely to close high-value, low-regret deals and we don't know many businesses that'd turn their noses up at that.
What's The Catch?
Proper inbound marketing is hard work. Even something as simple as identifying your audience's problems and working out what language they use to describe them can - and will - take days. Building a map of the content you're going to write and planning a calendar is hours of work and then you've actually got to sit down and start producing reams of high-value and authoritative content. Optimising it for search, finding new ways to package it up and distribute it on different channels...
It's a labour of love that requires a lot of effort – and a willingness to reset your business compass.Getting inbound right means also means taking a hard look at your business to figure out what makes you special, and you'd be surprised what doesn't make you special. For example:
- "We really care about our customers"
- "We always go the extra mile"
- "We help you unlock your true potential"
These are not USPs. In fact, none of these things really mean anything to your potential customers. They're just so much hot air and while we're not suggesting those things are bad, they don't leave a lasting impression on potential customers. After all, every competitor is making the same claims and for most people these claims don't even register. People have been "sold to" to death.
In a world where people turn to Google whenever they're trying to solve any purchase-related problem - from the project management software they use to the people who supply their logistics support - and find reams of sales copy to pick through, companies need to do better than "Hey we're great, buy stuff from us!".
In today's world, standing out means demonstrating value; educating, entertaining or helping people at every turn, until they think your brand name is synonymous with problem solving and actively want to involve you in whatever process they're trying to improve.
In our experience, this is a bitter pill to swallow for most companies. When we suggest a blog's a good idea, we're often met with "Yeah, we've got a blog" but further investigation reveals a sad excuse that's updated twice a year and consists of nothing better than a few 100 word, badly written posts telling the world something they're not interested in, like how the business has just invested in a new photocopier or raised £9000 for charity in their latest fundraising exercise.
Good Inbound Marketing Is Achievable
But it's not all doom and gloom. With the right support, a proper inbound strategy and commitment to the idea of repositioning your brand, you can get the ball rolling in 6-12 months. One of the key things to remember about the B2B space is that it's marketing tends to lag 2-3 years behind the bleeding-edge of B2C strategy. This means that your competitors (probably) still need to play catch up, leaving plenty of opportunity for you to storm in first and establish yourself as the ultimate authority on (x).
Obviously, this won't work in very mature or crowded verticals; Haliburton have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on content, positioning them as the experts on all things relating to energy infrastructure and people like Deloitte have long-since cornered the market for content relating to management theory.
But for most B2B verticals, the door is still wide open for companies with the energy and willingness to invest in good inbound marketing. It's also worth recognising that you probably have a lot of the knowledge needed to really set yourself apart in-house.
In our experience, the people spearheading your departments will be able to talk at length about various aspects of your market, and a good inbound marketing campaign will help you turn this domain knowledge into a marketable resource in a relatively good time.
There Are Alternatives To Inbound Marketing Too
If you're not prepared or able to earn the attention of potential customers with compelling content, there are other approaches you can take. Namely traditional outbound marketing or paid search. Paid search systems such as Google's AdWords platform lets businesses put compelling messages in front of potential customers at the right time. It's amazing, it works and for as long as you're happy to pay for visitors to your website it will keep working.The same is true for social media marketing on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, which allows you to target people - and pay for ad clicks - based on people's interests and gender, age or employer. For some businesses this Pay Per Click or PPC advertising is the right solution. But if you're not happy to rent space on Google - which is effectively all you're doing - you need to reevaluate.
You see, getting organic results in Google differs from using PPC in one very important way. If you establish your business in organic search you effectively own that space and it's for others to try and wrestle it off you. Which sounds better to you?
So What Now?
If you're willing to create amazing and helpful content that positions you as the go-to supplier, then it's definitely worth looking at inbound marketing as a vehicle for business growth. If it isn't, then you might have a torrid time of it and you'd be better off buying your traffic with PPC or social media advertising. There are those who will try and tell you otherwise but we prefer to tell it like it is. For you the answer to the question, why do inbound marketing, is, don't. to the Irrespective of the camp you currently sit in, you'll want to employ an in-house marketing team or engage a reliable digital marketing agency. While it's often tempting to 'have a go' yourself, the truth is that all aspects of inbound and outbound marketing work best when done properly and given the resources needed to drive good results.
You'll find no end of providers out there on the web, and plenty of good freelancers too but if you'd like a safe pair of hands who take the approach listed above, and specialise in helping B2B companies build effective inbound marketing campaigns, take a look at our inbound marketing services or get in touch to talk with a member of the Red Evo team.
We can help manage your website and turn it into a business asset that drives qualified leads into your business.
Alternatively, why not download our inbound marketing checklist if you're still on the fence about inbound marketing and want to know more about what's involved in a typical engagement? It'll give you a good overview of what you'll need to commit to and what's involved in moving the dial for your business.