B2B Inbound Marketing: A Summary
Contrary to traditional sales campaigns which focus on pushing your product to your audience, inbound marketing is the art of helping your potential customers find your product on their own. It’s a competitive game, requiring high-value content that entices people over to your brand.
As we in the business conceptualize it, inbound marketing consists of 4 elements:
- Deeply Understanding Your Customers
- Strategically Selecting Inbound Marketing Channels
- Creating Highly Personalized Inbound Marketing Content
- Evaluating Your Campaigns with the Proper KPIs
Together, these elements form an inbound marketing program that both (a) generates leads and (b) nurtures them until they convert into sales.
In this guide, we provide a high level introduction to inbound marketing in a B2B context, starting with the first element: deeply understanding your customers.
Deeply Understanding Your Customers and Audience
Because inbound marketing relies upon prospects seeking out your content of their own volition, you begin by figuring out what they want. Your prospects have long-term goals and short term pain points that drive their daily activities. Focusing on these carrots and sticks informs the type of content you will create.
Your prospects’ motivations can be developed into a psychographic profile (what we call an “audience persona”). In a B2B context, personas begin with job titles; a person’s position within their company is one of the primary drivers of whether they will need your products or services. It gets more detailed from there. Here are the questions to answer when creating a persona for each member of your target audience:
- What is their official title/job description?
- What makes them feel valuable?
- How do their superiors measure their performance?
- What challenges do they face?
- What kind of technology are they likely to use?
- How many people are likely to be in their department?
This information helps direct your marketing strategy towards topics that speak to one or several of your prospects’ interests. It can also uncover insights that your audience would find valuable when conducting research in your industry. Once the audience persona has been created, team members can start looking at the right channels for their content.
Strategically Selecting Channels for Inbound Marketing
Choosing the right channels in which to conduct your inbound marketing campaigns is, of course, critical to reaching your desired audience. Depending on your personas, some channels will be more effective than others. For example, SEO & content marketing offers the broadest reach to many persona types, but public speaking is more effective at reaching executive or C-suite personas. In addition to considering the way each channel is used by businesspeople, it’s useful to consider the average ROI, time investment, cost, and startup time that businesses similar to your own have experienced on each channel. We provide this data below:
B2B Inbound Marketing Channels, Compared
|Tactic||Cost||Time Investment||Time Until Results||ROI||Notes|
|SEO & Content marketing||$10,000 / month||1 hr / week||4-6 months||748%||Assumes outsourced thought leadership; if done in-house, 3-4 dedicated employees needed.|
|Organic LinkedIn||$2,500 / month||1 hr / week||6-8 months||229%||Consists of posting articles rather than status updates. Similar price if outsourced or in-house.|
|Webinars||$7,500 / month||2 hrs / week||2-4 months||430%||Cost consists of allocating a portion of salary from an in-house SME, marketer & designer.|
|Public Speaking||$15,000 / month||5-10 hrs / month +
|4-6 months||856%||Cost includes sponsorship fees + share of salaries for speech creation & prep.|
|Podcasts||$9,500 / month||3 hrs / week||12 months||527%||Assumes extensive time on research, recording, editing, and marketing. Production can be outsourced to reduce time commitment.|
|Video Marketing||$15,000 / month||1 hr / week||12 months||126%||Assumes outsourced; less expensive if done in-house but high up-front equipment cost and much more time intensive.|
A comprehensive inbound marketing program shouldn’t rely on just one channel, as they have symbiotic effects when used in unison. For example, a discussion on a podcast can lay the groundwork for a blog article on the same topic written as part of an SEO campaign; or, LinkedIn can be used to remind prospects of a webinar you’ve been promoting on a podcast or YouTube series. Taking advantage of these complementary effects will result in a more successful marketing program than relying completely on a single channel.
Once you’ve strategically selected the channels you’ll invest in, you need content—and that content will only succeed if it’s highly personalized.
Creating Highly Personalized Inbound Marketing Content
Content is the lifeblood of inbound marketing: it’s the “bait” that attracts your prospects to you. Creating great content is one of the most important elements to get right, and can be divided into two parts: understanding audience intent and creating thought leadership.
Understanding Audience Intent
The first step in doing so is to understand why someone is interested in that content in the first place. If you’re familiar with SEO, you’ll know of this concept as search intent, but it applies to every channel above. The listeners of your podcast, attendees at your speaking event, or followers of your company’s LinkedIn are doing so for a reason, so your content must speak to that reason or intent. This intent will be revealed by how they found your content on that channel—the title and description of a speech, for example, will directly affect who’s interested in hearing it.
Audience intents fall into a spectrum of transactionality, i.e. how ready someone is to make a purchase. Those with the most transactional intents on this scale—in other words, people looking to buy, commit, or evaluate—are closest to converting. These can then be grouped into several categories, in order of least to most transactional (for simplicity, we’ll refer to the potential audience of every channel as the visitor):
|Learn||Purely informational, the visitor is only trying to learn.|
|Explore||The visitor knows the basics of the subject and is thinking about how it applies to their situation.|
|Clarify||The visitor has a problem, but does not yet know what that problem is.|
|Solve||The visitor is trying to solve a specific problem.|
|Evaluate||The visitor knows what kind of solutions exist for their problem, but wants to compare their options.|
|Commit||The visitor has decided on a solution and is looking for a last push before they spend.|
|Buy||The visitor is committed to spending, and just needs to find the most direct path to doing so.|
Most of the content you create for inbound marketing should be directed toward visitors who are looking to clarify, solve, evaluate, commit, or buy, as these are the most likely to be your potential customers. While reaching an audience looking to learn or explore is helpful in that a percentage of that audience can be nurtured to become customers, this is a much slower process.
Creating Thought Leadership
This brings us to the second half of creating inbound marketing content: actually creating thought leadership that will capture your audience’s attention, and keep them engaged so that you can nurture them until they’re ready to buy. This is an entire process in and of itself (which we’ve also covered in depth on our blog) but the three core principles are:
- It needs to address audience intent quickly. Content with unclear or meandering openings will turn away visitors looking for a fast solution. This is particularly true of the more ready-to-convert visitors.
- Use the appropriate tone and language. Speak to your audience in their industry language, and use the right style. The higher up on the corporate ladder you are targeting, the more your language should be authoritative rather than conversational.
- Include clear next steps. Once your content has addressed your audience’s concerns, they need to know what to do next. Depending on the channel, you may want to direct them to additional content, suggest they leave their information so your team can reach out, or send them to a product page.
The goal is for your audience to leave your content knowing that you’re a trustworthy source of information for the next time they have a problem. Over time, you build trust with them as well as develop a larger online following, leading to more conversions down the road.
Evaluating Your Campaigns with the Proper KPIs
Getting your audience, channels, and content is difficult, so B2B companies will almost always need to modify their strategy upon contact with the real world. Doing so requires understanding what KPIs to track for inbound marketing.
The more zoomed in KPIs will vary by channel, with differing metrics being suited for use as leading indicators and measures of success in SEO, LinkedIn, webinars, podcasts, and the other channels we’ve listed above. There is significant overlap, however, and we’ve found that the following 7 can be combined to provide a high level view of your entire inbound marketing program:
- Overall ROI. This measures how much value your inbound marketing campaign ultimately generates. ROI gives a wide-angle view of your campaigns health. We recommend using per-channel benchmarks (refer to the above table).
- Total # of MQLs. Often a more accessible metric for marketing teams than overall ROI (which requires input and analysis from sales and operations), this KPI provides another way to gauge your overall campaign health. Benchmark: 40% growth YOY.
- Visitor to Lead Conversion Rate. The number of visitors to your website that complete a conversion action on your website. This provides insight into the ability of your content to reach the right audience, as well as the strength of your conversion funnel. Benchmark: 2.2% or higher.
- Lead to MQL Conversion Rate. The number of leads who become MQLs. Even more than the Visitor to Lead conversion rate, this KPI speaks to how well your strategy targets your potential customers, as opposed to a more general audience in your industry. Benchmark: 35% or higher.
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). The main advantage of inbound marketing is its lower CACs than outbound marketing. If your CACs are not significantly lower, adjust your channel investment. Benchmark: $942 on average, but varies by industry and target market.
- LTV to CAC Ratio. A healthy LTV to CAC ratio ensures that your marketing efforts are sustainable long term. If your ratio is too high, however, it is also an indicator that your firm isn’t investing enough into growth. Benchmark: 4:1 ratio.
Tracking all of these will give you an understanding of your inbound efforts. In combination, they’ll help you dis
B2B Inbound Marketing: Next Steps
Developing an effective B2B inbound marketing strategy is a demanding process. Selecting the proper channel, identifying your audience’s search intent, and producing appropriate content requires a dedicated team of experienced marketers.
These challenges lead many companies to consult with an experienced partner to oversee the process. If you’d like to learn more, you can contact us here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.