First things first. What exactly is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a systematic approach to sales and marketing. It is a business methodology that focuses on establishing long-term customer relationships and increasing growth.
Roughly speaking, inbound marketing is about attracting potential B2B buyers through relevant content, converting them and maturing them through the buyer’s journey with the help of smart tools, such as marketing automation and lead nurturing.
In this guide, we walk you through the entire inbound methodology from A to Z. Let's start with the two cornerstones of inbound: inbound marketing and inbound sales.
What is inbound marketing?
Today, the modern B2B buyer has already completed approx. 60% of their buyer’s journey before they reach out to your company. They’ve done this through research and by consulting their network. The modern B2B buyer is far more involved and conducts far more research than before, which means that you must be a reliable source of knowledge and information to help them make a purchase.
In contrast to outbound marketing, which disturbs your audience with TV and radio advertisements, advertising banners etc., inbound marketing is about creating a relationship with your customers. You do this by answering the customer's questions on your website through, for example, blog posts, cases, newsletters and social media.
You need to be the expert and share your knowledge and expertise to educate a potential buyer - without being pushy. You need to be customer-oriented and always focus on the buyer’s needs. The potential buyer is the cornerstone of inbound marketing, and it’s absolutely central to direct your communication at them both in terms of SEO, blogging and lead nurturing.
If you answer the buyer's questions successfully throughout the buyer’s journey with educational and relevant content, you’ll create a trusting relationship with your potential customers that can eventually turn into a loyal customer relationship and, in turn, long-term growth.
What is inbound sales?
Inbound sales is a sales process adapted to the customer's buying behavior and needs. It focuses on the salespeople knowing exactly how to communicate to the individual lead no matter where the customer is in their buyer’s journey.
Companies that work with inbound sales generate leads through inbound marketing and the content produced by the marketing department.
Leads actually mature themselves through the content that marketing produces before they reach out to a salesperson, and the high-quality leads make the sales dialogues more fun.
When dealing with inbound sales, salespeople resemble consultants who help the customer through the purchasing process and ensure a trusting relationship, making it more of an 'always be helping' than an 'always be closing' kind of situation.
Marketing and sales depend on each other, as marketing can’t close the leads without sales, and sales will not get leads without marketing.
Let's take a closer look at how you implement and work with inbound sales and marketing at your company.
The inbound methodology
When you work with inbound marketing, you work at three strategic levels: Attract, Engage and Delight, which makes up the inbound methodology. It means scaling your business through trusting and loyal relationships with both potential and existing customers.
- The Attract stage is where you attract potential customers with valuable content and conversations that set you up as an expert.
- The Engage stage is where you present knowledge and solutions based on the buyer's pain points and their overarching goals.
- In the Delight stage, you help and support your buyers to succeed with your solution, service or product.
Before we take a closer look at the three levels, we need to discuss the two core concepts within inbound: buyer personas and buyer’s journeys.
If you aim to produce valuable content that educates and inspires your customers in all three stages of their buyer’s journey, you can't just spray and pray. Instead, you need to know who you are communicating to, how to communicate to them, and exactly where they are in their buyer’s journey.
You must identify your buyer personas and map their buyer’s journeys so you know exactly how and when they interact with your company.
When dealing with inbound marketing, creating buyer personas is important so you know who you're talking with. When you know who you're engaging with, you can adapt your content and speak to very specific pain points that your buyer persona faces daily.
After all, there is a significant difference between speaking with HR and communicating with IT. You must conduct research to determine who typically purchases your product or service, who the sales department meets in their sales dialogues, what the recurring difficulties are and what questions they are frequently asked.
One of the main goals of inbound marketing is to attract customers long before they are ready to purchase by guiding them through their buyer’s journey.
That is why it is essential to prepare buyer’s journeys for your buyer personas and map various touch points in their buying process so that you are always aware of their next step.
In short, a buyer’s journey is the journey a lead goes through from the first time they become aware of their challenge or problem until they become your loyal customer.
This buying process is built around three stages:
- Awareness: here, the buyer is looking for answers, resources, knowledge, data, opinions and insights into their challenge.
- Consideration: here, the buyer researches why and how your product or service is the right solution for them.
- Decision: at this stage, the buyer finds out precisely what it will take to become a customer with you.
At each of these three stages, your buyer persona requires specialized content that guides them from one step to the next, preparing them to make an informed decision.
This is where inbound methodology comes into play.
Flywheel: A growth model
Now that we've covered buyer personas and journeys let's return to the three stages of the inbound methodology. The three stages: Attract, Engage and Delight, should be seen as a circular process that HubSpot has designed as a business model called The Flywheel.
HubSpot is an inbound marketing and sales software that combines CRM, Marketing, Sales, Service and CMS in one automation platform that follows the entire buyer’s journey. You have to imagine that inbound is the strategy that attracts leads, and HubSpot is the machine that allows you to execute that strategy.
HubSpot uses The Flywheel to illustrate how your business can achieve greater profits by prioritizing and delivering beyond-the-ordinary customer experiences. By investing in strategies that attract and retain customers, you get the wheel spinning and build momentum.
But, of course, some things, also known as friction, can cause your wheel to lose speed and power. One of the biggest causes of friction is the handover between the various departments, say from marketing to sales, which is why communication is one of the most important aspects of inbound marketing.
All the departments in your company are responsible for removing friction from your wheel.
Typically, marketing will play the most significant role in the Attract stage with blogging and ads, but sales can also play a significant role by engaging in social selling. Your customer service team can contribute to the wheel by making it easier for your existing customers to recommend you to others.
This way, everyone in the company contributes to spinning the wheel and acquiring new customers. No stage is more important than the other, as all three stages help attract new hot leads.
Use marketing and sales automation systems to get the most out of your inbound efforts. With automation, you can automate your marketing and sales set-ups to minimize the need for manual processes, making your work a lot easier.
In addition, an automatic setup works 24 hours a day and continually generates leads even outside of typical office hours.
When a lead downloads an e-book, even if it is at 9 pm in the evening, they are automatically introduced to a lead-nurturing flow. Once that flow is complete, sales will automatically be notified and free to decide when to reach out.
A marketing automation system like HubSpot can help you streamline your digital marketing and automate lead nurturing, sales follow-ups and lead notifications.
Marketing automation is relevant on all three levels of inbound. So let's take a closer look at how you strategically work with the three stages and which tools you can use.
Inbound marketing strategies
Attract, Engage, and Delight are also marketing strategies that help you effectively target your buyer personas. The specific strategies for each of the three inbound methods help you attract, engage and delight your customers and prospects, so you can keep your flywheel moving and grow your business.
Inbound strategies that attract your target group and buyer personas are tied to content creation and development. After all, you are not interested in just anyone visiting your website. You want visitors with the potential to convert into paying customers.
To reach your target audience, you must start by producing and publishing content such as blog articles, premium content (e-books, whitepapers, templates) and social media posts. Everything you produce should provide value to your buyer persona. It should be helpful and not push sales.
Some of the tools you can use to attract your audience are:
- Paid advertising
- Social Media
- Content strategy
To attract your target group through inbound marketing, it‘s important to optimize all your content with an SEO strategy. An SEO strategy requires you to focus on specific keywords and phrases related to your product or service, the challenges you solve for the customer and how you help your target audience.
This way, you can ensure that all the content you produce can also be found organically through the search engines that your target group uses.
When using inbound strategies to engage your audience, you must communicate and handle leads and customers in a way that makes them want to build a long-term relationship with you. You need to draw attention to the value your company can provide for them.
Engage in conversations with your potential customers through email, chatbots or live chat to build a relationship with them when it’s time to convert the visitors from your website into leads. Use conversion tools such as CTAs and forms to get your hands on your potential customers' information.
You can use the information you receive to personalize their experience with your brand and future communication with them.
Some of the tools that you can use as part of your engagement strategy are:
- Lead flows
- Email marketing
- Lead management
- Lead nurturing
- Conversational bots
- Marketing automation
One of the most important things to remember is that you are selling a solution rather than a product, and your customers should perceive your relationship as mutually beneficial.
Delight inbound strategies are all about ensuring that your customers are happy and satisfied and get the assistance they need after making a purchase. This type of strategy involves turning your employees into consultants and experts who are always available to your customers and can help you become a thought leader within your industry.
You can 'delight' your target audience by continuing to create relevant content that makes them come to you for further guidance and potentially be used to upsell new features or extensions of your service.
A chatbot is also a good example of an interactive communication channel that can be used to help current customers set up a new feature in their system or answer their questions in real-time. That way, you are always present and ready to help.
An inbound strategy that focuses on pleasing your customers is one that helps and assists them in every situation, regardless of whether your company gets something out of it or not. Remember that a happy customer is a valuable ambassador who can attract new customers to your business - thus completing the circle.
Tools that you can use to 'delight' your customers are, for example:
- Smart content
- Email marketing
- Attribution reporting
- Marketing automation
It is important to analyze your marketing efforts and adapt them continuously in all three stages as you gain more insights into what works well and where you need to optimize.
We have mentioned ‘valuable and educational content' a couple of times, and you might have noticed that it resembles content marketing.
Content is what gives your inbound machine power and makes your flywheel spin. Valuable and quality content is the essence of both the Attract, Engage and Delight stages, and it is what leads your leads safely through the stages and ensures a good customer relationship.
When working with inbound marketing, content is simply an indispensable part of all three stages:
- In the Attract stage, content attracts potential customers and makes them aware of your brand.
- In the Engagement stage, content engages your potential customers and gets them to convert and become leads. It can be anything from articles and videos to e-books and whitepapers.
- In the Delight stage, content 'delights' your customers by continuously providing them with new knowledge and advice through, for example, newsletters and email flows.
Content marketing is an essential part of inbound marketing, and the two are undeniably linked.
Inbound marketing is a systematic approach to attracting and converting leads through content and context, whereas content marketing is one of the tools to achieve this.
To sum up, inbound is a business methodology that focuses on attracting and converting digital leads through relevant and educated content so that your target audience has the absolute best prerequisites for making the right purchase decision.