Now that we know what inbound marketing is, you might be pleased to find that you’ve been integrating some of its main elements all along in the form of writing blogs or using social media to grow your audience. However, the next step to bring your inbound marketing strategy to fruition is adopting an integrated and holistic approach to both customer attraction and retention; and the best way to go about doing that is to make sure your inbound marketing tools are prepared, and your inbound marketing toolbox is fully stocked.
The technology landscape for inbound marketing automation tools is dominated by, Eloqua, (which was acquired by Oracle in December, 2012) Marketo, (which was acquired by Vista Equity Partners in July, 2016) Pardot, (which was initially acquired by ExactTarget, who in turn were then bought by Salesforce in June, 2013) and HubSpot (which floated onto the New York stock market in August, 2014 and has since doubled in value) In 2011, HubSpot secured $32 million in investment funding from Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures to help them expand ‘Inbound marketing’, and still has all three as key shareholders.
Of these, the product that I am most impressed with is HubSpot, which is a platform that I both use myself, sell to our interested clients, and recommend them to use to manage their inbound marketing activities. (Just to be clear - as a result, we have become a HubSpot Platinum Partner and have sold more systems than anyone else in London).
According to HubSpot, their approach separates the inbound process into four main stages: attract, convert, close and delight. Most conventional marketing plans only focus on the second and third stages. They ignore the initial stages where you gradually start to gain permission from your prospective buyer and they don’t bother with the final stage where you ask for feedback and turn your customer into an evangelizer for your company and its services.
The harsh truth is, is that there are no shortcuts.
How you get to the easy part—the part where business comes to you—is by putting in the work from the ground-up to build a fully-fledged, systematic process for attracting, converting, nurturing, and retaining your customers.
In the “Attract” phase, this consists of doing things like blogging, SEO, and social media. Content creation in the form of blogging is where you’re not only getting your message out about you and your company, but also providing value to your potential readers about advancements in your field and industry. A blog post is often the first point of entry or contact for a prospective customer, and that’s why it’s absolutely necessary to apply the principles of SEO and keywords when you write them, so you can increase the chances your post or landing page will be discovered by a search engine. You can also increase the chance of the discovery—and the chance that people will share your words and message on your behalf—by sharing what you write on social media. But beware of, as discussed before, thinking of social media as a mechanism purely for self- promotion. In order to access its full benefits, you have to use it consistently, not just when you have a landing page you want to direct people to. Most people will retweet your tweets and then follow you if they like and agree with what it is you are tweeting about. So tweet about plenty of things, not just how great you are! Use the news, tweet articles that you have read and identify with, provide something useful that you are sharing and you’ll grow your audience. Just tweet about yourself and stay lonely!
The next phase, convert, is in some ways the inflection point. This is where your prospect officially grants you their permission to market to them. This most commonly involves them willingly giving you their contact info (usually an email address) and thereby indicating they want to hear from you again. To do this you normally utilise tools like landing pages and calls to action, all of which involve offering something of value for free—a whitepaper, an electronic booklet - eBook, a webinar or case study—in exchange for information entered into a form. Once you have sufficient information, (usually an email, but ideally their job title, company, and industry as well), it is your job to organise it into a database, so it remains useful to you throughout the process and you can track this prospect’s journey. Notice the difference between reaching this person randomly through, say, a blind email blast, and emailing them after a conversion process? When they finally see your email in their inbox, there is the possibility that they may react favourably to your email, rather than reflexively clicking “delete” on yet another unsolicited interruption.
The third stage, the “close”, is where a direct phone call is probably, for the first time, acceptable to the prospect. These days in B2B markets buyers can be as much as 50-70% of the way through the sales cycle, before they are happy to talk to a sales person. So this is perhaps where a sales person reaches out to discuss their needs in more detail, and the process of marketing automation, wherein you create an automated journey via emails that nurture the lead and provide offers to a qualified lead, comes into play. With all of this integrated with a customer relationship management (CRM) product, or piece of software, to assist in your engagement with that prospect along the way. Instead of hounding your prospect constantly with the same message over and over, you’re leading them on a journey that is much like the one we discussed in using content to structure the sales journey. Though it’s important in every stage, close tracking and analytics are particularly crucial here, and they may represent the difference between encouraging and annoying.
Interestingly, the last stage, in HubSpot’s process, is termed “delight” and this means listening to and getting feedback from your converted prospect after they’ve become a customer. You do this via social media monitoring,; what are they saying about their experience of working with you?; surveys,; where you ask for their valued feedback—and listen to it;!, tailored content; and calls to action which suit their more evolved needs as a customer. This is the step where not only a one-time buyer becomes a repeat client or customer but also where you learn what they liked or disliked about the process of getting there. In other words, you really should listen and not assume!
Once you have a majority of these elements detailed above up and running, you should find that your marketing strategy will, over a period of time, result in a higher ROI. If properly fueled, with appropriate amounts of fresh and engaging content, you should be in a position to turn the handle on the machine on a regular basis and for the program to produce a steady stream of leads for your sales team to engage with. But it’s important to bear in mind that your marketing and sales processes need to be one continuous process, managed by the same person, or people, rather than two separate processes.
Tip #40: An integrated inbound marketing process is a continuous process of content creation and delivery which if managed carefully, will go on delivering and delivering.
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