As the marketplace continues to evolve, more of the sales funnel has been pushed back into Marketing’s territory. Inbound marketing strategies have been the savvy response to increasing demand, but the ethos of inbound reaches beyond “awareness.” From building the right audience to improving communication, the principles of inbound can help you convert more leads throughout the sales funnel.
Traditionally, moving buyers from the vast landscape of the general marketplace into a brand’s sales funnel meant casting a very wide net and throwing back most of the catch. Inbound marketing, however, harnesses the structure of the new marketplace, and speaks to the mindset of new buyers, to help brands build an eager, responsive audience of their own. One of the powerful realities of inbound is that marketers can finally stop renting other influencers’ audiences.
All audiences are not created equal. There are a lot of tricks and games that will get people to give you their email addresses or like your Facebook page, but those strategies don’t always generate good leads because they don’t attract the right audience. A giveaway, for example, is usually an effective way to convince people to sign up, repost, like, etc. If the object of your giveaway has broad appeal – a new iPad or a golf resort package – you will probably get a lot of conversion, but also a lot of freeloaders. If the object of your giveaway is directly related to your business, you might get fewer email addresses, but a higher percentage of them will convert to leads. The right audience is the first step to generating the right leads.
Inbound marketing, when finely crafted and used to appeal directly to micro-segments of the market, will ensure that the audience is the right audience. Excellent inbound marketing campaigns actually assist the right audience in self-selecting their own inclusion. – Willis Turner (@SMEIOrg), Sales & Marketing Executives International, Inc.
Inbound marketing helps the right buyers – the ones who will eventually become valuable leads – opt in to your communications. That means marketers don’t have to fumble with an over-sized net, and when you do pull it in, there will be fewer small fish to throw back.
Still, you will never build an audience that is 100% lead material. Every audience has cheap seats, box seats, and several gradations in between. The people in the cheap seats may never sign a contract, but if they appreciate your content, they can become some of your best promoters. You’ll treat them well, but you also don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on them, and you definitely don’t want to pass them on to sales. A thorough inbound marketing strategy can help identify the lurkers, do-it-yourself-ers, and nosey competitors even near the top of the funnel.
Gated content will demonstrate who is serious about the information being provided, and how much he trusts the brand providing it.
You definitely don’t want to gate all, or even most, of your content, because you will lose a lot of crucial SEO opportunities. Gating some of your premium intro content behind a short, simple form, however, is a primary tool for generating leads.
If you think of an inbound marketing campaign as a mechanism for advertising, such as syndicating your blog content, I wouldn’t recommend just stopping there. In my experience, offering premium content – what is offered with registration – gives you a better sense of who is truly engaged and needs further services in that subject matter (or how nosey your competitors are!). Setting up the premium content as a conversion goal, and monitoring the effectiveness of the free content via attribution reports, lets you validate the process. – Brooke Browne (@Smartbridge), Marketing Manager, Smartbridge
A robust inbound strategy will help guide the audience into the funnel by making sure they’re the right audience to begin with, by beginning to generate trust between brand and buyer, and by filtering the first level of serious decision makers vs. curious readers.
The middle stages of the sales funnel are where a good inbound marketing strategy can really shine, because it effectively speaks to a new breed of buyer who doesn’t necessarily want brands speaking to him.
Inbound marketing can move the audience towards the conviction stage where the real action begins in acquiring a new customer. – Willis Turner (@SMEIOrg)
Decision makers today do not trust advertising.
By contrast, “case studies, whitepapers, and articles” are some of the most important assets for establishing trust in the B2B market. That is precisely why an inbound marketing strategy is ideal for guiding those self-propelled buyers along their journeys.
Not only are you building trust and establishing expertise, a consistent flow of valuable content also keeps your brand top-of-mind. A buyers continue to self-educate, they should continue to see your name and logo on all of the best and most helpful information. You are fusing your brand name to their solution, so when they are ready to pull the trigger yours is the first name that comes to mind.
Inbound marketing is a wonderful tool to nurture leads in a non-aggressive way until they’re ready to convert. When used intelligently, it not only builds a relationship with the buyer, but it also means that by putting them on a gentle, nurturing nudge sequence, you’re visible when they’re ready to buy. – Kath Pay (@KathPay)
With your buyers’ journey clearly mapped out, and content specifically designed for every persona at each stage, inbound marketing places clear stepping stones for decision makers.
Software that automates the process can help make it manageable on a large scale, and make sure that prospects don’t fall through the cracks. Anything from an event to an email form to a Tweet can trigger the start of a series of content pieces. More and more marketers are turning their attention to behavior-based automation, because it not only works – buyers like it. 81% of those surveyed said they are at least somewhat likely to make additional purchases after receiving personalized emails.
With inbound marketing you have terrific control over what content and messages you send, when you send them, and under what conditions. Suddenly you can message based on behavior. A great example metric is the number of pages read before a sales rep makes direct contact. After someone has responded to your messages, and read 12 pages over the past 30 days, they are way more receptive to a phone conversation because there is more trust. – Mitch Tarr (@MitchTarr), Found and CEO, ZinMarketing Inc.
The ability to establish an automatic content delivery system for various personas and scenarios means that no one falls through the cracks, and that your valuable content is never wasted.
One tactic that has proven most successful has been to connect a one-off content campaign with an autoresponder series of content – making sure it expands on the message and begins to prompt a call to action. Timing is everything, and autoresponders help people remember your name when the need arises. – Brooke Browne (@Smartbridge)
However you structure the content path, there are a variety of powerful services available that will help you organize and automate your resources for buyers. Make sure they are getting the answers and information you know they need, and help them complete their buying journey.
Inbound marketing nurtures leads through the middle of the sales funnel because it gives buyers what they’re looking for while also keeping your brand in front of them, and it makes them feel like they’re in charge while also allowing marketers to position those stepping stones.
The mere fact that you have carefully crafted the content to appeal to your target audience, and that you are targeting the content for the different stages of the buying stage, means you are streamlining the funnel and turning the right audience into the right leads in reduced time. – Kath Pay (@KathPay)
The middle of the funnel is more Marketing than Sales in the new marketplace, and that means expectations and responsibilities are still shifting. While the silos of tradition figure out whose desk belongs where, however, inbound is still nurturing leads and moving buyers through the process.