What is B2B Inbound Marketing?
B2B Inbound Marketing is the process of attracting and encouraging users and prospects from other businesses to engage with your business by providing them desired resources.
These resources can include content like a blog post or whitepaper, a quiz, or even a tool for some kind of analysis.
The benefit of inbound marketing is that instead of having to continually hunt down your ideal target audience, they come to you looking for advice, help, and a solution in the form of a product or service. In general, they’re pre-qualified because they sought you out, inherently indicating a need. Part of the battle is won!
Inbound B2B marketing is the polite way to promote your services online. It doesn’t involve unsolicited emails, loud commercials, cold calls, or anything else B2B clients steer away from.
Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing
The difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is that inbound marketing attracts users, prospects, and customers to your website or business, whereas outbound marketing involves you going to where your target audience is and actively seeking them out.
Put simply, it’s about them coming to you, vs you going to them.
Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing
Even though these two have a lot of similarities, they are fundamentally different. Content marketing aims to create content and distribute it throughout your chosen channels. This could be on instagram, LinkedIn, in a sales conversation, etc.
On the other hand, the goal of inbound marketing is to attract a user in your ideal customer profile to your website with the goal of engaging with and converting them into a lead or customer.
Or in other words, content and content marketing is a key component of the inbound methodology.
Initial Ingredients of An Effective Inbound Marketing Campaign
There are many intricacies to an effective inbound marketing campaign, and describing every potential tactic, past, present, and future would be exhausting. However, there are core principles and foundational strategies that you need to be aware of.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Crystal Clear Goals & KPIs
Marketers love jargon. Almost as much as they tend to shy away from accountability of showing a tangible return on investment or return on campaign spend.
That being said, two of the most foundational elements to any inbound marketing campaign (and any other kind of marketing campaign) are defining your key performance indicators (KPIs) and overall goals for the campaign.
If you know that you want to increase MQLs by 10% in the 6 months, what will you have to do to achieve that? Answering this question instantly gives you ideas and a clearer picture of what kind of effort that will take.
Compare that with “we want to increase our online presence”. In this scenario, you have no idea where to start or how to deploy spending to effectively and definitively meet that goal.
Increase online presence on which platform? All of them? “And how do you define presence”? We can already see how the more specific and S.M.A.R.T the goal, the easier to reverse engineer the steps. Next is figuring out the “defining presence” aspect.
KPIs aren’t as valuable as conversions (demo requests, contact form submissions, phone calls, etc), but they do serve as a way to benchmark performance towards your larger goal at any given moment.
Commonly used KPIs include:
- Organic website sessions
- PDF downloads
- Conversion rate
- Average time spent on site
- Email list sign ups
- Contact form inquiries
- Youtube subscriptions
- Keyword rankings
- Bounce rate
- Incoming backlinks
- CPA or CPL
Clarity On Your Target Buyer
A B2B buyer persona is a fictional, but clearly defined representation of your ideal customer within an organization and the organization as a whole. This includes traits of the business, demographic information of the decision maker, and more.
Buyer personas are extremely important because they allow you to get into the mind of your prospects, empathize with their frustrations and knowledge gaps, and gain insight into the kinds of solutions they will be most receptive to.
That depth of understanding allows you to craft the right campaign strategy and content to fit their needs at every stage of their buying decision journey.
A Website That Engages & Delights
A website is no longer a luxury for B2B businesses, it’s a necessity if you want to compete for your prospects’ attention in 2021 and beyond.
The facts are that up to 71% of your B2B decision makers are conducting a search before speaking with a company, and 70% of them do it on a mobile device.
Your website needs to meet their expectations from a usability standpoint, guide them to the correct information, and do so quickly, or they’ll leave. It should be logically organized with a robust balance of content types and serve as your central hub for user interactions.
Why? Simple. You have full control.
Control over the user experience, call to action placement, colors, server, etc. Any number of optimizations can be done and tracked when you are driving users to a website that you own. Other platforms like Linkedin or Twitter have built in audiences for you to tap into, but at the end of the day they could be shut down overnight without an explanation (not likely, but possible).
Now that you’ve got the website dialed in, you’ll need to understand the different kinds of content you can utilize and the importance of each.
Strategy-Led Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Last but not least, is search engine optimization (SEO). B2B SEO is the process of making changes to your website, creating content based on commonly used phrases by your target user persona (called keywords), and increasing the trustworthiness of your website and brand through acquiring links from other reputable websites (called backlinks).
This process, when done correctly, results in your website being shown more often to users when they type in their keywords (as opposed to your competitors), which leads to increased website traffic, which leads to more sales opportunities and eventually, increased revenue.
SEO is one of the most scalable and effective inbound marketing (and lead generation) methodologies but also takes the most time and effort to see tangible returns. It’s also constantly evolving based on Google’s algorithm updates so it’s something that should be treated as a long term engagement.
How to Create An Inbound Marketing Campaign
1. Goals Are Important.. How Do You Decide Which to Use?
In the beginning of any B2B inbound marketing campaign, the first thing you should do is get exceptionally clear on what you actually want to happen as a result of the campaign.
As mentioned above, this can be to increase MQLs, drive higher qualified SQLs, double organic traffic, increase domain authority through link building, etc.
Once you know where you want to end up, you and your team can reverse engineer that goal into action steps. Here’s how to plan the perfect goal:
- Figure out your most important channels; ones that your target buyers will likely be utilizing
- Figure out the gaps the gaps in your existing efforts
- Perform an analysis of how much performance improvement you need to hit business goals
- Use those performance improvement numbers to forecast how long those improvements should take based on historical data
- Write your goal down, discuss with your team, and get feedback on it’s plausibility
An example of an inbound marketing campaign goal would be: “We will generate a 250% net increase of organic website traffic by the end of our 12 month SEO campaign in order to have a 5% increase in monthly MQLs.”
2. What Does Your Target User Really Want?
We’ve already discussed why understanding your target B2B buyer persona is so important, now let’s dive into how to do that.
First things first, Hubspot has an amazing tool that will walk you through this process. I highly recommend you use that to help you through this process.
That being said, here are the steps and major considerations:
- Decide if you have multiple target buying personas for different offers. Usually, the same type of person will make up the majority of your purchases, however, if you run a company that offers noticeably different offers, then you’ll need to do this process according to that.
- Give that person humanizing features like a name, location, gender, and even an image. The purpose of this is to keep everyone on your marketing team accountable to your target personas needs throughout their buying journey. They are a real person with hopes, dreams, needs, and fears, not simply a data point.
- Write down the key demographic information about them like height, age, income, etc. This information begins to inform how you can position your brand image, content types, and messaging to fit the key elements of their life experience and background.
- Decide on company and industry related information. Is their organization global or local? What is their job title? What field of work does their company engage in?
- Think through their biggest struggles, goals, and dreams. This information is as important as any of the other types. By intimately understanding your buyer’s pains, you can message or even change your offer to more accurately fit their needs. If you know what their core objectives are on the job, you may be able to connect them with that goal with your product as their guide.
3. Research Opportunities & Analyze The Competition
Competitive analysis is a pillar step towards an effective marketing campaign of any kind.
Understanding existing strategies and what your competition is doing to get results for themselves can save you a ton of headache with planning and testing. It gives you a solid baseline to launch your own unique initiative.
Here’s the playbook:
- Pick 5-10 of your top competitors both from a business model perspective and from AND companies that are running successful campaigns in the channel that you want to compete in.
- Use competitive intelligence tools to gather as much information and data points about these competitors and their strategies as possible. Some examples would be SEMrush for website traffic and SEO metrics, BuzzSumo for winning content examples, SpyFu for Google Ads campaign insights, etc. Find a few different tools that give insights into your campaign channel of choice, pull the data, and combine it in a central location.
- Focus on finding out what they all have in common that’s successful (where to start), what efforts they’ve tried that haven’t yet paid off (what you can learn from or stay away from), and areas of production that they’ve missed (your opportunities)
When you build your campaign on a foundation of useful and accurate data, you set yourself up for success because you have something to benchmark your own performance from right from the start.
4. Start Mapping That Content
Content is the backbone of b2b inbound marketing, and for good reason. When done right, content helps your buyer make the right decision for their needs and goals.
But how exactly do you do it right? Truth be told, the content aspect can be equal parts science and art at times, but there is a system to creation that will surely set you up for success.
- Use the insights from your research to plan ahead. If you’re embarking on an SEO focused campaign, ensure that you have all of your target keywords mapped out in a sheet with the type of content you need to produce, and whether or not it’s an existing or future asset or not. If you’re creating a PPC campaign, make sure you have your ad groups mapped to a target landing page type based on best practices and competitor efforts.
- Focus on information that educates and helps users solve an immediate need. There are so many factors to keep in mind when optimizing content for the platform of the channel that you’re targeting during your campaign, but at the end of the day, users won’t convert into customers if that content is served to them but not relevant to their needs.
- Outline your content ahead of time. Yes, make an actual outline of all of the elements of the content you want to produce before you start working on it. Working from the outline will ensure the finished content is laser targeted to help meet your campaign objectives.
- Use tools to analyze the content as you go. Apps like Grammarly, can help ensure that there are no major writing errors, grammatical eros, or readability errors as you go. This will save you time and frustration in the long run.
- Show it to multiple team members and departments when finished. This step is crucial in catching any spelling or grammatical errors that you missed, but each person will be able to offer a unique perspective that can make the content perform better.
- Publish and optimize on your targeted channels. Make sure that you’ve optimized each element of the content according to the best practices of the platform. Hashtags for linkedin, title tags for SEO, heading copy for PPC, etc.
5. Promote Your Content
Content promotion is a crucial step of inbound marketing that some organizations skip. However, it’s critical to scaling the reach and ultimately, the effectiveness of your content.
Some examples of content promotion are:
- Publishing blog posts to content syndication platforms.
- Use forum sites like Quora to engage with target user questions or post helpful blurbs that link to your more in depth piece.
- Repurpose your content into an infographic or slide deck and post to websites that specialize in curating these resource types.
- Run impressions or click through targeting ads on Linkedin, Facebook, or Google to get visibility for your website content.
- Encourage your coworkers and brand advocates to share and start discussions about the content on your target platforms of choice.
Promotion requires understanding what value you can add to the right kind of user, on the right platform, at the right time. It’s a long term game, but one that’s highly worth playing. This content promotion guide will help you out.
6. Measure Results & Update Strategy
When you’re spending money on campaigns, it’s enticing to anecdotally judge the performance of your content or rely on flimsy KPIs like impressions. But ultimately, this won’t help your bottom line.
Every good B2B marketing effort needs to have the appropriate analytics and tracking in place, to judge the performance of the campaign, get reliable insights into that performance, and take action to make improvements.
Every month (depending on the overall length of the campaign), your team should be reviewing KPIs, to discover trends about the performance of your content and pivoting strategy regularly (especially in the beginning), until you’ve achieved the desired results. However, we suggest not making strategy pivots for at least a quarter.
B2B Inbound Marketing Strategies & Tactics That Work
When you’re thinking about which B2B inbound marketing strategies you want your company to adopt, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Emerging technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence are transforming the buying process. With all of the tools available to you, figuring out the best strategy can be … challenging, to say the least.
Everywhere you look there’s a rabbit-hole of information, with each strategy being touted as the best new thing since sliced bread and making it easy to overlook the right strategy for you.
When you get sucked into a 100-page in-depth report on the state of SEO, you might learn quite a bit about SEO, but you won’t learn which B2B inbound marketing tactics you’re overlooking. There’s plenty more blogging statistics worth exploring. What about all those unhyped tactics that need your attention?
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of common B2B inbound marketing strategies, tactics, and techniques to help you as you figure out which ones are the most appropriate for you (and if you’re not sure, contact us and we’ll show you what’s working for similar companies):
1. Ongoing Content — The Alpha & Omega of B2B Inbound Marketing Strategies
Blogging isn’t just for trendy fashionistas and foodies. Virtually all of the most successful B2B companies and startups have a robust blogging strategy.
According to a well-known blog stat from Hubspot, B2B marketers who use blogs receive 67 percent more leads than those who don’t.
The key is consistency. And quality content. And search engine optimization. And writing ability. And education value. Okay, maybe there are a bunch of keys. The point is, you need to get started with your B2B blogging strategy, either with an internal team, content agency, or a combination of both.
Aside from lead generation benefits, a blog is a great way to keep your customers informed and help your sales team improve win rates. If you’re consistently producing quality content, the more likely it is that your brand will become a trusted source your prospects will remember when they have a problem you can solve.
The most common reason I see companies hold off on a blog strategy is that they are under pressure to generate short-term results so they put it on the back burner. This is a mistake. While I understand the pressure to get leads now, ignoring your blogging strategy is a shortsighted way to make sure that 12 months from now … you’re still struggling to generate consistent leads.
Blogging isn’t an overnight strategy. Depending on consistency, volume, and quality, you’ll start to see positive indicators of success in a few months, even though it may take 6-12 months before you’ve started seeing enough traffic growth to make any sort of a dent on pipeline and revenue. If you’re producing 1 or fewer posts per month, or you’re ignoring SEO, then it’ll take even longer.
Search engines reward consistency with visibility.
Humans reward great content with trust.
Prospects reward trust by becoming customers.
A great B2B blog accomplishes all of that.
There are many sub categories and ways to dissect content into distinct “types”, but these are the core buckets when thinking about your content strategy.
This type of content lives as a landing page for users who are already problem and solution aware. You should have as many of them as you have unique service offerings. If you’re a business advisory firm, then your solutions pages should be about your services. An example would be https://yourcompanyname.com/mergers-and-acquisitions/. If you’re a SaaS company, these could be product features or use cases.
Even though it may not seem important, 52% of B2B buyers report wanting to see leadership bios, company history, and about pages to make decisions. These kinds of pages solidify what your brand stands for and helps position you uniquely in the market. Every website should have an “about us” at minimum with information on company values, history, and employees.
Resource content is a catch all for content that helps inform your prospect in order to help them solve a problem or answer a question they have about your offer or industry as a whole. These can include blog posts, whitepapers, guides, infographics, videos, FAQs, slide decks, checklists, spreadsheet templates, and more.
Simply put, this kind of content is proof that you are as competent as you claim to be. It gives buyers confidence that you’ve already done great work in the past, and will likely be able to replicate that with them. People love to see themselves in others, so showcase all types of clients and success.
Industry Specific or Target Buyer Specific
This less often used content type is useful when buyers have already been educated, know you have the solution they want, but still need a little more help coming to a purchase decision. Industry specific or buyer type content should be laser focused on how your solution fits the unique needs of each segment, even though it’s the same solution. If your product has a different approach for each segment, even better, include that information as well.
2. Email Marketing — The Most Nurturing B2B Inbound Marketing Strategy
What does your email marketing strategy look like right now?
If you don’t have one … try again. According to Hubspot, over 93 percent of B2B inbound marketers are using email marketing as one of their go-to strategies.
In the B2B buying world, timing is a crucial component of your sales cycle. It would be great if all of your prospects needed your product the same day that they found out about you. If I need marketing automation software, but the contract for my current tool isn’t up until 8 months from now, I’m just not qualified to talk with your sales team yet, much less make a purchase.
That’s where email comes in. If you have an email list, then you’ll be able to nurture prospects with educational and informational content until they’re ready to convert. Then, when the timing is right, they remember you.
The alternative is relying on your prospect’s memory to think of you when they are in a buying mood 6 months from now. Not exactly the most fool-proof strategy.
Email marketing is also where you’ll get added value from your blog content. Try starting a monthly newsletter where you share your latest blog posts with your email list.
B2B inbound marketing is a long-term process that is as much about building trust with your audience as it is about “converting” them. Trust building takes time. Without an email list, you’ll need to rely on prospects randomly remembering you or running across your company when they just happen to be ready to buy. Stack the odds in your favor with email marketing.
Quick email tips: With the number of emails flooding people’s inboxes, it’s more vital than ever to build and send out effective — valuable — emails. Write compelling subject lines. Speak like your buyer. Make sure your content is high quality and valuable. Share your expertise with your industry. Don’t just promote your brand in your emails.
Bottom line: Give value.
3. Gated Content — You Shall Not Pass … Or Shall You?
Building longer form content that you can “gate” behind a form on your site is one of the most proven ways to generate leads. Prospects visit your site, see a valuable piece of content, then give you their email address in exchange for access. Now you have a new lead who you can have sales reps follow-up with, or to nurture via email marketing.
This content can include how-to guides, whitepapers, checklists, or eBooks. Typically, you’ll want to produce content that goes into more detail on topics than blog articles. When you have this content, then you can promote it near the end of the blog post as a call to action (CTA).
A mistake I see in quite a few B2B inbound marketing strategies is when prospects can only enter your sales funnel through a “contact us” or “demo request” form. Typically, the people who fill in these forms on your site are in a later stage of their buying process. They may already have contacted your competitors and are looking to buy soon.
But what about all of those prospects who might make fantastic leads at some point? Timing is a key component of a B2B buyer’s journey. You need to make sure that you build a marketing funnel that lets you establish a relationship with prospects long before they are ready to buy.
For many B2B buyers, no matter how much they like your product or service, they just may not be in a position to evaluate vendors right now. B2B decision-makers don’t have time for demos and discovery calls for a product they can’t properly evaluate until 6 months from now. If they run across your company, and the only call to action is to sign up for a demo, they’ll move on.
If you provide great content that people will feel good about giving their business email address to access, then you nurture these prospects via high value email marketing, you’ll be top of mind once they are actually in a position to potentially buy your product.
This is how you build a marketing strategy that relies less on, “I hope they are actively evaluating products like ours at the exact same time that they visit our site” and more on, “no matter when they are ready to buy, we’ll be on the shortlist of companies they contact.”
And if you’re going to use the next strategy (paid ads), you better have a great piece of gated content to capture leads at all stages of the buyer’s journey, so that you aren’t just throwing ad budget out the window.
4. Social Media — Not Just for Puppy Photos
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit … How are you using social media with your inbound strategy?
RevenueZen has generated over 30 percent of our new revenue over the last 2 years from LinkedIn activity using a combination of social selling strategies and thoughtful content.
Depending on your brand and target market, Facebook and Twitter might need to play more prominent roles. Or maybe even Quora.
Social media allows your prospects a more personal connection with your company. While your blog is valuable when it’s educational, social media is valuable when it’s relatable and shareable. People are bombarded with ads 24/7 so make your social media presence a place where they can engage with your brand without feeling pressured to buy from you now.
Like blogging and email marketing, focus on giving value. Give people a reason to follow and engage with you on social media.
Share your personal thoughts on challenges you’ve faced in your industry, or unique insights you’ve gained through your experience. Our favorite LinkedIn strategy involves sharing personally relevant, professional content with your network, building trust and relationships by being a valuable connection.
(If you’re curious how we’re using LinkedIn marketing strategies to generate inbound leads, get in touch.)
5. Paid Ads — There’s a Reason Google Is Worth $900B
B2B inbound marketers can round out their demand generation and branding effort with the help of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which allows a business to get their content and brand in front of new audiences with the use of search engines and other advertising platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
There are a few ways you can approach paid. You could target buyers looking for your specific solution or the specific solution of a competitor’s. This method targets prospects who are far enough down the sales funnel that they may have a higher likelihood of converting.
Another approach is to create a valuable piece of gated content (see above), set up a landing page, then use ads to direct people to the landing page. When people opt-in to see your content you can use your email marketing strategy to nurture them until they are ready to buy (or talk to a sales rep).
If you have a complex B2B buying process involving executive level decision-makers, creating educational content that you promote via ads can be a strong strategy to generate leads for your sales team to follow-up with, in addition to email marketing.
If your product has a more transactional sales cycle, you may be able to lean more towards ads that promote your specific solution. Once you have the budget and the content, you’ll want to invest in multiple paid channels, promoting a wide variety of content on your site.
6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — The Inbound Marketing Strategy for People Who Like Acronyms
Producing high quality content is important, but without having a proper search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, you may just be spinning your wheels. You need to make sure that your site and content is searchable by search engines as well.
Even the most entertaining, educational, insightful, revolutionary product will get ignored if your content isn’t optimized properly.
Good SEO begins with keyword research that focuses on words and phrases your targeted audience is likely to be searching for. If you sell product management software, it may make sense to do research around keywords that people might search for when they are in the buying cycle. Once you’ve done your research, you might find that it is valuable to create content with an aim of ranking for “best product management software.” This can dictate the entire direction of your content strategy — it’s important to be diligent with your research. Follow the data.
You also need to make sure to follow SEO best practices with your content. This includes making sure your site and page meta, title tags, alt text, and page descriptions are all in order. Check for redirect issues and duplicate content. Optimize your site for mobile devices and page loading speed.
Ahrefs and SEMRush are our tools of choice for keyword research – we aren’t affiliated with either of them, just happy customers.
The topic of SEO goes deep. But no matter what your goals, it all starts with discovering what your target market is searching for, then building a content strategy that gives you as much visibility as possible with your potential buyers.
7. Videos, Podcasts, and Infographics … Oh My!
Aside from the broader inbound strategies above, there are a host of other B2B inbound marketing techniques that you should consider for your company.
It’s estimated that video traffic will account for an estimated 82 percent of customer internet traffic as of 2022. Meaning there’s no better time than right now to make video a part of your B2B inbound marketing strategy. Podcasts are in the same boat, giving people the ability to listen to content using time that otherwise would have been less productive (the daily commute, doing laundry, etc.).
With video, you don’t need to get too fancy. You can release off-the-cuff videos of you sharing your thoughts on your industry (this works great on LinkedIn). Or, you could produce short, high-value educational videos. Other ideas include customer testimonials, product demo videos, case studies, and video blogs. The goal is to educate the audience on the importance of these products or services.
Moz.com does a fantastic job of using video as part of their larger blog and content strategy with their Whiteboard Friday series on SEO strategy.
Even more, these types of media are fantastic opportunities to repurpose content into multiple formats. When you record a video or podcast, transcribing and then publishing the content allows search engines to index your content easier, giving you an extra boost from your content efforts.
Or, you could turn some of your content into an entertaining, informative infographic. If you have unique data or a visually compelling take on a process, infographics are highly shareable pieces of content that can spread awareness of your brand. Sometimes, people just want a quick shot of insight that looks pretty.
If the information you are providing is incredibly valuable, there’s a good chance it will be shared among other people, even competitors, who will use it as a source of information.
The list of top B2B inbound marketing strategies isn’t infinite. Even though the details of exactly how you might execute on a plan might differ, and there are always nuances, everything fits into the bigger picture techniques listed in this article.
Figuring out how those strategies fit with your overall company objectives is the real key. Are you trying to build an inbound B2B lead generation engine? Are you focused on branding? Are you supporting a complex sales cycle? Is this part of a broader account-based marketing strategy?
Except in rare circumstances, your company should have some roadmap for adopting each of the strategies listed above. For B2B SaaS startups, tech companies, and agencies, inbound isn’t just a luxury, it’s one of the most important aspects of your go-to-market plan.
Treat it as crucial as you treat investing in having a sales strategy (and if you don’t have a sales team, then inbound marketing is even more important). Don’t wait to start building your inbound strategy. Start now, even if it’s just documenting exactly when you plan on launching each component of the plan.