Inbound marketing is a term often thrown around by digital marketers and industry thought leaders, as a way that you should be marketing your business.
But what does ‘inbound marketing’ actually mean, and how relevant is it to the professional services market?
There has been a shift over the last 10 years in how people buy products and services. Cast your mind back to the 80s and 90s when marketing was a completely different thing to today and when the internet wasn’t as widespread. The big companies paid their way into people’s minds and houses using TV advertising, billboard advertising and extensive physical mail campaigns. Smaller companies, on the other hand, were stuck with ‘advertising’ via referrals and word of mouth. They may have advertised in the local paper or on local commercial radio, but the big companies had all the power and sway over what people bought. Consumers and businesses moved through a very linear buying journey of seeing something advertised, speaking to a salesperson about it (for larger purchases) and then committing to buy.
Let’s jump forward to today…
With the rise of the internet and the increase in people buying products and services online, the playing field has changed.
If a consumer or business wants to buy products or services they can browse and research the best price, brand and deal on the internet before they buy. They have the freedom to consider and measure different providers, and they now take a completely different journey to becoming a customer, which sees the firm in question typically engaged much later than was previously the case.
Buyers now have the power over the companies. And that’s where inbound comes into play.
The new buyer’s journey that potential clients take online is much more extensive. Rather than going in straight for the deal, it’s now about being there at every stage of the consumer’s journey with your company… including stages where they’re not proactively asking to speak with you.
The methodology behind inbound is to attract clients through the use of relevant and helpful content. The content is made to add value to a user’s experience with your company, through the use of blogging, SEO, social media and contextual personalised marketing.
You shouldn’t be fighting for a customer’s attention with your marketing… your marketing should be attracting your ideal clients to your firm by helping to solve their challenges and complete the goals in their personal and working lives.
Inbound is split into four different sections that align directly with each stage of a potential client’s journey with your company.
Attract – This is the first stage of inbound where someone will be looking for help (usually on the internet) in solving one of their challenges. Think about what you search for in Google… 90% of the time it will be a question you are trying to find the answer to.
The goal here is to attract the right type of potential client to your website.
At this point of the journey, this person is a complete stranger to your company and will more than likely not know what you offer in terms of services.
Convert – Congratulations! You have attracted someone to click onto your website through your amazingly relevant content. This next stage is all about converting these website visitors into leads.
This is achieved by giving the visitor something of value in return for something from them, usually their contact details. The ‘something’ that you give them normally takes the form of really worthwhile content they are willing to ‘pay’ for with their details. Whilst you might attract with blogs, you may convert with whitepapers.
Close – Great! You have converted a visitor into a lead and you now have information on who they are, the company they work for and what problems they are looking solve.
This is where your sales side comes in. Inbound sales is another side of the inbound methodology which we will cover in a later blog, but in a nutshell it involves moving your potential client through different pipeline stages by helping them and nurturing them to the end goal.
Delight – Inbound is all about providing a remarkable service for your clients. At this stage, you have closed the deal and have a new client. That isn’t where it should end though. Remember, buyers are in control now… they expect much more from interacting with a firm than they used to.
This is where you go out of your way to make your clients successful. In return, they become promoters and refer their family, friends and colleagues to you.
Now let’s take a deeper look at each stage and the content behind it.
At this point, the user is a stranger to your company and they won’t know what you offer as a service.
The objective at this stage is to use relevant content to attract the right potentials to your website.
This can be done through a variety of channels:
Content strategy – A content strategy is a vital first step at the attract stage. You need to think about and research the types of content your audience reads and watches, and some titles and themes to base your content around.
Blogging – A blog is the single best way to attract online visitors to your website. Make sure you cover topics that your audience will be searching for and will want to share. Help them solve their problems and use it to answer their questions.
Social media – Social is where you place your content in front of your audience. It’s where you can show the human side of your business and talk directly to your audience.
Paid – It’s important to remember that you aren’t always going to be able to reach your target audience solely through the use of organic channels. Using paid social and Google adwords, you can target your content and messaging directly to your target audience.
Once someone lands on your website, reads your content and checks out your homepage, how do you convert them into a lead?
It’s time to optimise your website…
Forms – A form is an essential piece of kit for any website. Can you remember the last major website you visited that didn’t have a contact form? Probably not, as they are so vital to your website’s success.
Your form is the first step of your conversion process and should be simple to fill out.
CTAs – A Call To Action (CTA) is a button, banner or image that will enable a potential client to move to a page of value where they can fill out a form. Not all of your pages will have a form on them. CTAs can be pop ups or static. Their aim is to enable you to funnel visitors to a page with a form.
CRM – You need a place to start to build your database of leads and customers. A CRM (Customer relationship management system) will hold all of the data you have on your prospects and customers in one place.
Closing is by far the most important and difficult part of inbound marketing and selling services in general.
Lead nurturing and email – Website visitors and leads aren’t always going to be at the stage where they are ready to immediately buy services from you.
Lead nurturing can help to warm potential clients up to the stage where they are ready to buy. This is done through the use of email workflows and emails that are triggered when your prospects complete a certain action. These mailers should be tailored for each stage of a potential buyer’s journey.
Personalisation – Nothing is more powerful or persuasive than personalised marketing. Be it by email, social media or dynamic content.
It makes a potential customer feel valued and special and is much more likely to result in a conversion. Whether it’s adding their first name into the subject line of an email or sending a personal tweet to someone that’s on the edge of deciding, personalisation can take your marketing to the next level.
Providing a remarkable experience to your customers is essential for repeat business and referrals. It’s important to remember that people expect more from businesses they buy from, having spent a long time engaged in the buyer’s journey for that business.
That is why your marketing shouldn’t end at the customer stage.
Conversations – Talking to your customers is more important than ever. You should be asking for constant feedback and listening to what your customers have to say. This can be through interaction on social media or regular emails that will provide useful and helpful content to them.
User generated content – Your customers are the storytellers of your business. If they have a great experience with your business, they will tell other people about it.
A great strategy is to take these stories and use them to further promote your business. This could be using customer testimonials on your website and social media. It could also be using a client’s ‘feel good’ story to promote your brand.
The whole point of the delight section of inbound marketing is to turn your clients into promoters of your business.
A proven methodology
As you can see, there is a lot to take in with inbound… but the great thing about it is that it gets the marketing results you need.
It enables you to be there every step of the way through your client’s buyer journey. In the digital age, there isn’t a place for direct sales and marketing – people can see through it and they don’t appreciate it.
It’s time to put your clients first (excuse the pun) and think about what they want to read, experience and engage with, and align your marketing with them.