The Ultimate B2B Inbound Marketing Strategy for 2021 and Onwards
by Mike Khorev
For the past half-decade or so, inbound marketing has been a popular buzzword in the digital marketing world, both for B2B and B2C businesses. However, many B2B marketers and business owners still often mistake inbound marketing for something else, and so the execution might not be as effective as desired.
So, what actually is B2B inbound marketing?
To really define the concept of B2B inbound marketing, we have to first take a look at the concept of traditional marketing which we now understand as ‘outbound’ marketing.
Traditional marketing efforts like advertising, the billboard we see on the side of the road, below the line activation, and so on, are about reaching as many people as possible with our promotional messages. In short, we push our messages ‘outwards’.
However, in this digital age of social media, there is a significant problem with traditional marketing: people now have more choices and are now more resistant to advertising. Not to mention, ad blockers are now everywhere, and various platforms even offer their users an ability to eliminate ads via premium membership or other means.
Traditional marketing also interrupts what the user is doing—whether watching a show/movie, browsing a website, or others—, so it can create a negative perception for the user and might hurt the chance of conversions.
This is where B2B inbound marketing comes in.
The main idea of B2B inbound marketing strategy, as opposed to traditional, ‘outbound’ marketing, is to pull and attract our audience inward. This is mainly done by publishing our content out there and making it available via SEO.
In such cases, the audience is the one proactively searching for the content, whether looking for information or a solution for a specific answer. So, inbound marketing won’t interrupt what the audience is doing and won’t hurt their overall experience. This audience will consume your content and is now aware of your brand and/or product/service. We can then build and nurture a relationship with this audience until they are ready to buy.
B2B inbound marketing can be divided into three core steps:
- Attracting the audience inwards: inbound marketing is about attracting highly-qualified leads and potential customers with valuable, relevant content, and social media conversation. We are establishing our position as a credible source and that we can be a potential solution for their problem.
- Engage the audience: We start building a relationship that we can provide solutions and insights to achieve their objective. We nurture them as leads until they are finally ready for purchase.
- Post-purchase treatment: Another key difference between outbound and inbound marketing is how inbound marketing should also be around after the purchase, to retain them as loyal customers, and convert them into advocates. Content and B2B inbound marketing should serve to provide support and help and to ensure they can achieve their objective with the purchase.
B2C VS B2B Inbound Marketing
Although the main principle of inbound marketing is relatively the same for both B2B and B2C businesses, we have to remember that B2B audiences are significantly different than their B2C counterparts.
Since inbound marketing is driven by the audience, then it would only make sense that there are also several key differences to consider between B2B and B2C inbound marketing approaches:
- Purchase Motivation
B2C consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on their emotions, and this is why B2C marketing is mainly focused on driving emotional triggers. B2C customers mainly purchase a product or service based to improve their lives in one way or another: whether about fulfilling their satisfaction or solving a life problem.
On the other hand, in a B2C environment, we are purchasing something to improve the business’s or organization’s performance. That’s not saying B2B consumers can’t be driven by emotions, but it’s more likely that the B2B purchase is driven by the value provided by the product or service.
So, in B2B inbound marketing, we should focus on publishing content that can establish our credibility as a thought expert in the niche, and that our product or service can provide immediate value and/or provide a viable solution for the consumer. B2Bc content should include things like proven statistics to testimonials/success stories to further establish trust.
- Purchase Decision Maker
This is one of the most essential differences between B2C and B2B marketing. In a B2C environment, there’s typically only one decision-maker in a purchase, and even if there’s more than one, they are typically closely-related (child and parent, asking spouse for agreement, etc.)
In a B2B environment, we are targeting companies/organizations instead of individuals, and there can be more than one decision-maker with each purchase. In fact, according to Gartner, there are now, on average, six to ten stakeholders involved in a B2B purchase.
These six to ten decision-makers can have different roles, interests, and priorities and so we’d have to approach them differently. In inbound marketing, this would translate to the need for publishing different content for each of these roles.
In B2B inbound marketing, we might have to create different buyer personas and take into account each persona’s needs, pain points, and priorities.
- Conversion Timeline
This is, at the surface, a subtle difference, but the impact can be very deep. B2C consumers are more likely to purchase quickly after they consume content or even see an interesting ad. However, B2B customers typically involve a deeper research and comparison process, and so the purchase process can be much longer.
Meaning, in developing our B2B inbound marketing campaign, we should take this relatively long sales cycle into consideration. We might need to publish more content pieces to cater to the lead nurturing stage like educational content and content pieces that are designed to convince conversion.
Also, help your target audience with their research process. Don’t be afraid to publish a content comparing your product with your competitors’. You can feature all the proven statistics, infographics, and other data-driven content to help them with their research and convince them that your product is indeed their best option.
The key takeaway is that B2B inbound marketing should be about communicating your product’s unique value proposition (UVP) and establishing our credibility as the expert in our niche.
Developing B2B Inbound Marketing Strategy
1. Defining B2BInbound Marketing Objectives
The first step you should take is to define clear objectives for your B2B inbound marketing campaigns. Unlike traditional marketing activities like advertising, the ROI for your inbound marketing campaign can be quite difficult to measure. So, it’s very important to have clear objectives and KPIs before you begin your inbound campaign for B2B.
Depending on your business model, it’s probably best to start from your revenue goals to determine your marketing objectives. For example, if you are targeting a 20% annual increase in revenue, it could probably translate to an objective of a 40% increase in lead generation. From this, we can further define marketing responsibilities and what campaigns to prioritize.
Make sure your inbound marketing objectives are:
- Clear: easy to understand and won’t create confusion within your team. Be as specific as possible.
- Realistic: having an attainable goal is important to maintain your team’s morale. It’s okay to have a big, visionary goal, but it’s better to break it down into smaller, more realistic milestones.
- Measurable: figure out a system and assign metrics to each objective so you can properly measure your performance for the specific objective.
Since the cores of B2B inbound marketing are content marketing and SEO, it’s very important to consider that both will take time to build. So, keep that in mind when building your objectives so you can have the right expectation about your timeline.
Make sure you give enough time for the inbound marketing campaign to flourish, and consider long-term objectives. Although inbound marketing will indeed take time, the payoff can be big and sustainable.
2. Develop Your Buyer Personas
Above, we have discussed how one of the key challenges in B2B inbound marketing is the fact that there can be several different stakeholders affecting the purchase decision. So, we will need to create different buyer personas for each of these stakeholders, each of them can have different roles.
These different roles would have different needs and expectations, and 72% of B2B buyers nowadays expect vendors to provide personalized engagement according to their needs. So, it’s is very important that we truly understood our B2B buyers well.
Before anything else, we should make a list of the basic facts of our potential buyers:
Don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn in researching potential B2B buyers. Find out their poles, skills, professional backgrounds, job titles, and other relevant information. You can also check people reporting to them as well as who they report to. By researching these for several target companies/organizations, you can have a clearer picture of which roles you should target, and what kinds of buyer personas you should develop.
Pretty self-explanatory, you should find out about gender, age groups, and other demographics information of your target audience. The more information you can gather, the better you can develop your buyer persona for this specific role.
This one is specific for developing a B2B buyer persona. You’ll need to research at least the basic details about your organizations. Find out the industries they belong to, the size of the organization, the product/service they provide, and other information. The idea here is to figure out how your product/service can help their business.
You might also want to research the clients/customers these businesses cater to, and study their needs and pain points. If your product can help this business in providing value to their customers, you can create a more personalized B2B inbound marketing and also your overall unique value proposition (UVP).
Identify the stakeholders that are involved in the B2B purchase, and try to understand their needs and problems they are currently facing. Again, figure out how your product or service can help solve these pain points.
Remember that different stakeholders might face different pain points and might have different needs, and your product might offer different values for each of these stakeholders. Identify the needs and challenges faced by each stakeholder and communicate your key values accordingly.
Now that you’ve gathered enough information, you can use the information to develop your buyer personas. Try to answer the following questions:
- Where each persona fits in the sales cycle and what are their roles in the purchase decision
- What are the key pain points of each stakeholder
- What are their objectives and what are the organization’s objectives
- Where each stakeholder spend their time online so you can focus your content
3. Content Creation
As we have discussed, the core of the inbound marketing strategy for B2B is content.
Based on your buyer persona, now you should have a better idea about what type of content you should develop for each stakeholder. Remember that content nowadays can come in many different forms from traditional blog posts to YouTube videos to podcasts, and although the goal of B2B inbound marketing is to bring people to our website and capture them as leads, we have to use all the different mediums to succeed in today’s diverse content marketing of 2021.
However, in B2B content creation, textual content, and especially blogs are still an important foundation in any B2B marketing strategy. Other mediums, like videos and podcasts, can support your blog by, for example, driving traffic to your blog post, and vice versa.
As discussed above, the objective of your content marketing is to provide content that is going to be informative and valuable for your target audience, while at the same time should establish your business’s credibility as a viable solution for your target audience’s pain points.
Here are some important content marketing tactics you can use in B2B inbound marketing:
Communicate your product’s value instead of the product itself
Remember that people, especially in the B2B environment, are not actually buying your product or service, but rather they purchase the value or benefit they get from your product. In B2B, your target businesses are only going to spend their money on yours if you can help them make more money somehow, either directly or indirectly.
Your product/service might save them some money or make them some money, and you should focus on communicating this on your content. However, communicating value alone simply isn’t enough. A 200-page datasheet is obviously a way to communicate value. Bullet points listing your product’s key features are also a way to communicate value. However, they aren’t enough.
For your content to be successful in B2B inbound marketing, your content should be both valuable and engaging, and it is a very common mistake, especially in B2B content, to forget about the latter.
So, how can we develop engaging content in a consistent way? The general principle is to tell a great story. Stories are what engaged people: it’s much more interesting to read a success story from someone who used your product or service than simply listing your product’s benefits. Tell your audience a story about how your product can help them generate value, share testimonials, and so on.
Make your content about how your brand can be a solution for your audience. You don’t really have to mention your product at all: give them practical, actionable tips, share industry news, and so on. Engage them first, and then you can worry about introducing your content.
Combining various mediums
Above, we have discussed the fact that there are various content marketing mediums we can focus on nowadays, and we have also discussed how we should focus on creating engaging content.
Creating multi-layered content utilizing various mediums can be a great way to improve engagement. We can combine, text, images, video, and audio in a single piece of content to ensure engagement throughout the whole content.
You can, for example, embed your YouTube video in the middle of your blog post. We can obviously insert images and infographics, and even podcast. Another common technique is to create an audio version of your blog post so people have more ways to consume your content.
Again, focus on improving engagement. If the blog post is already engaging enough with just some images, then don’t force adding videos.
Don’t forget technical optimization
No matter how good your content is, people won’t enjoy it if your website is not properly functioning, or even when the layout is not properly optimized. Again, your content’s objective is to produce as much engagement as possible. The longer you can engage people with your content, the more chances you’ll have to convince them to purchase your product or service.
So, make sure your website is properly optimized so it loads fast enough and mobile-friendly/mobile-responsive. If you include videos and images, make sure they are at least decent in quality (although, you should always aim to be great.)
Create a seamless user experience to boost engagement. Be holistic and thorough, make sure your audience is having the best possible experience in every interaction with your brand from your blog post to your videos to your product and customer service.
4. Content Promotion
Just because your content is good and engaging, doesn’t mean your audience will automatically find them. Remember that B2B inbound marketing is about pulling (attracting) your target audience to find your content.
So, how exactly are we going to achieve that?
The key to making our content available for our audience is SEO: making sure our content ranks high on Google’s (and other search engines’) SERP so your target audience can find it when they search for your target keywords.
While SEO is a pretty broad subject on its own, and you might want to check out our previous guide on B2B SEO strategy. However, here are some key tips to focus on:
The most important factor in SEO success is your content quality, period. If your content is good, sooner or later you’ll get those valuable backlinks, and we all know that backlinks are the most important ranking factor in SEO.
On the other hand, no amount of SEO techniques and strategies will help boost a weak, low-quality content. So, go back to the content creation section above, and again, focus on developing high-quality, engaging content that is valuable for your target audience. You can also decide to work with a B2B SEO agency or services if you want professionals to work on your campaign.
Guest posting and collaboration
Don’t underestimate the power of guest posting or collaboration (in videos, podcasts, etc. ). Collaborate with other businesses and influencers in your industry, and even your competitors when it’s appropriate.
Build relationships with other businesses, authoritative sites, and influencers in your niche, join their social media conversations and establish your position that you are also a thought leader in this niche and you can provide value for their audience (or their business).
Also, don’t forget that it works bost ways. You should also host other’s content on your platform, which can actually provide a lot of benefits. For instance, you are posting high-quality content and can attract the writer’s/content creator’s audience to your site without having to create the content yourself. Your own audience can also see that you have a relationship with other industry leaders which can be a showcase that you have a clear understanding of what’s valuable in your niche.
Don’t forget that in these guest posting opportunities, you can also generate backlinks, which in turn will help your SEO.
Social media is obviously where our audience is nowadays, even in the B2B environment. In fact, 75% of B2B buyers are influenced by social media in their purchase decision.
It’s important to note that social signals like the number of likes and shares when we post our content on social media won’t help with our content’s SEO. However, the more our content is shared on social media, the more people will notice it, which will translate to a higher chance of us getting those valuable backlinks. So, social media performance will indirectly help your SEO.
Sharing your content on social media just when they are being published will also help Google and the other search engines to notice them, and so the content will get indexed quickly.
Remember that your B2B inbound marketing should serve the whole purchase cycle from when the audience first learns about your brand to when they make a repeat purchase or subscription renewal (hopefully). Creating content can be difficult and time/resource-consuming, so by doing this you can leverage maximum value from each publishing effort.
On the other hand, remember to develop content for each member of your target audience from qualified leads, semi-qualified leads (cold prospects), lost prospects, newly acquired customers, repeat clients, and so on. If you can develop content with a broad scope, the better it can help in encouraging conversion at the bottom of the funnel. So, diversify between specific, highly-targeted content and broader content pieces to encourage conversions.
5. Optimize Your Lead Magnets and CTAs
Now that you’ve successfully attracted people to your content, now what?
Your content by itself won’t really bring value unless the readers/audiences are convinced to buy your product/service and convert them into actual customers. Again, in a B2B environment, this can be much more complicated since the content consumer might not be the only one that has a say in the purchase decision.
We should devise a system to capture our content consumers into prospects, which starts by us capturing their contact information so we can follow-up with our lead nurturing efforts (i.e. email marketing).
We can do it by including CTAs and lead magnets in our content to encourage our readers to convert. A lead magnet is an offer that should be perceived as valuable by our target audience but is offered for free in exchange for their contact information.
So, what should we offer?
The key here is that our offer should be perceived as valuable by your potential customers. It’s them who dictate what’s valuable, not you. So, go back to the very first point above and review your target audience’s needs and pain points. Figure out what’s going to be valuable for them, but at the same time remember that you are going to offer this for free, so make sure the cost of this ‘gift’ is justified.
Here are some common lead magnets we can offer in B2B inbound marketing:
A very effective approach in the B2B lead magnet is to offer your time-limited product demo or free trial. This is how your potential buyers can try your product or service, so you can convince them that your solution is indeed the best for their business.
A classic approach is to offer an ebook or whitepaper that offers a more in-depth discussion of the content the audience is consuming. For example, if the blog post is about SEO strategy, you can offer an ebook about advanced SEO strategies and techniques.
While this approach can still be effective, keep in mind that it’s already saturated. So, unless your ebook is perceived as really interesting or valuable, it might not attract them.
An invitation to a webinar can be a very effective lead magnet if the topic of the webinar is interesting. You can also invite famous guest speakers and influencers in your niche to boost the attractiveness of the webinar.
Also, the benefit of a webinar as a lead magnet is two-fold, as the webinar by itself can create a very personal, lasting engagement and relationship with your target audience.
An engaging, valuable video can be a very powerful lead magnet format. You can, for example, show a few minutes of your video offer before you give them the opt-in form. This can be a very effective lead magnet if your preview video is attractive.
You can create tutorial videos on how to use your product to solve a specific problem (which they might be interested in), or actionable tips and tricks related to your niche.
6. Measure and Evaluate Your Progress
As you can see from the previous steps, inbound marketing for many B2B companies is a long-term game and although the payoff can be big and sustainable, you might need to invest months before you see any significant results from your campaign.
So, having an appropriate system in place to keep track of your progress and evaluate the key metrics of your B2B inbound marketing campaigns is very important. During this long-term game, you might need to make adjustments here and there, upgrade and update your content, find new ways to promote your content, and so on.
Remember that consistency is very important in your B2B inbound marketing: trust is very hard and can take a very long time to build, and yet a single mistake can easily ruin all your efforts.
If necessary, invest in a marketing solution like HubSpot or Pardot where you can analyze all your key metrics for the various channels in a single dashboard (which will make the whole evaluation process much easier to manage).
Keep track of all the data-driven insights you can gather, analyze your content performance, and adjust your strategy when it’s necessary.
Since B2B inbound marketing is a long-term game while at the same time content is always evolving, it’s very important to always maintain between speed and quality control. It’s important to pay attention to every detail about your content especially to maximize your SEO.
As you can see from the above, the key to a successful B2B inbound marketing campaign is whether you can consistently publish engaging, valuable content for your audience. However, how you promote the content is also important.
While SEO remains the most effective way to promote your content and should be the core aspect of your B2B inbound marketing strategy, we need other channels from social media, email marketing, and other promotional channels to drive traffic and get more backlinks to each of your content.
January 15, 2022