How far will you go to avoid a sales person?

Our guess is pretty far - at least, in the early stages of your research into solving any problem.

Buying patterns have changed. As buyers, we like to be informed about our problems, potential solutions and alternatives, long before we trust an agenda-driven sales-person to give us information.

And why not? The Internet has kindly moved the power for buying into our own hands. We have access to more information from more sources than ever, and so, we can find answers to our questions, read reviews and visit comparison sites - even converse with strangers on social to dig out the answers we want - before we even speak to a vendor.

Think of the last time you had a need for say, a new washing machine. Did you go straight into Harvey Norman and ask the sales guy what he’d suggest? Or did you visit Echoice, ask your friends what they have, search social and Google for reviews, and then price check across three different sites? My guess is the latter.

The case is even more pronounced in b2b. A Forrester report released just last year showed that even outside of the 9 to 5 work day, business buyers are researching their options. In another survey, 74% of b2b buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.

If you’re not among the companies providing the answers where your buyers look for them, you can be sure your competitors are.

Inbound methodology

So as buyer behaviour changes, so too should brand-building and marketing approaches. Gone are the days where b2b print advertising alone will build the kind of connections and associations you want to create for your brand. People are simply not looking in the places they used to, or passively receiving messaging in the way they used to either.

Today, a successful b2b brand approach is about building digital assets that bring your customer to your site, helping them understand your brand immediately. You can then use digital content assets to allay their fears and solve their problems.

This is how, in the digital age, we build positive brand relationships, but also how we leverage them to turn awareness into consideration and purchase as well.

Here are four ways we can show that an inbound marketing strategy is the new b2b brand.

1. It focuses 100% on the customer

Profiling your buyer’s persona is key to understanding how to attract them to your website and social channels. It is no longer enough to detail the ‘target market profile’ - the kind of data you’d use to rent an outbound campaign list.

You need to understand who they are, what kinds of functions they perform in their job, what pains them and motivates them in their work, where they hang out online and what their key priorities are in their role. You also need to understand how they make decisions on your category. This means understanding both their decision-making criteria, as well as mapping all of the potential influencers and stakeholders in the decision.

Once you fully understand your buyer, you can start answering the kinds of pressing questions they are asking at every single stage of the buying process. Inbound marketing therefore enables you to build your b2b brand in time to the customer’s need. Pretty powerful stuff, huh?

2. It forces you to be thoughtful about how you attract the customer

When companies try to jump on the b2b inbound marketing bandwagon, they usually give it the old blog-and-social-media 1-2. Not a bad place to start. But many blogs are falling short of expected results for a few reasons.

Firstly, they are not based on keywords. Google has helpfully given us visibility into the kinds of keywords that prospects use to research their problems and find businesses like ours. So before you write a single word, find out what these are. Then, and only then, should you be writing blogs that attempt to attract traffic to your site, and, of course, include those keywords in your posts.

Secondly, many blogs fail because they should I put this? Boring. No thoughtful story, no transitions between sections, no correct framing of the reason you’re telling a story in the first place, overkill on keywords and/or no personality.

How can you expect to build a brand relationship with your audience if you can’t engage them in your content?

Still, we understand. B2b blogging is hard. Like, really hard. Turning complex concepts into enjoyable, easy to understand posts is both a science and an art.

What inbound marketing teaches us to do is use data to find the place where your brand promise and company point of view meets the customer’s interest, and proliferate that into hundreds of bite-sized, but substantially credible stories. It is hard, and it can be time-consuming, but frequent, high-quality blogging pays off.

3. It shows you how you can nurture your leads and deepen the relationship

This one breaks our heart. Most business go to all of the effort of blogging and attracting all of that luscious, relevant traffic to their sites. But then, they just let them go again!

Imaging this. It is a hot, sticky, February day and you have walked four kilometres in business attire to your bus stop after a stressful, busy day at work. You’re parched, dying for a drink. Delighted with yourself, you suddenly remember you went to the effort of filling and freezing a water bottle last night, for just such situations. You literally pant as you reach into your bag and pull it out. But alas, you shout ‘Noooo!’ as you discover that you had put the lid on crooked, and the entire contents has filled your posh Bally briefcase. Despair washes over you as you watch your expense receipts swish blankly around in the pool that was once your work bag.

This is the crushingly disappointing b2b marketing equivalent of attracting all of those delicious leads to your website, and then letting them leak back out into the stratosphere. (Well, it matches my disappointment anyway, but then again, I am slightly obsessive about lead nurture and very grumpy in February heat).

The lesson is this. For goodness sake people, please get some form of, well, form on your blog! Even if it is a Subscribe to our blog form, it will give you a chance to capture some details and find out who is looking at your content. Then you at least have the option of deepening the relationship with an engaged reader.

4. It helps you understand your customer data, for deeper relationship building and more sales

Most marketers today don’t understand their data. Marketers inherit unstructured data all the time, with no context as to how it was set up or for what purpose. It is very hard to read any meaning into data that was not built for marketing reporting for a start.

Plus, there are many super-smart, creative marketers who are less analytical than others and therefore lack knowledge of the right metrics to use to measure the achievement of their goals. As a result, they don’t know whether their content efforts are actually contributing to the bottom line, and have trouble reporting this to their executive team. We empathise.

However, this is actually quite easy, once you know how. And again, inbound marketing methodologies show us a thing or two.

The inbound methodology teaches us to break down marketing efforts into a specific buying stage, which in turn helps us decide which metrics to use to measure them. E.g. blogging and infographics might be trying to get awareness and reach up, so measure changes in awareness via monthly website traffic.

Monitor all customers that come from content efforts (use automation and CRM if you have to, so you can track inbound leads all the way through to the sale). Don’t forget to review entire cost of your content efforts, including salaries, agency fees and/or technology - so you can ultimately give your C-Suite a total cost per customer acquired.

And remember, the C-Suite is not interested in engagement metrics. The C-Suite is interested in how many new qualified leads and customers marketing is attracting and converting. It is also interested in how you can bring the price of each customer acquisition down over time.

If you don’t understand your data, and know how to report on it, you won’t get support for your content programs. And you’ll most likely get some pressure to do more traditional forms of marketing, like events or trade publication advertising instead - because the powers that be saw it work wonders for them five or ten years ago.

It is your responsibility to show your leadership team how buyer behaviour has changed, and what you, as head marketer, are going to do to help get your brand to where it can be found and engaged with. These pointers should help, and if you need any more, you know where to find us.

Now, where's my water?

Brand chemistry is a strategic inbound marketing agency that goes the extra mile to deliver results for our b2b clients. Our inbound marketing specialists are HubSpot certified and use the latest techniques to provide our clients with a steady stream of relevant new leads.

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