What Is B2B Inbound Marketing and How Can it Grow My Business?
For those not in the know, B2B inbound marketing is one of the best ways of growing your business.
Inbound marketing generally has always been a very reliable strategy for savvy marketers to utilise in order to reach their intended audience. And marketing to other businesses is no different for the most part.
At least, in terms of the results it can generate for you and your business which you’ll come to learn first hand as you read through this post.
Let’s face it, marketing to other businesses can be a tough and frustrating process. Marketing to individuals on a B2C basis tends to be a lot simpler than marketing to an entire organisation, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience in this lane.
Organisations have their own set of interests, challenges, and requirements, all of which marketers will need to consider to A) get them in the funnel, and B) eventually convert into a customer.
In this blog we will look at B2B inbound marketing in full. Over the course of this blog we’ll cover topics such as inbound vs outbound marketing, B2B inbound marketing tactics, the overall benefits of this marketing approach, and how you can get started.
Now, let’s get into it.
What Is B2B Inbound Marketing?
Before we continue, we should define B2B inbound marketing in its simplest form, as it can be somewhat of a confusing concept to some.
So here goes:
B2B inbound marketing is the process of attracting and encouraging users and prospects from other businesses to engage with your business by providing them with specific resources.
For reference, resources refer to things like:
- Downloads (i.e. ebooks/whitepapers)
- Social media content
The resources you offer can and will vary depending on your desired customer and the type of sector they operate in, not to mention, what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re currently positioned in.
B2B Buying Process
As mentioned at our post here, businesses are a tougher nut to crack when it comes to marketing.
Businesses are becoming a lot more aware of traditional marketing techniques and strategies, making them quite difficult to reach out to in order to generate sales and interest.
This is but one of the reasons why inbound marketing is such a viable option for B2B marketers currently. The ability to serve them the right type of content at the right time, is a lot more likely to lead to the desired response you’re looking for.
It’s not about being pushy, but serving the right type of content depending on where a buyer is in their journey.
In other words, providing something of value has a much higher success rate vs interrupting their decisions with the hard sell.
Sure, that might work if you’re marketing to every Tom, Dick, and Harry…
Again, they’re one tough customer.
Why Is B2B Inbound Marketing Important?
B2B inbound marketing is important for multiple reasons.
For starters, it’s a tried and tested way to gather and nurture leads.
It’s also a very effective way to gather quality leads; as in, leads that are a lot more likely to engage with you and, ultimately, convert.
According to a report conducted by HubSpot, only 18% of marketers believe outbound practices generate high-quality leads. Meanwhile, inbound marketing stats show a massive 60% of marketers believe inbound practices generate high-quality leads.
Marketers have been leveraging inbound marketing strategies for years now, and have benefited greatly from the results. But don’t take my word for it, let’s take a look at other notable statistics that highlight the importance of B2B inbound marketing:
- 75% of companies with an inbound marketing strategy believe it’s working for them. (HubSpot)
- Companies that implement inbound marketing efforts see a 25% greater return on investment compared to those that don’t (CRM Daily)
- Properly executed inbound marketing is 10x more effective for lead conversion than outbound (IMPACT)
- 65% said easy access to relevant content that spoke directly to their company was the top criterion they looked for when looking for solutions (Demand Gen)
That last stat is from a recent survey looking into B2B marketing trends (a great survey to check out if you’re interested in marketing-based metrics and data).
Here’s another eye-opening stat from the same survey:
56% of respondents said that web search was the first resource that informed them about solutions, and 79% said the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision.
If that doesn’t tell you the importance of an effective B2B inbound marketing strategy, nothing will.
Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing
Inbound marketing and outbound marketing couldn’t be any different from the other. If we can use a really broad analogy for a second:
One is a marketing push, the other is a marketing pull.
Outbound marketing is the push, which involves actively reaching out to customers in a very direct manner.
Cold calling, media buying, and email spam are all examples of outbound marketing in practice. These methods are incredibly direct, and can be rather difficult to track in some instances. For example, the success of a billboard campaign can be difficult to quantify when it comes to working out your ROI.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is geared more towards having customers come to you; hence the pull analogy. The content you offer is typically what they are already looking for, therefore encouraging them to come find you rather than you go to them.
Here’s a quick rundown of how this works, using a blog as an example:
Let’s say there’s a business in the tech industry looking for information on a certain topic that they have a rough understanding of but would like to learn more.
By writing the blog they’re looking for and publishing it on your website, you create the perfect entry point for that particular customer (and any others searching for that topic)!
The value you offer attracts them to your website, and your business by proxy.
Outbound marketing focuses on actively reaching out to customers, inbound marketing focuses on creating valuable content to draw people to your website.
Here’s an infographic to help:
How Does B2B Inbound Marketing Differ from Content Marketing?
To some, the differences between B2B inbound marketing and content marketing are as clear as day. However, there are some that can’t make the distinction between the two, so allow us to put this confusing debate to bed once and for all.
Content marketing is a tactic.
Inbound marketing is a strategy.
If content marketing is the tactic, then inbound marketing is the strategy that helps you win customers through the content produced.
This is how we, and countless other successful marketers, see it.
Of course, some marketers might disagree with this take, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They see inbound marketing as a subset of content marketing, where inbound is just another way of approaching it.
Both perspectives have a level of truth to them.
What you choose to believe will depend entirely on you.
B2B Inbound Marketing Tactics and the Marketing Funnel
Like other marketing strategies, there are various approaches to B2B inbound marketing based on the type of marketing funnel used.
In this section we’re going to break down the three main marketing funnels. Funnel 1 is the most common type of B2B inbound marketing funnel, one you’ll find a majority of marketers use on a regular basis.
We’ll start there and then move onto other inbound marketing funnels that you might not be too familiar with.
Funnel 1 (Simple Funnel)
As we’ve just mentioned, Funnel 1 is a very popular option amongst marketers, perhaps due to how simple it is to understand and execute.
This funnel consists of three main categories, or groups:
- Attracting strangers
- Engaging prospects
- Delighting customers
Different types of content will sit in each stage of this funnel; content that helps shift buyers from one stage to the next. Knowing what to deliver at each stage of the funnel is essential, but you might not know what to offer.
Below you’ll find all the information you need.
This stage of the funnel is all about drawing in the right people with valuable content and conversations that establish you as a trusted advisor – one they could engage with in time.
But how do you attract prospective customers? What resources can you utilise to build your authority and get them into your funnel?
Here’s a list of the types of resources you can leverage during this stage:
- Social media
- Video content
- Advertising (digital/traditional)
It’s important that marketers record what is/isn’t working during this stage. After all, you don’t want to be spending your entire marketing budget in areas that aren’t bringing you closer to the results you’re chasing.
Once they’re on your site, you need to keep them there and build trust. As such, you need to provide them with value and nurture their experiences every time they interact with you in some way or another.
To move buyers into the final stage, you need to engage with them. Engaging with individuals at this stage is a lot more targeted compared to what tactics you might employ at the attract stage.
Here are a few engage tools you can leverage at this stage:
- Email sequences
- Conversational bots
- Marketing automations
The goal here is to provide additional support to those at this stage, thus providing continued value based on their own wants and needs.
At some point during this stage, customers will eventually convert, usually, after they deem you trustworthy or reliable enough based on the quality and helpfulness of the resources you’ve given them up until this point.
Just because your customer has converted doesn’t mean that the journey is over.
You need to keep them invested in you and your business to encourage them to become repeat customers, and a reliable case study to share with other businesses who might choose to engage with you off the back of these relationships.
Besides, there’s nothing businesses love more than a B2B brand that cares about their partnerships!
There are a few ways you can delight customers:
- Email marketing
- Inbox conversations
- Social media content
- Smart content
Smart content is content that drills down into specific segments of your audience. You can segment your audience in various ways based on demographics, behaviours, and interests.
For example, you might run a mini Facebook campaign where you share helpful tips to those who like the page. These tips can be incredibly useful to a specific section of your audience, encouraging them to like, and even share the content themselves.
Automation is Key
Automating your B2B inbound marketing efforts will help you out a lot when it comes to rolling out your strategies.
Choosing to seek the help of robots isn’t a requirement, but it certainly helps marketers save a lot of time. Automating some of these tactics/processes will help integrate execution, measurement, and analysis.
All of these elements can be handled within the same platform too. Look at ActiveCampaign for the perfect example of this.
For those that don’t know, ActiveCampaign is a company that offers advanced email marketing tools. These tools allow users to plan, send, and analyse email campaigns on a wide scale.
Within the platform, you can also create extensive email sequences that distribute emails to set individuals based on how they respond to other emails you send them.
It’s a nifty little tool, one that we use here at Canny to roll out our newsletters.
Funnel 2 (See/Think/Do/Care)
Funnel 2 is quite different to Funnel 1.
Some refer to this funnel as the ‘See, Think, Do, Care’ model. You might have come across it already in your marketing efforts?
This framework was created by Avinash Kaushik, the co-founder of Market Movie Inc and the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google. The aim of this model is to help marketers better understand the consumer decision-making process through a multi-channel marketing approach.
Like the first inbound marketing funnel, there are multiple unique stages to Funnel 2, each dedicated to different people – depending on where they happen to be within the journey.
This can be a tough framework to understand without an example, so for the sake of clarity, let’s say we’re marketing a pet brand (shout out to McKinna Plant Labs) looking to target an active audience.
Here’s how you can use this framework in action:
The See stage is all about roping in the largest addressable and qualified audience.
Unlike some of the other stages of this framework, the See stage has no commercial intent, it’s simply about attracting anyone that might be interested in your marketing efforts.
Using the scenario we outlined above, this would include people that exercise and enjoy outdoor play with their pet (more than likely a dog).
This broad group of people might not be involved in the buying phase at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in what you have to offer.
To market to them, you could focus your efforts on word of mouth marketing via campaigns with a high chance of going virtual. Alternatively, you could deliver SEO-optimised content that provides them with something relevant while also getting your name out there!
The Think stage is quite similar to the See stage in that it targets the largest addressable and qualified audience, only with one slight difference:
There is some commercial intent involved.
In the case of active dog walkers, this could include anyone looking to buy new or better equipment (think dog leads, and things like that). These people have a slight motivation to make a purchase, but don’t know what exactly they want.
This is where strategies that utilise things like influencer marketing really thrive – especially in the pet/fitness market. Influencer marketing is a form of indirect marketing that appeals to a different kind of buyer, someone that is likely to base their buying decisions on what is hip, and what others are buying.
Again, this is a great choice for this stage in the framework based on this hypothetical scenario we’re using.
The Do stage, again, addresses the largest qualified audience, only this time, the commercial intent is a lot stronger in comparison to the stages we’ve already covered.
At this stage, marketers should assume that customers understand and know the products they like, and are most likely to make a purchase.
In other words, they’ve done the research and are ready to buy.
Here, buyers will be looking at various qualifying factors to help them make a final decision, these typically include:
- Delivery options
- Service reviews
Reviews play a big part in the buying decisions of your customers. A series of positive reviews highlighting, say, the quality of your dog harnesses, could encourage them to buy one of your products instead of buying from one of your competitors
The final stage in this framework covers existing customers with at least two commercial conversions. In case you haven’t guessed it, this stage is all about nurturing your customers to help build on brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty will keep customers engaged, and increase the likelihood of them recommending your brand and your products/services to others.
One way to do this, using our dog/fitness customer example, would be to run a social media campaign where you champion existing customers and their own stories.
Sharing user generated content is an easy win in this field, but you could take it a step further and include them in your campaigns for future use; maybe even feature them on product images on the website?
Measuring is Key
Measuring your marketing efforts while using this framework is key, regardless of what marketing channels you leverage to bring you closer to your goals.
What’s more, measuring will also help you understand and achieve ROI, which is one of the main performance indicators for marketers.
Saving money, generally, is an important part of a marketer’s duties. Also, not everyone can afford to run multi-channel campaigns and be successful at it. Not to mention, be able to recognise what they’re measuring exactly and at what stage of the See/Think/Do/Care framework.
Which is why we’ve put together a table to help you keep track of what to track, and at what stage of the framework:
Funnel 3 (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action)
The third and final B2B inbound marketing funnel we’d like to draw your attention to is the AIDA model.
This model tracks the customer journey through similar stages of the funnel, breaking each group down into Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Some marketers will add another letter on at the end (R) which stands for retention.
Rather than look at each individual part of this funnel, as most of them are self-explanatory if you’ve been keeping up, we’re instead going to move onto the benefits of B2B inbound marketing.
But not before mentioning the connecting thread between all of the above funnels, that being:
They all require some form of content that speaks to customers at each stage of the funnel. Without this content, brands would simply stay put, and their marketing budget would end up going completely to waste.
The point is, it shouldn’t matter too much which funnel you choose, as you’re going to need content at some point to help drive your customers towards those endpoints.
What Are the Benefits of B2B Inbound Marketing?
Great things can and will happen to any B2B brand taking advantage of inbound marketing. Ask any marketer that dabbles in this strategy themselves and they’ll tell you the exact same thing.
Which is practically every notable brand on the planet.
Everyone from Salesforce to TLR Global, they’re all utilising this strategy and hitting targets because of it!
We’ve naturally touched on a few of the benefits to B2B inbound marketing as we’ve moved through this post, such as gathering quality leads and helping brands better understand their audience and what gets them to convert, but we’ve yet to touch on some of the others.
Positions You as a Thought Leader
B2B inbound marketing is a great way of establishing you and your brand as a thought leader in your respective market.
To be a thought leader is to demonstrate that you have expertise in a particular area, field or topic. Content marketing – one of the main methods under inbound marketing – is a common way of establishing thought leadership.
By positioning yourself as a thought leader, you have the power to not only influence how customers engage with you, but how the market moves as a whole too in some instances.
This is but one of the benefits of positioning, here are some others:
- Qualifies you as a reliable source
- Inspires innovation in your market
- Encourages forward-thinking
- Builds your brand and its voice
Higher Customer Conversion Rates
As mentioned in the section where we looked at the importance of B2B inbound marketing, your prospective customers are a lot more likely to convert compared to outbound marketing methods.
They’re a lot more likely to stick around once they’ve converted too.
Better Customer Satisfaction and Retention
Choosing to head in an inbound marketing direction has been known to lead to increased customer satisfaction and retention.
How could it not when this strategy involves delivering valuable content at the right place and right time?
There’s also the fact that a lot of the content you might share does come from your customers directly, take UGC, for example. Seeing themselves represented in this way is telling, it shows that you truly care about every customer too if you’re willing to spotlight them in such a way.
Testimonial videos immediately come to mind, where brands have the power to retain whomever they feature, while appealing to other established customers in the same swoop!
Arguably the biggest benefit to inbound marketing is how much money businesses save in the long run.
Think about it.
Blogs, videos, and social media posts, sure you may have to pay an agency to create them for you outright, but once they’re set up, that’s it.
It’s not like other forms of marketing where you are continuously paying to keep these campaigns active.
Once they’re live, they’re live.
Content can live on your website, or on platforms like YouTube, for years. What’s more, some forms of content can be updated at a later date to ensure that it’s still relevant, and still attracting the right audience.
More Marketing Collateral
More marketing collateral is a benefit to B2B inbound marketing as it gives other members of your team something to use when promoting your brand in and amongst other businesses.
For example, let’s say you’ve created a how-to video on YouTube to help users better understand your platform (in this scenario you’re a tech company, just go with it).
Your sales team can then take that video and share it with potential customers, thus encouraging them to engage with you and enter your funnel. From there, other types of structured content can work them through other parts of the funnel leading to a conversion.
Recycling content this way is great at saving your business time and money, as long as the content you’re sharing isn’t time sensitive.
After all, an ebook that features out of date content might not hit as hard as it could.
The 3 Pillars of B2B Inbound Marketing
There are three main pillars of B2B inbound marketing to know of if you’re going to leverage this strategy yourself, these consist of:
- Content marketing
- Demand generation
- Marketing automation
Consider content marketing the driving force behind your B2B inbound marketing strategy. Without it, you’re just a stick in the mud and will burn through your entire marketing budget with nothing to show for it.
You see, it’s the content that gets people into your funnel, and drives prospects into the later stages of said funnel; getting them to convert and continue coming to you for products and/or services (depending on what it is you offer).
Content is value.
And without value, there will be no conversions.
Demand generation is another integral pillar in your B2B inbound marketing gains. For those not in the know, demand gen is the process of increasing awareness and demand for your product or service.
The goal is to expand your audience, build authority, and generate interest which will eventually lead to high-quality leads.
In order for those leads to happen, marketers need to make sure that every piece of content (video, blog, infographic, email) has opportunities for prospects to convert.
Prospects won’t turn into leads automatically, you need to include plenty of CTA’s for them to move from one stage of the buyer’s journey to the next.
Identifying gaps or blockages in your marketing funnels is beyond essential when generating demand for your brand.
You need to ensure that your CTAs are all set up correctly, and that where they’re located make sense based on the type of content you’re offering, and what stage of the funnel it’s appealing to.
We mentioned marketing automation briefly above, and with good reason.
Learning how to use marketing automation tools to segment audiences, monitor campaign success, and build effective email sequences is essential to inbound marketing.
Why is it essential?
It’s essential A) as it makes scheduling content a lot easier, B) it gathers accurate data based on your marketing efforts, and C) it helps save you a hell of a lot of time performing general admin tasks.
Streamlining these tasks makes life a lot easier for marketers and has been known to make their efforts a lot more effective.
How it makes these efforts more effective comes down to how simple data is to access and utilise at the touch of a button. Workflow is a lot easier when you utilise platforms like Hubspot, Mailchimp, and Drip, which are but a few examples of marketing automation tools.
There are others.
Examples of Marketing Automation Tools
If you’re going to reap the benefits of automating parts of your inbound marketing efforts, then you’re going to need to know what’s out there.
We’ve gathered some of the most notable tools out right now:
Have you used any of the above before in your regular day-to-day? If so, then you’ll already know how beneficial they are in planning, executing, and reporting.
Can you see why marketing automation is a pillar of B2B inbound marketing now?
How to Get Started With B2B Inbound Marketing
At this point, I hope we’ve piqued your interest enough for you to want to take advantage of this business-to-business marketing strategy for yourself.
If we have, here’s a quick rundown of how you can get started:
- Define your Audience: Knowing who you’re marketing towards will help you work out how you’ll proceed.
- Provide Relevant Content: Content needs to be optimised for every stage of the buying journey/funnel.
- Choose your Delivery Platforms: Will you utilise emails, blogs, videos, social media, or a mix?
- Create a Content Calendar Keep tabs on what’s going out and ensure that you know what’s going out and when.
- Analyse Results and Improve: Understanding how you’re performing helps you constantly improve, save time, and save money.
All of these steps are an important part of the B2B inbound marketing process. That being said, we’d say that analysing and improving your strategies based on your results, is one of, if not the most important part of the process.
Improving on your marketing efforts will ensure that your inbound marketing strategies run at peak performance, capitalising on the full extent of your marketing budget.
This is something we pay very close attention to here at Canny. We have a lot of content clients, and are always looking at ways to help them generate success.
What Is B2B Inbound Marketing and How Can it Grow My Business
We’ve covered a lot in this B2B inbound marketing deep dive.
To recap, we’ve gone over a definition of the term, why it’s important to begin with, inbound vs outbound marketing, three of the most popular marketing funnels out there, the benefits of B2B inbound marketing, and so much more.
If there’s one thing we know about B2B inbound marketing, it’s that there are plenty of ways to approach customers at all levels of your marketing funnel.
Which methods you choose will depend entirely on the funnel you use, what you know works well, what sector you operate in, and various other variables that should be considered ahead of time.
Either way, we hope you understand that the quality of what you’re putting out is just as important as the content itself. If it isn’t, then you need to do something about it before you even think about sharing it.
This is where we come in.
At Canny, we help connect you with your customers in a way your competitors can’t. We help you do that through a range of services, which includes content marketing. From social media marketing to SEO-optimised blog content, we help set you up for success.
Not everyone has the time to create quality B2B inbound marketing content that generates interest in your brand, but we do. Get in touch to find out more.
And don’t be shy when it comes to pitching ideas.
We’d love to hear them.