Inbound marketing is the process of attracting and nurturing prospects to a level where they are ready to buy. Inbound marketing enables the business to build trust with prospects, thus creating a far stronger likelihood of conversion.
The bigger the organisation, the more difficult it is to freely access data, create strategies, content and deploy software that requires integration with legacy software. By sidestepping the internal problems and creating an independent inbound marketing ecosystem, you will be well placed to test and learn. After all, inbound marketing is a different mindset to push marketing and it will take some time for the team to adjust. Once complete you will be able to see where prospects are in the sales funnel and forecast how many leads you expect to provide sales each month.
The Internet is now the primary source of information gathering and has the greatest influence on purchase decisions. Prospects no longer need to engage with sales executives or showrooms to learn about a product or service. They can find all the information they need from websites, content, reviews, peer-to-peer references, and social media networks or by engaging with other buyers.
Nurturing prospects with helpful, relevant content will move potential buyers through each stage of the journey at a natural pace until they are qualified and ready to be passed on to sales. Nurturing is the safety net for every stage of the buying cycle, helping ensure that no revenue opportunity is missed.
Implementing inbound marketing is complex and requires a significant investment of money and time as well as adopting a fresh mindset. A light touch test can prove out your thinking and be used to convince the board, demonstrate the value to sales teams and realize where the gaps are.
I see growth hacking as deciding what true north is and aiming one’s efforts at that, or as Gagan Biyani put it ‘Basically, all they (growth hackers) are trying to do is to make their primary metrics go up to the right.’
So rather than try and build the entire ecosystem in one go, you seek the path of least resistance in an effort to achieve some level of success. Growth hacking is doing, learning and adjusting whilst others are pondering and delaying. It’s not for everyone or every business as it requires a different mindset from the normal way of approaching problems in the corporate environment. That said, you come across more organisations now that are interested in identifying true north and are willing to rapid test, learn, change and repeat in the name of success.
But every business has its own culture, objectives and measurements. From a CMO’s point of view, you may be interested to see how apt your marketing team are at delivering inbound marketing and use the growth hack method to flush out problems before you fully invest. For a marketing manager, you may be pushing against colleagues that can’t ‘see’ the true benefit and still believe that B2B sales teams should just keep bashing the phones. By running a controlled, small, cost-effective test you can show the results and make a stronger case to invest.
You can argue that doing it twice (once to test, second-time full implementation) is wasted effort and that a sensible marketer should do it once and do it right. Well, the good news is that most of what you do with your growth hacking method will not be wasted as it will cross over nicely when you are ready to implement a full strategy. The strategy has been tested and tweaked, the content has been created and tested so it can continue to be used and the learnings you and your team have gained will be, as Mastercard put it, priceless.
Data intelligence is a vital component for the effective implementation of inbound marketing. You will need a coherent and clear process for managing data including capturing, recording and moving data across your organisation. Deploying the right data strategy and creating a clear data eco-system from the outset is essential.
Secondly, you need to fully understand your prospects to create the right inbound strategy. This includes the various buyer stages they go through and what content will be most useful at each stage. Marketers need to consider
the psychology of buyers, in particular, their specific internal narratives in relation to the purchase process.
Without relevant and informative content it’s not possible to attract and nurture prospects for your sales pipeline. However, not all content is equal so it’s important that your content resonates with them and is engaging.
Finally, you need to deploy, implement and integrate with your CRM the right marketing automation technology. With so many cloud-based tools available it’s a challenge to select the right combination for your current and
Data silo’s, policy, governance and poor data are sadly the norms of every organisation. So don’t worry, you, your competitor and me are all awash with data with only a little of it flowing smoothly toward providing useful insight. It‚Äôs the norm, so it’s pointless fighting the system, your objective is true north, to prove inbound marketing via the path of least resistance. So whilst adhering to company policy, you are going to collect some fresh data. By creating a true inbound campaign you will be able to generate new prospect data so you can remove yourself from the problem of dealing with the data police.
It’s time to hack out a simple inbound strategy. Your strategy will only contain the bare-bones information required to move a prospect through the funnel, or in this case along a buyer journey.
Start by selecting one of your products or services that you know well and is a good market fit, in other words, something that customers find useful, value and happy to pay for. Ask the sales team what attracts a customer to the product or service, how they normally buy, how long is the buying cycle, the questions they ask, the objections they have to overcome and how they do that.
You will also need to know which assets already exist, which assets are deemed good and ask about specific insights the sales team share with prospects.
Now clean a whiteboard and on the far right draw your prospect with one hand in the air. That’s the goal, to get that guy to say I am ready to buy. Now draw a straight line from the left-hand side of the whiteboard right to that little hand-raising dude. Divide the line up buy the length of the buying cycle. So, for three months you will divide it into three parts, six months six parts and so on.
Mark out on the line the number of times you will need to contact that prospect with communication in order to close a sale. Gather up all the content you have and based on the insights you collected from your sales team, identify a high-value piece of content that will attract and engage the prospect. This high-value content item is going to live at the far left of the line at the start of the journey. That piece of content could be a white paper, deep-dive case study or an industry insight piece, just use the knowledge gained from your sales team to find the subject matter/conversation opener that attracts prospects. It will be called ‘gated content’ on the whiteboard and your team are going to set up a simple web form on a landing page that will require anyone wishing to download your high value gated content to exchange their email address and name.
Your gated content will act to attract a prospect and you will use social media channels to get it in front of them. As a test, I would recommend buying some media on LinkedIn and point people to the free download. You can tweet it, blog it and use any other method you are familiar with to get your prospects to download the gated content and, most importantly, hand over their email address and name.
So your strategy has a buyer journey flow, content (we’ll cover that next) and a web form. It’s not sophisticated, but it can deliver leads. If a prospect gives there name and email you can follow up with the second, third and however many touchpoints required to convert. If a prospect opens some or all the subsequent emails you can count them as a hand raiser, basically, someone who has shown more than a passing interest in your product or service and the sales team would probably like to speak to them. Also, the sales team will know what they have, and have not, seen on the journey so will be well informed in advance of speaking to the prospect. How can they speak to them? Well, it’s not a huge leap to take the company name, person name and email address and find them on LinkedIn and use Sales Navigator to get personal and close the deal.
Congratulations, you now have a simple strategy that moves a prospect from attract, through to nurture, and ends with a conversion. Now it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get stuck into content.
What do I mean by content? I mean any communication you create that you share with a prospect. An email, tweet, blog, white paper, case study, infographic, video or any of the numerous formats. It’s all considered content.
90% of consumers find custom content useful and 78% believe that companies providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them. (source:McMurry/TMG). Good content really does matter and you will need to treat each piece of content as a part of the bigger prospect journey. To better understand what content is right, try to view the buying process through the eyes of your prospects wants and needs, not those of your business. Your opinion, all though interesting, is irrelevant, as you are not the buyer.
Here’s a sobering thought: the content you create will be the determining factor to your inbound marketing success. As inbound marketing allows the prospect to self-select what content they chose to engage with it’s important your content resonates with them. From headline to CTA and everything in between, every thought counts. So how can you growth hack content?
Write a watertight brief for each piece of content, that’s how. Include the subject matter, what it must talk about, and the call to action. Share the brief with the sales team and explain where that piece of content will fit into the user journey and ask for advice to make it better. If the sales team say the brief is a bit verbose, then switch to plain. If they say you missed a vital detail, then add it in. Remember, you are only going to have to create 3 or 4 pieces of content so spend some time to get the brief right. You can’t disguise poor communication with jolly graphics when it comes to inbound marketing, you need to be clear, compelling and useful!
Need to create that content for less? For designer, writers, animation, film and audio production check out the following websites.
There are many more to choose from but these are a good start. As long as you provide a clear, well-defined brief you should expect quality original work in return.
Instead of filling your content with technical speeds and feeds try creating content that demonstrates how a past customer has benefitted by purchasing from you. A customer story is a compelling way to engage prospects early in the journey. Stories are a powerful way to share information. Studies in psychology show that stories have the power to influence our behaviours, attitudes and decisions we make.
Marketing automation technology requires a massive investment in time to ensure that it will integrate successfully with your CRM and Data Management Platform. To growth hack your way to managing the email side of your inbound campaign you need to select a simple tool to use email solution like MailChimp.
Using MailChimp, you will be able to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your content and strategy. MailChimp boasts a simple user interface and intuitive reporting, allowing you to quickly hack your approach until the results you are looking for appear.
Start with running a basic campaign (using MailChimp’s tutorials to guide you if needed) with two or three emails, based on a subject that you can solidly communicate to your audience.
Based on this campaign, determine what your success criteria will be (for example, if a contact clicks on all three emails). Doing this will mean you will be able to easily measure the performance of your activities.
Run your campaign and supporting activity (such as social media, if applicable), keeping an eye on the engagement (opens, clicks, unsubscribes etc). If you notice a sudden spike in activity, positive or negative, take note and try and determine the source; did you have a different call-to-action style, design/layout or send time? Once identified, use this information on your next campaign to either avoid a weak performance or ensure a stronger one.
Even though MailChimp’s reporting provides a lot of insight, you’ll need to keep track of the contacts that meet your success criteria manually. I’d recommend using Excel to manage the exports delivered by MailChimp, combining the reports for your various sends and using the conditional rule (highlighting duplicates) feature to flag those who have engagement multiple times.
Repeating this process and experimenting with new content will ultimately provide you with a complete overview of the most effective material and approach for your email campaigns, allowing you to progress to more advanced automation software.
Data, strategy, content and software are the four pillars of inbound marketing. Your growth hacking efforts will give you exposure to them all in some small but meaningful way.
Mindset counts for much when it comes to adopting marketing automation into the business. My book; The Eloqua Mindset, outlines and explains the key factors that have helped others successfully automate their marketing efforts. I interviewed marketers from all over the world and seven made the book. You can download your free copy here.