The content marketing is globally well understood. Companies understand that intrusive marketing, such as advertising, are not the only and main way to reach potential customers nowadays. They started to provide valuable content on various format for free: articles, reports, videos, events, expert interview… They also handle pretty well the medias specificities, and know which, where, and how to provide information according to the audience and its habits of content consumptions.
Globally the attraction process is mastered, but the conversion aspect is less effective. In my opinion, the main barrier and problem is within the company. The marketing / communication team and the sales force were always separated. It wasn’t a problem when businesses did advertising and other kind of outbound tactics. But driving a traffic of potential prospects (online or offline) might be a waste of time, energy , and money if there is no conversion process coming with.
We notice two main difference in term of business goals:
While doing research I spotted three key factors that are at the roots of the success or the failure of an inbound marketing strategy: quality content, conversion, and analyze.
The first key success factor is the content. It is quite easy to produce content, but the challenge is to create content that we will be relevant and valuable to the target audience. In comparison to BtoC market, the BtoB content creation is much more difficult as expectations and stakes are higher. With the « race » of content creation that start to appear, the quantity often override the quality. Quantity might drive more traffic, but it have a poor conversion rate. In the case of Foundery, if we would have organized an event with poor interest for our audience, the potential prospect would have never came back again after wasting few hours of their life.
While there is not so much way to gain visibility on the web, the conversion process vary drastically from one product to another. That is why it isn’t relevant to give global advice. As a sales representative would do, the knowledge about the prospect can be leverage to get closer to him step by step. Each of them is unique and is receptive to different appeals. However, it is a masterpiece in a inbound marketing strategy.
As a factory process, the inbound marketing have to be constantly improved. Indeed, the conversion rate of two landing pages can vary drastically. There are a lot of technical parameters in the UI/UX, but there is also the audience parameter. A same landing page can have totally different conversion rate from one country to another for example. Likewise, landing page with a CRO targeting a technical-focused audience will have poor results on price-focused people.
If the process is mostly online, there are numerous metrics that can be tracked. The issue is to identify metrics that are representatives of the completion of business goals. A company focused on brand awareness should track number of visitor on its website, and the reach of their social media activities. At the opposite, these metrics are pointless for a company focused on leads generation. For this last one, key metrics could be conversion rates of their landing pages or the opening rate of their last email campaign.
Once the interesting metrics identified and tracked, it is time to experiment. As FreshBooks do, A/B testing is one of the best way to improve the conversion rate of a webpage. All visitors don’t see the same page: the CTA might change, the layout lightly modified, some graphical elements removed or added…. Then the version that reach highest conversion rate is kept. This optimization process have to be done constantly.
This is probably the factor that impact the most the implementation of an inbound marketing process.
A standard solutions allow companies to create a limited number of process to drive strangers to consumers. At the opposite, a business that design unique solutions for technical and specific needs for their clients can’t create a defined buying process. Moreover, a standard product or service, include a fix price. This is also a factor that ease the buying process.
As we saw in previous pages, Foundery, FreshBooks, and Dell (partially), that provide standard solution have a conversion system available for their traffic. At the opposite, Maersk and General Electric, don’t have any conversion system.
This observation also confirm that inbound marketing is adapted to BtoC market, but can’t be applied in BtoB selling projects.
Large corporate (Maersk, Dell and GE) have resources to create high quality content that drive an audience. Even Maersk that weren’t very involved at first, employed one person full-time and he had access to a huge database and worldwide sources of information. This is impossible for most SMEs.
For small companies (Foundery, FreshBooks) creating quality content deeply impact resources within the company. For example, at Foundery, organizing an event require a lot of time that can’t be dedicated to other tasks. The creation of content is done at the detriment of other aspect of the business. However, it doesn’t mean that SMEs can’t have an efficient inbound marketing. The format and quantity of content have to be adapted to resources available: one event per month for Foundery, one blog post per week for FreshBooks, few post on social medias per day for Maersk, multiple articles on various websites and creation of videos for Dell and GE.
The content marketing have this specificities to have an efficiency in relation to two parameters: the quality of the content, and the promotion of the piece of content.
It was quite easy to outsource outbound marketing. Companies could pay advertising agencies to create and diffuse promotional message, and ROI was very linked to the amount paid for creating the campaign.
But content is not as shiny and expensive than ads displayed on giant panels. It have to be relevant and interesting information targeting a well defined buyer persona. In B2B, this is even more true as information that might interest potential customers are very technical and specialized in specific field of activity.
The point is that marketing agencies can’t provide relevant content for a B2B audience. They don’t have skills, knowledge, or experiences to speak about products or market of their own customers.
For companies working in B2B and willing to embrace an inbound marketing strategy, it means that the content have to be produced internally. For large corporate, it might be easy to hire blogger, videos makers, or pay a training for their marketing team. But, it can be a real problem in smaller organizations.
There is also the problem of myths about inbound marketing. As some people present inbound marketing, it might seems to be an inexpensive and easy web-marketing technique that gives quick and good results.
Inbound marketing is not proportional to money spent (at the opposite of outbound marketing), but it needs an important commitment within the company. For most of companies, someone working full-time on content creation is a minimum. At Foundery, for example, with only one full-time employee, it is impossible to implement an inbound process as described by Hubspot. Even an online content marketing wouldn’t be possible as the time needed would be a threat to the execution of other critical tasks.
The implementation of an inbound marketing can also not be taken very seriously by decision maker. Board of direction are mainly manage by people who hasn’t been educated with an internet approach of business. Their success through years was only done thanks to outbound marketing tactics. They don’t really trust new marketing that they consider « trendy » more than relevant, and they don’t always understand the mind-shift due to internet. The Maersk case is an example: the social media experience was more a try than a real strategy (only one guy with no budget).
As it might be a problem in companies using outbound marketing, a defined borderline have to exist between marketing / communication department, and the sales team. Even in the sales team, problem can emerge if a prospect is assigned to different sales representatives during the sales process.
The problem is, most of the time, a lack of information going through teams or individuals. It means that persons who are first involved in the relationship with the prospect don’t provide all information they had to people involved forward in the process. Even with CRM system, all information are not assured to be transmitted to the right person.
In an inbound marketing process, the marketing department is supposed to be the main source of new prospects, while with outbound marketing the sales representatives are the main source of new prospects (cold calling, emailing, doors-to-doors…).
The company have to establish a clear borderline between team to insure a clear follow through with the prospect. This fact is verified with figures given in the first part of this report: « A formal sales-marketing agreement results in a drop of 60% in costs for customer acquisition.« .
According to the product, or the service, the sales team might be involved sooner or later in the process. In general, the sales team have to handle the relationship soon in the sales process when the product is a specifically design or customized solution. At the opposite, standard solution don’t need to involve sales rep, or at the very end. For example, FreshBooks try to convert its visitors directly into customers because their solution id standardized and the same to every customers; while Dell don’t try hard to sell something online directly.
Another problem might appeared in companies switching from outbound to inbound is implicit hierarchy change. With an outbound marketing, the sales team is supposed to provide information collected on the field to the marketing team. But, with an inbound marketing, the sales team is totally dependent of the marketing team.
While inbound marketing might be a very effective way to attract new prospect and customer, it doesn’t mean that companies have to stop every outbound marketing operations.
In the early stages of companies, outbound strategy to earn prospects is still very effective as we saw with the FreshBooks case. We can also take the example of AirBnB, the startup that offer to people with extra bedroom to rent it to tourists or people travelling for few days. They had a similar situation to FreshBooks in their early days. They started with doors to doors prospection to create their initial offer in term of room owners. Nowadays these methods aren’t necessary anymore and , as FreshBooks, the satisfied customers (room owners and room renters) spread their message.
Moreover inbound marketing is a long term strategy: it takes few months before showing any results, and efforts have to be constant. For new companies striving for not going bankrupt, this strategy isn’t the most relevant, as the time needed to reach effectiveness is a threat.
A side outbound marketing is not irrelevant as well. Most of companies which do inbound marketing also do some outbound marketing. It might also be a way to prove the credibility and the reliability of the brand. Indeed, we are more likely to trust a brand we already saw TV ads about, than a company discovered randomly on internet. In BtoB cases, if a sales person contact directly a prospect, and even if he gets nothing at first, it creates awareness. Few months after, if a need pops up, the initial contact can create a slight advantage in the decision-making process.
The inbound marketing, and especially the content marketing, might encounter, in few years, a problem called « content shock ». This concept recently discussed by some marketers is about an overwhelming and crowded number of piece of content in a field of activity. It means that there would be so much content already released that a new one wouldn’t be able to rise from the clutter. So far, it is a theory, but we can imagine that content marketing will gain popularity in companies in coming years, and that the amount of content will grow drastically. As the quality of content is already the key to cut through the clutter, expectations of information seekers increase equally. We can already think how hard it might be to overcome the quality of content of Wikipedia’s page on some subject. An extreme scenario would be a future internet on which only corporate with large amount of resources could be visible.
Another situation might emerge with the democratization of inbound marketing. Advertising was efficient when there was very few of them, but we developed an « ads- blindness » as we are less and less receptive to them. This could be a side effect of the multiplication of conversion tries coming with the interesting content. We would consume the content and consider every CTAs as advertising and treat it same way: ignoring them.