What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a buyer persona-centric strategy, designed to attract, convert, close and delight best-fit buyers via relevant, helpful content and engagement.
Working at every stage of the funnel, inbound marketing and sales campaigns are relevant rather than interruptive, resulting in qualified leads and clear ROI.
Inbound Marketing Methodology
Over the last few years, marketing and sales landscapes have changed. As B2B buyer behaviours have evolved to become increasingly digital, traditional or interruptive marketing and sales tactics have lost resonance.
Inbound marketing and sales strategies emerged as a way to address this. As a persona-focussed strategy, inbound works to attract and nurture good-fit leads and customers through the delivery of relevant, helpful content and interactions that provide value across every stage of the buyer’s journey - Awareness, Consideration and Decision. In an inbound process, relevant potential customers, who are looking for answers to their challenges, can find your brand across channels such as social media, search results, blogs and other digital content.
The inbound marketing methodology works to attract, convert, close and delight site visitors into qualified leads. Through structured engagement and nurture with appropriate persona-relevant content that is delivered at the right stage of the buyer’s journey, qualified leads can be converted into valuable customers and long-term brand advocates.
What Challenges can Inbound Solve?
Typically, adopting an inbound approach to marketing and sales helps to address challenges such as:
- Generating consistent, quality lead volumes
- Integrating automation activity
- Understanding the real cost per acquisition (CPA)
- Closing the lead-to-sales loop
- The alignment of disjointed campaigns
- The alignment of marketing and sales
- Proving ROI across all campaign activities
For marketing and sales teams, adopting inbound enables you to:
- Reach relevant prospects
- Earn attention by solving buyer’s pain-points
- Position your brand as helpful advisors and the best-fit solution for your buyers
- Help quality buyers convert, with tailored, helpful nurture throughout the funnel
- Align marketing and sales
- Provide sales with higher quality leads
Benefits of an Inbound Approach?
There are multiple benefits to adopting an inbound approach. In addition to solving the challenges above, and providing a more relevant, effective way to engage the best-fit buyers for your brand, inbound campaigns will:
Create a closed-loop marketing/sales ecosystem for quality results throughout the funnel
Drive relevance in the eyes of the buyer
Ensure content assets are buyer persona-focussed for compounding resonance
Map and track campaigns to specific lead, financial goals and KPIs
Enhance business growth by developing better-fit, longer-term buyer relationships
Equip marketing teams with the tools and automation to manage modern campaigns effectively
As a result, with an effective inbound strategy in place, organisations can:
- Align marketing and sales as business partners
- Form the foundations for sales enablement and inbound sales strategies
- Develop strong best-fit buyer relationships
- Intricately map strategies for clear ROI
- Tightly couple the strategic direction of your buyers with your proposition
- Enable seamless internal communication and closed-loop reporting (with the right tech stack support)
- Ensure your brand is active across the channels and platforms your buyers use
Inbound Compared to Other B2B Marketing Methods
How is inbound marketing different from outbound and other marketing approaches?
Why are Marketers choosing Inbound?
Digital marketing has undergone a massive transformation in the past decade as technology - and social media - have evolved, changing the way consumers interact with, and purchase from, brands. As a result, today, consumers expect a more personalised and connected experience, as opposed to an interruptive, often irrelevant marketing and sales experience - as is the case with more traditional outbound methods that rely on tactics such as cold calling or direct mail.
Inbound marketing works across digital channels to deliver that timely and relevant experience, “pulling” customers in and nurturing them to the best-fit solution for their needs, rather than “pushing” them to buy. As a result, brands using inbound vs outbound marketing can build trusted and long-lasting relationships with customers.
How Does Inbound Marketing Work?
In an inbound methodology, relevant visitors are attracted (via blogs, search engines, and social publishing) to your site, converted via calls to action (CTAs) and landing pages, and gradually nurtured and qualified until they are ready to become customers. The final ‘delight’ stage is part of an ongoing process of customer success, transforming your customers into long-term brand advocates and promoters through a relevant, quality service.
The four stages of the inbound methodology are detailed in the diagram below. This process works to progress your site visitors from strangers, to leads, to MQLs, SQLs and customers.
- Attract Attract relevant visitors (those most likely to become leads and customers) to your site through relevant content at the right time.
- Convert Convert those relevant site visitors into leads; start a conversation in a way that works best for them - whether that’s via chat, forms or if they’re at the right stage in their buyer’s journey - meetings. Nurture your leads and MQLs to SQLs, provide relevant next-stage content at the right time to answer their questions and deliver value.
- Close Once your nurtured prospects are ready to close, follow an inbound sales process and nurture SQLs to close.
- Delight Inbound doesn’t end once your lead becomes a customer. Continue to engage with and delight them; deliver an ongoing, remarkable service and brand experience to ensure increased retention, long-term value and to create brand promoters.
Using the inbound methodology to inform your marketing strategy ensures that you engage leads using relevant content through all stages of the buyer’s journey (which in itself, takes buyers from awareness of a challenge (that you help to solve, through to consideration over relevant solutions and finally, to decision):
Inbound marketing marries content with context and aims to attract customers through relevant resources which provide value at every stage of the buyer's journey rather than relying on disruptive, outbound tactics which may be convenient for the company but don’t focus on the customer and their needs.
"The inbound methodology continues to help businesses adapt to fast-changing needs – not just with marketing, but with the entire customer experience."HubSpot
What are the Advantages of an Inbound Approach vs other B2B Marketing Methods?
- Inbound is centred around your Buyer Personas - your best-fit, ideal customers - so all campaign activity is tailored to address the specific challenges they are facing. This means prospects are more likely to find your content relevant and engage with it, unlike in more traditional, outbound approaches which often target undefined audiences, or that lack detail on the lead before engaging them.
- Visibility into the buyer’s journey means that rather than pushing for a sale at the wrong time, at business-defined timescales, sales teams can use their insight to work to the buyer’s timeframe, making them less likely to push prospects away.
- Inbound tends to be less cost-intensive than outbound methods (rather than spending budget on blanket targeting, inbound targets distinct personas). You can also drive (and prove) greater ROI as campaigns are more relevant and timely - and trackable.
- Inbound also supports other effective B2B approaches such as Account-Based Marketing. Here, an inbound campaign can form a foundational first step into ABM, working as a quality lead nurture pool from which to identify the highest value, highest propensity, accounts. Inbound forms the base of the Strategic IC inbound to ABM framework (outlined on our ‘What is ABM’ page).
Planning an Inbound Marketing Campaign
Effective inbound campaigns contain many moving parts. Considered planning, mapping strategy to goals, and recognition of time to results is important to see best success.
Inbound Planning Considerations
From increased traffic, to higher quality leads, and greater ROI, adopting an Inbound marketing strategy presents multiple benefits.
However, for an Inbound strategy to deliver best ROI and performance, a considered planning process that establishes realistic goals, financial objectives, required lead volumes and more, is a necessity. Without realistic, adequate planning it’s hard (if not impossible) to deliver on goals and internal expectations - and likely that the campaign will run into one of a number of common mistakes.
So what steps must an Inbound marketing planning process follow to ensure a successful Inbound marketing strategy? Fundamental considerations for planning an effective Inbound campaign include:
Identifying and developing data-backed target personas
Every business adopting Inbound needs to have a clear understanding of who their best-fit buyers are, to inform accurate campaign direction, target content and more. For true success, persona development must be based on real insight and historical data.
Mapping realistic goals to financial targets
Setting realistic goals that align with financial targets at the Inbound planning stage is crucial if you are to manage Inbound campaign costs and expectations, and achieve ROI. Revenue targets, average order value, timescales, sales cycle length, conversion rates and more must all be considered for an accurate assessment - you need to be working towards realistic targets for each campaign.
Marketing and sales alignment
Inbound marketing and Inbound sales teams must collaborate if an Inbound campaign is to see success. This means both departments need to communicate regularly, outline precisely where their responsibilities crossover, and know when marketing should hand nurtured leads over to sales.
Creating content that aligns with buyer challenges, at the right stage in their buyer’s journey
Regardless of format, effective content always maps back to addressing your persona’s pain points, to educate, nurture and add value throughout the buyer’s journey. You should create content that delivers appropriate value through each of these stages.
Creating content hubs to build authority around key topics
Building content into a hub (creating multiple content assets around an umbrella topic or key campaign phrase) is a good way to give direction to content, and support rank.
Considering channel promotion
Successful campaigns understand more than just persona challenges. They recognise where those personas are active online, and promote content to those digital environments to encourage trust, recognition and to stay front of mind with the right audiences.
Nurturing qualified leads through to purchase
How long is your sales cycle? Your nurture process must fit the length of your sales cycle and support leads with the right-stage content to support their buying stage throughout.
You can see more Inbound campaign considerations in our Inbound marketing infographic.
What are Buyer Personas?
Buyer personas (also known as marketing personas) are fictional representations of your ideal customers, and are used to outline your buyer’s pain points, motivations and behaviours to best inform the direction, tactics, and targeting of an Inbound campaign.
Depending on your business, it’s likely that you will have multiple buyer personas (often for target personas of different budgets, verticals or otherwise). Each profile should include demographics, firmographics (details about the organisation), and psychographic characteristics to provide a full picture of your ideal prospect.
Creating detailed, realistic, and crucially - data-backed rather than assumed - buyer persona profiles is key to inform an accurate Inbound marketing strategy. Buyer persona profiles should be used to guide every aspect of your campaign, from the topics and challenges addressed in content and messaging, through to promotion channels, campaign targeting, nurture strategies and more.
By maintaining accurate persona data (persona development is an ongoing process), it’s possible to create more relevant campaigns that attract higher quality leads. But, get your persona profiles wrong, and it could have a disastrous impact on the effectiveness of your campaign.
Key Considerations for Data-Backed Buyer Persona Development
- Base persona profiles on historical good-fit client information and industry data. Interview your company’s most loyal customers to ensure you’re not basing persona challenges on assumptions. Read more about how you can plan a successful Inbound campaign with data-backed buyer persona development.
- Name buyer persona profile types appropriately to humanise them, and to help you to visualise the actual buyers represented by the profiles.
- Identify specific information and context around your typical buyer’s lives. For example, while most B2B marketers already know if they’re targeting executives or middle managers in a certain vertical, do you know the specific job titles your targets hold? What common barriers to purchase do you see, and what decision criteria do they have? What age ranges do they typically fall into, and what other contextual information can you use to refine messaging, targeting and more, further down the line? You can learn more about persona development here.
- Which channels are your personas active across, and what content do they consume? Identifying this is an important aspect of persona development. Include this insight in your promotional and content strategies to engage the right buyers, across the digital environments they engage with.
By understanding the specific, best-fit personas for your particular business, and delivering appropriate messaging across the right channels for that persona (such as blogs, social channels, in search and more) it’s possible to create a more relevant, value-driven experience.
A buyer persona profile will help you to consider the prospects’ challenges within a wider context and build a stronger connection with them, helping you drive more leads, conversions, and sales. Ultimately, building your campaigns around your buyer persona challenges will give your Inbound campaign the best chance of success. As persona development has a direct impact on sales, ROI, and lead generation, it’s important to make sure you keep your buyer persona profiles up to date so they continue to help you connect with your audience.
Lead generation describes the capture of new leads who have expressed an interest in your business and in learning more about your product or services. Inbound marketing campaigns are particularly beneficial for quality lead generation (and lead gen is a common campaign goal) as Inbound campaigns use buyer-appropriate content, messaging and engagement to build relationships with the most relevant leads for your business.
Inbound Lead Generation Tactics
There are many lead generation strategies that can be included in an Inbound campaign. The precise tactics and strategies you include will depend on your specific campaign and audience, and should be reviewed regularly to ensure the best results. Some lead generation strategies to consider include:
Creating and promoting engaging content
The importance of creating quality content that delivers value and stands out from the crowd, cannot be underestimated. So consider your content (think: your blog, website, social posts, videos, guides and more). Does it deliver value to your best-fit audience, addressing their challenges and providing next-step advice? For best lead generation and nurture, create persona-challenge-focussed content to suit all stages of the buyer’s journey. It’s essential that your content educates, advises and provides value to visitors at their specific buying stage for it to resonate.
Promoting content through the channels where your buyer personas spend most of their time
This will help you generate quality leads who have a high propensity to buy. Targeting your ideal buyers in the right digital environment will enable you to drive relevant traffic and leads so it’s important to consider your promotion strategies in detail. Some key activities include social promotion (both paid and organic), remarketing campaigns, and influencer promotion to name but a few.
Including video in your marketing and sales content
Video content can be used at all stages of the buyer’s journey to help attract, nurture, engage and convert leads. It is particularly useful to generate trust and foster personalised relationships when incorporated into sales strategies. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers think that video is more effective than any other form of content when converting qualified leads, making it an important lead generation and nurture tactic; tools such as Vidyard can help you create and track video content.
Considering your lead capture tools, to make it easy for leads to convert
As customers are coming to expect an increasingly personalised experience, it’s worth considering how conversational marketing tactics such as personalised chat can be used to generate leads. Buyers now expect real-time answers to their problems, and chatbots are an ‘always-on’ way to build trust with your brand, as well as working as a lead generation tool.
Lead Qualification and Lifecycle Stages
Note that not all leads generated by Inbound lead generation strategies will be an automatic good-fit, however. This is why it’s important to qualify the leads you generate, to distinguish not only which leads are a good fit and worth nurturing, but to assess their lead lifecycle stage - that is how qualified, and how far through the purchase journey they are. Both your marketing and sales teams should be aligned on your organisation’s definition of an MQL (marketing qualified lead) and SQL (sales qualified lead) to ensure a seamless transition from one stage to the next.
HubSpot defines a lead as ‘a person who has indicated interest in your company’s product or service in some way, shape, or form.’ A lead might enter your database after downloading gated content on your landing page, engaging with a chatbot or attending your event. This is the second stage of the Inbound methodology - conversion - and a significant point in the customer’s journey.
Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL)
A marketing qualified lead is a good-fit lead for your business, who has indicated an interest and been nurtured further through their purchase journey with relevant content, such as challenge-specific blog content. MQLs are leads that match your buyer persona profile and have a challenge that your business can resolve.
Sales-Qualified Lead (SQL)
An SQL has been nurtured further through the sales funnel by the sales team - sales teams should make contact with good-fit MQLs to further explore the challenges they are facing and discuss possible solutions. The lead can be considered an SQL if the lead remains a good fit and lead nurture should continue until they are in a position to purchase, at which stage they will be considered an opportunity.
A well-considered lead nurturing strategy is important to support your sales and marketing activities and ensure prospects keep moving through the funnel.
Wouldn’t it be great if every lead you generated was ready to buy? If only things were that easy! However, only a small percentage of leads will be purchase-stage ready after initial contact. That’s why having a considered lead nurture strategy is important, to hold the attention of your good-fit leads, and keep your brand front of mind as you help them towards a purchase decision.
What Considerations Should an Inbound Lead Nurture Process Include?
There’s a lot to think about when developing a lead nurturing strategy.
An effective nurture process works to purposefully engage a defined target group of prospects, moving them through the buyer’s journey by providing relevant, value-focused information until they are ready to become a customer. There are multiple approaches you can use to nurture leads, from sharing targeted, relevant content, to delivering personalised, engaging experiences, to following up promptly via the right channels and more.
Lead Nurturing Process Considerations
A strong nurture process will:
- Understand your specific lead’s challenges and buying stage, to nurture appropriately with the right content, at the right time. Make sure this content is as targeted and personalised as possible for best resonance.
- Be based on solid marketing and sales alignment. Both teams must have an understanding of which leads to nurture, with what content, and when qualified leads should be handed to sales. Incorporating lead scoring into your nurture process will also help here.
- Consider which nurture tactics and channels are most appropriate to nurture and engage your specific leads - for example, including email workflows to build strong relationships and share new, relevant content with leads in a timely and relevant way.
- Follow up appropriately. It may seem obvious but the best time to pick up the phone, or send a follow-up email, is when your content is front of the prospect’s mind - make sure your process can identify and make the most of the best times to contact.
Inbound Marketing & Sales
Inbound is not only a strategy for marketing. An Inbound mindset, that prioritises relevant engagement to nurture and qualify your best-fit buyers, also translates into the sales process.
What is Inbound Sales?
So what is Inbound sales? An Inbound sales process, as opposed to an Outbound or traditional one, is designed to align selling with the way that modern buyers expect to purchase. Unlike a traditional or legacy sales process, Inbound sales does not centre around a ‘pushy’ company/product focus. Instead, it considers and supports the buyer’s journey, working to prioritise and address the needs of the buyer to find the right-fit solution on their time scale, rather than just pushing to close.
The Inbound Sales Methodology
Rather than interrupting with ineffective techniques such as cold calling; an Inbound sales process aims to advise buyers at the right moment, addressing their individual challenges at the appropriate stage of their buyer’s journey.
This is achieved through effective alignment between Inbound marketing and sales teams, with marketing providing sales execs with the data and business intelligence to understand the buyer’s context (from their buying stage to their challenges, to the communications channels they are active on and more). Sales can then use relevant content and deep level product knowledge to hold productive conversations and nurture the lead further.
The Inbound Sales Process
Just like Inbound marketing, an Inbound sales process follows its own Inbound sales methodology, comprising four key stages:
At this stage, Inbound sales executives should work to identify active buyers (good fit leads, actively looking for a solution) over passive buyers (those leads who may be a good fit, but not looking).
Sales execs should then work to earn the attention of active buyers, starting personalised, valuable conversations that understand the buyer’s context and address their pain points in a relevant and timely way.
When a good-fit lead shows interest, explore their interest and leverage it to develop further trust, empower them, and uncover their deeper goals.
Execs at this stage should continue to empower, educate and advise buyers, leveraging the information uncovered in the Explore phase.
Inbound Sales Success Tips
Good Inbound sales process tips to consider include:
Avoid being pushy
No one wants to feel like they are being forced to buy. Inbound sales execs engage on the buyer’s terms and timescales, not those of the business.
Listen to your prospects
Make sure to develop an understanding of each buyer’s context in order to help and advise appropriately.
Work to understand the prospect’s challenges and barriers to sale in order to deliver value, and highlight the benefits of your solution appropriately to build trust.
Research before calls
Be sure to have an in-depth understanding of the buyer and their motivations prior to any communications or sales calls.
Tailor your pitch to the customer’s needs
Every buyer will have unique challenges, motivations and requirements. Make sure your conversations reflect and understand that.
Inbound Sales turns traditional sales methods upside down, working to attract buyers rather than going out to sell to them. It’s not about cold calling a list of possible leads - it’s about identifying quality prospects and building their trust by providing the right advice at the right time, on their terms.
Analytics: Inbound Marketing KPIs & Measurement
For an Inbound campaign to be effective, it must, firstly, have defined and aligned realistic goals to financial targets at the planning stage. If financial goals and other key metrics such as conversion targets, and lead generation targets are undefined or unrealistic, the campaign won’t be able to deliver on ROI or timelines.
Inbound Metrics to Consider
To set up an Inbound campaign that aligns with business goals and targets, and has appropriate expectations, it’s important to identify a number of metrics and KPIs. Specifically, at the planning stage, a campaign should:
Define realistic revenue and customer targets
Your revenue targets are directly linked to your lead generation targets. To see success from an Inbound campaign, start by identifying your overall annual revenue target figure, then identify how many leads your overall marketing and sales activity needs to generate (and close) in order to achieve that target. Your average order value, and lifetime value of your best-fit customers will be a consideration when assessing this.
Consider sales cycle length to assess appropriate campaign timescales
How long does it take you to convert, nurture and close a good fit customer? For example, if you need a total of 20 customers a year to achieve your total revenue target, but only expect to close 10 within that particular campaign’s run, you will need to consider your campaign timescales to manage internal expectations.
Outline the % of total revenue that your Inbound marketing campaign is responsible for
Will your Inbound campaign be responsible for 100% of your annual revenue target, or do you have other contributing strategies? For campaign goals to be accurate and realistic, it’s important to outline what percentage of the overall target a campaign will be responsible for.
Consider conversion rates throughout different stages of the purchasing funnel
Once you know the revenue percentage for which your Inbound campaign will be responsible, and the number of customers your campaign must generate, you can trace upward through the conversion funnel to determine how many leads, MQLs and SQLs you need to generate to achieve these goals.
Understand how to attribute digital channel sources
Which channels deliver the best lead quality for you? It’s important to understand and optimise the best marketing channel mix throughout the funnel for your organisation (paid, organic, social, email, referral, etc.) to achieve the best results for your budget.
With an Inbound marketing ROI calculator, you can get a precise idea of all the above considerations, and you will be able to identify the return you could achieve with your specific campaign timescale and budget.
Inbound Marketing in Practice
What precise results could you see with Inbound?
What Return Could You Achieve?
If you’ve used an Inbound marketing ROI calculator to identify the precise return you could achieve, you may be interested to see specific Inbound marketing examples and understand real-world results that other B2B organisations have achieved.
At Strategic IC, we’ve seen results that have both proven the value of Inbound and achieved or surpassed clients’ goals. Below are three Inbound marketing case studies that saw success in different ways:
Increased conversion rate
By adopting an Inbound campaign, using HubSpot tools and improving visibility throughout the funnel, Cabling Science achieved two key goals - to increase conversions, and track leads as they progressed through the funnel.
Within the first three months of using HubSpot Lead Flow widgets within their campaign, we generated 1238 leads, 21 MQLs, and 19 customers, with a conversion rate of 16%.
Other HubSpot activities brought the total number of contacts generated in three months to 1961. Read more here.
Improved sales enablement
Strategic IC helped global EdTech company Learnlight to develop their Inbound sales, and sales enablement approach, with a key success tactic being the implementation of HubSpot sequences.
As a result, Learnlight saw clear improvements in sales efficiency within the first 2 months of implementing sequences, with a c.50% reduction to their sales cycle. Their average close rate in 2016 was 6 months, and it is now down to 2-3 months. Read more here.
Quality lead generation
Amongst other tactics, Strategic IC helped data and technology experts Acxiom, to refine their campaign targeting, first by identifying the right personas (looking for certain job titles in the right brands and verticals) and then by engaging them directly with the right content and thought leadership.
As a result of Inbound activity, the campaign generated 121 qualified, high-quality leads, and also saw a click-through rate of four times the industry average. Read more here.
How Can Inbound Transform Your Sales and Marketing?
Our inbound marketing planning service and pricing structure is designed to provide you with a strategy to fit your unique goals - with the agility to adapt to changing business remits and delivery timescales.
If you would like to explore how inbound can integrate into your sales and marketing approach, book an planning consultation call at a time and date that suits below.
- See the impact and investment return inbound can drive
- Explore how to implement inbound’s many moving parts successfully
- Learn how to build the business case for inbound
- Campaigns planned to your timescales
- Adjustable reviews to rapid ramp up, or slow down campaigns
- Agile campaigns for fast reactions to changing remits