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Does Inbound Marketing Work For B2B? Part 1

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It’s often assumed that the evolving and dynamic marketing methodology known as “inbound marketing” is best suited to selling small ticket items to consumers. However, the opportunities for businesses selling to other businesses (B2B) to grow their customer base massively using inbound marketing may be even greater than for the business-to-consumer (B2C) market. In many respects, such as the time required for lead nurturing and reputation building, inbound marketing is far more suited to producing great results for B2B entities that for B2C-focused businesses.

Clarity Of Vision

In the recent shift from “push” to “pull” marketing, businesses selling directly to consumers have found it much easier to relate to a new model of online marketing that those selling to other businesses. B2C businesses can easily understand how it can pay to build brand image and relationships of trust with consumers through tweeting out special promotions and placing offers on their Facebook page. The return on investment for B2C can be quick, sometimes almost instant. Ten percent off a spend of a few dollars or pounds can easily produce quick sales of items that may be filling up warehouse shelves.

When it comes to B2B, many organizations haven’t yet worked out how inbound marketing techniques can work for them. They can’t see why this new way of thinking about how their customers buy is applicable to business customers. Maybe they sell cars to fleet buyers – why would these people be on Facebook or Twitter looking to buy for their companies? Perhaps they sell infrastructure to telecoms or IT support services for businesses. Why would social media work for these groups? Indeed, why would even SEO and permission-based email marketing work for them? A business may very well insist that they know all their customers and everyone who is a prospective customer, so why spoil the good relationship that their salespeople have with that prospect or client?

Well, there are plenty of good reasons. I believe that inbound marketing is even more suited to B2B operations than B2C, and I’ll explain why later. But first it will help to define exactly what we mean by inbound marketing.

What Inbound Marketing Is and What It Isn’t

It’s important to agree on a definition of inbound marketing, not only because various definitions have been put forth, but also because some practitioners offer variations with numerous add-ons branded as inbound marketing elements.

For the invention of the term “inbound marketing,” we must credit Brian Halligan, co-founder of HubSpot in 2006 (along with Dharmesh Shah). HubSpot defines inbound marketing as “marketing focused on getting found by your customers.” For my own understanding of inbound marketing, I find this somewhat restrictive, in that it sort of describes SEO (“getting found”) without overtly including the lead nurturing, conversion, and analytic processes.

Seth Godin earlier (1999) popularized the expression “permission marketing,” based on the principle that consumers want to interact with those, and only those, offering promotional messages or information that they find of value, whether it be commercial value (e.g., in the form of a discount) or informational value. On this basis, there is little to be gained from “interruption marketing,” which only serves to waste a marketer’s and prospect’s time, while also having the potential to damage the brand. To put this simply, if you spam people with mail they don’t want, they are unlikely to buy from you or to recommend you to anyone they know. In fact they might just pass on negative feedback about your company and brand.

Permission marketing assumes that if someone either spends time on your site after finding it via a search engine, or fills in a form to request information, they have effectively given permission for you to send (email) them marketing information. These people are already pre-qualified, and will therefore be more likely than average to convert into a customer.

Personally, I prefer a definition that defines inbound marketing as “getting found through the buzz created around you and constructing a memorable and positive experience for everyone touched by you, without ever interrupting anyone.” So inbound marketing does include SEO, blogging, and social media engagement. But it doesn’t include overt social media marketing where companies post about themselves and their products, nor paid search — AdWords and similar programs are “push” marketing.

Elements of outbound marketing, such as paid search, are increasingly used by some agencies in their definition of inbound marketing, but they shouldn’t be. I’d go so far as to suggest they may be including traditional outbound elements because of their inability to make the purely inbound model work for them, perhaps due to a lack of patience or the will and commitment to change.

A Panacea In All Its Forms?

So why can some organizations make inbound marketing work, while others can’t? It could be that their definition, and thus implementation, of inbound marketing is working against them. It’s counterproductive to spend good time and money wooing your target market, if you then go and upset them with an overt interruption. If they previously operated under a push marketing culture, it’s very difficult to change this to the different culture — and patience — required for successful inbound marketing.

Or perhaps they are expecting conversions to happen immediately. Coming from a world where the norm is purchasing prospect lists, sending out emails to every address on that list, and then following up with a scripted cold call, they’re likely to have expectations of a low take-up rate, but very fast conversion from those who do buy. Inbound marketing doesn’t work like that, because prospects don’t respond to that type of approach in this age where every piece of feasibly available information can be accessed in seconds with a single click on a PC, tablet, or smartphone. When busy lives are interrupted by cold calls, junk mail, ads on various forms of media, thinly disguised sales pitches on LinkedIn, and every type of push marketing technique, people find ways to filter out all this noise. Apart from simply ignoring it, they use digital TV recorders with a button to skip the ads. They use junk mail filters for their email and become expert at spotting and deleting anything that makes it through. They use caller-ID services to filter out unknown phone callers and report sales pitches as spam.

All this old-style push marketing that produced quick results isn’t working anymore. Spend as much as you like on that TV ad — I won’t ever see it, that’s a near certainty.

In Part 2 of this article, Paul looks at how you can build an inbound marketing culture in your own business.

Image: B2B by Shutterstock

About the Author

Paul McIntyre is the Founder and Managing Director at Search High, an integrated inbound marketing company, blossoming from many years successful bespoke SEO implementations for Blue Chip and high growth enterprises. Search High is based in the UK East Midlands.

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