This is Part 2 of a two-part article.
An Inbound Marketing Culture
To make inbound marketing work, you need to be in it for the long haul. Any good white hat SEO will tell you it’s no different with long-term success in the pure SEO discipline, and such an approach to SEO is a key element of the inbound marketing mix. Inbound marketing is a slow burn, but a most worthwhile wait.
In a way, it’s this long-term approach that makes inbound marketing so suitable for B2B selling. Whereas typical sales cycles for B2C items are generally short, a B2B sales cycle can be weeks, months, or even years in extreme cases. B2B companies generally sell higher-priced items, products that will be carefully researched, compared, and evaluated over an extended period. Business customers want to know that you have a reputation for high-quality products or services, for prompt delivery, and for great after-sales care.
In the past, the best they could do was to talk to sales representatives from each potential supplier and see which one they believed. Maybe on occasion they might attend an industry event and get a recommendation from a trusted peer. This personal recommendation was always the ultimate seal of approval, but not always available.
Nowadays, prospects have all the information available at their fingertips. If people are discussing your products or how you treat your customers online (and they will), these discussions will appear in search results and your prospects will find out what others are saying about you. This online personal recommendation or personal damnation can instantly make or break your sale, and eventually promote or damage your brand.
B2B businesses may approach inbound marketing with a great deal of scepticism. It’s relatively new, and not at all the Mad Men or Glengarry Glen Ross style – but get the approach, mindset, and culture right and that scepticism will soon be dispelled. It takes time to build a cool website with great usability and regularly added quality content. It takes time and effort to provide regular and frequent blog posts on your website and videos on YouTube, which establish you as a knowledgeable expert in your field. It takes time, effort, and patience to engage with customers and prospects via social media, to show you care about their experience with your company and its products, to right wrongs, and to go above and beyond the minimum required. Yet all this does serve to build your reputation as the place for business customers to go when they want something in your space.
Can you show that your company website can easily be found through great content and great SEO? Is your company clearly seen as having a caring, human persona? Carry out a survey to find out — don’t ever assume. Has it shown it really cares about its customers? Has it shown it has the required expertise, a reputation that stands out, and a history of great delivery? If you can say yes to all of these — and only then — you stand a really great chance of beating your competition through differentiating your offer. If you’ve also got people saying great things about you on blogs and in social media, when prospects search for your products or services, surely you’re unbeatable.
If you’re still unsure if inbound marketing will work for your B2B business, just look at the evidence. Here I refer to HubSpot, as the longest established (and that’s not long — only six years, since June 2006) inbound marketing company. HubSpot provides a set of tools, via a dashboard, that either end-users or outsourced marketing agencies can use for client projects. Their website has a case studies section, currently with cases from 22 different industries. The majority of these case studies are B2B.
These case studies show irrefutably that B2B inbound marketing works. On the other hand, B2B and B2C push marketing methods are broken models that have rapidly become defunct in this age of instant information for all. Resistance to change from practitioners of old-style interruption or push marketing and the pain that comes from both functional and cultural change may well be present, but these changes are required to move to implementing a successful inbound marketing model.
Inbound Opportunities For SMEs
Inbound marketing levels the playing field somewhat, so that small and medium enterprises can now compete with those with deeper pockets. Previously, only large corporations could afford TV ads. Now anyone can have a website, write a blog, and engage on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (and others) for minimal cost. And, of course, while the big boys are paying big money to have their ads shown, nobody’s watching them. In fact, we’re all more likely to be spending time on the Internet, researching the next purchase for ourselves or our company, or reading what people say about suppliers online. Amazon reviews show the power of peer review — the same principle applies to business purchases.
Buyers want comfort, knowing that what they buy will be the right thing for their business, the thing that makes them look good in the eyes of their peers and superiors. Perhaps more importantly, they want to avoid the risk of making the wrong buying decision and looking bad, so they take the safe option. Positive words about their potential purchase and supplier reduce their perceived risk and give them comfort. Inbound marketing buzz makes all this easily accessible and highly visible.
Is Inbound A Change For The Better?
I do believe it is necessary for companies to embrace this model if they are to survive the change in power shifting to the purchaser. The old “stick in the mud” companies who refuse to change will fall by the wayside, continually interrupting people by banging on about how good they are. With the growth and availability of Internet access to all, the power has moved from suppliers to consumers, be that B2C or B2B. Consumers and buyers believe what the people they trust say about you, and what your other customers say about you, not what you say about yourself anymore. Marketing can no longer spin a silk purse offering out of a sow’s ear company. There’s no more hiding behind a curtain of biased marketing material and PR releases. And surely, from a human and ethical point, that has to be a good thing.
The truth is out — so make sure the truth is great, and then you can enjoy the buzz as people say great things about your organization online, making you the one to come to.
Image: B2B by Shutterstock