Introduction - The Problem

Inbound is a cohesive long-term approach to marketing, sales, and customer service.  It's a methodology. Digital marketing, however, is an assortment of standalone tactics (PPC, SEO, blogging, email marketing...), many of which can be used as part inbound strategies.

The problem with inbound marketing for B2B is it's NOT a magic bullet. There's no shortage of case studies and statistics suggesting B2B digital marketing strategies are easy to develop and execute and are wildly successful. But these are heavily influenced by enterprise-sized B2B organizations with seemingly unlimited budgets and large internal marketing teams.

Unfortunately, the hard truth is typical digital and inbound marketing tactics are starting to have diminishing returns.


If your digital and inbound marketing results are diminishing, and if your business is like approximately 49% of businesses out there that don't have a defined digital marketing strategy, or you have a strategy but are not getting the kind of ROI you had hoped—why should you develop one now or continue to execute it? Because things are always changing, refusing to develop strategies that will help generate more revenue is like saying you don't want your business to grow.

Inbound is still a very effective way for service-based B2B companies to generate leads for your business. But today, inbound refers to much more than just marketing; it's a methodology that should be applied to your whole business.

Today, successful inbound strategies must take into consideration a myriad of changing issues, trends, and opportunities, such as:

Chapter 1 - Trust is Everything

Trust is essential in all purchasing decisions, whether it's a consumer purchase, or a business-to-business transaction.  But buyers likely don't trust you. A 2016 HubSpot study found that sales, marketing, and even customer service professionals were among three of the least trusted professions—only above stockbrokers, car salespeople, politicians, and lobbyists. And regardless, they don't need you. B2B Customers today do the majority of their research online, get recommendations from their peers, and often prefer self-serve transactions.



How do you gain the trust of your prospects and customers? If you're in the process of aligning your team's goals, you're going in the right direction. Your potential new customers trust your existing customers and the better your customer experience is, the more likely your customers will become a word-of-mouth and referral resource for you. If your customer experience needs improvement, your teams can and should work together to identify areas of friction and how to fix them.

Other ways to develop trust are tried-and-true inbound tactics, including:

    • Create content that freely shares your expertise, provides guidance and delivers the kind of information your prospects want. This content should be honest and transparent and developed to answer common questions and help solve issues, not promote your service or product.
    • Developing personas through customer and market research so that you understand what they like and dislike, the channels they prefer to use to obtain information, and the kind of information they hope to find through their online research.
    • Ensure your customers can find the content by, sharing it on the social channels your personas prefer, including it in email campaigns, or promoting it via Google Ads or paid social advertising.
    • Optimize your website, and your new content, so your prospects can find it on organic search engine result pages (SERPs) as well.
    • Develop content that's attractive to your target visitors (both visually and in specific formats) such as traditional blogs, infographics, ebooks, calculators, checklists – but also video and podcasts.
    • Align the goals of customer-facing teams so that your customer experience is consistent throughout, thus becoming a unified business. A unified team that knows how to delight customers by freely providing answers to their questions, developing solutions to their problems, and helping your customers reach their goals.


Chapter 2 - Alignment is Critical

Sales and marketing alignment became a hot topic in the late '90s. But today, alignment between these two teams is not enough. ALL your customer-facing teams' goals should be aligned and facilitate the unification of your business.

Goals for many marketing teams are still not aligned with those of the sales team.
And today, the focus should be on aligning the goals of marketing, sales, and customer service teams.

Not too long ago, measuring the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service teams was simple. Marketers were responsible for lead generation, salespeople were responsible for revenue generation, and customer service personnel were responsible for customer satisfaction levels or customer experience. But the waters have muddied.

unified business teams have aligned goals

Today we recognize that all three teams can have a significant impact on customer satisfaction and experience. Customer experience starts when they research online and discover your business, and includes what they see on your website, how your website performs, and again by email nurturing campaigns. When it's time to speak with a sales professional, how that salesperson communicates and the materials they share, also affect customer experience.

Ask any salesperson, and they'll tell you that they generate their leads themselves through hard work, research, networking, and often through social media outreach. Try suggesting to a marketing person that they don't have an impact on revenue generation, especially if they've developed touch-less ordering processes powered by their websites. Customer service personnel often field incoming prospect and customer inquiries and pass on qualified leads. They are also often tasked with, or choose to, cross-sell and up-sell while communicating with customers; resulting in additional revenue.

Today, alignment between these teams and unification of their goals has never been more critical. But how do you ensure your business is a unified business? To start, check out how inbound methodology can foster collaboration between your sales and marketing teams. Every business is unique and will be faced with distinct alignment challenges. But starting with these best practices will help them get off to a good start.

Develop shared business goals.

The sales, marketing, and customer service departments will likely always have different responsibilities and goals. But they should understand how they impact other teams and shared company goals. Revenue targets are often a shared goal. But shared goals could also include:

    • improving customer satisfaction and trust
    • shortening sales timelines
    • increasing customer lifetime value
    • reducing customer churn, and so much more.

Determine how each team impacts the shared goal.

Allow the teams to work together to determine what parts of the customer's journey, they are responsible for, and when it's the right time for customer interactions to be passed on to other teams.

For example, marketing may be responsible for generating website traffic and converting that traffic into leads, they may also be responsible for qualifying or nurturing leads, and when deemed appropriate, pass them onto sales. Without a prior understanding from the sales team about what makes a good lead, marketing's contribution to shared goals may be ineffective. Additionally, when the sales team closes a deal and passes a new customer on to the service team for onboarding if they fail to explain nuances within the customer contract fully, they may be unknowingly setting the service team up to fail.

Develop a shared understanding of customer personas.

When each team understands target personas and how to identify them, they can work together to ensure the customer experience from start to finish is consistent and customized to each persona's preference. If you haven't yet developed personas, have your teams work together to develop them so that insights from each touch point in the buyer's journey can be incorporated, resulting in a more thorough understanding of your best customers.

Learn More: How to Develop Buyer Personas

Ensure all teams have insight into the other's teams progress.

Real-time information allows teams to see how their work affects others as well as shared company goals. It also provides the opportunity for real-time adjustments to improve performance. Regular check-ins also help teams problem-solve together.

Compensate fairly.

Marketing and customer service teams typically are paid straight salary and or an hourly wage. However, if they help a business reach its primary goal (revenue generation), then they should also be compensated for that business success. These teams don't necessarily need to get a percentage commission of every sale, but regular goal attainment performance compensation will help those teams feel as valued as well-paid and commissioned sales professionals.

Cross train.

What better way to ensure your teams understand the responsibilities and goals of other departments, as well as the everyday challenges they must overcome than to put them in their shoes. Cross training helps:

    • Develop a more flexible workforce
    • Gives teams deeper insights into different departments daily struggles and successes
    • It builds better cross-departmental relationships and trust
    • Increases employee morale


Chapter 3 - Content Marketing is Evolving

Today the internet is flooded with content. When content marketing first became a popular approach, blog posts were short and loaded with keywords. But people and Google's algorithms have gotten smarter. This compounded by a lack of trust, conversions for gated content (where an email address is required) like ebooks, case studies, and whitepapers have gotten harder and harder to achieve. Traditional content marketing tactics are still effective but how you execute them has differed:
    • Blogs are becoming longer, 1,000+ words and more
    • Blog topics on websites are being clustered and linked together to make it easier for website crawlers to find your content
    • Very long blogs are being developed to act as pillars to these clusters
    • Pillar post content is ungated, but if the content has a high perceived value it can also be provided as downloadable gated content for the visitor to referenced later
    • Demand for video content is high and growing. This demand comes from your prospects and Google.
    • Podcasts are not for everyone, but if your persona prefers them, it's a strategy you should consider. Especially since Google has announced they will now index podcast titles and content to display on SERPs
    • Social media engagement levels are stagnant or declining on many channels
    • Privacy and spam regulations are getting more stringent, and marketers must ensure they have the tools needed to follow the rules applicable to them
    • Email personalization is essential, but simple personalization such as Hi, "first name" is no longer enough


Chapter 4 - Inbound vs Outbound Sales

Outbound sales is what many business owners imagine when they think of sales or business development activities. It is the process of initiating a conversation with a prospect, typically done by placing a cold call. Inbound sales is the process of identifying the right business opportunities and prospects, connecting with them, exploring the prospects goals and challenges to assess fit, and advising prospects on an appropriate solution.

An outbound approach starts with research to find possible prospects. This can include market data and trends, attending business events, networking, and hard work like cold calling. An inbound approach:

    • starts with understanding your best customers
    • works with marketing to develop personas that represent your best customers
    • uses personas to develop content (for both marketing and sales teams to use) that provides value and consistent messaging to your prospects,
    • connects with visitors who have converted to leads and signalled their readiness to buy based on their behaviour

However, even in HubSpot's own inbound sales training, they provide advice on how to make "cold" connections when your business is just getting started.

HubSpot compares legacy salespeople to inbound salespeople. However, the tactics they reference as legacy tactics are those that have long proven ineffective. Many will bestow the virtues of either Outbound or Inbound sales methodologies and deem them opposites. But this is not true. It can be argued that much of what makes up the Inbound sales methodology is what successful sales professionals have been doing for years—working towards an understanding of their prospects issues so that they may help find the right solution.

InboundSalesIt's unlikely that service-based B2B companies will entirely replace outbound sales processes with inbound processes that rely primarily on website generated leads.  However, they should be sure to replace outdated tactics that have been proved ineffective with methods that consider the buyer's journey and provides the right information at the right time. 

Learn More: The Modern Buyer Has Changed the Game. How the Inbound Sales Methodology Can Improve Performance 


Chapter 5 - The Other Customer-Facing Team

Whether you provide software, physical products, or professional services, developing proactive processes to ensure customer satisfaction is essential. Many small- to medium-sized service-based B2B companies often do not have distinct customer service personnel and take the approach that everyone is responsible for customer satisfaction.

Regardless of whether all employees are responsible for customer service, a select few are assigned double-duty, or there is a dedicated service person or team; B2B companies should prioritize investments in customer service technology and develop processes to ensure customer support/service interactions meet the new higher demands of their customers.

MarTech Advisor advised that B2B companies should focus on three trends to transform their customer experience.  These include:

    • Personalize all communication. A one-size-fits-all approach can ruin an already positive customer experience. This requires an understanding of all touch-points with the customer from all customer-facing team members, which is challenging to record if your business is not at least using a proper customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
    • Use Data to help determine what changes to your processes may be needed. Marketing automation, combined with CRM, and the ability to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and track customer interactions, will provide the tools to determine if your processes are successful and if they result in a return-on-your-investment.
    • Artificial Intelligence sounds like a faraway place, especially for established small- to medium-sized B2B businesses. However, investments in technology like marketing automation, CRM, and customer service tools,  can help companies analyze successful customer journeys, sales cycle lengths, deals won and lost, related customer service transactions and more. This information enables the development of templates and process that have a greater chance of success. Additionally, these systems can be used to develop lead scores based on AI created profiles so the right processes can be used on leads more likely to convert. 


Summary - It Works If You Do the Work

The problem with digital and inbound marketing for B2B companies is that it works but requires hard work. It also requires honest and transparent communication, as well as flexibility and team alignment.

Your customer's behaviour is always changing, so how you reach them and communicate with them needs to change as well. A unified business aligns at least all customer-facing teams so that your customer experience is smooth and satisfaction is enhanced.  Your satisfied customers will help you develop the trust businesses need today more than ever to attract new prospects and leads, using the Inbound methodology.

On the upside, get things right, and the pay-off is a solid brand, loyal customers who become your advocates, and significant business growth.


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