What is B2B inbound marketing?
Business-to-business (B2B) inbound marketing is a set of tactics and activities dedicated to attracting and engaging other businesses and organizations as customers. It is focused on creating and distributing valuable content to decision-makers and influencers from other companies. While outbound marketing, such as cold calling and direct mail, does have its place in B2B, inbound marketing allows for reaching large audiences quickly and cost-effectively.
The goals of B2B inbound marketing are:
- Awareness: generating awareness of the company and demand for their products
- Acquisition: grow the audiences of active, trialing, and prospecting customers
- Monetization: non-intrusively nudge them to become paying clients and upsell products
- Retention: tighten customer relationships based on credibility and trust.
What is the difference between B2C and B2B inbound marketing?
Sales cycle. The average B2B sales cycle is about 80 days, while in B2C, it’s less than 1 hour. So, B2B inbound marketing involves longer sales cycles, requiring more communication, engagement, and resources. At the same time, B2C mostly completes the purchase right here and right now and thus needs fewer resources per transaction.
Buyer personas. In B2C marketing, the buyer and user are usually the same people trying to complete similar needs (also job-to-be-done). With inbound b2b marketing, you’ve been simultaneously targeting a few different people with different roles and needs. The decision-making looks more sophisticated with many people involved. Although, for B2B and B2C, the better marketers understand their customer personas, the more effective the inbound marketing machine they can build.
Purchase experience. B2C customers convert better via self-serve flow, as they prefer the shortest way to value. Inbound marketing B2B prospects convert better with a sales touch from a qualified expert that will walk through a product demo highlighting unique selling points (USPs). So, appropriate call-to-actions and conversion paths can boost your conversion rate (CR).
Average order/contract value (AOV/ACV). On average, B2B businesses have ten times higher ACV compared to B2C. So, B2B companies make more net dollars per transaction, and B2B inbound marketing can effort higher customer acquisition costs (CAC) and remain ROI-profitable. However, B2B margins are usually lower as every won deal has higher overhead costs, including marketing, sale, onboarding, and support.
Customer churn and LTV. It mostly depends on the product and particular industry rather than the type of targeted audience. Although, in inbound marketing for b2b, the customers usually get significant discounts for 1-3 years commitment.
Moreover, B2B customers rarely onboard only one employee, usually at least a department. Overall, the more peers are in the product and the longer they’ve been using it, the harder it is to make a switch. Thus, on average, in B2B marketing, the customer churn is lower, and LTV is higher. It means less customer turnover and allows B2B marketers to afford even higher CAC.
Marketing channels. 80% of revenue in B2C marketing makes SEO and SEM that drive traffic to multiple product and category pages. B2B inbound marketing relies mostly on content, its authority, and delivery. A strong brand for both types of businesses can make a difference by dramatically increasing the conversion rate and decreasing CAC.
Products nature. B2B services are typically more complex and tailored, while B2C products are more standardized and straightforward. So, many B2B services require a learning and searching period for customers to identify the pain point and find a solution. Moreover, B2B customers might wait a long before their need blossom. Here is where inbound B2B marketing can cast a broader net and touch first with prospects even before they find out what service would help them.
Differentiation. Business customers are driven by rational outcomes (e.g., better, faster, cheaper), while B2C trigger better by emotional benefits (appreciation, safety, belonging to the community, etc.) For B2C marketing, the company’s product must appear in front of the prospect at the right time and place, while for B2B inbound marketing, it is crucial to be on a customer’s radar for a while.
Pricing. B2B pricing is more flexible and has decent room for bargaining, while B2C pricing is typically fixed—take it or leave it. B2C marketing is more transactional and focused on offering competitive prices, and the additional value combined will exceed what other companies offer. inbound marketing for b2b is more relationship-based and about the total cost of ownership cost rather than the nearest invoice price.
What is the Difference Between Outbound and Inbound B2B marketing?
The choice between outbound and inbound B2B marketing comes from your business type, budget, and expertise. Outbound marketing is rarely cost-effective with B2C but demonstrates great performance with B2B. By understanding the differences between inbound and outbound marketing, you can make more reasonable decisions and create a marketing strategy that works best for your business.
What does B2B inbound marketing include?
Digital analytics. Inbound marketing for B2B starts with establishing a reliable foundation of data tracking and analytics the whole organization can trust and rely on for decision-making. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track progress accurately and plan marketing results and activities. Digital analytics includes web, app, mobile analytics, CRM setup and tuning, BI graphs, and reporting.
Demand generation (or Performance marketing). The DemGen team focuses on Top-of-the-Funnel metrics and activities. Their goal is to bring in as many relevant customers as they have resources at their disposal. It includes SEO and paid advertising (paid search, paid social, display ads, and industry ranking sites). Demand generation leverages up to 80% of the company’s B2B inbound marketing budget. Thus it acts as executor for the programs and campaigns initially created in other departments of an inbound marketing organization.
Content marketing. The content team contributes to inbound B2B marketing by producing original text, images, video, and sound content and distributing it throughout owned media (website pages, blog, social media, etc.) and earned media (viral, PR, media, guest post). The KPIs of content marketing are reach, the number of readers, the size of the community, and content engagement.
Brand (or Creative) marketing. The performance of the creative marketing team is the most difficult to measure. When their activities work, the amount of direct and branded traffic, leads, and revenue grows gradually. Moreover, the credit for the success is usually distributed throughout the whole marketing organization. When their work is good enough, the metrics are usually flat. Unlike other B2B inbound marketing types, the brand marketing team’s work is usually process oriented. So, the more task they can intake and complete — the faster they can iterate and achieve success.
Affiliate marketing. Affiliates are a whole separate world. This type of inbound marketing B2B activity stands somewhere between marketing, sales, and account management. Affiliate marketing aims to generate additional sales via partners while keeping taught control of the affiliates' tools and approaches. Scrappy webmasters often find loopholes in terms and can bid for branded keywords or, in any other way, redirect the clients that would inevitably become your happy clients even without their effort.
Segment marketing. In big inbound B2B marketing organizations, segment marketing is a collaborative power that unites other teams and makes marketing efforts consistent, sustainable, and scalable. The segment marketing team launches integrated marketing campaigns throughout many inbound marketing channels, keeps an eye on the overall performance, and circles back to other teams with feedback and improvement ideas.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO). By applying growth marketing technics, the CRO teams squeeze more from the inventory the marketing has and the budgets it spends. Overall, CRO can boost the results of B2B inbound marketing significantly. But if there is nothing to boost, the result will be insignificant too. So, it makes sense to optimize the conversion rate after your site traffic crosses at least 100k monthly users.
Lifecycle marketing (or Email marketing or Marketing automation). Emails are the dominant communication means for businesses. Every day of a business executive starts with an email check. Simply put, email marketing activities can fall into two categories:
- direct triggered or transactional emails that are automatically sent based on the customer activities and progress.
- mass-sent newsletters tailored to a particular customer group or the whole customer base.
Ultimately, lifecycle marketing in inbound marketing for B2B addresses two major objectives: customer nurturing, conversion, and retention. When executed reasonably, the users get only helpful information when needed and are gently guided from signup to paying and loyal customers. While improving the company's trustworthiness and thought leadership on the way. When done carelessly and transactionally — it’s just spam. While the product and services are growing and becoming more complex, it becomes more difficult to integrate and make friends with multiple analytics systems and software in a comprehensive system able to be always relevant.
Customer marketing. This team focuses on existing customers' post-sale experience and marketing collateral that can help attract more new clients. To keep customers engaged and encourage repeat purchases, they develop loyalty programs, run Net Promoter Score (NPS) assessments, collect feedback, and conduct in-depth customer surveys. They also create case studies, gather customer testimonials, and incentivize reviews on 3rd party review platforms.
Marketing operations. The bigger the inbound marketing B2B organization gets, the more revealed the need for cleaning and collaboration inside inbound marketing and outside departments (sales, customer success, finance, R&D). MarOps act as a connector and organizer of resilient processes and predicted results delivered. It is challenging to measure the impact they make, but without it, marketing organizations become clunky and inefficient.
Why do many companies not get results from B2B inbound marketing?
Many companies find that their inbound marketing efforts are not yielding the desired outcome—there are several reasons why this may be the case.
Intention to build a spaceship of inbound marketing. Marketers are usually very ambitious and try to harness many channels and initiatives simultaneously. Unfortunately, they often end up losing focus and not succeeding at any of those in particular. Keeping focus while leveraging many new projects and huge budgets in B2B inbound marketing is challenging. Without a prior track record, it results in operational chaos, broken processes, overspending, and ultimately marketing metrics plummeting. A good rule of thumb is moving gradually from one success or lesson learned to another with one or a few new channels or campaigns.
Lack of understanding of the target audience. Marketers often create content they like, which does not necessarily correspond to what their audience enjoys. Moreover, as customers are human beings, they have biases that sometimes make customer interviews and studies meaningless, inaccurate, and even misleading.
For instance, the questionnaire states that 90% of people wash their hands after visiting a public WC. In fact, only 50% actually do. Next time don’t forget to wash yours 🙂
Although the customer perception should be at the marketer’s fingertips in inbound marketing for B2B. Analyze how your clients behave in real life and inside your product. Find dependencies, patterns, triggers, and problems your customers are struggling with.
Lack of subject matter expertise. Suppose you did your homework responsibly and have a precise understanding of your ideal customer. You’ll soon discover that knowing their pain points and problems are not enough to build successful B2B inbound marketing. For customers to follow you, try your services, and reach out to you, your company should become an undoubted thought leader in your market. It is where B2B and B2C fall apart considerably. Every content you create and distribute should include an unusual opinion and fresh insight that isn’t obvious or known to your audience and build credibility and trustworthiness. Otherwise, your work will be buried deep in the feed, and none will ever care about your brand and discover how great your service is. Unfortunately, in an era of content overabundance, it’s elementary to fall into the trap of rewriting common sense that was already written by 1M+ other great businesses of your niche.
Satisfying HIPPO instead of attracting customers. HIPPO stands for the highest-paid person's opinion. It can be the CEO, CFO, CRO, CMO, or any other CXO or crucial decision maker. Sometimes under pressure, the leadership tends to micromanage or drown you in important tasks that don’t contribute to the success of inbound B2B marketing. It is more relevant to small marketing teams with low capacity, resources, and much work to make the inbound marketing engine cranking.
The solution here is setting the right expectations, triaging tasks, and reserving the capacity for crucial inbound marketing tasks. More on this read in my recent article about Drowning in Work.
High expectations and poor execution. It is a rookie mistake to bet, and hope that a new channel or magic tool will take your B2B inbound marketing to the next level. Like every success in our life, it isn’t that easy. Success is a result of many mistakes made and the marketing budget burned. A healthy approach here is allowing mistakes and moving from one lesson learned to another until you get the result. Unfortunately, not many marketing leaders and teams get through that and make it to the end. So, buckle up. The journey will be significantly longer than it seems at the very beginning.
Lack of integrity and consistency. It is a pain point for huge inbound marketing B2B organizations that multiplied in headcount but haven’t established sustainable internal processes, dependencies, and relationships. As a result, different functional departments in the inbound marketing organization pull the strategy in different directions, interfering with each other and duplicating activities. From the customer's point of view, it can be that the company distributes different messages and builds different reputations from channel to channel. Even though independent channels can still be profitable, the collaboration and synergy of the channels and communication boost your brand and results better. It is where 1+1 can give you 3.
“We don’t do that here” OR the pursuit of low-hanging fruits, short-term goals, and quick wins. Many companies have been in business for too long, gathered a huge audience, and struggled to grow. They tried and tested many approaches, channels, and tools—something worked out, something didn’t, but they gathered a tremendous experience through painful lessons. And the B2B inbound marketing becomes a hostage of previous experience and the active client base. It seems like the only thing left is improving what worked before and has been working up to now.
They say if you want to become someone you've never been, you should do something you haven’t done before. Creating and executing a bold and rebellious inbound marketing strategy for a mature business is crazy. As the one clever person said, the marketers who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.
Bet on external rather than internal research. It can be challenging in inbound B2B marketing with just a handful of clients performing clients study. However, that is something that should be done from day 1. Direct customer feedback and NPS measurements are the foundations of improvement in both business and marketing. Market and competition research is something to keep a hand on too. However, the balance in decision-making and planning should be tight to real customers rather than average industry benchmarks.
Misalignment with Sales. How good your B2B inbound marketing can be, with a poor sales experience down the funnel, you won’t generate any real money. Like in a good marriage, marketing and sales should have a transparent relationship based on trust and respect. Marketing should take care of lead qualification to ensure highly skilled sales representatives (SDRs) won’t waste their time with hopeless prospects. On the other hand, sales should commit that every lead the marketing hands off to them will receive a superb experience promptly. To put it to the next level, a form of SLA can be signed between them—nobody would take it to court, but it can effectively address internal disputes.
In an ideal world, lead volume and sales team capacity should correspond. Although, in real life, it’s never happening, leaving one of the spouses disappointed and struggling to meet either quantitative or qualitative KPIs.
Outsourcing as much as possible. Outsourcing low-level tasks in marketing is a very effective and popular approach that keeps costs and risks low. Moreover, it is a great way to scale something you found traction with quickly. Although, you should always keep track of quality. Outsourcing everything can decrease quality and productivity as external contractors are likelier to have lower subject matter expertise. Hiring an external consultant can bring in new knowledge and ideas, although you should never outsource the core functions of inbound marketing for B2B. Outsourcing company earns revenue according to the work hours you bought, not the revenue of your business.
Automate everything attitude. Automating immature processes is the same as scaling chaos—you will get more complaining users than resource savings for your B2B inbound marketing organization. In our age, businesses everywhere attempt to automate everything, while people have started to value more engagement of real humans. For instance, toll-free phones are mostly not profitable. Still, many companies keep them despite this fact because it contributes to their reputation and illustrates how they value their customers.
A lot of data—scarce insights. Precise tracking and lots of data won’t bring you an immediate return or direct benefit. Moreover, it won’t tell you what to do with inbound B2B marketing. It can only tell what not to do. When tracking and analytics become your organization’s source of truth, it will bring a clear vision of what is happening and how you have been doing. With a little bit of number squeezing, you can notice trends, detect anomalies, reveal dependencies, and spot patterns. Data is mostly an unbiased judge, not a source of creative ideas. Although, it can help you verify the hypothesis quicker and improve faster.
Focus on branding while performance marketing struggles. Performance marketing channels (SEO, SEM) are sustainable lead sources for a predictable price. It takes much time to create a powerful performance marketing machine. However, it will bring lasting outcomes and boost the results of your brand awareness campaigns. Branding campaigns are costly, yet they can quickly multiply B2B inbound marketing results. A good rule of thumb is establishing a performance marketing foundation first, then betting on branding, and ultimately maintaining a balance between them.
Lack of focus on customer retention. Retaining customers is crucial for a successful inbound marketing B2B strategy, as it ensures that customers continue to buy from the company over time. Ignoring focus on customer retention can eliminate the results of all your marketing activities, as your customers can churn quicker than you bring in the new ones. Customer retention is a set of tactics and techniques dedicated to improving customer loyalty, encouraging repeat purchases, upselling new services, and referring friends and colleagues. These activities are usually executed by the email and customer marketing teams.
The foundation for a productive B2B inbound marketing
An effective inbound B2B marketing strategy requires a solid foundation to meet its goals and scale. A few key elements must be established before launching comprehensive inbound marketing activities. Most companies create a solid inbound marketing foundation on the go while actively promoting their company and services. However, if I needed to build inbound marketing for a B2B company from scratch, I would start with the following.
1. Establishing Realistic Goals and OKRs. Without a goal, you can’t score. Before any B2B inbound marketing strategy can be successful, it is important to establish realistic objectives and measurable success criteria. It will help to tighten every small activity and task to the overall direction and prioritize effectively. Here is a good example of a goal: increase the number of monthly Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) by 25% in three months.
2. Identifying Your Target Audience. At its core, successful inbound marketing for b2b requires understanding customer needs and pain points. It is essential to know who your ideal customer is, the intentions of crucial decision makers, and understand their JTBDs, purchase drivers, objections, and particular channels where they spend time. It helps create an effective go-to-market strategy and the content that will resonate with them and effectively distribute it.
Moreover, marketers need to identify potential customer segments and develop a strategy that appeals to those customer segments. It means researching the target customer base, understanding customer preferences and behaviors, and developing a comprehensive plan that meets those tailored needs.
3. Tracking and Analytics Source of Truth. Many successful B2B inbound marketing teams struggle to identify what particularly drives their growth. The inability to address this question leads to an inability to repeat their success and scale inbound marketing results.
Also, sometimes knowing why the initiative didn’t work out is more important than if it did. Without this, inbound marketing teams are unable to learn and improve. Feedback loops are crucial for progress and the team’s maturity growth.
4. Develop an Effective Sales Process. Selling a product or service is not rocket science. It is a structured process with distinct stages, progression criteria, and respective sets of actions to achieve this. The inbound B2B marketing team should clearly understand what happens with the lead at each stage after the hands-off. It helps to align sales and marketing, build a consistent customer journey, and deliver superb customer experience.
5. Establish Your Credibility. Every customer without prior experience wants to buy from a credible and trustworthy vendor. In B2C marketing, the reasons to believe (RTB) are mostly achieved with ratings, reviews, and brand power. In inbound marketing for B2B, however, the stacks are higher, vendor procurement is in place, and the background check is more sophisticated. With fewer customers, B2B marketers should harness every opportunity to create an extra reason to buy from you. With established credibility in the industry, it will be easier to attract new customers and close deals. Examples of assets that pump your credibility are customer testimonials, prominent customer names, industry awards, media mentions, number of users, and case studies.
6. Developing a Consistent Brand Voice throughout the channels. The bigger your B2B inbound marketing organization gets, the more differentiated and even controversial thoughts and ideas will arise. A brand book and style unite fragmented teams around the ideas of who we are and who we aren’t, what we do and don’t, how we behave, and what is unacceptable behavior. Usually, it’s not something new but an improved version of what you already are or the most effective tactics and approaches.
Having a consistent brand voice helps you remain consistent in your tone and messaging and create a recognizable brand identity with your target audience.
7. Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan. Planning is essential for inbound B2B marketing, yet it is the last step in the list of foundations. Marketing strategy in answering the question of how particularly we will achieve the goals we set earlier and how we’ll track the progress on our way. A comprehensive inbound marketing plan should include crucial channels such as email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, SEO, and SEM. In my experience, most businesses have good and even great marketing plans. Yet only a small share of those have great marketing results. The reason is that planning makes up only 10% of the success, and superb execution brings the resting 90%. So, do not overestimate planning. Although, with a poor plan, you won’t be able to reach your objectives or retain an A-level team.
Having a solid foundation of B2B inbound marketing won’t increase your target KPIs. But without them, you won’t be able to increase website traffic, attract customers, and build relationships with your target audience. Although, all the steps mentioned above are as necessary as brushing your teeth twice a day.
So, how to attract B2B customers?
With a proper inbound B2B marketing foundation, attracting B2B customers is no longer an issue. It flows naturally from your research, preparation, and the strategic plan you built. The following steps are the guiding principles of what to start with when attracting B2B customers.
#1 Creating Quality Content. Content is available in the form of text, images, video, and sound. Quality content is informative and engaging, showcases subject matter expertise, and resonates with your targeted audience. Content should educate, inform, and provide solutions to potential customers’ needs. It should also be tailored to the target audience and updated regularly. Your website content should be unique and optimized for SEO to drive organic traffic. It should also be well-written and bring new ideas or unusual opinions to build credibility and trust with your target audience. Content creation is the core of B2B inbound marketing strategy, and everything else is secondary.
#2 Establishing lead-capturing channels and programs. There is always a huge and permanent amount of buyers on the Internet searching for services similar to yours. You just need to learn to identify this buyer's intent and appear at the right moment with the right offer. Two major lead-capturing channels are SEO and SEM. The more target keywords clusters you can identify and hook in—the better. The most popular lead-capturing campaigns in B2B inbound marketing are brand protection, competitors, alternatives, comparisons, and buyer guides.
#3 Launch massive awareness/branding campaigns. Once you cast a wide and resilient net to capture leads, it is time to make some noise in your pond. These creative campaigns are usually created in collaboration with an external marketing agency. It takes time and iterations to develop an effective idea and bring it to life. Note that creating an effective awareness campaign in inbound marketing for B2B isn’t cheap and distributing it throughout the channels is even more expensive. Although, it is worth it and will recoup your investments a few times.
#4 Building Community. Building long-term relationships with your target audience are key to successful B2B inbound marketing campaigns. B2B services are more costly and less repetitive than B2C. So the clients are pickier and usually learn about your brand long before they are ready to make a purchase. The rookie mistake is pushing products or services right from the touch and being intrusive with the sale. It destroys trust and credibility that are irreversible. So, focus on building community instead. The whole idea of inbound marketing is delivering value to the client until he gives up and says, “Ok, you’re way better with XYZ. I’m tired of figuring everything out on my own. Please take my money and guide me to success.” Besides, building strong relationships with potential customers will help you better understand their needs and desires. Try to connect with people in the industry and attend events and networking opportunities to build relationships.
#5 Scale fast once you find traction. Every successful strategy has a window of opportunity when it’s still new and effective. After all market players utilized a particular inbound B2B marketing strategy, it’s no longer effective. To get the maximum out of the initiative, advance your led, and ensure a lasting competitive advantage—double down your effort and scale it as early as you can, once you notice traction.
#6 Test, improve, repeat. Inbound marketing for b2b is a very dynamic domain. Being innovative and applying a growth mindset is crucial to remain ahead of the game. Dedicate a certain share of your resources and budget to experimentation. It could be both new channels and new tactics within the existing channels. The most effective ideas for testing I get are those from different industries and domains, carefully rethought and tailored to the audience I’m appealing to.
Hope this article was helpful and inspired fresh ideas on improving your B2B inbound marketing machine. Although, if I missed anything or you have something to add from your personal experience, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll appreciate it 🙂
What are examples of inbound marketing?
Examples of inbound marketing are:
- Content marketing—creating appealing content tailored to your audience through blog posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, webinars, and freebies.
- Social Media Marketing (SMM)—activities and approaches tailored to grow organic reach, engagement, and communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—technics and initiatives intended to increase organic (free) traffic from Google and other search engines.
- Search Engine Management (SEM) or paid search—driving pay-per-click traffic from Google’s and other search engines’ sponsored search results.
- Email marketing—growing your subscriber base, nurturing them with useful and appealing content, and converting them into paying customers.
What is a B2B marketing strategy?
A business-to-business (B2B) marketing strategy is a set of marketing tactics and techniques to reach your B2B business goals and KPIs. B2B marketing strategies are designed to build long-term relationships between businesses and their customers, allowing them to increase their sales and revenue over time. An effective B2B marketing strategy should address the following questions:
- How will the business objectives be achieved?
- Which marketing channels and tactics will be used?
- What is the brand differentiation and positioning?
- What ICP and buyer personas are we targeting?
- What particular customer needs and pain points are we conquering?
- Why would the customer prefer to buy from us, not competitors?
- What are the key marketing messages?
- What marketing budget is required?