Our digital agency does a lot of different types of marketing, but inbound marketing is our bread and butter. We like inbound so much because we feel that it provides some of the best and most predictable results in digital marketing.
If you're not familiar with inbound marketing, here's a brief explanation - you create content that's published on your blog, and in other places, and promoted on social media. That content improves SEO and drives traffic back to your website where visitors see other content and contact offers. Some visitors will give you an email and phone number to access those offers, they become leads, and you can then drive the sales process and turn them into customers.
But we don't recommend inbound marketing for all of our clients. Why not? Because it's not a good fit for every business or every brand.
So how can you tell if inbound marketing is something your brand should consider? In this post, I'll walk you through our qualification questions designed to highlight four signs that inbound marketing can help your brand generate leads.
A Considered Purchase Decision
A considered purchase decision is an essential requirement for inbound marketing - you have to be selling something that your customers tend to research.
This can be straightforward research, as in the case of televisions. Here manufacturers will want to educate customers on technologies used, their benefits, and features of their different models. In the more complex hi-tech sector, solution providers might have to frame the problems their solutions solve, and benefits or opportunities solutions help their customers achieve.
To help determine if you're a good fit:
- Do your prospects and customers regularly research products and services like yours online?
- Do your prospects and customers actively discuss or leave comments about topics related to the problems you solve, or products you sell?
- Do your prospects seek to hire for solutions you provide?
If you answered yes to any of these, you should at least investigate inbound marketing.
A Longer Sales Cycle and an Educational Approach
Your sales cycle and process can also help you determine whether inbound is a good fit.
Talk to your sales staff about the sales cycle, and how they interact with prospects to move them down the funnel to turn them into customers. Ask the following questions:
- Do you have a longer sales cycle such as a multi-week or even multi-month?
- Do your salespeople routinely educate prospects on problems solved, benefits achieved, and opportunities created by your products and services?
- Can you identify clients that are ideal (clients you'd like to clone) clients that aren't a good fit (clients you would turn down)?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then your sales staff is actively filtering and educating prospects as part of your sales process - that's something your marketing can be doing to bring in more prospects, and higher-quality prospects that are more in-line with the ideal prospects your sales staff would like to see.
Furthermore, if you can educate your prospects through inbound marketing, sales staff won't have to spend as much time educating prospects, and will therefore be able to focus on closing more deals.
Most products and services are designed to solve a particular problem, but many go beyond that by providing multifaceted value. For example, many hi-tech products, from software to devices, are designed to do a specific set of functions, but they also offer a high degree of added value by saving time, simplifying tasks, providing better accuracy and so forth.
These are features and benefits which differentiate your product or service, and they almost always need to be explained or demonstrated for people to realize the additional value offered.
The content marketing component of inbound marketing can help educate both prospects and existing customers on these nuanced benefits. That makes inbound marketing a good fit for products and services that offer multifaceted value.
Importance, Complexity, and Risk make Inbound a Better Choice
Forbes Agency Council recently published an insightful article where they point out that more importance, complexity and/or risk involved in a decision, the better fit it is for an inbound marketing approach.
The reasoning is simple:
- If the problem is more important to the C-suite of a company, decision-makers will have to do their homework to find the best solution and justify the decision they propose
- If a problem is complex, more research will be needed to find the best solution
- If a problem, opportunity, or decision involves risk, then both people and organizations are likely to do more research prior to making a decision
Boiling this all down, the more important, complex, or risky the decision, the more research prospects will do. That makes those elements key candidates for inbound marketing, because prospects will be consuming lots of content, and will be willing to share contact information to download more in-depth content.
Again, not every business is a good fit for inbound marketing. While the characteristics we've described above apply to televisions, software, and any number of other products and services, there are some where they simply don't apply.
Mainly products don't have a long or considered purchase decision - if you're selling hot sauce, for example, your marketing should focus on brand and product awareness. People won't download ebooks on why your hot sauce is great.
If people don't need to educate themselves on the value and benefits or your product or service, or how it's better than their competitors', then it's probably not a good fit for inbound marketing.
There are also business and cultural circumstances that make inbound marketing a poor choice (at least in the near term):
- If you need overnight results - Inbound marketing generally takes at least four to six months to generate traction. While that's time well spent, and will provide a return on investment, if you need a huge bump in brand awareness, website traffic, or leads generated tomorrow, inbound marketing is not likely to do that for you.
- If you can't commit to creating and publishing content on a regular basis, either in-house or through outsourcing - You have to create content to build awareness and drive traffic. You have to create deeper more valuable content to package up as content offers to capture leads. That content needs to be high-quality, SEO optimized, targeted to your buyer personas, and published regularly, several times a month. It takes well-trained staff, or an agency, to do right. If you're unwilling, or unable, to commit to that, then inbound marketing probably won't work for you.
Look at Your Current Marketing and Sales First
It's a complex question, and very few organizations will fit neatly into any of the buckets detailed in this post. Inbound works great for many brands selling products and services, and also for many non-profits. Start by researching how inbound helps organizations grow, then look at how you currently market and sell your services.
As noted, you might already be using inbound tactics. Examine how your audience engages with you and your competitors. If you spend time educating your audience, or they desire to be educated about what you do, inbound marketing might be worth looking into.