In the inbound marketing world, B2C seems to get the lion’s share of the attention and discussion. But the fact is, inbound marketing is just as important a tool for B2B businesses as well. In fact, 67% of the average B2B buyer’s journey is done digitally, making your content (or lack thereof) a critical touch point.

In this post, we’ll take a look at a few points along the inbound marketing process of a B2B eCommerce website and add some helpful tips to help you get your inbound marketing process locked down tight, so that you can yield the maximum benefit.

1. Set Goals and Benchmarks

Before you start running amok creating content or choosing keywords, you need to define what it is you want to accomplish – and not just in a broad sense like “more sales” – exactly how many more sales would you like to see? How many more warm leads would you like to generate? Some quick tips:

B2B Goals

  • Set SMART goals. Give your goals a firm number and a deadline. They need to be specific (exact numbers), measurable (define your KPIs), attainable (realistic for your current state and future plans), relevant (assigned to an outcome that matters for your business) and time-specific (give them, a deadline).
  • Don’t forget that inbound marketing has a bit of a “spin-up” phase, especially if this is your first foray. It takes time to create and promote content, and even longer to organically build a community surrounding that content. Even if you have an existing client list or a lot of industry clout, your first-year projections should account for the fact that you’re unlikely to see a big increase in leads until around month 6 or 7.
  • Keep benchmarks high, but attainable. It’s unreasonable to expect that inbound marketing will double your sales in just 12 months. It’s reasonable to expect better returns than traditional media, but the outcome will depend on what you put in. When setting benchmarks consider the amount of money, time and effort you’re putting into your inbound marketing campaign. Dig into your existing sales and leads numbers to come up with projections grounded in historic figures; determine a fair return-per-dollar-invested number and chart it out.
  • Don’t forget cost per lead/conversion and audience numbers. One common failure in goal setting and measurement is that companies merely expect more sale, but fail to account for everything that happens between consideration and sale (and the costs thereof). Make sure to calculate your existing cost per lead and conversion so that you can determine not only how sales have increased, but how much money you’re saving to earn them.

Keep in mind your buying cycle as well. If your product is high-touch or investment, a growing audience can be indicative of future sales, even if they haven’t yet materialized. Take stock of your share of voice in search engines and on owned media channels (email list subscribers, followers, fans, etc.)

2. Build Realistic Personas

Everything in inbound marketing – from the calls to action to the content that you build – revolves around your audience. If you fail to understand the people you are selling to, your marketing work will fall flat. Once again, this is something you must do before you hop into the planning or creation phases of your content.

Mike King has built an enormous resource to help you build better personas, but here are some quick tips:

  • Begin with assumptions – but refine with data. In the beginning, it’s okay to build personas based on the assumptions and presumed ideas of what your audience needs, thinks, wants and their pain points – but for a true persona, you need to test those assumptions with data. This data can come in the form of analytics, sales data, internal and external research. Again, while this sounds time consuming, your entire campaign will be built on it – it’s worth doing.
  • Consider customer interviews and surveys. Market research can be expensive to come by – especially for smaller B2B sites. In those cases, consider conducting simple customer surveys. If you have an existing customer base, these can be easily propagated through e-mail or on-site; just be sure not to make your “ask” for the survey invasive to the customer purchase path. You can also use discovery-based surveys with those outside your current customer base to glean insights into those you have yet to reach. SurveyMonkey is one free alternative for surveys.

Survey Monkey

  • Use social listening. Another relatively inexpensive means of gathering information is to listen in on social networks to what those in your approximate personas (the ones you’ve built off of assumptions) are talking about and sharing. You can also eavesdrop on those speaking with your competitors to identify opportunities and narrow your understanding of markets who may be interested into your offering. Tools like Topsy are helpful in identifying influencers and tuning in to conversations based on keywords; FollowerWonk is also helpful for analyzing your followers (or those of your competition).
  • Keep in mind that your personas have external influencers, especially in the B2B space. Buyers have bosses they need to appease; businesses have stakeholders both internal and external. This will be critical as you assemble your personas, since you’ll need to motivate their outside influences as well.
  • Speak with your sales team. When building personas, some of the key information, like demographics, can be easy to find – but what’s harder is understanding what makes your audience tick, how they respond to your offers and why they need you in the first place. Your sales team is in the trenches talking with these people every day; if anyone in the business has a strong understanding, it’s them.

3. The Buying Cycle & Your Content

Once you have your personas in hand, you’ll want to understand how they travel towards a purchase. The typical buying cycle is chunked out into four stages: Awareness, consideration & preference, purchase and repurchase. As a B2B business, you need content at every stage of this cycle to help propel the buyer into the next one.

Let’s take a quick look at each:

1. Awareness: The customer identifies that they have a need/desire for your products.

Content at this stage needs to focus on making people aware of your offering. This is the place that traditional advertising still fits in; making initial contact. While it might sound counter-intuitive, at this stage, you don’t want your content to be all about you. Instead, appeal to the need the customer is feeling. Focus on their pain points and wants. Spend time engaging and entertaining – not selling, and avoid rigid calls to action as the customer is not ready to buy.

Example: Zebra Imaging uses their blog as a means of intercepting their different B2B buyers as they ponder the role of printing and imaging in their lines of work. Below is an example of a blog post targeted at the construction industry:

Zebra

2. Consideration & Preference: Customer is evaluating how your offering meets this need or solves their pain point – and is also considering the offerings of your competition.

At this stage, content needs to start addressing the unique offerings of your products and solutions. For B2B eCommerce, this can include perks like free shipping (for physical products) and sales. This is also the phase to showcase the product – but give the user control. Demo videos, case studies and spec sheets are all ways of informing the consideration process, and should be part of your content arsenal.

Example: Accounting & time-tracking Software provider Harvest offers both a free demo and an explainer video to give prospective buyers the chance to experience their product without having to purchase immediately..

Harvest

3. Purchase: The customer’s mind is made up, they’ve chosen a solution.

This is the time to hit customers with a call to action that is direct and brings them straight to a purchase – no distractions or cut corners. The content here can affirm the purchase, but the time to entertain and engage is over. Your focus here should be on creating spec sheets, ROI calculators, direct response letters/landing pages, pricing information and support all of that logical data with testimonials and reviews.

Once the client has pushed “buy”, eliminate all distractions. Your sales funnel at this stage must be streamlined. Eliminate other navigation options once the client is in the shopping cart; keep all of the information they need (stock, pricing, shipping, sales info) on-screen so they do not feel compelled to abandon the cart.

Example: Salesforce’s sales page is completely free of distractions – there’s no pesky navigation, distracting offers or items to pull the user out and away. The one area they might improve is removing the social buttons from the bottom, lest a curious buyer get the inkling to have a look.

Salesforce

4. Repurchase: The purchase has been made. The buyer is looking to be affirmed in their decision and is now evaluating their purchase on a more logical level.

A much-overlooked phase, this is the time to “Wow” your customer with your service and that personal touch. This is also the place to make sure you’ve got channels in place for client feedback. Tie your sales people in. Send follow-up e-mails to see how your customers enjoy their purchase, and what they think might be done to improve both your products and the experience of buying from you. Just because you’ve made the sale doesn’t mean you’re through learning – what you glean from your buyers about your wins and shortcomings can be valuable information for expanding your reach and improving your conversion numbers.

When you’ve mapped out your customer’s buying cycle, take a look at your existing content and categorize it. Where are there gaps that aren’t being filled? Where is the customer left to their own devices? Those are the areas to hone in on to create content that can help keep everything running towards a final purchase.

4. Content Ideation

Coming up with content ideas to support your B2B marketing efforts isn’t easy, but here are some tips to make it run more smoothly:

1. Keep your personas in mind. It is the needs, pain points and desires of your audience that will guide your content ideas, not whims or gut feelings.

2. Eavesdrop on conversations. Places like Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn Groups, G+ groups and even online forums are open areas of discussion where you can not only listen in, but play an active role in asking questions. You can also use advanced search operators in Google to help listen in and discover information that might be otherwise tough to find.

3. Consider your brand. A lot of businesses get carried away trying to entertain or be unique, losing themselves in the process. What does your brand stand for? What are the values you and your customers share? Don’t violate these or start trying to play comedian if it’s off-brand; you’ll only end up confusing and alienating your audience in the process.

4. Plan ahead. Do a large content ideation session to come up with many ideas for your content instead of brainstorming each and every time you need a new content piece. Spend a few hours at this process (collaboration with team members is a big plus, as you’ll generate more ideas and get everyone on the same page at the same time) to come up with a bevy of ideas you can return to later on.

5. Don’t forget repurposing! One of the easiest and most effective tips to implement is also one of the most overlooked – content repurposing. One great idea can be turned into multiple pieces of content. For example: Do all of the research and create a strong eBook that is a truly comprehensive guide, offering it for download in exchange for an e-mail. Then, take elements of your research and turn them into blog posts that can attract a more casual audience. From there, pull out stats and interesting tidbits and turn them into tweets, social shares, images or charts and graphs that can be shared on other mediums. From one idea, you’ve now got multiple pieces of content to share, saving time, money and effort.

Example: Few people do this better than inbound marketing advocates Hubspot. They’ve got an eBook on building a successful eCommerce business…

Hubspot

 

… which crossed over into a Slideshare…

 

Hub

 

and plenty of blog posts!

 

Hub3

5. Document Your Process

It’s an incredibly simple tip – and yet, few B2B businesses do it. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2013 survey, only 44% of B2B businesses say they document their strategy, despite 73% saying they have someone in charge of it.

You need to have everything about your process documented, from your personas and benchmarks to your buying cycle and content ideas. Some of the critical pieces of documentation every inbound marketing campaign needs include:

  • Your persona sheet – Create a quick summary of your personas that can be flipped back and referred to when debating a content idea or analyzing your sales numbers. Having this information down makes it easier to communicate between teams and also gives you a platform to refine your personas as you learn more over time.
  • Your content calendar – What will be created, when, and by whom? A content calendar needs to account for the topic of the piece, the assignment date (when will the content need to be ready for editing?), the publish date (when the piece needs to be ready), the assigned creators, the editor, the keywords to be targeted and the promotional channels that will be activated to get the word out.
  • Style guide – Your brand’s tone, voice and style need to be documented to enforce consistency across your content, especially as in many cases you’ll be outsourcing the work (64% of B2B businesses outsource copywriting, 54% outsource design, 30% outsource promotion). Your style guide must take into account the proper formatting, language, tone and voice – all tailored in the frame of your personas.
  • Your goals and benchmarks – Everything you hope to achieve and the justification for the numbers you’ve put together needs to be documented so that you can refer back to them and gauge the effectiveness of your campaign.

These are just a few tips…

And you can put most of them to use in analyzing your process immediately. But if you lack a process altogether, or don’t know where to begin, an agency partner can help you make the most of your marketing spend and give that bottom line a serious boost. We’re always available for a chat or to help you assess where your business is at – or how it might improve!