What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a strategy that uses content creation and social media, as well as search engine optimisation, to attract potential customers and help to develop a relationship with them, with the idea that at some point they will become a genuine prospect.
It differs quite a lot from the old way of selling. The old way of selling is much more focused on targeting certain types of customers, and contacting them to offer them a product or service, even though they may never have expressed any interest in that particular product or service. There is definitely a place for what I refer to the old style of selling (it´s not that old really, and still very much in use) but it can cause frustration or annoyance among potential customers as they haven´t given the seller permission to contact them in the first place.
A different way to start the buyer journey is for the buyer themselves to get in touch with the company that is selling the product or service. In that way, the buyer feels in complete control of the process and they feel that they want to be there – they are not being pressured into buying something that they don´t want or need.
How does this contact happen? Well, if the company is releasing lots of interesting and helpful content, then the potential buyer will feel that they have already received value before they start the buying journey. So there is already some goodwill there, before a potential sale has been discussed. The potential buyer enjoys all of this (free) content / information / advice and at the same time learns more about the selling company´s products and services. In some cases, the interest grows and the potential buyer arrives to the point where they want to talk more about buying something form the company.
When Are Traditional Sales Strategies More Effective?
As I stated above, I think there is still a place for traditional sales processes that can involve some more direct marketing.
It might work something like this:
- Identify potential client
- Call / email them to offer product
- If potential customer shows interest, continue along sales funnel
The problem with this approach is that the potential client needs to be carefully profiled or identified. Otherwise, the salesperson will spend lots of time contacting people who are simply not interested in that product. What´s more, some of those people are going to be annoyed at the fact that they have been contacted without permission, and this could damage the company´s reputation.
However, if the potential clients can be carefully identified, the process is professionally managed (no pressure selling) and the product is good (no snake oil salesman, please!) then it can definitely work for both parties – the company ends up selling and the client buying a useful product.
It also depends on the product or service and the target market. For some products and services, it is easier to identify those who might be interested. That´s why door-to-door salesman focus on certain products – if you are knocking on the doors in an affluent neighbourhood you can be almost certain that those homeowners have a kitchen in their house – and a certain chance that they might be interested in upgrading said kitchen.
For other products or services, such as web design services, it can be much more difficult, in certain cases, to identify and locate potential customers, and knocking on doors is not that likely to work effectively.
Inbound Marketing Generates Targeted Leads
The beauty of inbound is that the only people who are going to contact the company offering the product or service are people who are genuinely interested in making a purchase (interested does not mean that they will make a purchase, of course).
This means that the selling company now has a targeted or qualified lead and can really focus its efforts on selling to those qualified leads – helping them to answer all of their questions and finding out if there is a fit between buyer and seller. The inbound strategy avoids hours of wasted phone calls and emails taking to people who are simply not interested.
Key Characteristics of a Successful Inbound Strategy
For an inbound strategy to work, several things need to be working:
First of all, the content a company uses to attract clients must be informative, educational, interesting, well-designed and provide value. There is no point in trying to attract clients with poor quality content, that would simply have a negative effect. The idea should be to provide real value to a potential customer, without asking for anything in return, in order to create the goodwill I mentioned above. It´s then up to the potential customer if they decide, at some point, to take the relationship further. Many won´t want to take it any further but that doesn’t matter because a) some will and b) there is a fixed cost to producing the content, and therefore if only a small percentage actually become clients that doesn´t matter, as long as those clients lead to a profit.
It´s also important that your site is in good shape. Everything from website speed to page layout, title tags and anything else that might influence the position of the site in Google. For example, if a webpage has amazing content, but it’s too slow to load, then Google is not going to show the page high up in the search results, and therefore all the effort that went into producing great content could go to waste.
Finally, having clear calls to action on the site is key. Fantastic content and plenty of traffic is a great place to start, but what action do you want the visitor to take once they arrive on your site? Consume your content, for sure, but what about also signing up to an email list or filling in a contact form? This kind of call to action, strategically placed on your site, is the final piece of the inbound strategy jigsaw that’s needed in order to get prospects into your sales funnel and start turning prospects into clients!