What Is B2B Inbound Marketing and How Does It Work?

The average person is hit with 4,000 to 10,000 advertising messages a day. As a B2B marketer, how do you cut through the clutter to reach the audience you want to speak to, and how do you get them to ultimately buy your product or services?

For B2B businesses focused on lead generation, inbound marketing is the most strategic and efficient way to spend your marketing dollars. Rather than push your message out to a broad, less targeted audience in hopes someone will take notice (like traditional outbound tactics), inbound market selectively pulls best-fit potential customers to you.

Old Versus New

Most marketers are well versed in the art of outbound marketing. Outbound marketing refers to any marketing effort that pushes a message on an audience so that some fraction of the people you reach will pay attention and become customers. Examples of outbound marketing include TV spots, radio ads, billboards, trade shows and seminars, cold calling, and mass emailing. These outbound marketing tactics cast a very broad net, because blanketing a large audience with brand messaging will inevitably net some customers.

It works, for the most part. But for B2B businesses with niche audiences, you’ll be wasting a lot of marketing and advertising dollars speaking to individuals who do not currently (and likely never will) need your services. And beyond that, when it comes to individuals who do match your buyer persona—meaning they truly are potential customers—how can you know that you’re sending the right message to them at the time they actually need to hear it (and not just getting lost in a sea of mass advertising)?

With traditional outbound marketing, you can’t. While there will always be value in the broadcast approach (mass brand awareness is never a bad thing), B2B businesses focused on lead generation would be wise to spend their dollars in a more targeted manner for the best marketing ROI.

That’s where inbound marketing comes in.

Push Versus Pull

You can think of outbound and inbound marketing as opposite ends of a magnet. While outbound efforts bluntly push brand messaging out to audiences, inbound efforts deftly pull them in.

Inbound marketing assumes that every potential B2B customer moves through the buyer’s journey—a decision-making process with distinct phases—on their way to making a purchase.

The first step is the awareness phase, in which potential customers realize they have a problem to solve (sometimes proactively, and other times because they’ve got an urgent fire to put out). Next, in the consideration phase, they seek out information to understand their problem and learn about potential solutions. Finally, in the decision phase, they line up their potential solutions and make a decision to purchase one. While their speed may vary, each customer will go through these three stages before they close with you.

With the buyer’s journey in mind, inbound marketing efforts focus on creating incredible content that speaks to a potential customer’s thought process at each stage, effectively positioning you and your brand as a trustworthy expert with the answers to their questions and ultimately, the solution to their problem. In effect, inbound marketing positions you ahead of the pack by providing value to your potential customers long before the actual sale.

Inbound marketing content is distributed via digital platforms with highly targeted online audiences that match the demographics and psychographics of your ideal potential customers. It attracts their attention with the right content at the right time and draws them to your website to capture their contact information in exchange for content. It’s a fair trade: the content is so useful that they’ll happily share their email address to read it.

From there, you’re off. Once a potential customer’s attention is attracted and their contact information is captured, you can strategically nurture the lead with more best-fit content and offers—shared at the right time via email and retargeted digital ads—to shepherd them along the buyer’s journey and nurture them to a closed sale. The best inbound marketing technology allows you to automate these lead-nurturing processes so that your sales team can focus its manpower on closing deals with the best-fit leads rather than exhausting themselves muscling leads through the funnel themselves.

Inbound Basics & Outcomes

Inbound marketing asks B2B companies to invest in a strategic mix of efforts:

  • Nuanced customer profiling and buyer persona development for digital marketing targets
  • Buyer’s journey mapping
  • Incredible online content development that positions you as a thought leader
  • Digital marketing strategy development and deployment to drive potential customers to website content
  • Website optimization for robust lead conversion
  • Automated lead nurturing email workflow development and execution

The result is a highly efficient investment of marketing dollars.

  • Ad spends are not wasted in speaking to anyone who isn’t really a potential customer.
  • Sales team hours are not spent nurturing poor-fit, cold leads.
  • Strategic automation efforts further weed out less-ideal potential customers through the lead nurturing process.
  • Sales teams are served up best-fit, warm leads so they can spend the majority of their time closing with customers who are ready to work with you.

Because inbound marketing is entirely digital, all sales outcomes are highly quantifiable. With the right inbound marketing platform, a B2B business is able to retroactively see what advertisements and content led to a sale and for how much, allowing for precise customer acquisition cost calculations and increasingly strategic content investment plans.

Ultimately, inbound marketing makes something that was previously an art into a straightforward science. And for a B2B marketer looking to capture best-fit, high-reward customers in a noisy landscape of competitors, data is the best edge. Your sales team will thank you (and so will your bottom line).

Inbound Takeaways

If you’re just getting started with inbound, there’s still plenty to learn (see our HubSpot webinar for specific details on how exactly an inbound campaign works). In the meantime, here are a few key takeaways on what inbound can do for your business:

  • Targets the right customer at the right time with the right content
  • Positions your company as a trusted expert by providing value to potential customers ahead of a sale
  • Automates lead nurturing efforts by standardizing pitch-perfect messaging and offers across each stage of the buyer’s journey
  • Allows your sales team to focus on closing warm leads
  • Maximizes marketing ROI
  • Provides trackable, highly quantifiable outcomes with closed-loop, spend-performance reporting to understand what content drives the most deals.
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