Inbound marketing and inbound lead generation aren’t exactly new concepts, yet they still make their rounds on headlines every now and then. Many of these headlines say it’s the only way to do marketing in 2018, shunning the more “traditional” and “invasive” outbound marketing methods.
Some speak in the context of numbers, pitting inbound against outbound with efficacy and customer preferences as the primary metrics for comparison. Perhaps more recently, there are talks of the GDPR hurting inbound marketing as more and more people are taking back control of their privacy.
But what is inbound lead generation, really?
Without overthinking things, inbound lead generation is simply any marketing activity that increases company visibility organically, and earning and building the trust of the visitors that found them. What sets it apart from advertising is that there is a concept of conversions: a process where you capture your visitors’ information so that you may contact them again in the future for nurturing.
In other words, inbound lead generation reverses the roles of marketers and prospects. Instead of focusing on finding the right prospects, marketers spend time increasing brand visibility on search engines by creating and promoting helpful and educational content. It’s the “they found us” instead of “we found them” approach, which empowers prospects as they have full control over who initiates the communication.
Outbound and Traditional: Marketers reach out to prospects, often seen as intrusive
Inbound: Marketers increase organic search visibility through content and social media promotions. Focus on opening up possible points for conversion and communication. Gives control back to prospects.
That’s all inbound is, really.
We’ve said it a hundred times and we’re going to say it again: do not overthink inbound lead generation, especially if you’re just starting out.
In the context of “being found,” concentrate on being genuinely helpful to your audience and the rest will follow naturally. Don’t attach numbers and metrics on your content just yet! Work on being helpful first, which will shape your company voice and tone after a few pieces of published content. If you don’t have your own style and you attach numbers this early, your content is going to sound robotic and feel like it was written for search engines.
Focus on writing content that your audience will want to share, not what Google thinks should be on top of the results page.
A look inside the lead generation engine
Not overthinking things – at least just from the onset of your marketing efforts – will indirectly develop your company voice and tone as you assist your prospects with their challenges. Once past this stage, it pays to learn how modern inbound lead generation works so you may know where and how to make tweaks to your lead funnel.
To understand lead generation, it is important to first understand your “leads” or your prospects. The following is a representation of the stages of the modern buyers’ journey, and further down this post is the corresponding inbound methodology that guides them towards a sale.
A quick breakdown of the stages of the buyers’ journey:
- Awareness: The prospect realizes he has a problem, and he starts to look up what is causing it
- Consideration: The prospect looks up a resolution to his problem
- Decision: The prospect chooses a provider who will resolve his problem
The lines between the stages can often be very thin, so we’ll have a look at an example buyer journey. An IT Manager, in this case:
Awareness Stage Topics:
- “Deployment Best Practices in 2018”
- “How to Lower IT Operational Costs”
- “Guides to Flexible and Secure Workstation Configurations”
Consideration Stage Topics:
- “Cloud Deployment Pros and Cons”
- “Hybrid Cloud – On-Premise Approach”
- “Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Workstation OS’s”
Decision Stage Topics:
- “Cloud Platform Provider Reviews / Best Cloud Services in 2018 / Cloud Services Comparison”
- “Systems Integration Companies”
- “Secure Enterprise Workstation Operating Systems”
When situations get tricky, get to know the intent of the prospect’s search queries. Intents separate the keywords from the actual interest. Ascertaining this interest can be difficult if you don’t know your prospects well. The solution to this is simple: buyer personas!
Buyer personas help you associate characteristics, responsibilities, and behaviors across your current customer base. From this knowledge, you can segment your audience based on common traits and target them with highly-personalized messaging and content.
Buyer persona creation is serious stuff. It requires careful research and thoughtful analysis of your audience’s responses. For this, we have prepared a helpful guide to creating your personas: from asking the right questions, collecting and organizing your data, and presenting them to your sales and marketing teams.
Meeting your prospects halfway
Developed with the modern buyers’ journey in mind is the inbound methodology for lead generation. This methodology is a framework that guides marketers with the best approach towards their prospects in their respective buying stages. Here is the methodology side-by-side with the buyers’ journey.
Note that we didn’t use the word “nurture” here. Although that’s what we’re essentially supposed to do with leads on our funnel, we believe that the right focus word should be approach. “Approaching” them with the right messaging at their specific stage sounds more concrete than “nurturing” them, does it not? Plus, it definitely sounds more human.
Just as the graphics suggest, the four stages of the methodology guide prospects through their journey. You attract them so that they will be aware of your brand. You convert them into leads through capture forms so they may consider your solution after a few exchanges of communication.
When they know you well enough, trust your brand, and are in the decision stage, your sales team can close deals with them. Lastly, you can increase customer retention by delighting them with further offers and excellent customer service, turning them into your brand evangelists.
ThinkLogic’s inbound methodology looks like this, with the appropriate content and approach laid out within each stage:
Emphasis on the word approach. The methods listed above are our “common case”. There are exceptions, of course, but the strategy that we always employ is based on our customers’ buyer personas. (Where do my prospects “hang out”? What are their interests, goals, challenges, responsibilities and preferred methods of contact?)
What about outbound?
Since the advent of the Web 2.0 and inbound marketing, many marketers are shunning outbound marketing since it has been widely regarded as “interrupting”, “annoying”, or “abusive”.
There certainly is merit to those claims (read: spam). But to turn away from an effective marketing channel for a legitimate use case would be absurd.
Let’s face it: not every prospect is online. There are industries where its C-levels simply cannot be reached through digital content, still heavily reliant on traditional methods to get informed of recent news and developments.
This post isn’t intended to shine the light on inbound’s flaws, nor is it a listing of outbound’s redeeming features and inherent qualities. The point is that not everyone can be reached the same way. Inbound will beam you through to most of your audiences, while outbound will dial you in to the rest.
Which brings us back to our favorite topic of discussion: Buyer personas!
Exactly how and where you convert visitors into leads and leads into sales rests entirely on your understanding of your audience.
Take the time to build personas.
- Personify them, and communicate with them as if they were real.
- How would they react to the means through which you reached out to them?
- And with that messaging, voice and tone? Map these (channel and messaging) to the inbound methodology.
Take into consideration their sales cycles on top of their issues, pain points, and challenges.
Marketing isn’t about taking sides, cheering for and booing against the camps and waiting to see who wins. Marketing is simply what works – what works for delighting you, your clients, your potential customers, or your clients’ potential customers with your messaging.
Once I overheard “the less you focus on making money for your business, the more you will actually make”. As a marketer, I thought to myself that the same thing holds true for lead generation.
Modern marketers should shift their mindset from “generating leads” to being genuinely helpful to clients with their content.
Empower them with being the ones to initiate conversations – but make sure to open your doors and paths wherever and whenever they choose to reach out to you.
The less you put focus on “generating leads”, the more helpful you are going to be with your content. The more helpful you are with your content, the more likely you are to be remembered as a “thought leader”. The more you are remembered, the greater your chances for conversions and, ultimately, sales.
Always remember not to overthink it when creating content.