Written by Iana Starostovich
In the first part of this article, inbound marketing was introduced as a new solution for Internet marketing strategy of b2b companies. Moreover, three key elements of inbound marketing were discussed along with the reasons why inbound marketing is the right decision for the b2b sector. In the second part the methods of the inbound marketing will be analyzed in more details taking into account the possible constraints b2b firm can be faced with.
The techniques of inbound marketing within b2b sector. How it works?
The previous part of this paper puts the emphasis on the content as on a crucial element of successful inbound marketing. The Internet is overloaded with the various publications therefore only remarkable content can attract the customers and further be shared on social media (Halligan & Shah, 2010). The authors suggest to organize a content factory, which comprises production of the noticeable, easily- spread content on the permanent basis. Likewise, Gagnon (2014b) argues that the establishment of systematized content- based marketing program can help the company to stand out of the competitors and convert the prospect customers to the paying buyers. He determines that published content has to:
- Show the knowledge possessed by the company, which will convince the customers that the company has the capacity to produce quality products and services,
- Present the solution to customers’ problems,
- Introduce the uniqueness of the firm’s products which will distinguish the company from the competition.
Even though listed characteristics may seem too broad and difficult to implement, Gangon (2014b) provides the examples on how to gather the valuable insights within own organization, which can become an inspiration for remarkable content. He notices that various departments can consist of the information for content- based marketing program. Table 1 summarizes the suggested corporate sources of the content.
Table 1. Content sources of b2b organization
The collected insights should serve as a basis for the quickly produced and easily spreadable content. The examples of the industry- relevant content include self- published articles, video presentations, live consultations, research reports and executive speeches (Halligan & Shah, 2010, Gagnon, 2014b). As mentioned in the first part of this article, more valuable educational content such as webinars or e-books have to contain the call-to-action button requesting to provide the contact information (Halligan & Shah, 2010). Thus, the company receives the information about the highly interested and niche customers, which can become buyers in the future.
The constraints of inbound marketing. What can get wrong?
Most of the scholars support a new philosophy of non- interruptive marketing methodology and portray the range of positive sides of inbound marketing in comparison to the traditional methods (e.g. Caragher, 2013, Vargo & Lusch, 2009, Halligan & Shah, 2010). Nevertheless, many organizations have faced with the number of constraints while implementing the methodology. HubSpot – the firm owned my inbound marketing ambassadors, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah – is not an exception. The company works in b2b segment and sells software, which helps various firms to use the inbound marketing methodology in practice. HubSpot philosophy and products found many supporters, especially among firms working in b2b sector - 82% of total customers (Steenburgh et al, 2011).
At the moment Hubspot reached the 1000 number of customers after two –year work, the firm started thinking how to continue growth and increase profitability. HubSpot introduces the term “customer funnel” which consists of three steps:
- Attracting the prospect customers,
- Selecting those who are more likely will become buyers,
- Closing the sale (Halligan & Shah, 2010).
Since the beginning HubSpot has published a large amount of educational and valuable content attracting large number of visitors every day. Nonetheless, the second and the third stages of the funnel are more challenging. HubSpot faces with the difficulties to narrow down the customers seeking for their service. The organization elaborated the software assessing people in the customer funnel on the 1 to 10 scale. Those who were ranked above seven were more likely to make a final purchase and were prioritized by HubSpot Sales Department.
Approximately 63% of customers are graded above seven forming a too large segment. HubSpot has to focus on a more targeted segment in order to define the customers with a higher probability to make a final purchase Similarly, b2b firms switching to inbound marketing experience problems with the identification of the real future clients from the scope of attracted visitors (Steenburgh et al, 2011).
With regards to the third stage, HubSpot finds difficult to remark positive and stable results of inbound marketing as the provider of customers who make an actual purchase of products. It is a critical point because inbound marketing is found highly attractive by SMEs. Small firms realize that have an opportunity to be enough powerful to compete with large companies on the Internet. SMEs believe that inbound marketing works and increase their budgets for implementation of the technique. However, the reverse of the coin is higher risks in case inbound marketing will not bring the indented effect (Steenburgh et al, 2011). The research conducted by B2B Marketing and Tomorrow People in 2014 shows that a very small amount of marketing specialists achieved the satisfactory level of return on investment (ROI) expected from inbound marketing. 55% disagreed with the statement that they reach maximum ROI from the inbound marketing and 48% feel dissatisfied with the generation of inbound leads.
To summarize, it become unclear whether the proportion of actual buyers provided by inbound marketing is enough high for successful performance of the organizations. In case of HubSpot many visitors are merely following the blog and reading the published material but do not buy products or services (Steenburgh et al, 2011).
Thus, HubSpot and other advocates of inbound marketing have to take a thought whether this method should be complemented by traditional (outbound) methods. Particularly, the refuse of cold calling and traditional online advertising became the most discussed issue. The competitive environment and the expectations of the management made it hard for the companies to wait for concrete results of inbound marketing tools.
Summing up the results of my research, inbound marketing certainly is a winning strategy for both b2b companies and their customers. Indeed, consulting agencies have the opportunity to publicly confirm the quality of their service by giving online tips whereas manufacturing firms get the chance to explain the technological advantages of their products in details. More importantly, these online activities will be met with enthusiasm by people who are voluntarily willing to know more. As the final chord inbound marketing is proven to cost from 5 to 7 times less than traditional methods of promotion.
Nevertheless, each perfect strategy has its pitfalls. The long cycle of inbound marketing tests the patience of the senior managers who expect fast ROI. More and more supporters of inbound marketing wonder whether they should blend innovative techniques with traditional outbound methods they are used to. The issue becomes even more significant because even the evangelists of inbound marketing - Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah - have doubts about the ability of inbound marketing to bring the organization on the level of high-profitability.
Further research may investigate if the mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques can be implemented. Moreover, in case the blend of both methodologies can be successful it is important to define where is the line between being advertised and being bothering. New post- marketing era is round the corner, thus it is worth to adapt to changes before competitor will do it first.
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