Steve, a travel manager at a large B2B manufacturer, needs to reduce travel costs by half. Instead of reaching out to salespeople, Steve consults his favorite search engine, reaches out to peers at other companies and joins LinkedIn groups about travel. He also downloads white papers and attends a local meeting for travel professionals.
Eventually, Steve solicits bids from companies that can help, but only after finishing his self-guided research. In this way, Steve represents a new type of empowered buyer, one who determines when and how “vendor outreach” takes place.
It’s one of the most dramatic manifestations of the phrase “the buyer is in control.”
“Inbound marketing has flipped buyer outreach on its head,” said Adam Sarner, research vice president, Gartner for Marketing Leaders. “Succeeding at inbound marketing requires marketers to understand this new mode of B2B buyer behavior, adopt a relevant linguistic style, and make smart use of social and search marketing techniques.”
Inbound marketing is about getting found in all the places buyers go to self-educate, including search and social channels, where buyers such as Steve begin their education. It’s one of the most dramatic manifestations of the phrase “the buyer is in control.”
By the time buyers raise their hands, they’ve often pre-populated their vendor scorecard, complete with comparative feature analysis and pricing, and talked to reference customers they’ve met on social networks. Companies that don’t get found, or are outside the conversations buyers are having on the social Web about them and their industry, may not make the shortlist.
Master new rules of search
Search strategies ensure your content can be found. Search marketing is fertile ground for marketers to intersect with customers precisely at their point of need since it is a key channel for buyers like Steve to research and qualify options before they ever contact a vendor. “Search marketing can pay off big as a cornerstone of your inbound marketing strategy provided you have the right content to meet buyers’ needs,” said Noah Elkin, research director for Gartner.
Mobile is an increasingly important part of SEO evolution, particularly since Google changed its algorithm to give priority to websites that display well on mobile devices. Social also plays a key role in search. Search algorithms now look beyond keywords and links to include and emphasize social signals – the tweets, retweets, likes, shares and comments that serve as validating gestures on the social Web.
Double down on social media
Social strategies ensure your brand can be discovered. The modern business buyer draws on social networks alongside research from industry blogs, content, discussion groups and peer forums to pull together the pieces of information needed to make informed buying decisions.
When setting your social strategy for B2B inbound marketing, account for the role social marketing activities will play to influence buyers. Keep an eye on the measurability of social investments. Marketers who still need to justify social media investments to skeptical executives have a friend in inbound marketing. When the combination of search and social is framed in the context of generating more inbound leads and inquiries, skeptics quickly pay attention.
- Develop relevant content to deploy across search and social channels, including blog posts, webinars, white papers and presentations
- Train your team in the art and science of inbound marketing. Teach them how to generate inbound inquiries with thought leadership and indirect selling, rather than product leadership and direct selling
- Craft communications to be more customer-centric by adopting the tone and style of buyers’ inbound inquiries and their conversations on the social Web