This “new new” we find ourselves in because of COVID isn’t really new. All these changes just sped up trends that were already in motion. Retail customers are changing how they think about their purchases with major implications for online, curbside pickup, and home delivery.
The B2B buyer is adjusting too. Doctors and clinics are embracing telemedicine. Buyers are becoming comfortable with online sales calls. Since April, we’ve seen a 69% increase in B2B revenue generated through video-related interactions. Maybe people prefer video over phone calls? You tell me.
Who remembers Peapod? When I was living in San Francisco, Peapod was the hot new online grocery delivery service — that was 1999. (I just looked it up — Peapod actually started in 1989 using good old-fashioned telephone orders). It took a pandemic for Walmart and Whole Foods to get serious about delivering groceries to your door.
Still, many (dare I say most) B2B companies have been caught flat-footed on these changes. In-person sales have ceased to exist indefinitely. Zoom rules. With a vaccine on the horizon, how many of these work-from-home, video-chat, chatbot changes will stick?
Whether the answer is "all or just some, the reality is the same: It’s time to embrace this online sales dynamic and get serious about inbound marketing. (If “inbound marketing” is a new term for you — check out this primer).
Like Peapod, inbound marketing has been around for a while. First coined in 2006 by Brian Halligan, the CEO of the inbound titan Hubspot. Inbound marketing has been catching steam for years, and now COVID is pushing it over the tipping point.
Companies that adopt inbound will be on the right side of marketing history. Over 70% of companies are actively investing in inbound marketing, and that number is only expected to rise.
In a hyper-digital marketplace, inbound eschews the loud, clanging gimmicks and pitches of traditional sales and marketing, opting instead to pull in customers through valuable, helpful content.
Here’s another reality — many companies don’t think content translates to sales of high-value offerings: Why is that?
Caveat Emptor is now Caveat Venditor
Daniel Pink explains it way better than I can in his book “To Sell Is Human.” Basically, the point he makes is that with so much information online, buyers want to be — and can be — as educated as possible before they engage with a salesperson.
Think about buying a car. The salesperson tells you her best price is X. You tap on your phone and say “Um, the guy down the street says he has it for Y. Make me a better deal or I walk.”
The customer has all the power and more than enough leverage.
Caveat Venditor — Seller Beware
Many companies, including HubSpot (did I mention its post-IPO evaluation in 2014 was over $900 million?), were already on the inbound train prior to Covid, using blogs, podcasts, infographics and the like to educate their audience and pull buyers through the purchasing journey.
Covid has upgraded that choo choo to a bullet train. And it’s leaving the station.
Buyers educating themselves to prep for the sale call is now the norm. Maybe that’s how you found this blog post as you’re seeking information on how marketing can help you weather this new, new.
Still, many companies are holding back. Like Mark Zwieg writes:
What’s holding them back? What’s holding you back?
I’ve talked to literally a hundred B2B CEOs and deans (yes, colleges are B2B). Once they understand inbound marketing, their biggest arguments as to why they can’t or simply won’t adopt inbound marketing are three fold:
- Inbound takes too long to generate results
- They don’t have the expertise
- The learning curve is too steep
Well, I have to disagree.
Doesn’t inbound take forever to get results?
You can’t just create a LinkedIn company page and start posting about your latest product. Pushing your products on buyers without first building their trust is falling back on the ABC approach (Always Be Selling). Remember, buyers want to understand their options, and they want to arm themselves with relevant information before pulling the trigger.
With inbound, you start by being genuinely helpful. You build a library of content—blogs, podcasts, videos—that answer real questions of real buyers.
Is this slow-going?
Yes, it is, but it’s worth it. With every single interaction on your website, on your social media pages, and through your customer relationship management app, you’re gathering data.
No, inbound is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It takes time to build.
While you’re building for the long term, there are low-hanging-fruit tactics you can employ in the short term: Paid media, website redux, and CRM.
- Paid Media: Inbound purists used to say there was no role for paid media in inbound marketing. Now, it is a short-term tactic that can help drive some traffic into your under-construction inbound marketing machine. Don’t get dependent on ads. Without valuable landing pages, copy, and content, you will experience diminishing returns.
- Website Redux: It’s amazing what investing in a website rebuild can do for gathering leads. A good website builder will know the SEO tricks— adding alt text to images and giving those images meaningful file names, adding Google Analytics, adding a proper call-to-action button, and making sure the “Contact Us” form is designed properly with a “Thank You” page, email, and notification system.
- Add a CRM: Connect the CRM your sales team uses to your website. Too many companies haven’t even done this simple step. If you don’t have one, invest (Hubspot has one for free). You get to include your 24/7 salesperson (your website) into your sales team. Plus, you initiate the all-important process of getting your sales and marketing teams working together.
Inbound marketing isn’t one-dimensional. Some aspects of it take time; other aspects can be felt immediately.
Where do we find experts that can actually create the content?
Inbound marketing content ranges from blog posts to videos, social media posts to podcasts. Regardless of the format, all high-quality, high-value content has one thing in common: expertise.
The business leaders I speak with bring this up all the time: “Our industry experts don’t know how to write blogs or use social media. Besides, they have day jobs.” That’s three personas intrinsic to a good SME. Brains, content creator, and social media maven.
- Brains : These folks can be found in many places, but are often overlooked by leaders:
- Company executives and managers know the business thoroughly and their opinions carry authority
- Frontline workers have valuable expertise and unique perspectives
- Salespeople know the business intimately as well as the questions potential customers ask
- Content Creators: This is a different story. Converting abundant know-how into digital content is a challenge (and objection). Some of those SMEs you’ve uncovered could be good bloggers or podcasters or social media mavens; they’ve just never been given the chance. At the other end of the spectrum are the brilliant thinkers that couldn’t write their way out of a paperback but can talk your ear off at a conference or a networking event.
Two ends of the SME spectrum
- The Thought Content Savant - Dean Matt Waller at the Sam M. Walton College of Business began his career as a researcher. He’s published numerous books. Dr. Waller is a well-respected and natural leader. He has lots of great ideas and is able to write them down and pass them on to his creative team.
- The Spoken Thought Leader - Chris Fink, the CEO of Unmanned Vehicle Technologies (UVT), loves to talk one-on-one and really knows his stuff. When he tries to write, however, he geeks out on every cool, technical detail. We’ve found it easier to record what he is doing and convert that into a variety of content types.
- Social Media Mavens: Finding social media savvy SMEs used to be hard. Now, they're pretty much a Twitter DM away. There’s a reason millennials, and those younger, are called digital natives. Expect them to be easier to work with, and learn from. Older dogs can learn new tricks with the right trainer. Many top line leaders outsource to one of those younger people on their team for all-things social media related.
Finding experts, getting know-how out of their heads, and getting on to social media is easier than you think.
Isn’t the inbound learning curve steep?
Just getting on LinkedIn once a month and posting sporadically about what your company does, what your experts know, and what your services are won’t drive traffic.
Inbound marketing is a team sport. In basketball, you can be a center, forward, or a guard — each with an individual purpose. But ultimately, they are all guided by a coach and his or her game plan.
Inbound requires an SEO specialist, a designer, a website designer, and copywriters. All guided by a CMO and his or her marketing strategy.
Here’s the skinny: You’re going to need help. Luckily, there are several ways to fill out your roster. In-house, outsource or hybrid.
- In-house communication team: Those who work in-house have direct access to a wealth of resources. They know how to navigate internal roadblocks and have a deep understanding of the brand. One drawback of working in house though is the potential for a single client focus, rather than a well-rounded plan of attack.
- Outsourced team: There are some massive benefits to outsourcing: flexibility, fast results, and new eyes on old projects. Coordination with outsourced teams could bring about challenges, though.
- Hybrid: Companies that choose to use a bit of both, get the individual benefits, avoiding the roadblocks within each. New ideas can be fleshed out, there will be well-rounded expertise coming from both sides, and it is easier to staff. Clearly defined roles and processes are necessary for a hybrid approach to be successful.
The COVID-induced, seller-beware, new, new is pushing you toward inbound marketing whether you like it or not. Embrace it. Invest in it. Get on the train.
- It will take time. Better start building now. Cleanup your website and start some paid media to bridge the gap.
- You have the experts right under your nose. Let’s find them, engage them, and enable them to help you find new buyers.
- You have options for building out your inbound team. Hire or train from within. Outsource to an agency. Use a hybrid of both.
I’ve laid the groundwork. So, no more excuses — don’t hold back.