B2B Inbound Marketing
The Definitive Guide
This is an in-depth guide to B2B inbound marketing.
In this guide you will learn:
What is inbound marketing
What is a content funnel
How to create content the brings more leads
Types of content
A repeatable B2B content strategy
If you're curious about how inbound can help your company, you're in the right place.
Let's get into it
B2B Inbound Marketing 101
Marketers love proposing new theories that make the whole endeavor sound more complicated than it is.
In recent years inbound marketing has caused a storm in the B2B world. Seemingly everyone has jumped on board.
Is B2B inbound marketing everything it's cracked up to be? Or is it just another buzzword?
What is B2B Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing helps B2B companies attract the right leads at the right time. It automatically delivers high-quality SQLs to your sales team without the hassle of cold calling and other intrusive marketing tactics.
The statistics highlight that inbound marketing for B2B is no fad. Paid ads' influence is waning, and attracting customers organically is the best way to conduct marketing. The Content Marketing Institute reported that 80% of business decision-makers prefer receiving company information via a series of articles compared to paid ads.
Let's consider an analogy to describe inbound marketing. Imagine that your puppy Mr. Munchkin is being stubborn and refusing to take a bath.
Would you rather chase him around your home and shove him into the bathtub or attract him to the tub using treats? The choice is obvious.
B2B Inbound marketing provides value to prospects through helpful content and builds interest in a prospect's mind organically. You give your prospects room to choose your product, instead of shoving it under their noses all the time.
Best of all, inbound marketing is cost-effective in the long run compared to outbound advertising.
Before the internet changed advertising, companies had to rely on paid promotions in print and visual media or word-of-mouth advertising.
"B2B Inbound marketing provides value to prospects through helpful content and builds interest in a prospect's mind organically"
The latter has always been considered more effective. Mckinsey highlights that word-of-mouth is a primary factor behind up to 50% of all buying decisions.
Inbound marketing plays a similar role. B2B companies give their prospects space to explore their products by publishing helpful content. Inbound marketing for B2B focuses entirely on providing value by addressing pain points and displaying empathy every step of the way.
For instance, let's say your product is a data engineering platform. The outbound way of marketing this product would be to say, "Look at my product! It's awesome and will solve all your problems!".
The inbound way would go something like: "We understand you're having problems like x, y, and z. Here are some solutions that can help. Here's how we can help you. Read/watch/listen to this to learn more."
The above is a simplification, but it cuts to the essence of B2B inbound marketing. It is non-intrusive and provides value at all times.
Does Inbound Marketing Work for B2B?
How effective is B2B inbound marketing? The short answer is: It's very effective.
The long answer involves considering how B2B buyers proceed towards a buy decision. These days, decision-makers prefer researching topics by themselves before contacting a sales rep.
Thus, a sales rep has a small window to close a deal. If your company relies on sales teams to inform and convince customers, you're too late to the party.
In fact, if your marketing isn't focused on providing value to your prospects, your sales team will not receive any leads.
Inbound marketing is a necessity these days. CMI highlights that 60% of web users consider themselves avid blog readers. People are constantly searching for information to help them solve issues. If your company blog or resource centre isn't helping people solve problems, no one will hear of you.
"If your company relies on sales teams to inform and convince customers, you're too late to the party."
Your web presence is therefore crucial to generating leads and revenue. Some B2B companies think of their website as a business card. In reality, it's much more than that.
It's an asset that is on par with your product. Without a great B2B website with high-quality copy, your prospects will not realize you exist.
Without a coherent B2B blog strategy, you won't be able to help your customers with their issues. Without a dedicated content funnel (I'll explain this in more detail shortly), you won't understand your prospects' issues and will fail to attract them.
All of this brings us back to the short answer: Yes, inbound marketing for B2B works and works spectacularly. If your company is relying solely on outbound techniques such as paid ads, cold sales calls, and so on, you're a dinosaur.
Why do B2B Businesses Need an Inbound Marketing Strategy?
When companies first start inbound marketing, they think it's a matter of publishing a few blog posts or videos and leaving the rest up to fate (Google).
Inbound isn't quite as simple as that.
B2B companies need an inbound marketing strategy to help clarify their goals and deliver maximum value to their customers. There are also a whole host of advantages to inbound marketing.
It's cost-effective compared to outbound efforts.
If you're operating on a lean marketing budget, inbound marketing is the way to go. It allows you to laser-target your ideal customer and bring them onboard. A side-effect of these efforts is that your prospects will trust you more.
After all, if you can anticipate their issues and solve them for them, they'll naturally trust you more.
Inbound prioritizes quality over quantity.
There's a virus in the outbound marketing world, and it's called the vanity metric.
For instance, some teams measure the number of unique visitors to their website and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
However, if these visitors don't turn into sales, what's the point? Inbound prioritizes sales and revenues and naturally leads to higher-quality leads for your sales team.
Lastly, inbound marketing makes it easy for your company to evolve and learn trends in the market. Thanks to staying in touch with customer issues and product evolution, B2B companies can naturally create products that resonate with consumers and make an impact.
Measuring Inbound Marketing ROI
You've learned why inbound marketing is great so far. However, this is where the inbound story hits a snag.
It's tough to measure the ROI of your inbound efforts. This explains why some B2B companies hesitate to go down the inbound route and choose outbound instead.
Here are some metrics that help you measure the effectiveness of your inbound marketing efforts:
Form sign ups
Event interactions and engagement
Rising customer lifetime values (CLV)
Decreasing customer acquisition costs (CAC)
As long as this list is, none of them help you arrive at a definitive ROI value. Note that this doesn't mean inbound is less effective than outbound marketing. It's just that creating a pretty dashboard with perfect ROI metrics isn't always possible when you've committed to an inbound strategy.
On the surface, this is a bad thing, especially when you compare it to the way outbound marketing works.
Paid ads (a form of outbound marketing) offer immediate metrics. You can measure your reach, your cost per click, cost per action, and frequency.
You can create custom metrics that tell you what you want to know. When the time comes to create a budget for the next quarter, you know what you spent previously and can extrapolate that amount to scale your sales and leads.
The thing to realize with inbound marketing is that it isn't a campaign. It's a philosophy.
Recall how you learned previously that inbound marketing is akin to word-of-mouth marketing?
You might not be able to quantify the value of each referral, but you know for sure that people referring others to your business is a good thing.
Inbound requires a long-term approach and commitment. It takes time to work, and when it does, you'll end up spending less money to bring in more sales.
In addition, you'll build authority in your niche and attract customers to you, thus solving hurdles for your sales team.
Let's return to the list of metrics that help you indirectly measure inbound marketing ROI. Notice that all of them apply to outbound marketing. Another thing to note is all of these metrics are contextual. For instance, let's say you publish a whitepaper to convert MQLs into SQLs.
If you use traffic and page visits to measure engagement, you're not going to derive much insight. Instead, form signups and demo requests are what you ought to be looking at.
"In addition, you'll build authority in your niche and attract customers to you, thus solving hurdles for your sales team."
Much also depends on your buyer's journey. In some cases, your buyer might need a little more education or value-addition before they click that "Book a Demo" button.
The bottom line is that B2B inbound marketing takes work. You must understand your customer and yourself. Sure, it takes time, but as every B2B company that has nailed its inbound marketing strategy will attest, it's time well spent.
The question you need to ask yourself is: Is your vision based on short-term goals or long-term ones?
Inbound marketing tactics always trump outbound ones in the long run. Outbound tactics will give you a temporary boost in the short term, but it will cost you resources.
Creating a blend of both philosophies will give you a steady stream of leads and prospects, not to mention revenue.
I know you haven't clicked on this page to sit through a classroom lecture.
However, there are some terms you must understand if you're looking to implement an inbound marketing campaign for your B2B product or service.
If you'd like to skip the theory, click here to visit the next section.
Inbound Marketing Theory and Jargon
The 4 stages of B2B inbound marketing are:
Attract - Increase brand awareness. Bring people to you.
Convert - Turn prospects into leads by offering them value.
Close - Turn leads into sales by offering even more value.
Engage - Build loyalty by continuing to provide value.
These are labelled differently depending on the source, but they all mean the same thing.
Closely aligned to these stages is the concept of a marketing funnel. It has 4 stages:
Awareness - "Oh look, they have what I need."
Interest - "Hmm...this looks pretty nice."
Consideration - "I'm thinking about buying this but..."
Decision/Purchase - "Yup, I'm going to buy it."
The 4 stages of inbound marketing and the funnel don't necessarily align, but that's not the point. The funnel exists to help you classify your leads and match content to a stage in the funnel.
The metrics you choose to track depend on where your content sits in the funnel. The idea is to convince your prospect to move deeper into your funnel by giving value every step of the way.
The funnel also helps screen prospects and filter those who will not turn into customers. However, this isn't a primary goal.
The 4 Stages of B2B Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing begins with attracting people to your website. It's the opposite of outbound, which requires you to interrupt whatever they were doing and take a look at your offer.
Attraction, as opposed to coercion, defines B2B inbound marketing.
Thus, it should be no surprise that it's the first stage of inbound marketing.
The Attraction stage is where you spread the word about yourself via helpful and timely content. Content can take many forms, as you'll learn shortly in this guide.
For now, let's use the example of written content to illustrate how the stages play out.
Let's say you're selling an AR automation platform and that not many people in the market have heard of you. Your competitors are well entrenched and offer a suite of products instead of a single AR solution.
Seems daunting, doesn't it?
Well, inbound marketing gives you the tools to compete nonetheless. You begin by increasing awareness of your solution.
To do this, you publish helpful articles that answer the most common questions your customers/prospects ask.
Some examples of these questions might be:
What is AR automation?
Do I need AR automation?
Does AR automation save money?
And so on. By creating a blog post that addresses these questions, you'll have prospects clicking on your listing in Google's search results and visiting your website.
Mind you, this won't happen overnight. However, if your content is helpful, it will naturally occur.
Now that you've begun receiving a steady stream of visitors, some of them will naturally explore your website and click around. If the rest of your website is geared towards helping your audience find solutions, your visitors will move themselves into the next stage of B2B inbound marketing: Conversion.
You're now at a stage where prospects are curious about you. You want to convert them into leads. You'll hear some marketers describe this as converting leads into prospects or prospects into leads.
The terminology doesn't matter.
You need to convert visitors into people interested in buying your product.
Content and marketing collateral help you achieve this. While the content that attracted people to you answers broad questions, content that converts dives deeper into an issue and addresses specific topics.
It gets technical, an ever-present factor in B2B fintech and tech content.
There's something else you should keep in mind: The people who read content at this stage aren't the same as the ones who read your attraction stage content.
Here's where your customer's buying journey comes into play.
Sticking with our example of an AR automation product, a company's CFO might have stumbled onto your blog post (they were attracted to it.) Upon further browsing, they realized that your product offers a possible solution.
They task a technical lead or department head to further evaluate your product.
This person will use your product daily and will thus need in-depth explanations of how your product works.
Hence, your content must satisfy their needs and answer their questions in detail. Typically, B2B companies "gate" such content, a concept that I'll explain when describing a funnel shortly.
Let's assume the department head is satisfied with your content and believes it's a great solution for their problems. They fill out a form and request a callback.
With this action, they've moved into the third stage of B2B inbound marketing: Closing.
This stage is all about sales. Your sales team knows what content they've consumed, and thanks to an intelligent B2B content strategy, they know which pain points each piece of content addresses. Thus, they know what to talk about on the sales call and have a greater chance of closing a deal.
Of course, it won't always be smooth.
The prospect might have more questions or might even believe your product is lacking in a few areas. All of this is valuable data.
Sales teams should collect these pain points and questions and feed them to marketing to address via future content. Assuming everything's fine, sales close a deal, and you have yourself a customer. Congratulations!
However, you're not done with inbound marketing just yet. You now have to engage the customer and build brand loyalty. What if you decide to release an AP automation suite? Wouldn't you want your existing customers to upgrade their solutions with you?
Content and nurturing campaigns do this job for you. This is the final and most important stage of B2B inbound marketing: Engagement.
The best customer engagement tools are email newsletters or events like webinars, and podcasts. Engagement serves another critical purpose.
It helps you remain in touch with the issues your customers are facing. Business issues evolve, and you must tweak your product to keep pace with them.
Engagement helps you touch base with customers regularly. For instance, let's say you send them a newsletter that talks about a new feature: Your product now allows line-level dispute tracking.
If a customer responds saying they'd like partial payment dispute handling too, this is valuable information for your product team to consider.
Through these 4 stages, you can see how inbound marketing sets you up for the long term. Best of all, you don't need to spend money on paid ads to interrupt your prospect. They found you and moved themselves through these stages.
All you did was provide help.
The Inbound Marketing Funnel
Marketers and salespeople love funnels. They're an elegant way of describing what we do for a living.
While the stages of inbound marketing are a theoretical concept, the inbound marketing funnel is a living, breathing beast. Everything that sales and marketing teams do revolves around the funnel.
The funnel is quite simple: The top is wide and the bottom is narrow.
Your prospects enter at the top and filter themselves out to leave just high-quality leads who are most likely to turn into customers. While B2B marketing teams categorize them differently, the middle of the funnel is reserved for so-called Marketing Qualified Leads or MQLs.
The bottom of the funnel is for Sales Qualified Leads or SQLs. The top of the funnel is where all kinds of people enter (Awareness).
Remember that with inbound marketing, you're attracting people to you. A downside of this is you never know who you're going to attract.
You could produce content that appeals to CFOs looking to automate AR, but you could also attract an accountant curious about electronification in their field of work.
This accountant is unlikely to turn into a customer. This is why you must create filters in your funnel that weeds these prospects out.
Prospects at the top of the funnel have become aware of your product and are exploring it. People at this stage are nowhere close to buying your product.
They're learning about it and your company. Your job (or rather your content's job) at this level is to answer questions related to your prospect's issues.
For instance, you could publish a blog explaining why reducing DSO is important and another article examining the prevalence of check issuance in the B2B world.
These topics concern your product but don't address it directly in a salesy way. Instead, you're providing help.
You're also building authority by displaying your knowledge of issues surrounding your niche. After all, your blog posts talk intelligently about whatever issues your prospects are facing.
The top of the funnel attracts different visitors, as you previously learned. You're not going to close any sales at this stage so don't get pushy with your tone. Instead, you must allow your prospects the space to move deeper into your funnel.
By allowing prospects to move (instead of pushing them), you'll give poor sales prospects room to head for the exit.
If someone is there to learn about DSO from an academic standpoint, they won't need your product. Your call to get people to subscribe to your newsletter won't attract them.
However, it will attract people who are interested in your product. These subscribers are now close towards the middle of your funnel and have displayed interest. However, it's too soon to think about a sale. Instead, you must answer their questions on a deeper level.
Your suggestions must also be action-oriented.
For instance, you've talked about why a low DSO is necessary. You can now talk about how to reduce DSO by running operations efficiently.
One of your suggestions must include a recommendation to use an electronic product, thereby sliding in a mention of how you can help your prospect.
At the Interest stage, your call to action must invite users to learn more about your product. At this point, they know you understand their issues and have an inkling of how you can help them.
It's now time to go all-in and explain how your product will solve their issues.
You can create a whitepaper or a research report (or a case study) that highlights the benefits of your product. This sort of content is hidden behind a signup form that collects prospect details like their name, contact information, and the best time to contact them.
The people who fill this form have moved into the Consideration stage of your funnel. They know why they're signing up for your report. They're admitting that they're considering your product as one of several solutions they're evaluating.
It's your job to help them understand why your product is the best.
Understandably, this is a tough task. Your sales rep cannot call these people and explain everything to them. Content is your only weapon, and this is why your B2B content strategy has to be on point.
You'll need not just the services of a great B2B writer but also someone who understands how content strategy works to attract the right buyers.
If your content hits the spot, you'll find that these prospects will be warm when your sales team contacts them. The prospect at this stage knows your product and will have detailed questions about it.
It's helpful to include a product comparison in your content at this stage to help buyers decide.
Typically, you'll see B2B companies publish buyer guides that explain various features and other "must-have" functionality.
Content language at this stage will be technical and industry-specific. It's aimed towards people who are decision-makers and evaluators. So turn the jargon loose and display your expertise!
If everything goes well, your prospects will move to the final and deepest stage of your funnel, the Decision stage. This is where demos are booked, and contracts signed.
There's no content to publish here. Instead, your sales team will refer to earlier-stage content to convince your prospects they're making the right decision.
This is how the B2B inbound marketing funnel works. Content plays a huge role, as you can see.
A final piece of marketing jargon: A prospect who moves into the interest stage is a marketing qualified lead or MQL. Someone who moves from this stage to the consideration stage is an SQL.
Some companies have different monikers for this kind of movement. Don't sweat it, it's all just jargon anyway.
The point of inbound isn't to debate jargon, it's to ensure that your prospects receive value at all stages and eventually self-select themselves.
A Small Note About Account-Based Marketing
Marketing has a new baby these days, and it's called Account-Based Marketing or ABM. ABM, when done right, is highly effective.
The best way to understand how it works is to flip the funnel on its head and focus on the deepest portion.
ABM campaigns don't bother with the initial stages and use data and personalized communication to go after the prospects that companies know are a great fit. Here's a helpful explainer video from Market and Hustle:
While the stats are great, ABM isn't a good fit for everybody.
It needs a good amount of data and resources to execute. For instance, marketing reps send personalized video messages to prospects and talk about how their product can solve issues.
Pulling this off needs a high degree of confidence in data collection and analytics.
Given the climate around data privacy, ABM campaigns must hit the right tone as well. Come across as creepy, and you'll crash and burn.
No one likes a stalker, even if that's what ABM campaigns essentially do.
However, there's no denying that ABM is a great way of focusing all your marketing efforts on the best deals. It's a strategy that aims for a home run at all times.
When it comes off, it's spectacular. However, you need several things to line up before you can execute it successfully.
Now that you've understood the theory behind B2B inbound marketing, it's time to look at the kinds of content that you can publish as part of your campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, you have a lot of choices here.
B2B Inbound Marketing Channels
You need a medium to get your message across.
There are many ways of publishing content these days, and many B2B companies mess up their content strategy. One of the reasons is they don't understand how different content forms function.
Let's look at the options one by one to understand how you ought to use them in your B2B inbound marketing strategy.
B2B Inbound Marketing Collateral
Here is a list of content collateral you can publish as a part of your B2B inbound marketing strategy:
Social media posts
The blog post is the earliest form of inbound content marketing on the web. Think back to the mid-2000s, and you'll recall how Google was flush with articles and blogs about all kinds of things.
While blogging began as a hobby or a side-hustle, these days, it is a great way to establish a brand presence.
One reason for this is the personal nature of a blog. By personal, I'm not talking about spilling your C-suite executives' life stories. Instead, blogs allow you to give your product a voice.
They help you show off your empathetic side and bring prospects closer to you.
Blog posts are also the first point of contact a prospect has with your business. Many B2B product owners think website copy is the first point of contact.
This is true only if the prospect directly searches for you. If they don't know you exist, they're probably searching for a solution to their issue, and your blog posts are where they'll land.
For this reason, blog posts in the B2B world tend to occupy the top of the funnel. They exist to spread awareness amongst your prospects.
Typically, if someone likes your blog post, they'll explore the rest of your website in a bid to learn more about you.
Thus, top-of-the-funnel blog posts need to get to the point quickly and leave helpful links that expand on related issues. Blog posts can exist in the middle of the funnel as well. These tend to be longer and more technical.
However, if you're going to dive deep into an issue, it's best to create a separate landing page, as I'll shortly explain.
Case studies help you show off how great you are and how you solved client issues in the past. They lie at the bottom of the funnel. The highest position they should reside in is towards the bottom half of the middle of your funnel.
Why is this? Well, think about who reads case studies. Someone who reads your case study is actively evaluating your expertise. They're probably comparing your attributes to a competitor and are trying to figure out who is better.
Your case studies must be backed by data. For instance, saying you helped a client with issues isn't enough. You need to quantify how you helped, the bolder your headline, the better. Compare these 2 case study headlines:
We helped our client increase traffic over 6 months
Our client XYZ boosted traffic by 600% in just 6 months. Learn how we did this.
Headline structure aside, you can see how numbers bring a dash of credibility to the second headline.
Your prospects want to figure out how credible your solutions are, and numbers are the best way to do this. Linking to an original research report is also a great way to bolster your case study.
This form of content applies to technical B2B products. A whitepaper is a technical document that dives into the inner workings of your product. This is a personal choice, but I differentiate between whitepapers and research opinions.
It's not an important one to make, but you must understand the differences. Many companies publish opinion pieces and call them whitepapers.
For instance, our AR automation company might publish a report on how checks increase costs in the O2C cycle and call this a whitepaper. It isn't, in my opinion. It's a research opinion piece.
Whitepapers tend to be technical and explain the functional specs underlying a product. In less technical niches, whitepapers function as thought leadership pieces. No matter the type of content, whitepapers reside deep in the B2B inbound marketing funnel.
They convince product evaluators and are usually hidden behind a signup form. Anyone who signs up is either an MQL or an SQL.
Typically, prospects like reading multiple blog posts and whitepapers before committing to a sales call. This makes the language you use in them extremely important.
Landing pages are perhaps the most important part of your B2B content marketing strategy. They explain your product in detail and convince your prospect of its efficacy. In the B2B sphere, they end with a call to action (CTA) urging the prospect to book a free demo or a sales call.
Anyone who clicks that CTA is an SQL and is one or two steps away from closing a deal. The copy you use on your landing page has to be top-notch. More importantly, it must hit the right balance between business benefits and technical jargon.
For instance, if you load your page with technical jargon, a high-level executive won't be attracted to it.
This is because they intend to figure out how you can impact their bottom line. If you can frame benefits in a business-like manner, you'll reel them in.
At the same time, you should also cater to the technically-minded reader tasked with evaluating the product. You should mention the technical chops your product has and link to whitepapers and datasheets to direct these prospects towards appropriate content.
Never underestimate the power of a landing page. They might reside at the bottom of your funnel, but they also help with brand awareness since they show up on Google's search results for niche-related keywords.
These forms of collateral aren't the most important, but they help you establish a relationship with your prospect. The most common calculator out there is an ROI calculator.
For instance, you can help your prospect estimate savings by adopting an electronic AR solution.
Calculators don't lend themselves to every product. However, they augment your primary inbound marketing efforts effectively.
Calculators are also great if you're into commissioning research reports in your industry. Sticking with our AR automation example, let's say you commissioned a study that uncovers the cost savings that electronification brings.
Turn this into a calculator and label it "ROI Estimator" or whatever you want to call it.
This is a great way of communicating the benefits of your product without shouting about it. In essence, they're the perfect inbound tool.
Don't rush out and create a calculator even if your product doesn't lend itself well to one. They aren't a B2B inbound panacea by any stretch.
As a passionate writer, this hurts to admit but, human beings are visual creatures. The average person would rather watch a movie than read a book, have topics explained to them visually than have to figure things out by reading.
Videos are great in this regard, but they have this pesky thing called runtime.
In today's Twitter-addled world with micro attention spans, videos can be hit or miss, especially if you're using them for top-of-the-funnel awareness projects.
Instead, use infographics.
These work brilliantly since they come with fancy accoutrements and cram a ton of information into a good-looking picture.
Best of all, they're easily shared, something that every content creator lives for. Want to spice up your link juice and backlinking efforts? Create infographics.
You've made it this far into my opus, so here's a top tip: If you like an article that's written by someone else and want to create a dofollow link out of it, turn that article into an infographic if there isn't one.
Not only will the writer be willing to post it on their article, but they'll also gladly give you a link since your infographic will increase engagement.
If nothing in the preceding two sentences made sense to you, then don't worry! Get in touch with me, and I'll explain everything to you over a call in plain English.
As far as B2B inbound marketing strategies or B2B content marketing strategies go, here's the deal: Videos rock!
They lend themselves brilliantly to different formats such as whiteboards, explainers, customer success stories, storyboards, and so on.
The sky is the limit with video and savvy B2B marketers know this.
Animated videos tend to work very well when explaining the inner workings of a highly technical product. It certainly beats forcing your prospects to read a tedious datasheet.
Thanks to amazing tools like Vidyard, you can customize your video messages and use them throughout your funnel.
For instance, our AR automation company can use glossary explainer videos to target top-of-the-funnel prospects, cost savings visualization videos via whiteboards to target mid-funnel prospects, and personalized videos to get bottom-of-the-funnel prospects to close deals once they have downloaded gated content.
Video works at every stage. However, make sure you pair it with written content as much as possible. There are 2 reasons for this.
The first is that search engines still prioritize long-form written content that dives deep into a topic. Written content just ranks better.
The second reason is psychological. Let's say you want to dive deep into a topic and produce an amazing video. Unfortunately, it's an hour long.
When was the last time you watched an hour-long video that wasn't a movie, TV show, or documentary? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Text-based content can be downloaded as a PDF and read piecemeal. Technically, we could do this with videos as well, but we don't.
We look at the hour-long run time and scamper elsewhere. Therefore, create short teasers for complex topics and link them to long-form content.
Webinars are videos, but they come with fancy attachments that B2B marketers love. Given their format, they allow companies to build authority in a niche by hosting top influencers in their space.
For example, our AR automation company could host the CEO of a construction company that recently automated its AR and AP processes.
Inviting a respected guest to talk about product benefits is one of the easiest ways to build authority.
In fact, you don't even have to talk about your product. Just talk about issues germane to your industry, and you'll be viewed as someone who has their finger on the button.
Webinars also serve as quasi-instructional videos for your prospects. Let's say the AR automation company wants to release line-level dispute management in invoices.
They can launch this feature via a webinar and gather instant feedback from prospects and customers. Doing this before finalizing the release is a great way to validate a product-to-market fit.
Engagement levels recorded during the webinar also point to who your best prospects are. Follow up with them via a newsletter and relevant content, and you'll have a smooth B2B inbound marketing machine rolling in no time.
Podcasts are a close cousin of webinars, and they've become especially hot over the past decade or so. These days podcasts are so widespread that your grandma probably has one. You'd know if you ever listened to her!
Jokes apart, podcasts are a crowded space, but they're a good way to engage mid-funnel prospects.
You can also use them as a vehicle to introduce yourself to prospective clients. For instance, the AR automation company could interview the CEO of the construction company about industry trends and challenges in operations.
Naturally, in line with B2B inbound principles and strategy, there won't be any explicit mention of the automation product.
If the CEO has a great experience being interviewed, they'll likely check out the product themselves.
The key to this strategy is to stick to a niche and target your ideal customer. Podcasts work at all funnel levels, but they're most effective when used as lead gen tools.
This means you target the portion of the funnel that is at the top but is close to the middle.
The prospects in this part of your funnel need to be made aware of your presence and anything unique about your product or service.
A podcast is a great way of sliding into their space without coming across as sales-y. Best of all, you can create a valuable industry resource by talking about important topics.
For instance, our AR automation firm can talk about the average B2B company's reliance on checks and how this introduces inefficiencies in the system.
While this seems like a sales-focused topic on the surface, the podcast can dive into reasons why companies are heavily dependent on checks.
Driving conversations about important topics is essential to building authority in a niche. Podcasts make this simple. Note that you don't have to create a podcast to gain attention.
Much depends on your B2B inbound marketing strategy, as I'll discuss in the next section. For now, just keep podcasts in mind as an avenue for your content.
Social media is what everyone first thinks of discussing content dissemination channels. While B2C marketing strategies are social media-heavy, B2B companies don't necessarily have to maintain a strong presence.
A lot depends on industry trends.
For instance, if you're active in the blockchain space and are creating a product that is based on this technology, Twitter presence is essential since that's where major discussions take place. Facebook doesn't lend itself well to B2B discussions, but some industries are active.
For instance, trucking and logistics service providers are highly active on Facebook, even running ads on the platform.
LinkedIn is the place to be if you're in B2B. The platform is an excellent resource and rewards you for continued participation.
LinkedIn has multiple ways of disseminating content, and every B2B company should be leveraging as many of them as possible.
For instance, paid ads are a great way of getting your product in front of key decision-makers. The great thing about LinkedIn is that people add their job titles to their profiles, making them easy to target.
Sure, you'll end up hitting a few poorly targeted prospects once in a while, but overall, paid ads work.
However, this is a guide to inbound methods, so paid ads are out for now. Instead, focus on content creation on LinkedIn.
Posts and articles are a fantastic way to boost awareness and be known for something. For instance, our AR automation company can share posts and news relevant to their product and industry-related news.
If the company's executives increase the sizes of their networks, they'll end up driving awareness amongst a large user base. What's not to love?
Unlike Facebook's ad-dependent business model, LinkedIn isn't dependent on paid ads to drive profits. For this reason, organic reach is still high on the platform.
Other tools such as Sales Navigator make it easy to connect with the right people and bring your product to their attention.
Twitter is also popular in the B2B space, but the platform's tone is different. I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of Twitter.
As a content marketer, this attitude makes it extremely hard for me to spread the word about my services. However, the platform isn't a good fit for me, given the constant drama that surrounds it.
This is an important lesson for you to learn: Don't adopt a platform just because everyone else is doing it. You need a social media presence, but if a platform doesn't suit your brand's voice, feel free to ignore it.
There are so many ways of reaching prospects that will boggle your mind. All you need is a good framework that helps you reach the right people, not some single channel that supposedly makes a huge difference.
You'll see many social media and content marketers bark about how "social media listening" and "presence" on every channel are important.
This is untrue.
Stick to what suits you best and go deep on the platforms you like. Always measure engagement rates and continue investing time and money on the ones that bring maximum revenue. Note that I said revenue, not engagement.
Engagement rates can quickly turn into vanity metrics.
For instance, let's say the AR automation company's posts routinely receive hundreds of likes and thousands of comments. However, they receive just 2 sales per month from their social media posts while spending the equivalent of 5 sales per month creating content.
That's a negative ROI, and they must exit that platform yesterday! Most B2B companies don't get this and jump blindly onto the social media hype train.
Don't be one of those organizations. Inbound marketing offers you many ways of reaching your audience. Social media is just one of many ways, so don't sweat a major presence.
This brings to a close our look at the various B2B inbound content channels you can use to engage your audience. Of course, there's more to a great B2B marketing strategy than publishing all kinds of content.
You need a solid framework that automates engagement and funnel positioning.
This is what you'll learn next.
Building a B2B Inbound Strategy
There are many facets to a successful B2B inbound strategy.
Everything from content publishing, blog strategy, content promotion, and feedback assimilation is important.
However, these aren't the places to begin. There are a few other things to take care of first.
Your Inbound Strategy
It might surprise you to learn that everything we've covered thus far in this guide has been foundational material. I haven't yet given you ways of developing a successful strategy, and this was intentional.
After all, there's no point in learning how to run until you can walk. Well, guess what? You're now a walker, and it's time to run!
Remember how inbound is all about providing value?
Well, to whom are you providing value? Your customers! It should be obvious that to execute a successful inbound strategy, you need to understand who your customers are.
So you should begin by drawing a picture of your customers, right?
Not so fast!
Define Your Content Marketing Goals
Content marketing is a major part of an inbound strategy. In some cases, content marketing might be your entire strategy. However, it's not ideal to have it this way. Content should be augmented with an event-oriented strategy such as webinars or conferences, etc.
The problem with content marketing is that it's tough to measure its ROI. Much like inbound marketing ROI can only be measured over a long period, content marketing's returns can be nebulous.
The metrics are qualitative, and this throws conventional digital marketing frameworks into disarray.
Many digital marketing leaders cannot handle a world without metrics. They live and die by their CPCs, CPAs, and CLVs.
This is why you'll find the average marketing agency pushing paid ads and outbound as a viable marketing strategy. However, outbound tactics are not always a good fit for B2B companies.
They're an especially poor fit for companies that have highly technical products. Before going down the content route, companies must define their goals and create a framework that helps them achieve said goals.
Let's return to our AR automation company as an example. The CMO and executive team would like to drive sales right off the bat and become cash-flow positive quickly.
There's a good reason for this.
Their VC backers are breathing down their neck, and if the CMO cannot deliver triple to quadruple-digit growth within a year, they're out of a job.
Thus, the best way to begin is to focus on bottom-of-the-funnel content and activities that generate strong SQLs. Ideally, prospects will screen themselves through their actions and engagement, giving the sales team highly-qualified leads.
Here's a brief list of goals at which our company can aim:
Target bottom of the funnel prospects
Measure appropriate metrics
The third point in that list is critical.
The company must measure metrics such as conversions on content instead of traffic and page visits. The latter is irrelevant to sales. Sure, they provide data, but a prospect who will likely click the "Request callback" button is unlikely to spend a huge amount of time on the page.
I'll explain why this happens in a later section when discussing the B2B buyer journey. For now, just understand that page visits, unique visitors, etc measure awareness, not engagement.
Tools such as heatmaps and click maps are also useless when your goal is to drive sales above all else.
So what should you measure? For starters, you should measure how many people entered their information on your forms.
How many engaged with your sales-oriented email newsletters? How many of those people requested a callback? Out of those people, how many converted to sales?
You can sense a pattern here. Conversion matters above all else in this scenario. You're not looking to become famous. You just want sales.
Your content should be tailored to appeal to people close to making a buy decision or those in the market looking for a new solution.
If a prospect is happy with their current solution, the AR automation company should not waste time trying to convince them to change.
Instead, they should focus on attracting people who have indicated they'd like a change. You might be wondering how our company could do this?
This is where creating content for every stage of the funnel comes in. I'll explain this in great detail in a later section. As of now, we're still at the goal definition stage, and it's important to understand how our goals drive the framework.
If your goal is to increase awareness, you'll create different forms of content and measure other metrics from our AR automation company. If you'd like to increase awareness and sales, your framework will look very different.
The more goals you have, the more you'll have to invest in your B2B inbound framework. You'll have to create more content and address more topics. Thus, your content strategy will expand with your inbound marketing framework.
Now that you have goals in place, it's time to focus on your customer.
KYC or The Art of Creating Perfect Buyer Personas
Marketers love buyer personas. Some marketing teams take this practice to ridiculous lengths by diving into granular details such as how their persona likes their latte or how often they yawn before going to bed.
Some firms construct ridiculous-looking images and cards to indicate who their personas are, giving them names like "Krazy Karen" or "Soliloquizing Steven" and so on.
Creating a buyer persona is all about hitting the right level of granularity. Once again, let's check in with our AR automation company. Who are their customers, and what are their qualities?
There are multiple ways we could figure this out. We could target companies across all industries but below a certain size.
Alternatively, we could target companies that belong to a specific industry. The broadest option would be to target every company out there.
However, the current state of the AR automation company plays a big role in determining this. If our company has 20 employees and has a relatively small marketing budget (VC-backed or not), it is unrealistic to target everybody.
Narrowing down is the key. For this exercise, let's assume our company will aim at B2B small businesses in zip codes within 100 miles of their (the AR automation company's) location.
Running a simple search through databases such as Zoominfo will yield a list of businesses.
We can refine this list by requiring our prospects to generate at least $500,000 per year in revenues. This gives us enough room to assume they have the budget to adopt our product.
So who is going to make the buy decision at these prospective companies? Here's where B2B inbound marketing diverges from B2C.
A B2C company has to convince a single prospect. If you're selling wallets online, you don't have to convince the prospect's partner or neighbor. However, your prospect companies don't work that way.
They have processes, purchasing departments, CEOs, and board members. A company is an organism that requires patience when dealing with it. The larger the company is, the more bureaucratic it will be, no matter how "cool" or "Silicon Valley-like" its culture is.
In our example, we're dealing with small businesses that will likely have between 10-20 employees. If they're a SaaS firm, their headcount might be lower.
This is good news.
It means there's probably 1 person or 2 people at the most in charge of signing off on purchases. One of the people will definitely be the CEO. In companies of this size, they'll also likely be the Founder.
The other person will likely be the one who benefits operationally from the tool. In our product's case, this will be the CFO or the person in charge of reconciling accounts and bookkeeping.
Remember, we're dealing with small companies, so employees will likely wear multiple hats.
We've made great progress so far! We know the broad categories of roles we're looking to target. It's now time to dive deeper into what these categories (personas) need and figure out how to solve their problems.
Let's begin with the CEO.
Creating a Persona
CEOs are all about increasing their business' bottom lines, and reducing costs is a great way of achieving this. Since they're most likely the founders of their business (in our example), they'll have a great deal of loyalty towards their employees.
This is an important point to note since the "automated" nature of our product will likely cause them to believe they'll have to lay off people.
The average CEO is an extremely busy person. They're not going to dive deep into technical subject matter, even if they're familiar with it.
After all, CEOs of small businesses fight fires all the time and cannot afford to spend time dissecting a single product. They'll delegate this task. If we want to capture their attention, we need to get to the point quickly and tell them how we can solve their problem.
All of this gives us enough data to create our first buyer persona. Here are the relevant details of our CEO buyer persona:
Is likely the founder of their company
Likes getting to the point in simple language
Is not interested in hypotheticals and needs hard data to be convinced
Does not want to disrupt their employees' lives via automation
Wants to improve bottom lines
Wants to increase AR efficiency
Wants to reduce hours spent chasing bills
Wants better cash flow projection reports
Wants to gain a deeper understanding of working capital levels at any point in time
That's all there is to it!
You don't need to know what kind of car they drive, what their outlook on the economy is, or whether they're a dog or cat person (unless your product is cat or dog-based.)
Our AR automation company now has its first buyer persona.
What if You Don't Know Your Customer?
You might be wondering: What if I don't know my customer? What if I don't fully understand their pain points? These questions are common in most marketing departments. Surveying prospects and monitoring secondary social conversations is a great way to understand their pain points.
As a reminder: We're looking to discover pain points because we're aiming to solve those issues and provide value.
That's the B2B inbound marketing ethos.
Let's begin with the first method, which is surveying your customers and prospects. These days there are a variety of tools that help you create great quizzes and forms your customers can fill.
Their answers are valuable data you can use to plan your marketing strategy.
For instance, let's say you don't know what the average CEO's pain points are or would like to go granular with them.
You want to know whether they view bill collections as a pain point in their business and what features they'd like in an automation product.
You can conduct a brief interview with them and have them fill out answers.
Conducting interviews like this is also a great way of letting them know your product exists. They might not buy your product immediately or even in a few months. However, they'll know you exist, and that's a huge plus.
Not only do you get to know your customer, but you also spread awareness.
Personas to Pricing
One of the most important goals of persona creation you must aim for is figuring out what prices you can charge. Put another way, how much will your customer pay for your product?
Many B2B companies charge ahead with pricing plans but neglect matching those prices to market expectations.
For instance, you might have figured out that AR automation saves your prospects up to $2,000 per month. However, this doesn't mean they'll pay you $2,000 for your product.
Figuring out your pricing strategy is a different topic from inbound marketing. However, persona creation straddles both worlds.
Nailing pricing is important in the B2B world. Charge the wrong prices, and your prospects will view you as clueless.
Worse, if you charge too little, you'll hobble yourself, earn a loss, and spread awareness of your product for the wrong reasons.
One way of figuring out pricing is to ask your prospects. How much is too much?
Even more important, how low can you go with your prices before prospects feel there's no value in your product? For instance, if you spot jewellery priced cheap, you'll likely believe the product is cheap. This isn't to say AR automation is akin to jewellery.
It's just that prices and value are linked in our minds inextricably.
Connecting these answers to your pricing model outputs will help you enter the market at the right levels. Remember that each persona will have different value decisions, and your pricing must reflect this.
These different value propositions are why SaaS companies create pricing tiers. Often, their tiers are named after customer personas.
What to Ignore When Creating Personas
There is a danger of digging too deep and recording all sorts of useless persona information. For instance, should our AR automation company care how tech-savvy their personas are? Well, this depends on the persona.
The CEO persona will probably never use the product daily, and their tech-savviness is unimportant. However, the AR department professional will use it every day, and understanding their tech-savviness is essential.
Given how prominent Excel is in the financial world, designing our product to have an Excel-like feel is a prudent product decision.
In fact, we could use this feature to highlight the ease with which an AR employee can use our product. As you can see, data relevance changes depending on the context.
For some products, the type of latte the CEO likes might be relevant. In our AR automation case, it isn't.
There are a few red flags to watch out for when creating your personas. If you're getting bogged down trying to figure out which social media platform they use the most, you're probably too granular. This advice extends to all data points.
If you find yourself debating the exact percentage allocation of time spent on a platform or the third decimal point of a statistic, you're getting lost in the weeds.
Marketing might be highly analytical, but this doesn't mean you extend it to every function within it. You're still dealing with human beings and constructing a strategy to appeal to them is the ultimate objective.
Some teams use this illusion of accuracy to convince themselves they're doing a good job. However, they're merely missing the forest for the trees.
Avoid veering to the other extreme and ignoring data outright. For example, let's say you're trying to figure out the AR team member's persona and don't have hard data.
Do not fill in the blanks using your intuition or feel. Try to collect as much data as possible and create a strategy based on those incomplete assumptions.
This advice will sound strange. However, once your sales team begins interacting with prospects, have them gather feedback and fill your profile.
Remember that your personas need to reach a minimum threshold to initiate a B2B inbound marketing campaign. Perfection isn't your goal here. What you must instead aim for is creating a repeatable, iterative process.
That's right! Persona creation isn't a one-time job. You must revisit your assumptions regularly and make sure your content and other channels are hitting the mark.
Create a B2B Content Strategy for Every Funnel Stage
You've defined your inbound marketing goals and figured out your personas. It's now time to start appealing to these people and get them to help you achieve your goals. When speaking of inbound marketing campaigns, there's only one way to execute your way towards your goals.
It is by creating content. Content can be written, in image form, video, or auditory. Every version has its advantages, and what's more, different formats appeal to different funnel stages.
For instance, someone deep in your funnel might want an in-depth written explanation of your product instead of a quick video.
In this case, written content works better since it allows the prospect to move at their own pace. A video that is an hour-long tends to produce a negative reaction.
For instance, how often have you committed to watching an hour-long video in advance? Typically, our attention wanes around at the 7-minute mark.
So what should your B2B content strategy look like, and how should it fit into your larger inbound marketing campaign?
B2B Content Strategy for the Top of the Funnel
As you've previously learned, the top of the marketing and sales funnel is full of prospects who are getting to know you better. Some of them will convert to customers, while some of them are tire-kickers who have no interest in purchasing your product.
Content at the top of the funnel is thus directed at spreading awareness. Its objective is to direct interested prospects deeper into your funnel and allow the tire kickers to filter themselves out.
Let's see how this applies to our AR automation company.
Someone who searches for "what is AR automation?" is definitely at the top of our funnel. This person is explicitly asking for information about this topic, and their question is general.
Similarly, someone who searches for "AR automation benefits" is at the top of the funnel.
This person intends to understand how AR automation helps their business. So far so good, right?
Well, here's where B2B companies hit a snag. Search volumes in the B2B space are a fraction of what they are in the B2C realm. After all, no one is sitting around all day searching about automating their order to cash workflow. Instead, they search for highly targeted terms they know will take them to the right place.
For instance, a search term like "accounts receivable software" will be classified as a "high sales intent" keyword if we were in the B2C world.
After all, the prospect has explicitly asked Google to give them a list of software that they intend to review and purchase.
However, in the B2C world prospects can easily search for information related to every aspect of their products. They're bombarded on social media with content and this changes their search intent. In the B2B world, there is no introductory material (or very little of it.)
For the most part, prospects don't know where to go. Imagine a small business owner who wants to reduce the time it takes to process invoices and payments. They won't even know what to type to search for a solution.
Thus, they'll type a seemingly high intent keyword to expand their awareness. This is because they know that the search results related to that keyword will definitely give them a list of resources they can learn from.
Many B2B content marketing teams stumble with these seemingly high intent keywords. They tailor on-page content to appeal to bottom-of-the-funnel visitors. However, a sizable portion of traffic arrives from top-of-the-funnel prospects too, and these people are left unattended.
The thing to do is to cater to both funnel segments. For the ones at the top, leave helpful links to glossary pages or explainer videos. Leave links to blog posts that explain who you are and what you do, and so on. Design the rest of the page to cater to the people at the bottom of your funnel.
Note that your content can take any form. What's important is that your content should be helpful. Our AR automation company will thus use "AR automation software" as a top and bottom-funnel keyword. We will create blog posts with this keyword on the page and describe what AR automation is.
In these articles, we'll display our expertise by empathizing with our prospect's issues. We'll also create a helpful glossary of terms that serves as a reference.
Our product pages and bottom-of-the-funnel content will be embedded with this keyword naturally. However, we'll leave links on those pages to content that speaks to people at the top.
Our content at this stage of the funnel will be short and sweet. No waffling around asking them to subscribe or like etc, as the average Youtuber does. Instead, we create helpful explainers and leave links to more detailed content that appeals to people who want to move deeper into our funnel.
The ones who don't will not click our deeper funnel links and will thus filter themselves out. All of these activities must be backed by measuring your metrics and tailoring content in response to them. I'll discuss metrics and analytics later.
For now, let's move onto the middle of the funnel. You'll find that it can be a tricky place.
B2B Content for the Tricky Middle
The middle of the funnel tends to be a murky place that lacks definition. A big reason for this is prospects are beyond the awareness stage here but aren't ready to turn themselves into customers yet.
Your objective is similar to the one at the top: Entice your prospects deeper into the funnel and allow those who are not interested to filter themselves out.
How do you entice people deeper, though? At this stage, short and sharp content isn't going to cut it. You'll need to demonstrate a deeper understanding of your prospect's issues, dominant topics in your industry, and so on. You'll have to exhibit authority and show people you understand what you're talking about.
Our AR automation company, for instance, will have to talk about best practices and dissect issues that affect its prospects. A CEO (one of the personas we're targeting if you recall) will want to understand the effect on their bottom line.
Their subordinate, the one they hand research tasks over to, will want to see our understanding of day-to-day processes.
The keywords these people search will indicate their interests. For instance, "accounts receivables management" covers a lot of ground. However, the intent behind this keyword indicates knowledge of AR processes and a desire to make them more efficient.
Once again, B2B prospects don't behave like their B2C counterparts. They're not going to telegraph their intent via keyword searches. We'll have to create a ton of ancillary content related to single keywords and lead our prospects along a journey.
For instance, we can create a blog post about AR best practices. We can also talk about issues that hinder AR efficiency, such as using paper checks, manual cash application methods, and so on. We can create a series of videos surrounding these articles and introduce the prospect of automation.
We can talk about these issues on our podcast and plug our product. We can get involved in a conference and spread the word, although some marketers will consider this an outbound approach due to the costs involved.
Either way, the middle is where we want to go deeper into issues.
Once again, all forms of content work here. It's just that they need to be longer and have more meat to them. It isn't enough to simply define what AR is. We need to talk about issues in invoice-level reconciliation and dispute handling.
Some content teams make the mistake of gating this sort of content. Gates are a great lead collection method but they can turn into a vanity tool quickly. Someone who fills out information in a gated form isn't automatically a lead.
Their actions qualify them as leads, not some data on a form. Many B2B companies insert aggressive CTAs here that miss the mark. Your prospect isn't ready to buy as yet.
They're thinking about it. Get too aggressive, and you'll come across as a pushy salesperson asking for the sale before the customer is ready.
However, you also want your prospect to qualify themselves as quickly as possible. This shortens your sales cycle, after all. The way to do this is to create a go-to resource that lies deep in your funnel and point your prospect to it.
Your CTAs should focus on providing help, not selling. "Learn more" is better than "Call us." Sticking with our AR automation example, we can highlight a research report we published that dives deep into how much money our prospects can save by using our product.
"Learn more" we'll say, and guide them deeper.
Anyone who doesn't want to learn more will show themselves out.
B2B Content Marketing for the Bottom
The bottom of the funnel is the most productive portion of your entire inbound marketing strategy. It's where prospects have qualified themselves and are thinking seriously about purchasing your product. Here, you can get aggressive with your sales mentions and freely brag about how awesome you are.
It's also where gates make the most sense. However, many B2B content gates get it wrong by asking for too much information.
They ask for everything from the prospect's name to their favorite flavor of ice cream. Sure, your sales team will want this information to contact the prospect, but you need to exhibit patience.
Patience will help you qualify your prospects even better and help your sales team close sales with greater frequency. If your sales team has ever complained of low-quality leads, then patience is what's lacking in your funnel.
So what does patience look like? For starters, it looks like a minimal gate on your deep funnel content. This will disturb many CEOs and marketing teams. All that effort you put into creating the report, and I'm asking you to impose a minimal gate? Heresy!
Bear with me. Ask for your prospect's name and email address, and let them download the report or case study.
A few days after this, send them an email with supplementary content. Let's walk through an example.
A prospect for our AR automation product downloads a report that talks about cost savings. We email them our thanks and send them additional links to our blog. Our tone in this email is personable.
It doesn't read like a script or a template. We end the email by mentioning we'd love to hear about what they think, and would they like to hop on a call to discuss their needs?
Anyone who agrees to a callback is as solid a lead as a sales team can hope for. Think of the steps they've gone through before agreeing.
They've visited your website, your blog, browsed your content, given you their email, and finally said "Yes, call me."
Compare this to the traditional gated form that asks for a phone number outright, and it is easy to see which method works better. The patience you display in holding back and qualifying your prospect one last time will increase your sales conversions immeasurably.
As far as content goes, the amount of deep funnel content will be low compared to the previous stages. At this stage, you want to address the so-called pillar topics surrounding your industry. These topics cut to the core of what you do and how you solve issues.
Our AR automation company will discuss the disadvantages of manual processes and publish reports highlighting cost savings. We'll also publish case studies involving clients we have previously helped. We'll publish technical papers that indicate how easy our solution is to adopt.
We'll create an ROI calculator on our product pages that displays relevant numbers.
We will host webinars that double as lite versions of sales demos. All of these content channels are deep and immersive. There's only so much we can publish, and that's a good thing.
After all, we aren't trying to solve every issue in the world. Just AR efficiency.
These are evergreen content. Our sales team will use them to help answer questions. Most importantly, the rest of our website's content will revolve around these pieces of content. They're satellites to these pillars.
The pillar and satellite model isn't just to delight your prospects. It delights search engines as well. The internet is a messy place, and a search engine's primary objective is to figure out what your domain is all about.
The search engine's spiders will crawl your website and gather a list of topics you're talking about.
A cluster of pillar pages and a bunch of satellite pages pointing to those pillars will quickly let the spiders know what's the most important topics you're talking about. The more you link to your pillars, the faster the spiders figure you out.
In turn, this boosts your searchability (yes, I made up a word,) and you'll show up more often in results.
We've finally reached the bottom of our funnel! We're all done, right? Not quite, unfortunately. There are still 2 key steps we must execute.
But before that....
A Word About B2B Content Marketing Strategies
Clients looking to get their B2B content strategy rolling often ask me this question: Do you do SEO? How is it different from content marketing?
The short answer is: SEO is a component of content marketing. All SEO is content marketing, but not all content marketing is SEO.
In the B2B space, SEO occupies a much smaller portion of content marketing than in B2C. This is because, as you previously learned, B2B prospects don't search for solutions on the internet as frequently as B2C prospects do.
Content marketing thus needs a robust strategy that creates a path for prospects to follow. I mentioned previously how bottom-funnel keywords can behave as top-of-the-funnel keywords as well. You must create a coherent path for your prospects as I've described in this section.
More importantly, you must get your prospects to qualify themselves as quickly as possible. This is why the final step, involving patience, is so important. A good B2B content marketing strategy implements patience and creates a path based on understanding the prospect's issues.
Everything you've learned thus far helps you achieve these goals. Do not get fixated on mere SEO, whether you're B2B or B2C. Content marketing is so much more than that. The section on metrics and measurement will make this point even clearer.
However, before you get down and dirty with metrics, you must execute an important step.
Promoting your B2B Content
Most companies that reach out to me for help tend to have one common issue: They don't have a clue about content promotion. This issue is always present, whether the content they've created is excellent or garbage.
Promotion is extremely important. The nature of the internet these days lends tremendous weight to promotion. You see, search algorithms aren't smart enough to decide which piece of content is high quality and what is trash.
They use a shortcut to measure quality instead: Who's talking about what.
Social shares and tweets thus play a major role in search rankings. Thanks to increasing familiarity with Twitter and its hype-pushing algorithm, people have become accustomed to following whoever shouts the loudest.
Perhaps this was always the case, but social media has exaggerated this phenomenon.
All of this leads me to the most important point (and this is disheartening for me to say as a writer): A well-promoted piece of trash will always outrank a "Crime and Punishment" quality but poorly-promoted content.
I'd love to say that prospects punish poor content, but they don't. Does this mean you should not produce high-quality content? Far from it.
Your content should strive to solve issues as much as possible.
However, understand that at some point, you must draw the line and devote resources to promotion because you'll face drastically diminishing returns. This explains why much B2B content is similar, yet companies do not cry about decreasing sales.
Aim for a quality threshold that puts you above your competition, and then start promoting your content. Don't aim for perfection. Be above-average.
Backlinks or, How Google Knows What's Worth Mentioning
Bitcoin is being pushed as digital gold these days, but every marketer worth their salt will tell you digital gold was created long before 2011. Backlinks are a treasured asset and form the core of your promotion strategy.
A backlink is a simple thing: If someone else links to your web page, that's a backlink. Google has 2 kinds of backlinks: Dofollow and Nofollow. As much as possible, you want to gain the former. The latter is nice, but it isn't going to add much value.
So how can you earn B2B backlinks?
First, understand that backlinks in the B2B world don't matter for overall promotion as much as they do in B2C. This is because your prospects are not spending their days on the internet searching for product information.
They're gathering reviews from websites like G2 and other customers of yours.
My point is, backlinks are important but don't try to score a link from every single resource out there. There's something else to recognize when trying to earn backlinks in the B2B world.
Some of the best backlinks come from trade publications. These publications will charge you for placement.
For instance, our AR automation company might want to score a link from a publication like The Financial Brand. However, this publication only allows company mentions and links when paid for.
Similarly, publications like INC, Entrepreneur, etc demand upwards of $2,000 per article and a backlink.
Our AR automation company is a startup, and running after these huge publications doesn't make financial sense. The thing to do is to look at smaller publications and build a decent SEO profile so that Google understands that it can trust us.
This means we'll produce content surrounding issues in the AR processing space and slide in a link to our product page in there.
Another technique to score a high-quality backlink is to create a partners page and link to them. For instance, our company uses an ERP system developed by a startup. We create a "Partners" page and link to their website.
They do the same and link to us. We could do the same with our "Clients" and score good quality backlinks.
Finally, we can promote our articles on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn,) hope people share them, and we gain some traction. The AR automation space is small, and there aren't any influencers promoting its benefits. So what should we do to gain more shares?
Well, we can highlight research reports and other relevant data produced by another entity and send them an email, thanking them. If they like our content, they'll almost certainly link back to us.
We can also send a link to our content to potential clients and let them know that they might find it useful. Our existing customers could also find it valuable and link back to the article.
Backlinking is a time-intensive process, and there is a lot of rejection involved. So go easy with it and set up a repeatable process. Over time, you'll earn backlinks and receive a huge SEO boost.
The good news is, backlinking isn't as critical in B2B as it is in B2C, so don't sweat it!
Social media is a no-brainer, and in B2B circles, sites like LinkedIn, Youtube, and Twitter are great for content promotion. Twitter is particularly interesting since the platform has multiple industries that are well-represented.
Just don't get caught up in the drama that exists everywhere on that platform (looking at you, Marketing Twitter!) Twitter is also a great place to identify influencers and let them know you exist. Often, you might find that influencers aren't around in your space, as in our AR automation example.
In such cases, you must find a way to link to complementary topics. For instance, is someone talking about improving business efficiency through digital transformation? Send them a link to your article and explain that AR automation is a perfect use case. Is someone talking about AP automation?
Push AR automation in there too!
You'll have to get creative promoting your work like this, but it's worth it. You never know where your next lead will come from, so don't be shy when promoting your content. Promoting your content on LinkedIn and Youtube works the same way.
LinkedIn Groups are a great way to share work with like-minded professionals and gain traction. Again, if there isn't a group dedicated directly to your product, look for complementary groups.
Similarly, on Youtube, your topic might not have a huge audience, so decide whether you would like to be present on that platform or not.
For instance, AR automation isn't exactly a trending topic on Youtube. It's safe to say we can stay away from Youtube for now and not cause any harm as far as content promotion is concerned.
Secondary Social Conversation Sites
When it comes to social media marketing, primary platforms hog all the attention. Primary platforms are the ones where you're present and interacting with your prospects directly. For instance, anyone on LinkedIn can ask you a question and receive an answer. Twitter works the same way.
However, many conversations on the internet take place on secondary social venues such as Quora, forums, and Reddit. In some cases, Discord and Twitch are also viable platforms, especially if your product is related to gaming.
On these platforms, users emphasize answers and discussions with other individuals, not brands or companies.
Promoting your content here via helpful answers is a great way to receive backlinks and direct traffic to your content. Just don't get too promotional with your content. For example, AR automation isn't receiving too much attention on Quora. However, there are a few topics in there that look interesting.
Answering these questions and leaving a link to your content is a great way of promoting it.
If there's one thing you should take away from this section, it is this: Promotion isn't a matter of doing "one thing" correctly. There is no magic key that unlocks traffic and attention. Instead, it is a series of little things that you must execute over and over.
With time, you'll receive rewards for your efforts. Your focus must be on creating the right processes, not the result. After all, no one ever won a game by looking at the scoreboard all the time!
Monitoring Content Metrics
Much like with content, the metrics you pay attention to will change depending on funnel position. For instance, unique visits to a page is a great metric for top-of-the-funnel content. However, it doesn't make much sense for bottom-funnel content.
After all, who cares how many people visit content that leads to sales?
You would be more interested in measuring how many visitors turn into customers. Let's look at how you can figure out which metrics are relevant to your content strategy.
Connecting Metrics to Goals
Way back in the inbound marketing process, you defined a series of goals you wanted to achieve with your content. It's time to recall and use them to figure out the metrics you must use. Our AR automation company prioritized bottom-of-the-funnel content since sales and growth were essential for the CEO and CMO.
This means our company has been publishing insightful content aimed at people looking for solutions. We aren't interested in how many people have heard of us as long as our ideal customers know we exist.
Given these circumstances, which metrics make the most sense to measure? Is tracking unique website visitors important? To some extent it is. We'd like to see a steady stream of traffic, after all. However, this metric doesn't line up with our goal. How is traffic connected to sales?
You might think that increased traffic will lead to more sales, but traffic has to convert. Thus, there isn't a direct link. After all, many B2B websites boast huge traffic numbers but disproportionately small sales. Instead of traffic, we want to focus on how well our content is converting.
If you read my treatise on patience in previous sections, you'll remember that our company had placed small gates on deep funnel content and was following it up with newsletters to qualify prospects. Which metrics can tell us how successful our campaign is?
For starters, the number of content downloads and emails we collect is a good metric to track. We should also track the number of people we directly sent our content to and the percentage of those prospects who signed up using our gate.
Next, we should track email statistics. Open rates, bounce rates, response rates, and link clicks are relevant metrics here. Each metric tells its own tale, and your marketing team must figure out the story by connecting the dots.
This is where content marketing becomes hard. It is one thing to create great content, but you need a great strategist to make sense of the data.
For instance, let's say our AR automation company is getting many downloads. 90% of the people we sent the resource to ended up downloading it.
However, 10% of our emails bounced. This means 80% of our initial audience are still interested in our resource. Half of this group didn't respond, which leaves 40% of our initial audience for us to close a sale. Within this group, 10% rejected our advances and didn't request a callback, and a further 10% responded negatively.
Is your head spinning with percentages and numbers yet?
The bad news is we're just getting started. Your sales team will handle the ones who responded positively and will likely close a sale. However, the marketing team's job is still unfinished.
They need to answer the following questions:
Why did 10% of our audience enter invalid emails? Is this in line with industry benchmarks?
4% of our audience responded negatively. What are their demographics? Does this data change our persona assumptions? What are the patterns in these rejections?
Can these rejections be salvaged? Should we ignore them since they're irrelevant? Can we scale our product by ignoring these people?
Regarding the 4% that didn't respond: Are they to be grouped under the negative review umbrella or do we need a new category for them? Are there any trends within that data that can point to insights or changes needed to our personas?
All of this is before we examine analytics data and dissect buyer journeys. For instance, did the 4% who rejected us have a poor browsing experience? Did we share a bad link on a bad channel? Did they prefer video to text or vice-versa?
You need to get down and dirty with your data to answer these questions. It is also why your content strategist must be a data nerd, curious, and inquisitive about what stories are hidden in your data.
Once these questions are answered, you need to make necessary changes, and start the content creation process all over again. Truth be told, metrics measurement is an unstructured process. There isn't a template you can follow to success.
A lot of it is simply feeling your way forward and drawing conclusions. You will often reach the wrong conclusions. This is fine, it is a part of the process. However, iterating your efforts is key. This is a fancy way of saying you need to repeat analysis over and over.
If you've assumed the right things, you will see content performance improve. If not, it's back to the drawing board!
Examples of Great B2B Inbound Marketing
It's now time to see a few examples of B2B content and inbound marketing in action.
Let's dive in without further ado.
Hootsuite's Video Content
Hootsuite is a popular social media management platform. That's a bit like saying Facebook is a popular messaging platform. It goes way deeper than that.
With Hootsuite, you can manage everything connected to your social media presence and control all your messaging on a single dashboard.
Hootsuite is both a B2B and a B2C product. Large companies can use its feature-heavy plans to manage their social media presence, while single influencers can schedule posts and content.
As such, Hootsuite's inbound marketing is a case of B2C tactics being applied to B2B markets too.
The company's blog is a lively place, with several instructional posts and how-to's. Aside from ranking first for its brand name, Hootsuite also ranks first for "instagram captions," "how to make money on youtube," and "best time to post on tik tok."
While written content plays well for Hootsuite, its B2C-like focus is best served by video content. The company's marketing team creates videos for every stage of the funnel.
Browse their Youtube channel, and you'll see this in action.
Everything from trends and customer stories to product training and expert tips is covered. In fact, Hootsuite has released its videos on Vimeo as well, making it a decent source of traffic.
Needless to say, its videos are well produced and engaging.
There's a lot to learn from Hootsuite's video content. First, their video descriptions are short and get to the point. They have helpful links to related content, as necessary.
No spamming multiple links in the description like the average Youtuber does.
There are no cringeworthy intros with huge "subscribe" buttons floating around the screen. For instance, their social media trends video series has a link to the research report.
The report is gated and sits firmly at the bottom of their funnel.
The videos are qualifiers and promotional material for their in-depth social media trends report. Ask yourself, who is likely to download this report? Who will spend the time reading this report, and will Hootsuite be a good fit for them?
Once you connect the dots like this, it's easy to see how Hootsuite's videos work in their funnel.
Leadpages' Audio Content
While Hootsuite provides a great example of video content in a funnel, Leadpages is a good example of how a wide range of content can come together to produce spectacular results.
Leadpages is also a B2B product with a B2C-like face. It can be used by both enterprises and smaller entrepreneurs and influencers.
The company's resource center provides the first hint of the range covered. It contains blog articles, guides, checklists, worksheets, webinars, and even a podcast. While all of their content is highly produced, their podcast stands out to me as an exemplary case of B2B (straying into "C" in this case) inbound marketing.
Hosted by Bob Sparkins ("Bob the Teacher" on Youtube), the Lead Generation podcast covers several issues online entrepreneurs face. Sample topics covered include attracting better leads with landing pages, tips for hosting webinars, conversion rate optimization, and so on.
The interviews are focused on a single topic and position Leadpages as an authority in their niche without pushing the product. After all, listeners know they're hearing content produced by Leadpages. There's no need to push the product onto them.
The podcast serves as an excellent tool to drive awareness. Needless to say, it sits towards the top of their funnel. This gives Leadpages a great way of generating traffic independent of SEO and organic search.
The rest of their resource center does a great job drawing prospects deeper into their funnel and converting them into customers.
B2B inbound marketing seems extremely complicated at first, but once you begin digging into it, you'll find that a lot of it is common sense.
The only exception is metrics and analytics tracking. Given the volume of data at our disposal these days, it can get complicated quickly. However, with the right content present at the right points in your funnel, you'll manage to convert prospects to customers.
Still have questions? Get in touch with me!