It’s no exaggeration that the internet has drastically changed buyer behavior—and companies have adapted to these changes with new strategies like inbound marketing.
Even brick-and-mortar stores have had to deal with the disruptive effects of digital tech. One study by Google, for example, found that82 percent of smartphone ownersuse their device to look up products while they’re shopping.Crazy, right?
It was because of this and the behaviors mentioned below that theInbound Marketing Methodologycame about.
Pulling, Not Pushing
Many buyers are now turned off by companies’ aggressive outbound marketing strategies.
Customers ultimately want to have agency and control over the buying process. They want to feel like they bought a product because they sought it out, not because an ad campaign told them they needed it.No one wants to be “sold to” anymore.
Search Engine Use
As a corollary to the above point, customers areusing Google and other search enginesmore and more at every stage of the buying process: researching products, reading reviews, and comparing alternatives.
On average, shoppers who do their research consult12 sourcesbefore making a purchase. It makes sense that this is where your brand wants to be.
Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, and other networks make it easier than ever before for companies to connect with their customers. At the same time, it’s also where buyers are sharing their thoughts on brands. Like search engines, if social media is where the buyers are, it’s where you want to be.
Looking at these changes, marketers realized they needed to better understand how prospects are moving through the sales pipeline, so they could smooth out the bumps in the road.
With this in mind, they divided this pipeline into four essential stages known as the Inbound Marketing Methodology:attract, convert, close,anddelight.
Figuring out how to cater to prospective customers at each of these steps, and turning your visitors into leads, and your leads into clients, is the ultimate goal of inbound marketing.
Let’s dive right in by talking about what you should be doing at each stage.
In a few words, theattractstage is when buyers are just entering your marketing funnel for the first time.
It is focused on pulling theright peoplein with theright contentat theright time (a.k.a. when they’re in need and looking for it).
The Right People
Ask yourself: who is it you want to buy your product? Who is your ideal customer?
Creating buyer personasis the first step in truly understanding this perfect buyer and being able to attract them with your marketing...
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, buyer personasare brief sketches of fictional people, complete with a backstory and demographic information like name, age, job title, education, and salary.
Most importantly, each persona comes with a description of what makes them tick: things like their core values, their biggest day-to-day challenges, and their short-term and long-term goals.
They also dive into their interests, typical behaviors (especially buying behaviors), and much more.
Let’s say that you’re selling a new yoga mat, and you’ve decided that one of the primary targets of your marketing campaign should be stay-at-home parents.
You create a character with a snappy nickname like “Marsha Mom.”
Then, you flesh out your new friend Marsha with all the important biographical details:
Marsha is a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in the suburbs of Chicago. She’s married with two children, ages 3 and 5.
She graduated from college 10 years ago with a business degree, but left work when her first son was born to take care of the kids.
Marsha also played volleyball in college and likes to run, but her busy home life means that it’s hard to find the time to exercise.
As a mom, Marsha is always thinking about what’s best for her family. She wants to know that the products she buys are tested and approved by other stay-at-home parents like her.
Knowing how your persona thinks, acts, and what motivates them, you can then think about what you can provide them to pull them in -- a.k.a.The right content.
The Right Content
The right content is comprised of marketing materials that Marsha will actually seek out on her own and help her relieve her pain points.
For instance, since she has two young kids at home, she’s probably looking to reduce stress and add a little Zen to her life. Also, with so little free time, she’d really love some advice on easy ways to be healthier on a daily basis.
This means the content you create with Marsha in mind should probably look very different than content for Bobby Babyboomer, who’s just retired from his job as a corporate executive and who needs a yoga mat for physical therapy.
Whatever your content looks like, you need to keep a few things in mind. Your content needs to be:
Credible and high-quality,so that you establish yourself as a trusted authority.
Valuable for your customersand aligned with their goals and challenges.
Produced on a continuous basis,so that people have a reason to return again and again.
The final piece of the “attract” puzzle is connecting people with content atthe right place and time.
The most popular “attract tools and tactics”:
You can write the most helpful content, but if it’s not where your audience is looking for it, it won’t have any effect.
Again, the key here is knowing the right way to reach your audience (which should be defined in your buyer persona).
For example, let’s say Marsha loves to use Facebook whenever she gets some downtime, while Bobby prefers to run a Google search for “best yoga mats” and see what the experts have to say.
To reach Bobby, you’ll want to make sure you have keyword-optimized pages and content on your blog, while to reach Marsha, you’ll want to invest in social publishing and paid ads.
Of course, there are other outbound strategies for getting your content out there, especially in-person ones such as tech talks and trade shows, but inbound is designed to be more scalable and cast a wider net. Whatever methods you find work for you are the ones you should pursue.
Attraction is just the first step; now you have to seal the deal by turning visitors into leads in your marketing database so that you can communicate with them further.
This is stage two of the inbound marketing methodology:convert.
The conversion stage is all aboutlead generation. This means convincing visitors to share their contact information so you can continue the conversation through other channels.
In order to get people to convert on your website, you need to offer them something of value in exchange. Popular conversion points and offers include:
Premium content offers (i.e. a webinar, video, or eBook)
Meetings (calls, consultations, etc.)
In inbound marketing, these conversion paths are created using:
Thecall-to-actionis a button, link, or image that explains the next step you want people to take after consuming your content.
This could be doing anything, downloading an eBook, watching a video, receiving a discount, and so on. The goal is that it be a little more advanced, as to move the user closer to being ready to make a purchase (also known aslead nurturing).
Let’s suppose, for example, that Marsha has found a blog post on your website about five easy ways to reduce daily stress. The article’s CTA could then present her with an offer to watch a free video series about how to do the best yoga poses for stress relief.
CTAs need to be urgent, valuable, and most importantly, relevant enough to spur the visitor into action, but without coming off as desperate.
Typically, CTAs are inserted at the end of the content, right when you’ve fully communicated your message and your readers are feeling the most warm and fuzzy. However, you might also see success by sprinkling them throughout the content, especially for long-form text.
CTAs that focus on content will usually send your prospects to alanding page.
A landing page is an isolated page focused on convincing the viewer to fill out the form (convert) to get a content offer which likely a bit longer, and perhaps more relevant to their interests, than the content that originally brought them there.
Landing pages should continue the messaging of your CTA. They should tease the visitor with a preview of the content that awaits them, but without giving away all the goods.
In our yoga mat example, Marsha might see a landing page with a short video of an instructor performing one of the poses, so that she knows exactly what she’s signing up for.
Landing pages are almost always standalone from the rest of your website, and they should have a simple, clean, compelling design. This is to minimize distractions and force readers to concentrate on the offer before them. The sole purpose of a landing page is to capture visitors’ contact information in exchange for more content.
This information is captured via the third piece of the puzzle:forms.
In order to access the content, visitors simply have to provide you information such as their name and email.
Asking for visitors’ contact data works because you’re using a simple, powerful psychological principle:reciprocation. People are more likely to give you information when they feel that they’re getting something in return for it.
Just like your CTAs and landing pages, forms need to be well-designed to maximize your chances at conversion. They should strike a sweet spot between getting enough information to be useful without turning off potential leads.
Your forms should be located above the fold and highly visible on the page. It's often a good idea to have headline and button text that make it clear exactly what people are getting, like "Get your free eBook" or "Show me the videos!"
If you’re not sure whether you’re asking for the right information in your signup forms, or whether your landing page copy has enough punch, then you should look into A/B software. A/B testing tools will try out different versions of your website’s elements on different visitors, so that you can find out which of them results in the best performance (i.e., the most signups).
Whether you want to find exactly the right shade of green for a button or you want to know if asking for a phone number is driving visitors away, A/B testing tools can give you the answer in the form of cold, hard data.
Once you get your leads’ information, you should also be storing it in a CRM (customer relationship management) system. This is a dedicated, centralized database for all of your company’s contacts.
Using CRM software does so much more for your business than just appealing to your inner neat freak. CRM systems help to track your entire history of interactions with a given client or prospect. They can do things like:
Suggesting relevant content to send to different prospects and audience segments
Automating tasks such as filling out forms and sharing information
Recommending that you follow up with prospects to whom you haven’t spoken in a while
Addressing customers’ questions, issues, and complaints more efficiently
According to industry studies, every dollar that you spend on implementing a CRM system can give youmore than 8 dollars in return. Your competitors are using CRM software—it’s no longer a question ofwhetheryou should take advantage of CRM technology, but ofhow.
This is it: the make-or-break moment for your inbound marketing efforts. If the convert stage was all about turning visitors into leads, then theclosestage is all about turning those leads into paying customers.
Common tools and tactics used in the “close” stage include:
Marketing Automation & Workflows
Discounts & Promotions
During the close stage, you’ll nurture each lead toward making a purchase in a way that’s tailored to their individual interests and circumstances. Knowing when to reach out to customers can make the difference between closing the deal and letting it slip through your fingers.
One customer may be ready to buy right away, regardless of price or features. Another might wait to make a purchase until far off in the future, or will require a great deal of persuasion.
The best thing that you can do in this stage is to send the right content to the right people at the right times. You should be producing and publicizing content that addresses each customer’s pain points and concerns.
Lead scoring is a methodology for determining which of your leads are most valuable by assigning a numerical score to each one.
If your inbound campaign is a success and you’re getting overwhelmed with prospective customers, you need to spend your nurturing time and effort judiciously. By doing lead scoring right, you can separate high-quality, promising leads from people who just wanted more free content.
Each company will have its own formula for scoring leads, and you likely already have some sense of which traits are most important for each prospect. These factors will probably include:
Number of employees
Location in the sales funnel
Types of content consumed
Amount of content consumed
Marketing Automation & Workflows
Lead nurturing is both a science and an art, and it’s far from easy. You should give serious consideration to using marketing automation software for implementing lead nurturing campaigns.
These tools can trigger emails or other actions based on the content that a specific lead has consumed, contacting them at regular intervals to ensure that they’re still on the other end of the line -- all without you having to lift a finger.
By managing your leads and being smart about the content you send them, you can free up more time for higher-level thinking and planning: figuring out which strategies work and which don’t, and reallocating resources as necessary.
A big part of marketing automation has to do with triggering the delivery of emails.
Depending on your leads activity, you can use automation to send emails that deliver relevant content to encourage a purchase (i.e. a discount or success story).
Even with the right content, however, you have to be smart email marketing, like you are about your other campaigns.
Your email subject lines should be captivating, with an obvious value of opening them—and maybe a little mysterious too. Now that you’ve captured people’s data, you can use that information to personalize both the emails that you send them and the content of those emails.
Just like in the convert stage, A/B testing software can help you experiment with different segments of your audience to determine which email techniques and practices are most effective.
You can test nearly anything about your email campaigns: the subject line, the sender’s name, the date or time of day, and the content or CTAs inside.
Discounts & Promotions
As mentioned above, for leads who are near the bottom of the sales funnel, providing a discount or promotion can be the deciding factor that impels them to make the purchase.
If you notice that a BOFU lead has been interacting with your content recently and poking around your website without making a purchase, now would be the perfect time to send an introductory offer.
You’ve made the sale. Congratulations! Now what?
Sadly, inbound marketing isn’t like a fairy tale: there’s no such thing as “happily ever after.”
You have to keep working actively to make sure people are completely satisfied with the services they receive from you, so that they stay loyal or make a return purchase. Retaining existing customers is far, far less expensive than trying to find new ones.
That’s where the final piece of the inbound marketing puzzle,delight, comes into play.
Delighted customers are worth their weight in gold. Not only are they more amenable torepeat businessandcross-selling and upselling opportunities, they’re alsomore likely to referyour services to friends and business contacts.
Turning mild-mannered customers into raving promoters of your brand is one of the little joys of inbound marketing—it’s the satisfaction of a job well done.
You’re not a mind-reader, though (and if you are, you definitely don’t need our help with marketing). You need ways to get feedback from your customers, so you can fix what’s broken and keep doing the things that work.
For example, you can create surveys to capture quantitative (i.e. NPS) and qualitative information about what your customers think of your offerings:
Are they completely satisfied with the products and services that they use?
How helpful was your content during the buyer’s journey?
Do they wish you were offering more? Is there a potential market that you’re overlooking?
How likely would they be to recommend you to family, friends, and colleagues?
Once you understand where your customers stand, you can once again begin to deliver content that addresses their pain points and interests—though now taking into account that you’ve already made the sale.
Even after becoming your customer, people still want to consume valuable content. For example, suppose you offer multiple software products for sale. You can customize your homepage to address those that the viewing customer has actually purchased.
When you provide links to the user guides for the products that customers have purchased, blog posts that are relevant to their interests, and suggestions for other useful products, you help make their experience on your site more valuable—raising their perception of you and your offerings.
By keeping users delighted after the purchase, you’ll improve your retention rates and your ability to cross-sell and upsell your offerings.
There are essentially two forms of customer-focused content after conversion: product-focused and company-focused. You can create and promote this content via multiple channels: blog posts, videos, opt-in email newsletters, etc.
The first category, product-focused content, includes information on how to get the most out of their purchase. Within this category, there are several levels of depth and detail for your content, from the quick to the complex:
Tips and tricks for using the product
How-to tutorial posts and videos
Comprehensive user guides
The second category, company-focused content, keeps customers engaged with your business as a whole:
Product and company updatesinform customers about new features and offerings, creating opportunities for cross-selling and upselling.
Webinarsare a great way to engage power users. They can interact with your product development team and submit feedback and suggestions.
Meetups and eventshelp users connect and share advice, making them more excited and passionate about your products.
Once someone is your customer, you likely know them pretty well.
You’ll hopefully have a comprehensive contact profile for them, telling you their interactions with you, their interests, etc.
By building your website and marketing using a smart content delivery platform (like HubSpot), you can customize pages and text to show different things to different customers and audience segments, based on what you know about them.
You can likely create this kind of experience on your website for any contact (even if they haven’t made a purchase).
For example, you could customize the calls-to-action that different leads see when they read a blog post or other content. You might write one call-to-action for Marsha that emphasizes using yoga to release stress, and another for Bob that focuses on the health benefits of yoga.
Social Engagement & Monitoring
Last but certainly not least, the final tool in your arsenal for delighting customers is social monitoring: listening to what users and prospective users are saying about your brand and products on social media.
Obviously, you can do a lot with the information you collect from social monitoring. You can stick to finding unhappy customers and fixing their issues, or you might decide to change your entire inbound marketing strategy based on the positive or negative reactions you observe.
By charting trends in sentiment and engagement over time, you’ll be able to understand the performance of different inbound campaigns, find the important advocates and influential people in your field, and even find and address customers’ new pain points before your competitors even get wind of them.
Once you’ve captured it, all of this information can be used to delight and hold onto customers by giving them a consistently outstanding experience—and as inbound marketers, that’s what we’re really after.