Staying on top of the latest marketing trends and tactics is an essential part of our job here at BioStrata, and one of the key ways we add extra value for our clients. That’s why Clare and I packed our bags a few weeks ago to head off to Boston for the Inbound 2016 marketing conference. Politics aside, there was little debate - the event was another resounding success and Trumped any other news that week.
But what were the key takeaways? How are the most cutting-edge inbound marketers getting ahead of their competition and driving results? And which actionable tips did we pick up that you can leverage to improve your marketing and sales activities? Fear not – here we share the best four tips and tricks we learnt at Inbound 16.
1. Start using paid social ads (while competition is low and they are still cost-effective)
The well-known entrepreneur and social media soothsayer Gary Vaynerchuck was the keynote speaker to open the conference with some highly actionable tips for B2B marketers. The one that struck us the most was the ‘real story’ behind how Gary V grew his family’s wine selling business from $3m to $60m in revenue over just a few years. His success is often attributed to his effective and pioneering use of video blogging to educate and engage his audience on how to select great wines. However, according to his keynote, the real magic was getting into Google AdWords ahead of the game, at a time when he was paying 5 cents per click for keywords that would cost you $30 right now. So what was his message to marketers today? Well, he says that this same situation is playing out with social ads at the moment, especially Facebook. While these ads often cost $3-5 per click, as budgets move away from channels like TV and print, it’s likely that this will drive the price up of social media paid opportunities as brands migrate to the platforms, similar to what happened previously with Google AdWords.
So how can you use social media ads to engage with your customers? Gary suggests that you could use the precise targeting functionality offered by Facebook to promote content specifically targeting key prospects based on the company they work for (i.e. to support your key account sales efforts). As such, it might be worth running a pilot campaign to see if Facebook can work for you (yep, even though you work in B2B).
The same approach could also be applied to LinkedIn sponsored posts. Give it a try – we predict that your cost-per-click and lead quality will be significantly better than many of the other paid tactics you are currently using.
2. Focus on creating effective ‘buying intent’ blog content, or you could be missing out on valuable web traffic (and revenue)
George B. Thomas of The Sales Lion included a million and one tips into his 30 minute talk on ‘How to Be World-Class at HubSpot in 60 Days’ (access the slides here). In among all the pearls of advice was a brief explanation of how his team uses their ‘content matrix’ system to create content that drives revenue. In effect, they focus on the key questions their prospects are asking when they looking to make a purchase (i.e. right at the sharp-end of their buying process). Usually this involves creating blog posts targeting seven key words and phrases: ‘cost’, ‘best’, ‘versus’, ‘what is’, ‘problems with’, ‘how to’, and ‘reviews about’.
For example, if you were marketing qPCR machines that specialise in detecting and quantifying low expression genes and you wanted to trial this methodology, you might create blogs titled “How much does a qPCR system cost?”, “Which qPCR systems are best for analysing low expression genes?”, “How to select the right qPCR machine for analysing low expression genes” etc. According to the experiences of George and his team, these blog posts will drive more than their fair share of web traffic from search engines and will attract highly qualified prospects that are primed and ready to buy.
In hindsight, this probably seems a pretty obvious tactic. So why don’t more people adopt it? Well, mostly this is because many companies are reticent to publish answers to these questions on their websites (especially when talking about cost, which is often a complex discussion balancing long- and short-term costs against value). George’s answer to this dilemma is be brave. Your prospects are actively searching for this information and, if you don’t provide it, maybe your competitors will (and they’ll likely get the sale). What’s more, although it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t need to directly provide prices in a blog post about cost. Instead, you could discuss the important features, characteristics and benefits your prospects should look for in a product or service to ensure they get value for money, helping to answer their question without directly quoting prices (although do provide costs if you can, even if it is a general idea or range, as that is likely what your audience is really looking to find).
A top tip before you get started: use a keyword analysis tool like HubSpot, Google AdWords or Moz Keyword Explorer to estimate how often people use these seven keywords/phrases in relation to your products and application areas, before choosing which content to create first.
3. Better support your sales team by setting up effective lead scoring
More than ever, your marketing team is expected to produce leads for the sales team to follow up on. To add to that, due to changes in the behaviour of modern B2B buyers (who now take themselves through a great deal of the sales process via web research before ever interacting with a salesperson), marketing now has the opportunity (and responsibility) to nurture these leads and ‘warm them up’ for the sales team to close.
While many marketing teams are starting to do this effectively through content generation, marketing automation and improved collaboration with their sales team, most leads are still passed over in a fairly unstructured way. This can be improved through systematic lead scoring, where points are allocated to leads based on key behaviour they have exhibited (e.g. visited a pricing page on your website, downloaded an ebook etc.). This creates a somewhat quantitative way to qualify how hot a lead is (so that sales can focus their time on those deals that will be faster and easier to close).
In a talk by Vanessa Stirling and Michael Rejmaniak, we were treated to a number of tips to setting up an effective lead scoring system. First and foremost, they recommended working very closely with your sales team to define a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). This might seem obvious, but marketing teams often define these important qualifiers in isolation. They also suggested setting up both positive and negative qualifiers in your scoring model, so that you take into account the full range of behaviour exhibited by your leads. Lastly, don’t just ‘set it and forget it’. Instead, review your model on a frequent basis (e.g. every 3, 6 or 12 months) and interrogate the data to see how effective your model is; does it effectively predict and highlight those leads that are most likely to close in real life? And if not, how can you change the model to make it more effective?
4. Nurturing leads that you didn’t directly capture on your own website might require a novel strategy
Inbound 16 is not just about the talks; the opportunity to swap tips directly with 19,000 other practising inbound marketers is arguably worth the admission ticket alone. One of the key trends we noticed from a number of inbound specialists we talked to was how challenging they are finding it to nurture leads they did not generate on their own websites. For example, several had trialled ‘lead generation services’ offered by third party publishers and web portals such as ‘hosted whitepapers’, where the lead is captured via promotion to the publisher’s third party database using email newsletters to drive traffic to a landing page that is hosted on the publisher’s site (that last bit is the important bit).
While these programmes frequently successfully generated leads, the leads often went cold very quickly and were hard to nurture. The main reason appeared to be the disconnect experienced by the leads i.e. moving from getting email and content promotions from a trusted publisher (i.e. when the lead was generated) to receiving follow up email content from the brand. The lesson? First, create a specific nurturing plan for these leads, as they will need to be carefully and subtly introduced to your brand, with a direct reference to their conversion point in your first lead nurturing email (i.e. the form they filled in on the publisher’s website) to directly create the connection your prospect’s mind. Secondly, carefully track the performance of the leads you generate via third party publishers to ensure they are of high quality and can be nurtured into customers.
In fact, you should really be tracking lead performance across every source (e.g. social, organic search, paid search third party lead gen campaigns, third party email blasts etc.) and developing customised nurturing programmes for each, so you can analyse the data and do more of what works (and less of what doesn’t).
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