B2B marketing is getting more complex. New digital channels and innovations are offering more opportunities to reach fresh leads and to discover buyers with intent. But with innovation comes uncertainty over where to best spend marketing budgets and how to make the most of it.
In this guide, we will rip away the curtain from inbound marketing. We will explore three pillars of inbound marketing and how they relate to each other: Marketing Automation, Search Engine Optimization, and Buyer Enablement. We will also be exploring Account-based marketing. We will explain why B2B marketers need each type, what they can achieve, and how you can start with each.
But First, What is Inbound Marketing
Inbound is simply the B2B marketing strategy that aims to attract buyers to your business website and engage them once they are there. Inbound is characterised by six things:
- Digital: The two main channels that inbound uses to reach buyers are marketing automation campaigns and search engine optimization.
- Targeted: Through digital advertising and email, inbound can be targeted to individuals or tight demographic groups. Through SEO, it can target specific search terms or interests.
- Magnets: To attract buyers, inbound uses content that’s valuable to the buyer or content that contains a solution to a buyer problem.
- Scalable: Inbound can reach as many or as few people or search terms as needed; or as the marketing budget allows.
- Manageable: Using online tools and dashboards, inbound campaigns are simple to manage with trackable ROIs and KPIs.
- Integrated: Using tracking and remarketing technologies across integrated channels, inbound can offer content that progressively nurtures buyers from channel to channel.
But why is drawing prospects to your website so important? Because 89% of all B2B buyers start by researching the internet to build their consideration set.
Prospects want to learn more about your company and what you can offer to put themselves in a more informed position before they speak to your representative. And of course, no one would begin any kind of business relationship without first knowing who they are doing business with and that means researching your company and exploring your website.
Inbound vs Outbound
Outbound marketing attempts to build brand impressions or brand likeability, but not directly to draw people to your website. You can see outbound messaging reaching broad audiences in non-digital media like mass media, outdoor, public relations, event sponsorships, and influencer outreach.
Buyer Enablement Content
You’ve attracted buyers to your website using both marketing automation and SEO. But what happens after that? Research has found that buyers are not just looking for ways that you can solve their problems. They’re also looking for information that can help them make the right choice in selecting a solution and a provider.
In other words, they need what Gartner calls “Buyer Enablement” content – prescriptive advice and practical support to make the buying process easier to navigate and complete.
The need for information to simplify the buying process makes perfect sense because B2B buying is incredibly difficult and deeply stressful. It can require six to 10 stakeholders to make a decision. Vast amounts of research needs to be conducted independently to make the right choice because the stakes can be exceedingly high. The wrong purchase or contract could set a company back not only for the lost budget, but also cost it the time and effort in the attempt to learn new processes and to make the purchase work.
Buyer enablement, compared to sales enablement, is far more customer-centric. This is an approach summarised in the Flywheel, a popular metaphor among digital marketing agencies. Invented by Hubspot, the flywheel emphasises three things:
- Attracting customers with content that’s helpful and valuable to them
- Engaging customers and removing any friction to purchase
- Delighting customers by going beyond expectations with a better purchase experience
The sales enablement mentality may in fact be harmful to the sales process. Researchers from CEB found that sales representatives who are quick to respond and give more information can actually add stress to the buyer.
If you decide to adopt the buyer enablement methodology, then you need to be taking a more proactive and prescriptive approach. This is characterised by three things:
- Clear recommendations for action backed by a specific rationale
- Concise and stable view of self-capabilities
- Clear explanations of complex processes
That’s the kind of content that buyers find valuable.
Benefits of Buyer Enablement
Creating buyer enablement content takes a great deal of time and effort. But there are six significant long-term benefits that can make it worth the investment.
1. Develops Trust
Trust is a critical step in the buying cycle because of the high cost of a considered purchase. To build trust, your content needs to show willingness to put the prospect in the driver’s seat, the desire to support them, to make a positive impact on their business, and to provide a buying experience that eases the buying process.
2. Strengthens Relationships
Purchase deals are not one-and-done. They often last for years with each partner getting more value out the relationship the longer it lasts. How the relationships starts will set its tone and it must begin with buyer enablement content that shows openness to share, willingness to learn, and consistency in providing value over time.
3. Educates Prospects
Not all buyers will have the technical knowledge to appreciate a technology company’s offering. Sometimes, a company will need to educate a CFO or a CEO in simple terms to ensure that they understand how the product can benefit them. Well-written content can communicate to prospects in relevant and meaningful terms that demonstrate clear benefits.
4. Builds Authority
These days, it’s not enough that you are competent in your field. To differentiate your company and your product, you need to build authority in solving buyer problems. One of the best ways to do that is with buyer enablement content that demonstrates your ability to spot problems in the prospect’s sector and willingness to put in the effort to solve them.
5. Adds Scale
Content isn’t used just once. The same content when mapped to the needs of your core prospects can for as many prospects as you need, adding scale to your marketing program. You will essentially be building an educational library to your competency and authority in your field.
6. Aligns Marketing and Sales
Buyer enablement content is essentially the result of sales marketing alignment. It requires sales to share real-time insights into prospects while marketing puts its technology and creative resources to support the sales function. This promotes more efficiencies, increase in revenue, faster deal closures, and overall better ROI from the synergy.
7. Promotes Shareability
Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forms of inbound marketing but extremely difficult to inspire and control. However, because of its value, buyer enablement content more than any other content tends to get shared around, especially among the purchase stakeholders of an organization.
Getting Started: Creating Buyer Enablement Content
Buyer enablement content may take many forms, from blog content to ebooks, worksheets, online evaluation tools, and videos. But marketers who have mastered it employ the same practices. They work to deeply understand the customer’s purchase journey and identify the most significant challenge at each stage of the journey. Their ultimate goal is to empower customers to find out how to buy, rather than what to buy.
To meet this goal, the best buyer enablement content have three criteria:
- The content must be unbiased and credible. If they’re too promotional, they’ll not only fail to help customers buy but will be regarded with suspicion.
- The content must reduce indecision and compel action. It must focus customers on a manageable set of issues and make concrete, evidence-based recommendations.
- Without explicitly promoting your solutions, the content should progress customers along a purchase journey toward a solution you can deliver.
Based on Gartner’s buyer processes and mapped to a buyer’s journey, here’s an example of what buyer enablement content might look like for a fictitious employee health program provider called “CareHealth”.
|Journey Stage||Description||Type of content||Examples|
|Awareness||Prospects are just trying to identify whether they have a problem, the impact, and what a solution might look like||Problem identification and solution exploration||“How to tell if your employee health program needs to change” |
“What to do if your employees are not engaging with your program”
“4 kinds of health programs and what they’re good for”
|Interest||Prospects are trying to build a consideration set and need to know what kind of partner they are looking for and what services they can expect||Requirements building and supplier selection||“What you need to get employees to re-engage with your health program” |
“What kind of partner can help re-build your employee health program and how do you find one”
|Evaluation||Prospects have put you into consideration set and are trying to create evaluation criteria that can conceivably solve their problem||Purchase validation||“How to find out if your health program partner is good for you” |
“How to make the most of a health program partnership”
|Commitment||Prospects need get buy-in from other stakeholders to start tenders or even to speak to your representative||Consensus creation||“How to convince your CEO to sign off on a new health program” |
“Why your CFO will love CareHealth”
|Conversion||Before they sign off, prospects need to know that they are getting a partner and not just a supplier||Partner commitment||“Introducing your personal CareHealth support team” |
“Here’s our vision of your new health program and what you can expect from Day 1”
Differences Between 3 Pillars of Inbound Content
You may notice that this guide has not mentioned the various formats of content. What matters in content is that the buyer or researcher finds it valuable. The same content delivered in a PDF file is equally as valuable as it is in a MPEG file.
Digital marketing agencies and content producers talk about formats a lot because it affects their bottom line, the speed of production, and their hiring criteria. In truth, it matter little what form the content appears in, whether it is eBook, webinar, video, or podcast.
|Buyer Enablement||SEO Content||Marketing Content|
|Objective||To ease buying process with valuable content||To build authority with Google||To trigger click-throughs and downloads from leads to qualify them|
|Targets||Buyers at every stage of the buying journey||Researchers on Google||Potential leads that meet demographic criteria|
|Buyer Journey Stages||Full funnel, from Awareness to Conversion||From Awareness to Commitment||Primarily top-of-funnel, Awareness and Interest|
|Content Topics||Topics based on insights from sales teams and buyer surveys; may be created ad hoc to intervene in emerging buyer issues||Pre-planned topics built around desired keywords||Topics are chosen to show intent or interest to purchase|
|Website Location||Interlinked with related content||Organized in inter-linked topic clusters||Trackable landing pages for downloadable content to qualify leads|