If you’re doing inbound marketing, then you’re certainly creating loads of marketing content. Blogs, eBooks, white papers, and videos are common formats for content marketing that show up in search engine results pages and attract qualified visitors to your website. Inbound marketing content provides the education and information your website visitors seek when they’re shopping and converts those visitors into leads by exchanging your content for their name and email address.
But while you are educating your prospects with how-to articles, tips, and free resources, others in your company may express concern that your marketing content does not sell your company’s products and services, or worse, gives away your company’s secrets.
Today’s world is digital. The abundance of information that buyers have available to them on the Internet has forced a shift in the sales conversation away from the seller, and in favor of the consumer. Research conducted by CEB Marketing Leadership Council in partnership with Google revealed that the average customer had completed more than one half of the purchase decision-making process before engaging a supplier sales rep directly.
Buyers still do their due diligence when shopping for major purchases. They do their research and consider their options carefully. The difference today is that research happens online instead of in person. The result is that sales reps have less opportunity to build relationships with buyers and influence their purchase decision.
Inbound marketing is a method for brands to connect with buyers earlier in their decision-making process by providing the sort of helpful information they’re looking for during their purchase process. This modern approach to marketing is less about pitching your brand than it is about teaching, coaching, and guiding consumers toward the solution that’s best for them.
In his book, They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan writes, “To influence the behavior of your buyers, you need to be an authority who can address every question, concern, or fear they may have.” Businesses that practice inbound marketing do this by creating useful, relevant content that answers buyers’ questions, rather than overtly pitching their products.
Whether your visitors eventually buy from your company or not, simply having helped them along their buyer journey will establish your brand as a trusted resource that will set the stage for future sales opportunities. In today’s world, helping is the new selling, and being helpful is the backbone of the inbound marketing method.
Blogs and eBooks are common types of “first date” content. Just as you would not propose marriage on a first date, the intention of this content should be to inform and educate consumers, not to sell your product. This type of content is common in the Awareness stage of the buyers’ journey. This is the “just browsing” stage when the visitor is simply looking for information.
Consumers in the awareness stage are not yet ready to buy. So, inbound marketing starts by attracting visitors to your website to consume your helpful content. awareness stage content is mostly educational in nature, intended to provide value and build trust in your business as a helpful resource and industry thought leader.
While awareness stage content is not a blatant pitch for your company, the information does appear on your company’s website, with all your company branding, navigation to the rest of your company website, and links for the visitor to access the rest of your content to learn about your services and contact you if they want to.
Worried about giving away company secrets? The way I look at it, if your aim is to be helpful first, you don't have any secrets. By providing content that answers peoples’ questions, your company can be one of their first contacts as they begin their product research, and if they find your information useful, you will gain their trust before your competition does. Will they purchase today? Likely, no. But once you’ve earned their trust by offering honest, helpful answers to their questions, you will likely earn their business when they are ready to buy.
Content about your company, your services, products, and customer successes, etc., has its place in your inbound marketing too, and you should also have several pages on your website with that information. Product descriptions, case studies, and your company history is common content for the middle of funnel (MOFU, consideration stage) and bottom of funnel (BOFU, decision stage) that is usually consumed by leads who are deeper into their buyer journey.
Inbound marketing pairs content marketing with analytics and customer relationship management (CRM) software to capture data about your visitor behavior. When a visitor fills out a form to download your premium content, like an eBook or white paper, the CRM captures their contact information. By mining this data, you can learn more about your visitors and contacts, such as who downloads which of your content offers, to tell you what topic they might find interesting, or which of your contacts visit your website frequently, to identify your most qualified leads.
Plus, you can configure marketing automation workflows to further nurture contacts using follow-up emails. Segmenting targeted lists of your contacts, such as people that click a link in your email, can tell you who found your information helpful and might be a more qualified lead, versus people that opened the email but did not click. Or you could identify people that received the email but did not open (did they miss your offer?), to target for a re-engagement campaign.
If the old approach to marketing and sales is to always be closing, the modern inbound marketing approach is to always be helping. Building rapport and offering to help by providing resources that potential buyers want is the new selling. However, even then, if in the end all a prospect wants is a do-it-yourself solution, accept that that’s their option. Either way, you can be the trusted resource they turn to, and maybe hire you when they’re ready.