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16 August 2017

8 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR INBOUND MARKETING PROCESS

Is your inbound marketing process generating high quality leads? Is your marketing automation platform returning solid ROI? If your answer to these questions is no or not sure, you should read this blog post.

When I first started using a marketing automation platform years ago, I just jumped into writing blog posts and white papers. I had no clear marketing plan, no strategy, no personas, no buyer’s journeys. I was creating, publishing and promoting content for a buyer persona that did not necessarily exist.

I like new technology. I was blinded by the cool things it could do and how much easier the marketing automation platform made my work. It was so simple. Rather than using separate tools for blogging, emailing, promoting and monitoring, I had one integrated environment with uniform UI conventions. And there was just one contact database. But the forest was lost. All I could see was the beautiful waterfall.

The most important functionality of a marketing automation system is the ability to automatically trigger a large number of personalized messages. And still the most common use case seems to be an annual or bi-annual campaign-based email delivery. Something MailChimp could do almost for free. According to many studies and the interviews I have conducted, most companies use only a small part of their marketing automation platform’s capabilities.

This seems to be a challenge especially for subsidiaries of large global companies. They often get little advice or help from the head office on how to plan and design an inbound marketing program and how to run the marketing automation platform. The global inbound marketing team is busy and does not understand the local language, cultural and business differences. Local inbound marketing professionals are left to sort the way forward by themselves.

I used these sources for this blog post: My own experience running a marketing automation program and creating all content for www.etuma.com during the past three years; Talking with the leading B2B integrated marketing agency in the Nordics www.idbbn.fi; Talking to multiple large B2B companies that use marketing automation platforms; And reading multiple B2B marketing automation market studies, especially by B2Bmarketing.net.

If you think that your marketing automation program and platform is not returning the results you desire, here is a list of eight things you should do to remedy the situation. I know that inbound marketing professionals should have these things in good shape but I have learned during the information gathering process that this is not necessarily true.

1. Create a comprehensive inbound marketing scoreboard.
Companies often focus on lead statistics. That is not enough. The IM scoreboard needs to reflect how each email, landing page, and piece of content is performing. Make sure that your marketing targets are aligned with overall business goals, especially sales targets. At the end of every week you need to know what is working and what is not. You know exactly what to focus on the following week.

2. Conduct a contacts data audit.
It is impossible to run an efficient and effective content marketing program without rich and clean data. Do everything you can to make sure that the data you are working with is as clean as possible. Some marketing automation platforms like Hubspot have the contacts inside the system. Others like Eloqua are usually also integrated to a CRM platform. You, the IM professional, need to have the authority and right to cross organizational boundaries, establish a solid real-time integration, and create the necessary additional fields that MA requires in the CRM platform. Rich and good data is paramount!

3. Create an inbound marketing (and MA) learning and development program.
One of the biggest problems seems to be the lack of knowledge. You need to educate your own team by creating a holistic L&D program to ensure that your team (or your integrated marketing agency partner) has the required skills. You also need to spread the inbound marketing gospel. Keep the CFO in the loop. This will come handy when you need more resources.

4. Close the marketing and sales process gap.
Sales professionals are used to generating leads from their own sources: by word of mouth, trade shows or by other traditional means. Now, when new leads pop up in their CRM platform (hopefully automatically), salespeople get suspicious. I have heard many stories about salespeople ignoring leads generated by the marketing automation platform. Most, if not all CRM platforms, have a data field for indicating the lead status. Ensure that the salespeople use this field also for leads generated in the marketing automation platform. Educate salespeople about the importance of letting you know which leads are valuable. Sell them the idea that in the long term you will make their work easier because they do not have to generate their own leads and they can spend most of their time pushing prospects forward in the sales funnel.

5. Create (or review) buyer personas.
This is something you have probably done, but if not, please do it now. Without this, it is impossible to create high quality leads and push prospects forward along their buyer’s journey. B2B purchase decisions often require buy-in from not only the business owners, but also technical experts, procurement managers etc. You need to create a unique persona for all the people required in the purchase decision process because their information requirements are different.

6. Map each piece of content to one or more buyer personas.
It does not make sense to develop content (which is the most time consuming part of inbound marketing) without having the buyer persona in mind. Without the personas, your content might not be relevant.

7. Map each piece of content to a stage of the buyer’s journey.
At minimum this means that you have content for the four main journey stages:

On top of the funnel: to increase awareness
Middle of the funnel: for increasing the overall domain, technology, and solution understanding; and
Bottom of the funnel: for assessing which vendor and product best fits the buyer persona’s requirements.
Customers: increase satisfaction and loyalty so that customers can become your best marketing people.

8. Start by developing a few short automation loops and testing them.
It is difficult or even impossible to map a single buyer-persona-specific buyer’s journey. Personas often take their own paths to the purchase decision. It is easier to start with short automated loops.

For example, Email -> landing page with a call-to-action to download a white paper -> thank you email -> end. Develop a couple of loops like this and test them with different messages (but same premium content or event). Once you have learned what loops work, start stringing them together (thank you email with recommendation for next action).

Inbound marketing program will never be ready and there are no quick wins. According to B2Bmarketing.net it often takes two years or more before you see the first concrete results. Create a system and monitor it. Keep improving and optimizing. High quality leads will start emerging and leads will be pushed forward along the buyer’s journey. And do not forget the customers: you need to educate them on how to better use your product, and maybe they will buy more or at least re-subscribe. Loyal customers are the biggest contributors to your bottom line and your best brand ambassadors!

Matti Airas via ID BBN

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