It won’t come as any great surprise to learn that the way in which we buy has changed radically in recent years. As consumers we purchase more and more goods online, from groceries to cars. We’re seeing a similar phenomenon in business, where increasing numbers of buying decisions are starting and sometimes finishing online.
This shift in buyer behaviour means that many of the traditional business development techniques – especially cold calling and various forms of advertising – are no longer effective. Where once it was the sales person that controlled the buying process, being the source of much of the critical information that buyers needed to make decisions, today it’s the buyer who is firmly in control.
When they are looking for a new product or service, solution to a problem, or ideas for new ways of working, most B2B buyers (engineers, technicians, scientists, managers) will start their search online. With the wealth of materials that are now available on the Internet, there’s an excellent chance that prospects will find much of what they need. Indeed, by the time they contact potential suppliers they will already have made initial choices about the type of solution they want and drawn up a shortlist of companies that they will consider sourcing from.
Unless you have a strong online presence – especially compared with your competitors – then you’re going to be excluded from the buying process at an early stage, almost certainly before you even know a sales opportunity existed!
The importance of inbound marketing
This is where the technique of inbound marketing comes in. In essence, it’s simply a fancy description of the tools and processes you need to ensure that you have a strong and engaging online footprint, which positions your business as the natural choice for any prospective customer.
If it’s easy for those prospects at the early stages of their buying journey to find you, to understand why you’re different, how you can transform their business or solve their challenges, and deliver a solution that they can’t find elsewhere, then the sales enquiries will start to roll in.
It’s important to understand that this is not simply about having a good web site or SEO techniques. Although these are important, they will only work effectively in terms of delivering quality sales enquiries if they are considered as part of a broader and integrated inbound marketing strategy – a strategy that is based on a solid understanding of how customers think and act, their challenges and pain points and the factors that will motivate them to contact you.
For an inbound marketing programme to be effective it needs to combine the power of existing tools and techniques, such as web, SEO, content, social media, video, webinars and even PR, with the customer insight and knowledge of your sales team.
The key to success is maintaining a single focus: sales growth from prospects who are informed, engaged and motivated to buy from you.