Matt Martinez is a marketing specialist at Foodesign.
Everyone knows that business is shifting to the internet, but not all businesses know what that looks like from a practical standpoint. The Inbound Methodology is a good place to start.
Let's start with two basic assumptions:
- Your customers are online.
- The internet works differently than real life.
So what do real-life companies need to do differently in order to get customers from the internet?
Obviously, like everything, there are a bunch of ways. But one of the most popular right now is known as the Inbound Methodology.
HubSpot's Inbound Methodology
The Inbound Methodology was formalized into an easy-to-remember 4 step process by the Boston-based marketing and sales software development company, HubSpot.
Inbound has been widely accepted as an industry standard, and it's a simple and effective intro to digital marketing as a whole.
So let's see how the Inbound Methodology addresses the problem of getting customers from the internet.
Step One: Attract Strangers into becoming Visitors
"Strangers," of course, are people who have never been to your website before. They may have heard of your product or service, but they've never had a reason to engage with you online.
Attracting strangers to a business has always been one of the oldest tricks in the book. Put up signs, light some sparklers, hire a barker, offer a special of some sort.
But that's real life, and this is the internet.
These days, people get super-annoyed when they get interrupted by anything that resembles a sales pitch, even if the product is perfectly suited for them.
But here's the secret to attracting strangers: all you have to do is find ways to demonstrate your value upfront.
People have problems, they are out there looking for solutions, and you have them.
Leverage your unique qualifications to prove that you are who you claim you are.
Often this will be in the hands of your sales team, labeled "value props that get me in the door."
If you can find a way to prove your value in a way that works online, you're done with the hardest part.
All you have to do now is find the right person (your buyer persona) with the right problem and position your easily-digestible solution in places where they normally search for solutions.
HubSpot suggests using blogs, social media, targeted keywords, and specialized high-value pages on your website to attract strangers, which indicates that they believe Google and the bevy of social media platforms to be the best places to stir up interest. That's only part of the story, of course, but that's a topic for another blog post.
Step Two: Convert Visitors into Leads
Having visitors on your website can be exciting, but they'll simply disappear back into the void if you can't capture their information in some way.
In real life, it's easy to start a conversation with a visitor. All you have to do is say, "Hi, how can I help you?"
On the internet, businesses don't have the luxury of initiating a personal conversation. It's too "salesy." It breaks the illusion of anonymity and risks scaring away what might otherwise have been a paying customer.
But not all is lost. There are still ways to incentivize your visitors to make the first move.
In Step 1, you should have been able to find ways to provide upfront value to your visitors. In Step 2, you'll have to find ways in which that value can work for you.
The idea behind "converting visitors" is relatively simple: you have to create something worth signing up for, such as an eBook, whitepaper, personal consultation, live event, newsletter, or webinar. Whatever the data says your visitors actually want, and which would help them more than most companies normally would be willing to give away.
Once you have a thing of high value, you can require that a visitor trade their information (via a contact form) to access it.
It's essentially a low commitment micro-transaction. If you give me your contact information, I'll give you access to some of our unique value.
It takes a little finesse to keep it from seeming like you're just holding good information hostage, but find the right balance and you'll be rewarded for your efforts.
Step 3: Close Leads into Customers
And just like that, your website is passively generating leads. You just get to sit back and watch.
Well... sort of. Almost.
If you start sending every lead to your sales team, you're going to have a bad time.
A large percentage of new contacts will not be sufficiently prepared to deal with a sales person. They aren't even close to the point of making a decision. They're just looking around. Or weighing their options. Or researching your company.
In short, every potential customer is engaging with you at a different point in the buying process.
HubSpot calls this the "Buyer's Journey."
Your job now is to guide them into their best, most informed decision.
The ultimate goal of Step 3 is to take the leads generated by Step 2, sort them, nurture them towards a decision-making moment, then send them over to the sales team once they're ready.
I know, I know, easier said than done.
But here's the deal: while it seems as if it would take a team of dozens to deal with the sorting and nurturing cycle, there are ways to automate the entire process.
Once established, your marketing becomes an active part in the sales process. You can begin to measure how much revenue is a direct result of the Inbound process. Your proven sales processes can inform your online efforts, and your online marketing efforts can provide cutting-edge data to give your sales team a leg up.
Best of all, you won't be leaving any sales opportunity on the table. And your customers will be grateful for it, as they were able to undertake the process at their own speed and without any pressure.
Step 4: Delight Customers into becoming Promoters
Even after closing a deal, you still have the opportunity to maximize your competitive advantage by creating a delightful experience for your customers.
In fact, it's much easier (read: less expensive) to keep a current customer happy than it is to find and nurture a new customer.
By continuing to build out your content and streamline your processes, you can go above and beyond for your customers and make their experience extraordinary.
Unlike the necessary building blocks of the first three stages, the Delight stage is pretty much wide open, and will look drastically different company to company.
Most often, this will look something like actively answering your customers' questions, helping to solve their problems, offering them insider perks, and so on.
It really depends on your product or service, your company's tone and voice, and the personality of your marketing team. Just make sure it's authentic, as today's consumers can smell insincerity faster than sharks smell blood in the water.
A successfully delighted customer will, in turn, promote your business. Word of mouth is still among the most trusted forms of advertising. Online reviews are becoming more and more important across all industries. There's no end to the benefits a company will gain with a devoted band of promoters.
So that's a basic rundown of the Inbound Methodology. As you can see, it's rather comprehensive in scope, and allows you to scale your marketing efforts in ways that take full advantage of modern tech and the culture's shift into "Google it first" mode.
I'll be exploring Inbound Marketing in a lot more detail in future posts, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please don't hesitate to reach out.