The B2B Marketer's Guide to Inbound Lead Generation

Any B2B marketer looking to generate leads in a sustainable, passive, and cost-efficient method is bound to have heard about inbound marketing and inbound lead generation. And who wouldn’t? Nearly every executive survey ranks inbound channels as their most effective means of driving demand.

But what exactly is lead generation?

In this comprehensive blog post, we discuss what lead generation in general is, how inbound marketing and lead generation works, a couple of tools that will save marketers time from redundant and repetitive tasks, and tips and tricks to get you started in inbound.

Table of contents:

  1. Inbound Lead Generation Defined
    1. Traditional vs Inbound Lead Generation
  2. Getting Started With Inbound
    1. The Inbound Methodology in Detail
      1. A Practical Example
      2. Developing Buyer Personas
      3. Doing Persona Research
    2. Plan and map out awareness, consideration, and decision stage content
    3. Write content
      1. Creating content offers and re-purposing
      2. Creating Calls-to-action
    4. Promote content
    5. Nurture leads with further offers and additional related content
    6. Evaluate leads and pass off to sales team
  3. Visualization of the Whole Inbound Lead Generation Process
  4. List of Free Inbound Lead Generation Tools
  5. Making Inbound and Outbound Work Together
  6. Free “Getting Started With Inbound” Checklist

 


Inbound lead generation defined

Inbound lead generation is any marketing activity with the intent of driving demand through inbound means. It deals with the process of attracting the right audience through content and social, encouraging them to take some form of action in exchange for contact information, and nurturing them with highly-personalized offers of value until they turn into sales and, eventually, brand evangelists.

Content, social, and SEO sit at the core of inbound. Every inbound marketing campaign consists of a bunch of helpful, educational, and relevant content, timely and consistent social media promotion schedules, and a solid SEO framework. In other words, inbound makes the best use of Web 2.0 trends and technologies to maximize organic search visibility.

 

Traditional vs inbound lead generation

Traditional - refers to marketing channels that are not digital or are outside the world wide web. This includes posters, billboard ads, telemarketing, trade show appearances, TV and radio broadcasts, and others.

Outbound - refers to any marketing activity that are more focused on finding prospects. Outbound is often associated with “interruption” marketing, but that isn’t always the case (every channel has its intended purpose, which we will get to later). Outbound techniques include search and display ads, interstitial pages, email lists, telemarketing, and others.

Inbound - Unlike other techniques, inbound deals with marketing activities that maximize organic search and social media presence. It is the opposite of the previous two methods: inbound is more about being found through helpful videos, blogs, tutorials, and other educational content, than putting effort to go out there and find prospects.

Understanding the distinction between the different marketing approaches, their strengths and weaknesses, and their ideal use cases is one of the most important steps in creating your marketing strategy.

While the subject of this blog post will mostly be about inbound, outbound and traditional will be discussed where applicable and will also be shown some much-deserved love. What that said, we’ll say from here on that “traditional” and “outbound” musn’t always mean interruptive; it may just be that the channel of choice didn’t match with the audience’s interests, current stage in the buyer’s journey, or simply their personality.

Marketing is not a matter of whether inbound, outbound, or traditional is best, but rather whichever combination of tools and channels at a marketer’s disposal is most appropriate in attracting their ideal audiences.

Later in this post we will discuss about how inbound marketing and the process of creating buyer personas can breathe new life into traditional marketing channels, as well as how using outbound means can complement inbound lead generation campaigns.

 

Inbound 101: Getting started with inbound

If you already have a website, then great! You’re well on your way to generating leads organically the inbound way!

However, there is much work to be done. In order to turn a website into a lean, mean, lead generation machine, marketers must commit some time and effort to create content relevant and helpful to their audience. This same content must be promoted as well, else content will be just content sitting there in some corner of the internet. Then, marketers must be ready to nurture and qualify leads with compelling email copy throughout each of their prospects’ buyer journeys.

This may seem like a lot at first, but things will come naturally as you put your focus on creating helpful content first, and generating leads second. A mindset of helping generates leads and awareness, not the other way around!

Getting started with inbound: A practical example

The inbound methodology in detail

Having a mindset of being genuinely helpful to your audience is just enough. If you want to optimize your inbound lead generation funnel or have a reproducible framework, it helps to understand the inbound methodology and how you can tweak it into your advantage.

The inbound methodology revolves around a highly-personal experience for prospects across their buyer journey. From the moment prospects are aware they have a problem, are considering possible solutions, and deciding between providers, inbound covers all of these and provides points for conversions with content.

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But how exactly does inbound do that?

Content sits at the heart of inbound. These pieces of content are spread throughout the buyers’ journey, each of which has its own special purpose relevant to that stage.

And it’s not just content. The inbound methodology also helps marketers choose the most appropriate channels in approaching their prospects based on their stage in the buyer’s journey.

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Marketers attract their audience into the awareness stage with blog posts, social media, and search engine optimization. Various calls-to-action from within blog posts encourage these visitors to convert into the consideration stage - which basically means they’ve shared their contact information with the company. From the consideration stage, they are nurtured with highly-personal emails and calls towards the decision stage, which may be at the point where they are passed on to sales to close as deals. Lastly, the inbound methodology wouldn’t be complete until these customers turn into evangelists of the brand - which wouldn’t be possible without exemplary customer service.

 

Buyer personas are key

Before we go ahead and apply the inbound methodology to generate leads, we first have to ask the following questions to attract the right prospects such as:

  • Who am I trying to reach out to?
  • What are their challenges and responsibilities?
  • How will my solution help them in solving their issues

 

And this is where buyer personas come in.

Buyer personas allow you to understand your audience on a much deeper, more personal level. They are semi-fictional representations of your audience segments, grouped according to their common pain posts, challenges, issues, and needs.

Developing personas is critical to your inbound lead generation campaign’s success. And the reason is simple: after knowing your prospects’ problems, you can empathize with them and see how your solution and, more importantly, the content you create, will be helpful in their buyer journeys. This is known as content mapping in inbound terms, and it’s central to making sure your content gets found by the right people.

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Developing buyer personas

Do some research on your existing customers. What are their common challenges? Job titles? Industries they work in? Who do they answer to? What are they responsible for? How much do they make? How do their career trajectories look like? Where do they spend their time online? What other characteristics can you use as a basis for segmentation?

For a good starting list of questions, download our guide to buyer persona creation. Here’s a sample persona pulled straight from the guide:

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Doing persona research

The research process can be done through any means you like. Just try to do as little guesswork as possible. Remember that these will be representations of your actual customer segments, and that you will be using this to build copy and content against. Keep it accurate, and keep it fun!

  • Surveys
  • Phone interviews
  • In-person interviews
  • Trends in your contacts database
  • Feedback from the sales department
  • Feedback from client services executives

Start with three personas. Interview at least 3-5 people per persona you are trying to build. Organize the data you have gathered, format it for presentation, and discuss and present this to both sales and marketing for feedback. When all is green, it’s time to use your personas for content creation!

 

Map out content to buyer personas

Ideally, you should have at least three personas to work with on your inbound lead generation campaign. But for the sake of brevity in this article, we will focus on creating a content map for just one persona.

Building up on the persona from the previous section, we’ll create content for every stage of Sample Sally's buyer’s journey.

 

Awareness stage content

Awareness stage content are designed to generate awareness for your brand by writing relevant content that appeals to your personas. It doesn’t always have to be about HR Management Software or how “the best one” will change her life forever. Content that aims to address Sample Sally’s challenges, directly or indirectly related to her job description, qualifies. Just don’t stray too far away from your domain of expertise.

Sample content:

  1. “How to use IFTTT as a task-automation tool” (to help give her room to breathe by spending less time doing repetitive tasks)
  2. “Top ten reasons why employees leave their employers (and what you can do about it)”
  3. “Technologies and trends shaping the way we hire in 2018”

 

Consideration stage content

Prospects at the consideration stage are, as the stage name’s suggest, are considering the need for a solution. They aren’t ready to talk to your salesperson yet!

Since they’re evaluating the general need for a solution, it’s best to approach prospects in the consideration stage in a vendor-neutral manner. Through inbound, this means educational content that helps prospects see the value in deploying a certain solution.

In Sally’s case, consideration stage content can look like this:

  1. “HR Management Software in the Context of Small-to-Medium Businesses”
  2. “How HR Management Software can help you measure performance and prove ROI”
  3. “How to Spot and Act on Trends in HR Data”

 

Decision stage content

Content from the consideration stage can be very similar to those from the decision stage. The biggest difference is that on this stage, marketers begin to focus on the value of their brand’s solution, it’s differentiating features from the competition, and other characteristics unique to that brand and how it’s best suited for their prospects.

Besides blogs, decision stage content also comes in the form of case studies, brand comparison sheets, whitepapers, and others. The following is a sample list of content best fit for Sample Sally:

  1. “Growing <business_name_here>: An ROI-oriented Case Study”
  2. “How <solution_name_here> is different from <competing_solution_name_here> and their use cases”
  3. “<Business_name_here> Solutions Portfolio 2018”

 

Write content!

Now here comes the fun part!

We say fun because writing with a defined audience and purpose is fun! It helps set the tone and voice of your content, whose emotions make your content feel more personal and alive.

When writing, try to keep a healthy balance between search engine optimization and being genuinely helpful to your audience. How much you lean to either side will depend on your audience. Just keep in mind that you should be writing for humans, not computers.

Some SEO guidelines:

  • Focus keywords in the title
  • Focus keywords in the headers
  • Focus keywords mentioned reasonably frequently in the body
  • Tags present
  • Meta description present

 

Creating content offers and re-purposing

It’s one thing to attract traffic into your website with blog posts, and another thing entirely to convert them into contacts. This is where additional content offers come in.

Content offers are your brand’s premium content. They are more comprehensive, more detailed, full of research, and generally more polished. They usually come in the form of eBooks, whitepapers, comprehensive checklists and guides, webinars, or free trials, among others. These are given to prospects for free in exchange for further contact with you.

 

Re-purposing

Content offers demonstrate your expertise in your topic domain. Chances are, you already have the bits and pieces of content you need to create comprehensive guides. Audit what you already have, and repurpose them as necessary.

A few places you could look at for content to repurpose:

  • Your website home page and services page
  • A breakdown or analysis of your processes
  • Your blog posts, both published or unpublished
  • Your pitch deck
  • Case studies
  • Internal surveys and research

 

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Compile your new content into the most appropriate format, and create a call to action for insertion into relevant blog posts.

 

Creating calls-to-action

Calls to action link your content offers to your blog posts. They play a pivotal role in turning your blog’s visitors into contacts. It does that by encouraging your visitors to take an action you desire. As is usually the case for B2B inbound lead generation, it’s to download your eBook or guide in exchange for their contact details.

It goes without saying that you must be able to demonstrate the value of your offer during the brief moments that readers will spare to glance at your CTAs.

Once they click the CTA, take your visitors to a landing page - a page whose sole purpose is to further expound on the value of your offer and to capture their contact details before they download.

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Some tips for creating effective CTAs and landing pages:

  • Make the value of your offer immediately clear to your prospects!
  • Write copy that is short, sweet, and to the point
  • Use action verbs!
  • Prefer designs that are simple and that emphasize your offer’s selling point
  • Make sure that the language used on both CTAs and landing pages are consistent

 

Promote content

With your content deployed, it’s time to promote your posts on social media or through email for your existing subscribers.

Keep a consistent posting schedule on social media. Stick to a frequency, dates and times, and commit to it. As for what posting times work best, refer to your personas. Determine the best social media platforms for posting and leverage existing statistics for dates and times that lead to higher than average view, open, and engagement rates.

It’s also important to note that you don’t necessarily have to have one blog post for every social media post. Simply reshare your content as necessary, making sure you space them out enough in between intervals. Take advantage of buzz and trends when sharing and writing post copy.

Plan ahead for good measure. Take note of your contents’ titles, links to be shared, unique post copy, publish dates, status, and remarks. Here’s a social sharing template you could use to get you started:

 

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Nurture leads with further content offers

The leads you have generated so far are top of the funnel leads, and they’re not quite ready to talk to your salespeople yet. What they’re ready for, however, are content complementary and relevant to the issues they’re facing.

Remember that eBook we tied into our blog post as offers? What eBook your prospect downloaded will tell you enough about what challenges your prospects aim to solve. If Sally downloaded the “Guide to Healthy Turnover Rates in the Modern Workplace” eBook, for example, we can infer that Sally may be interested in an eBook that further talks about using “HR Management Software to Spot and Act on Trends in Data”.

Keep in communication with your prospect. Send them offers relevant to the issues they are facing.

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Visualization of the whole inbound lead generation process

 

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List of free inbound lead generation tools

If you have your website built on top of a CMS like WordPress, then you already possess one of the most important software in the lead generation toolkit. Your CMS allows you to dynamically add, alter, delete, and update your content according to the needs of your audience.

Beyond this, it helps to have a set of specialized tools designed to analyze site traffic and statistical data, automate many repetitive tasks in marketing, or build attractive landing pages and CTAs at speed.

Visit this page for a list of free inbound marketing tools we still use today!

 

Making inbound and outbound work together

Both inbound and outbound have their own strengths and weaknesses. Outbound’s strength lies in finding prospects quickly for as long as you have the data and the right targeting parameters. MQLs coming from channels such as phone, SEM, and display tend to be easier to find, but are significantly more expensive per lead.

On the other hand, inbound marketing are cheaper, more sustainable in the long run, and are more effective in finding ideal prospects and gaining market insights. They also cast wider nets; qualified leads are passed on to the sales time, and the unqualified ones are enrolled into various nurturing strategies.

 

When planned right, inbound and outbound can work together better than they can on their own.

When creating a strategy with both an inbound and outbound approach, it’s best to have the focus around buyer personas - and to see how it executes from the prospects’ perspective. Buyer personas identify the best channels to meet your prospects halfway at, as well as the right content offers that would appeal to them in that specific channel.

An inbound + outbound approach, something we like to call allbound - is all inclusive. We place content marketing and marketing automation at the core of our processes, and employ the right outbound channels as we see best fit for our clients. The following is an example of inbound and outbound working together.

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Free "Getting Started With Inbound" Checklist

If all these seem overwhelming, don’t worry. We got you. As soon as you get started and bringing in traffic, you will begin to see how each of these elements interact with each other, and why the tips contained herein are recommended in the first place.

So what better way to learn inbound marketing to dive right in and understand things as they go? Refer to the checklist below and get that lead generation machine started!

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