The Internet and social networks have deeply transformed B2B buyer behavior. Most of the time, buyers prefer to look for the information they need to make an informed decision on their own. Depending on the sources, the B2B buyer alone manages between 60% and 90% of his purchasing process. It is, therefore, necessary to establish a presence where the buyer will carry out his/her research, with quality content that attracts your audience’s attention.
Buyer behavior in B2B: the rise of inbound marketing
The rise of inbound marketing is a revolution in the field of marketing. Inbound marketing is the opposite of traditional marketing, it is the contrary of demand-driven marketing because, in this case, interest is generated on the supply side, not the demand-side.
Inbound marketing is the result of evolving B2B buyer behavior
Hence the term “inbound”, as opposed to “outbound”. In this case, customers are doing your marketing for you. The job of a marketer becomes that of a content producer. He/she must become a trusted partner of his/her customers and avoid being “salesy” at all costs.
We have entered a period of turmoil. Market research, surveys, and focus groups have been used for many years to get to grips with what clients need. But today, everything has changed. Neither the iPhone, iPad nor Nespresso are the result of market research.
Inbound marketing, sales, especially in B2B, are no longer the realm of salespeople but of brand ambassadors. Often, they are the early adopters of your product or service, sometimes they are your own employees or your business partners. These ambassadors need to be nurtured because the aim of inbound marketing is geared towards reassuring them that they have or will make the right choice at the right moment with the right people. Word of mouth and worth of mouth marketing is key, not sales. In other words, the less you sell, the more you sell. It’s the inbound marketing paradox.
Inbound marketing also means the end of self-centered user groups. User groups are meant for exchange and participation, not sales. There must be something in it for the client. However obvious this may seem, many B2B vendors lose sight of this fact.
Desire over need
In the light of these changes in B2B buyer behavior, one needs to look beyond the mere understanding of B2B buyer needs to enhance one’s marketing approach and break out from traditional marketing techniques. To this end, the mastering of 4 cultural aspects of inbound marketing is necessary.
- Innovation is obligatory
- Customers are always in the room
- Cultivate your difference and stand out from the crowd
- Push the envelope at all times
The inbound marketing conversion funnel consists of the 4 following steps:
- Attract quality traffic through websites, blogs, all from an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) perspective, without forgetting social media.
- Convert these visitors into qualified leads (contacts with contact information) by encouraging them to download quality content or even contact you. The role of call-to-action is very important, to direct visitors to a landing page built specifically for them.
- Turning cold leads into hot leads and then into customers. The techniques of lead scoring, marketing automation, and lead nurturing are crucial during this stage.
- And finally, building customer loyalty, i.e. maintaining a quality relationship over the long term so that they become ambassadors of your brand.
Limitations of theoretical approaches
Any inbound marketing strategy is a long-term strategy. The ROI only becomes apparent after several months, even years. The production of quality content is time-consuming. You will then need to hire qualified, competent (copywriting, SEO…) and imaginative people. Before generating leads, you need to prime the pump by publishing a certain volume of articles so that readers get used to you, recognize you, and trust you.
Besides, marketing and sales must be perfectly aligned for inbound marketing to work properly.
While inbound marketing has become an essential component of any B2B strategy, too often, the war between marketing and sales is a serous inhibitor. Alignment is one of the main pain points in a lead generation initiative. Such alignment is a prerequisite, there is no avoiding it.
It should also be kept in mind that the concept of a funnel is not relevant for processes involving multiple decision-makers nor when decisions are slow and require documentation.
Marketing automation tools — those that are needed to create scenarios and nurturing processes — tend to be rather expensive too.
Last but not least, ABM is more suited to complex sales than inbound marketing. You cannot apply inbound marketing without a bit of preliminary thinking.
Trends and innovations
Among the major current trends in inbound marketing, the personalization of content is the most important. Personalization can be done according to available channels or predefined personae (read our persona marketing fact-sheet).
Overall, there are two types of content customization. The first is explicit personalization. Explicit personalization means, for example, filling in the first and last name of your contact person, sometimes even the title of his or her position or company. It is the first step but it is not the only one.
Implicit personalization is about making the right offer to the right person. How is this achieved? By carefully studying the behavior of the buyer you are targeting (read the sheet on B2B purchasing). This is much more powerful than explicit personalization.
Tools and methods
There are many tools to help you deploy an inbound marketing strategy. We will focus here on marketing automation tools, in particular Hubspot, Marketo, Adobe Campaign (formerly Neolane) and Webmecanik.
The market leader Hubspot, created in 2006, has conquered the world. Publication on blogs, management of these publications on social networks, creation of well-indexed landing pages, automation of e-mailing campaigns… The platform offers the whole range of actions useful for a worthy inbound marketing strategy. However, its reporting is mostly traffic-oriented and contact-led (prospects and customers). This approach is not very well suited in the context of complex sales where other indicators have to be taken into consideration.
Bought by Adobe for $4.75 billion at the end of 2018, Marketo is another market heavyweight. With a strong focus on large accounts, Marketo offers advanced reporting, scoring and ABM (Account Based Marketing) features. Such a complex tool requires time before it can be mastered properly. Once you are familiar with it, you will be able to industrialize your actions and manage large volumes of contact data.
Adobe Campaign, formerly Neolane (Adobe acquired software vendor Neolane in 2013), offers a wide range of campaign automation and CRM capabilities to efficiently manage your email, social media and mobile campaigns. Setting it up requires knowledge and skills.
Webmecanik : created in 2006 as a digital agency, Webmecanik took the technological turn in 2015 by developing its own marketing automation solution based on open source technology. Their solution contains everything that is needed to implement a marketing automation strategy. However, its reporting capabilities is a little less comprehensive than that of its competitors.
Useful resources for B2B buyer behavior analysis
- Inbound marketing: lost in translation!
- The new 5Ps of marketing in the digital era
- B2B sales graph according to Trinityp3