Industry experts report that B2B marketers are tackling their inbound marketing initiatives with the help of relevant, contextual content to provide B2B buyers the information they need to move along their buying journey. Ultimately, these data-driven clues position B2B sales teams with leads that are most likely to convert.
A recent IDC study found that 65% of buyers engage with a salesperson only after they've made a purchase decision. This ongoing shift highlights the need for B2B organizations to fully leverage content and data in their inbound marketing initiatives to move prospects through the buyer’s journey.
Demand Gen Report’s 2015 B2B Buyer's Survey Report also shows the importance of content to the success of inbound marketing. The study notes that 75% of B2B buyers cite thought leadership content among their top pieces of content consumed during a buying process, while content that helps build a business case or shows clear ROI for the purchase was somewhat or very important for 83% of buyers.
B2B companies such as Xirrus WiFi, a WiFi access point manufacturer, are using marketing automation to track the performance of their inbound campaigns and ensure that they are investing in campaigns with the highest potential for conversions.
"What's happening now is marketers are using interactive content to get a much clearer picture of a prospects needs and interests," said Jerry Rackley, Chief Analyst at Demand Metric.
Rackley noted how a data protection and security software company was able to enhance inbound lead generation and scoring due to the engagement prospects had with interactive elements that were added to white papers, E-books and other content. The company was able to attribute roughly 10% of its total inbound leads to the interactive content.
The pressure for B2B organizations to deliver content that is targeted, timely and contextual has increased, and with it, the expectations for inbound marketing effectiveness , according to Adam Blitzer, SVP and GM for Salesforce Pardot.
"Each buyer requires a unique approach," Blitzer added. "It’s vital that sales and marketing teams work together on one system of record to deliver targeted, one-to-one messages at each point of engagement based on data collected throughout their initiatives."
For example, Xirrus WiFi has balanced its inbound and outbound initiatives to maximize lead generation with quality content campaigns. With Pardot, the company’s conversion rates on MQLs to sales-qualified opportunities increased 18% in the past six months.
"Before Pardot, we would just create one general campaign and throw it out there with a generic enough message that appealed to everyone," said Jillian Mansolf, CMO of Xirrus WiFi. "With [marketing automation], we are able to move much more quickly in creating campaigns allowing us to create many targeted campaigns with the most relevant content."
Mansolf highlighted six tasks B2B companies need to address to enhance inbound initiatives:
- Set Goals. Ensure sales and marketing are in agreement and aligned with the goals of your program and how metrics will be determined and reported.
- Focus On Quality Not Quantity. This can lead to less resources being wasted by marketing and sales teams on leads that could never close.
- Clean Up The Database. An accurate database can help ensure marketing messages are relevant and resonate with target audiences;
- Create Great Content. It’s impossible to have a successful lead generation program without content that is relevant and tailored to pique the interest of your prospects and customers;
- Measure, Analyze And Ask “Why?” Always look at the metrics and ask why the campaign was successful or not and whether or not it met goals; and
- Educate Yourself. Put aside a certain amount of time each week to educate yourself on customer needs and continue to adapt to meet the needs of prospective buyers.
"Creating great-looking, relevant inbound campaigns and launching them quickly is a never ending quest," Mansolf said. "Inbound marketing holds one truth: relevant content leads to higher conversion rates."
Driving More Data With Interactive Content
Tracking results from inbound continues to have its gaps for many B2B companies, according to David Lewis, Founder of DemandGen International.
"[Companies have] made major efforts in regards to content creation and driving traffic, but they don’t have methods in place to attribute those efforts in any way," Lewis noted. "Now they don't have quantifiable results to look back on."
The challenge is that the picture marketers get is incomplete or inaccurate when they rely on the limited insights prospects drop when they consume passive content. This has led many B2B companies to begin leveraging interactive content formats to fuel their inbound campaigns. With interactive content, marketers gain behavioral data such as time spent on a piece of content and responses to an assessment to help enhance engagement with prospective buyers, according to Demand Metric's Rackley.
For example, Rackley highlighted how an interactive assessment can help a prospect understand their readiness or maturity, as well as provide marketers with a lot of detail about where the prospect is in the buying journey.
"As marketers increase their use of interactive content, they are seeing better engagement and a byproduct of that engagement is greater intelligence about those who consume the content," Rackley said. "Marketers discern clues about prospects from how they interact with content; marketers are trying to read the digital body language."
Marketers can also gain insight into how effective their content efforts are through the help of A/B testing, sources noted.
"[Companies] assume that A/B testing only works for online display ads, promotional email or landing pages," according to Rackley. "But it works for many kinds of content as well, and a little testing goes a long way toward improving content effectiveness."
Data Management Highlights Account Healthiness
Data continues to be a hurdle in many inbound marketing strategies. Sources noted that it's important to have a data management strategy in place to maximize the buyer behavior insights that can positively impact inbound marketing initiatives.
"It takes data to create that engaged experience, and that's where B2B companies are struggling," said Ed King, Founder and CEO of Openprise, a data automation technology provider. "The data they have isn't in the right format, or the data is very generic and ultimately cannot enhance personalization."
This information can also boost inbound initiatives on target accounts, according to King. Analyzing the right metrics can identify key players within an account, what their buying needs are and how to best engage these leads to move them along the buying journey.
"Once you segment the leads, you can analyze penetration and presence within the account," King noted. "It's all about being able to figure out which leads are making accounts more healthy."
Accurate insights also enable B2B marketers to leverage paid advertising, a type of inbound media that is increasingly important, according to David Raab, Principal at Raab Associates.
"This may seem backwards, since inbound is generally thought of as content that attracts a [customer]," Raab noted. "But we’re seeing more advertising that offers content as the main reason to engage, which I consider a form of inbound."
What’s driving this, in turn, is the greater targetability of ad media, allowing marketers to reach people based on intent, retargeting, and lookalike modeling, and to control the messages seen by specific individuals, even if you don’t know the individuals’ names.
"Deciding which channels to employ is also a big challenge as new options continue to emerge and you can’t just do everything," Raab noted.