Now more than ever, marketing and sales strategies and communications need to be aligned in order to create an effective growth strategy. The path and singular focus of these two historically siloed business units continues to move closer together into a unified vision. I believe that inbound marketing will be the centerpiece of this unification because of the focus on pipeline growth and nurturing.
An inbound strategy, in the broadest terms, is a marketing strategy which is focused on demand generation, lead acquisition, and lead nurturing. Traditionally, the line has been very distinct…marketing does marketing stuff to get leads and sales does whatever they do to close the leads. Organizationally, this is how it has worked for a very long time. But in our new world of sales and marketing automation, we are rapidly blurring roles and responsibilities.
As the Director of Search at emfluence, I am responsible for the teams that provide the strategic insight and tactical implementation of inbound marketing strategies for our clients – from SEO and Paid Search to social strategy and influencer marketing, to straight up pay per lead generation campaigns. I had the opportunity to give a very brief presentation at emfluence’s And Then Some Conference, in which I gave a presentation entitled “From Conversion to Conversation: Amplify Your Inbound with Paid Media and Marketing Automation.”
I wanted to take a few moments to expand on my thoughts from the presentation a bit further. The general summary of my presentation is that Content Marketing, Paid Media, and Marketing Automation can be used together to create a powerful inbound strategy that can scale up and down as needed. Let’s step through this.
Step 1: Focus on Your Customers
Inbound marketing is all about your customers. It isn’t about your message and your sales points…it is about understanding your customer needs and working to offer solutions to their pain points and challenges. With this focus on customers, there are two key elements you need to have in hand before you go any further in the process:
- Buyer Personas – these can be a high-level view or a very detailed portrait of your average customers. Your buyer personas should have a minimum level of depth in which you cover basic demographic and psychographic information.
- Customer journeys – this is a journey map that will help you to align the key elements of your customer journey as they make their purchase decision. It’s important to have this available in future steps as you begin to map content to stage in the journey.
Step 2: Become a Champion of Content
Content is King. I know, you’ve heard that repetitively for so long it has become somewhat annoying…but it doesn’t make it less true. Content is the centerpiece of everything that you hope to achieve online. Content is key to how you perform from a SEO perspective, it is key to the messages you share across your social channels or email, and it is key to everything you do as a sales organization. If you don’t have the right content, you are climbing up a hill that you created.
The first step to becoming a content champion is knowing and understanding what content you currently have available. As a digital marketer, I am typically focused on the digital content assets, but this could easily include all offline and non-digital content that you may have. To get a full grasp of your content, a content audit and inventory document is extremely helpful. You should include in this audit all assets that could be used for online promotion or sharing. Because of the blurring lines between marketing and sales, I would also recommend that you focus on the digital and non-digital assets sales uses in their regular communications with customers and prospects.
Now that you have your buyer personas, your customer journey maps, and your content inventory, you can get started with an exercise called content mapping. With content mapping, the goal is to map all your existing content to the appropriate persona and stage of the customer journey. Through this process, you will develop a content map that has all your existing content bucketed into their appropriate category. It is also typical to find certain areas with heavy saturation of content – generally in the earlier and late stages. You may also find that you have significant gaps in the middle stages of the customer journey. With this information, you can begin drafting a content strategy to fill those gaps, which will help you as you start thinking about the role of marketing automation in the sales process.
Step 3: Build Your Lead Generation Engine
While I know that SEO is a major focus for everyone when developing a content strategy, it is typically a longer-term solution to building scalable traffic and lead generation. It may take many months to get significant traction with SEO (which is the largest driver of intent-driven site visitors). So, as you get started on developing all the wonderful content to fill the gaps, you also must have a plan in place for how to get people to see that content. The “build it and they will come” model is long dead!
This is where your distribution strategy and paid media comes into play. If you are lucky, you have a large network of social followers and/or influencers that you can leverage to distribute your messages. However, many of us are not so lucky, so we must rely on more obvious solutions like paid media. This does not mean that you should ignore social channels as a method for content distribution.
At emfluence, paid media is a combination of paid search, paid social, display, mobile, video, and programmatic media. We can define an appropriate mix to achieve most of the goals you might have. For an inbound strategy, the focus is on generating new leads, so that is what we should be considering. Paid search is one of the most obvious paid channels for lead generation, simply because you are capturing intentional users…potential customers that have search specifically for something that has triggered your ad. We know that these are likely highly targeted prospective customers for you because we have defined the terms for triggering our ads.
Paid social may be a great fit for this well. Your followers across these social networks are likely to be at least moderately interested in your message/content. You can also try to target people that are like your existing followers to expand your reach further. Finally, we often recommend considering remarketing display ads to try to send follow-up touch points to people that have already viewed your ad and visited your site.
Building an effective paid media strategy can help you to drive new prospective customers to your awesome content, convert them into leads, and drop them into the next step of this process.
Step 4: Nurture Your Leads, Build a Relationship
Now that we have great content in place and we’ve created an engine for driving new leads into the funnel, what’s next? In my past experience, this has often been the point where marketing has stopped, and it has been a point of frustration between sales and marketing. Marketing will complain that they did their job and got the leads but sales couldn’t close the deal. Sales will complain that the leads they are getting are garbage or are not ready to be sold to. So what do we do?
This is where a marketing automation platform like the emfluence Marketing Platform can help bridge the gap between acquired lead and sales qualified lead. Earlier in this process, I talked about developing a content strategy that would fill the gaps and make sure we have great content to share with our prospective customers throughout their purchasing journey. Using this, we can create a lead nurturing strategy, triggered by our new paid lead generation campaigns, that is designed to further qualify the new prospects.
Using targeted messages that are time-based and/or behavior based, marketing automation can help us to nurture and further qualify leads using lead scoring and behavior specific markers.
Step 5: Seamlessly Hand Off to Sales
Finally, after following all of these steps you are able to send a steady flow of more qualified prospective clients. You have built content that appeals to your customers and you have launched a distribution strategy that is getting that content in front of relevant people. Those people are engaging with your content and providing you with key information to add them to your funnel. You are nurturing them through their decision-making process with targeted messages and key content designed to educate and inform. These potential customers are being handed off to sales at the right time, resulting in a more efficient close rate.
Everyone is happy, and you have gone from conversion to conversation to sold.