We loved “Disrupted: My Misadventures in a Start-Up Bubble” by Dan Lyons. Still, Hubspot puts out insightful reports, giving us better insight into B2B marketing tactics. It’s no surprise the report promotes the value of Inbound Marketing, which makes up 81 percent of all marketing campaigns. That doesn’t mean that marketing departments have abandoned B2B lead generation, however.
According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2016 report – which we’ve dissected to bring you the most meaningful bits of information and clarified why they’re important – they are just handling the task that essentially determines a business’s success or failure in a different way.
This year more than ever, business to business marketers are using their resources to create meaningful content that drives more traffic to their websites, and many are looking to social selling as a top priority.
That means for many businesses, traditional marketing avenues are getting the proverbial boot. What works stays, what doesn’t is kicked to the curb and new avenues of revenue building are shifting sales focus significantly.
Marketing is seeing big changes
Contemporary marketers have a lot to contend with, including an explosive increase in ad blocking and social media’s game-changing impact on the way people search for information on the internet.
The main goal for inbound marketers remains the most difficult – converting the visitors they attract to their website into leads, then allowing the sales team to work their magic to turn those leads into customers. The next challenge is to encourage those customers to continue to do business with them by offering fresh products or information to retain customer interest.
According to 78 percent of marketers polled, getting people to visit and interact with their website is the biggest challenge they face, and has been for years. Equally challenging, though, is finding ways to retain those customers.
Changes in the way people use the internet to seek out information will only increase that obstacle if marketers don’t overhaul their approach, so marketers have had to make savvy adjustments to their tactics, reaching potential customers in ways they haven’t focused on before.
Social media is one of the main places they’re planning on investing more of their resources.
Generating leads … but how?
B2B marketers have been relying on email for years as an inbound marketing technique, using opt-in features to encourage website engagement. The potential response is immediate, and if businesses reach potential clients with the right product at the right time, it can be extremely effective.
But email also has its drawbacks. Once a connection is made, a full inbox may mean future emails are overlooked, and a potential lead is lost.
Given this year’s shift in the marketing landscape, generating traffic and leads is important, but it is no longer the first priority for companies. Instead, B2Bs are working harder to turn those who do interact with the company, either via website visits, email interaction, social media cues or calls to action, into customers.
That doesn’t mean that traditional B2B lead generation has been abandoned. While turning leads into customers is now the top priority for businesses, driving traffic remains a vital concern.
With the glut of information available on the internet, the biggest roadblock for companies seems to be a lack of knowledge on the part of customers about the organization’s products or services.
That’s where social comes in, and why social selling can be such a valuable marketing tool. As part of an inbound marketing campaign, social media can to encourage traffic and generate leads that can help your company far surpass sales expectations.
The power of social
With two billion people using Facebook every day, it’s no surprise that social selling is up 6 percent from last year according to the Hubspot report, which is the biggest gain among other sales categories.
Not only does social media allow a company to introduce themselves to potential clients in a way that showcases their personality and spirit, social media outlets – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others – allow businesses to track their followers while determining which social media platform is driving the most traffic.
While it is anonymous, social media contact still has an intimacy that gives prospective buyers a chance to get to know more about a company or service on their own time. That’s important, because few clients are going to make purchases from a company without having information about them at their fingertips, and social media’s relaxed vibe gives them a chance to learn more.
As we mentioned in a previous post, Top B2B Social Media Case Studies for 2016, the Winston-Salem-based ad agency Mullen Lowe helped the railroad company CSX take over its top competitor, Norfolk Southern, using a playful social media campaign that made intermodal shipping seem fun. The company first used a retro game that channeled feelings of nostalgia to create an immediate connection, and then created a cast of cartoon characters that helped explain the business.
“We needed to educate on an entire category while elevating the brand as the leader of that category,” said a CSX spokesperson.
The company’s social campaign erased the biggest hurdle facing salespeople when they approached prospects, because now, potential clients knew and understood the company due to a strong social media presence that introduced CSX in a smart, spirited way.
In addition to helping potential clients get to know them better, social media also allows companies to track the marketing tools that generated the most buzz, whether it was a white paper, a webinar or a post about a product or service. This creates a clearer picture about which marketing tools are the most effective at luring potential clients, so marketers can invest time and money where it will have the most beneficial effects.
Social media also reaches potential customers in a more immediate way, given the amount of time people are spending on various platforms for both work and play.
“In our survey, marketers clearly are accounting for video content’s rising popularity among global online browsers, with 48 percent planning on using YouTube and 39 percent looking to use Facebook video. Podcasts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and new channels like Instagram are in the marketer’s mix as well. 8 percent of marketers are even looking into posting content on Medium,” Hubspot researchers said.
YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are considered the most popular social media platforms, but newer platforms such as the messaging apps WhatsApp and Slack are also gaining ground, and in many cases are considered preferred methods of communication. According to the Hubspot report, companies worldwide are planning on investing more marketing funds on social media campaigns this year, especially video and messaging apps, to boost inbound marketing traffic.
The challenges of being a closer
Boosts in inbound traffic mean that companies have reached consumers in a way that works, although closing the deal obviously remains the biggest and most important challenge.
The changes in the way people are choosing to do business only amplify the issues sales teams face.
“Prospecting is becoming increasingly difficult for salespeople with each passing year, due to seismic shifts in information availability and buyer behavior,” Hubspot researchers said, “With this in mind, a Band-Aid won’t cut it – it’s time for a total makeover of prospecting strategies. Align your prospecting efforts with how buyers want to purchase by tuning into signals that indicate interest, and working with Marketing to increase the flow of inbound leads with a few simple tweaks.”
While potential consumers still prefer to communicate with businesses via email, face-to-face contact (both conferences and sit-down meetings) and by phone, social media’s growth in popularity is transformative as more clients turn to social media early in their search process.
When sales and marketing teams work together – creating social media accounts that are cohesive with landing pages and calls to action, for example – the results are much more successful.
Are marketing and sales teams too far apart?
The companies that report the most effective inbound strategies also report the most united relationships between the sales and marketing teams. When teams from both departments weren’t on the same page, and were not consistently working toward the same goal using the same information, inbound campaigns faltered.
“For our survey respondents, the most powerful combination of characteristics for an effective marketing organization is to 1) be inbound and 2) have an SLA between Sales and Marketing. Inbound organizations with SLAs are over 5 times as likely to rate their marketing strategy as effective compared to outbound organizations with misaligned marketing and sales teams,” according to the Hubspot report.
But most sales and marketing departments view the reasons behind company success quite differently. The majority of marketers – 69 percent – believe that the inbound marketing practices their departments create generate the most leads, while the majority of sales departments – 38 percent – feel as though the leads they generated themselves led to the most sales.
This disjointed relationship helps create a dissonance within the company structure that negatively impacts sales.
Fed Ex recently created a new design that encompassed its company across the board, using its familiar orange and purple design for all of its business divisions, creating a sense of harmony that is important for a brand to make a positive impression.
A disconnect between sales and marketing – the two teams that metaphorically need to have the same logo colors to send the same message – creates consumer confusion, and often sends them to a competitor.
Sales vs. marketing: Friend or foe?
The Hubspot survey found that without an SLA between the sales and marketing departments – which gives both departments the same goal – sales departments placed little value on the marketing department, despite marketing’s mission to give the company its identity and make it a desirable option for potential clients.
Communication is clearly the most important way to develop a relationship that worked between departments, and generates successful B2B lead generations.
It turns out that a calculated return on investment plays a big role in whether or not sales sees the marketing department in a positive light, because it offers visible proof of a successful B2B marketing campaign. That in turn gives the sales department confidence in the marketing side, and the two can come together more effectively. (Like Rodgers and Hammerstein said in “Oklahoma!” – arguably their most familiar musical, “the farmer and the cowman should be friends.”)
The rise of Marketing Automation
With the subtle shift in power from seller to buyer, U.S.-based marketers are focused on content marketing, while other regions are focusing on SEO as the top inbound marketing priority for specific projects in 2016.
That makes sense, because getting noticed by potential clients is the toughest part of the sell, and SEO does that, creating the initial gateway for potential consumers to enter.
But marketing automation now has a place in the mix. Something we’ve reported in our own recent study.
While automated marketing – using data to help determine what businesses need your product or service and when, so you can ensure that usable content reaches them at the right time – was not on the lists of inbound marketing tactics for 2014 or 2015, but in 2016 this new innovation is rising up the ranks, suggesting that in years to come it will overtake most traditional inbound marketing tactics, including content marketing.
Still, most businesses are not using automated marketing to track customer behavior, citing cost as the main reason why they are skipping this important avenue of B2B lead generation.
Techniques that are out of fashion
If social selling is considered one of the highest rated marketing technique, what’s on the bottom?
According to Hubspot’s The State of Inbound 2016, a marketing tool that was once considered the most effective way to reach customers has now lost its luster.
Paid advertising – billboards or print ads as well as online paid advertising – is considered the most overrated of sales tools by marketers, top-level executives, managers and directors worldwide.
The slow death of newsprint to online news sources likely plays a big role in the drop of paid advertising’s popularity, leaving B2B marketers little option but to shift to social selling and other modern techniques to generate the leads that once were found through newspaper advertising.