We often find ourselves in conversations with senior marketers and leadership of industrial and professional service companies considering taking the plunge into inbound marketing. These are people who accept the basic premise of inbound but are struggling as they try to imagine successfully implementing and sustaining an effort that might seem too ambitious for the capabilities their internal team possesses. We typically have to reassure them that most small to midsize organizations don't have all the capabilities needed to be self-sufficient from the beginning. There's a lot of work to do, and it's work that's often far outside of their team’s core competencies. To launch and sustain an inbound program, you'll need help with:
You can see by this list it can be a huge undertaking. And it has to be done well to be effective.
This is where we remind them why we're there in the first place. That's what we, and other businesses like ours, do, and because we do it every day those are things we can do much better than they would ever want to. But, a critical question still remains: what roles and responsibilities does an organization need to take on from the beginning so they can own and manage the plan and the results it will generate for their business?
Surprising as it sounds, many industrial and professional service business don't have well-articulated business growth goals. They know they want to grow revenue and improve profitability, but by how much, how fast, and how are they going to achieve it? Marketing goals are even less likely to be well-defined. Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation.
Business and marketing goals should be objectively connected in a way that provides everyone involved with a good view of the importance of their contributions. For example, say you're a $50 million engineering firm trying to grow by 20% ($10 million) in 2 years, and your 2 primary revenue streams are comprehensive facilities design projects that average $3 million spread over 2 years, and long-term service contracts that average $20,000/month. You can play with the math and arrive at multiple combinations of growth in each area that will get you to your target. The important thing is that you break it down into individual bricks of success, represented by new customers. The next step is to evaluate your pipeline conversion rates and estimate how many leads you need in order to close that many new customers, and how much inbound traffic you'll need to attract to deliver the leads needed. Now you're talking about meaningful marketing goals that can be monitored on a weekly basis for progress.
Since the top-of-the-funnel in inbound marketing is about attracting the best prospects with authentic content, you have to truly know your target so your content and context speaks directly to them. That means getting specific with your ideal buyer profile, outlining the industries, company types and size, geographies, and then the people within those companies who are decision-makers or key influencers: job titles, functional areas, responsibilities, and most importantly their needs and pain points. Because if you can define your target with that level of detail, you're 70% of the way to a completed persona, turning the description of your target into a living, breathing prototype of the perfect customer.
You don't have to be a professional writer to launch a solid inbound program; there are plenty of ways to create content with outside help. But you do have to think like a publisher, which means regularly getting inside the head of your targets to think about what you know or can share that would be valuable and interesting to them. By thinking like your target you'll start seeing potential content in a new light; recognizing that commentary on a new study would be welcome; evaluation of some emerging technology by one of your engineers would be helpful; providing predictions about the impact of new regulations insightful. When you get your entire organization thinking like this suddenly everyone from sales reps to supply chain managers are starting to be content idea contributors.
An effective inbound approach will dramatically change your sales pipeline, first by presenting you with more leads. But not all leads are equal...or worth pursuing. Just like on the plant floor the maintenance team has to evaluate and prioritize maintenance issues, industrial marketers and sales people have to determine how to prioritize leads. Some leads can be immediately disqualified. Others show promise because they fit that ideal buyer profile and have shown interest in your product or service. In our world those are marketing qualified leads (MQL), which are the leads that have the closest fit with the target requirements you established earlier.
Next, segment MQLs based on what you know about them — their company information, their role, and their demonstrated intent. Some of your MQLs might be sales qualified leads (SQLs) already, because their company is a perfect fit for your services, they're decision-makers, and they're behaving like someone ready to get started. Align expectations with your sales team by creating a service level agreement in advance that defines what constitutes an MQL or SQL, how those will be assigned to sales team members, and what sales will be responsible to do to close the lead. Never forget that these are prospects who found you, told you they need what you sell, and weren't shy about signaling that they're ready to buy.
Inbound marketing provides a rich assortment of real-time data every day, all there to tell practitioners what's working, what's not, and what you could be doing differently tomorrow to improve performance and results. But analytics are only valuable if you use them when they’re fresh. Knowing how to interpret those analytics might take some training, but building that knowledge internally and expanding your inbound skill set will help you develop better programs going forward. This doesn’t mean you have to take it all on yourself, but having that built-in knowledge as you work with a partner agency is a win-win and will drive better business results faster. Do you know what's your best source of traffic? Where are the highest quality referrals coming from? What blog topics and headlines seem to get the most click throughs? Which landing pages have the highest conversion rates? Answering these questions as fast as data is available means you can increase the velocity of your inbound marketing and business results.
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