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B2B Inbound Marketing Quick Start Guide

We’re several years into the era of “Marketing 2.0” and I’m still surprised at the number of B2B technology companies that have not modernized their marketing approach. Just take a look at the websites of so many technology companies, small and large, and it clearly looks like they are stuck in the early 2000’s – or even (gasp)… the 90s.

While I don’t believe in doing trendy things just for the sake of doing trendy things (a.k.a. keeping up with the Jones’), I do believe it’s prudent to take stock of the most current marketing tactics – learn what’s working for companies in the same industries you serve – and implement the most impactful changes.

For decades now, marketers have been focused on traditional “outbound” marketing programs such as television and radio advertising, trade shows, direct mail, online banner displays, pop-up ads, email blasts and the dreaded telemarketing, to name a few.

However with the advent of social media marketing and the social web, a dramatic shift has occurred. Today’s customer no longer wants to be “sold” – instead they prefer to find products and services online on their own or through friendly referrals. This shift is called “inbound marketing” and focuses efforts on web optimization, content marketing, social media optimization and customer referral programs.

Here are some basic tips that should help bring you up to speed on 2011 marketing must-haves and provide a solid foundation for inbound marketing success.

#1 Web Optimization (including SEO)
The corporate website is often a company’s most tangible and visible face to the world. When properly executed, a website can become a powerful marketing tool that not only serves the needs of existing clients, but also provides an opportunity to capture new customers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making sure your business website is properly categorized in the search engines (especially Google) and comes up high in the search results. Another big ingredient of SEO is link building, or getting other relevant sites to link to yours. Although it has been around for years, SEO is still critical in making your business more findable on the Web. It is a long-term strategy, however, and the results may take time to kick in.

#2 Content Marketing
We’ve said it before but “Content is King”. Content marketing is about creating demand through compelling, highly relevant content. This is includes white papers, strategy guides, blogging, infographics, contributed articles, podcasts, videos, data surveys, news articles — anything that offers value to your target customer and helps differentiate you in the marketplace. This content, especially blog posts, gets picked up by the search engines and can help fuel your social media strategy.

#3 Social Media Optimization
Social media sites and associated spam are growing in volume every day as new-bees jump on the social networking bandwagon in hopes of growing their network and making a splash – or at least being heard. The key to successfully leveraging social media is to define the most appropriate channels and best ways to engage key audiences in the right environments, at the right time, with the right messages. This may include the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn); specialty networks, such as Biznik; local directories, such as MojoPages.com and Kudzu.com; social bookmarking sites; video platforms; article directories and blog and forum comments.

#4 Customer Reference Programs
Word-of-mouth marketing is arguably the most powerful way to market your product or services. As discussed in a previous blog post, customer testimonials can greatly enhance the credibility of a company and result in increased sales, media coverage or add the fire to your viral social media campaigns. When customers talk favorably of your product or service, they send a free, credible and targeted marketing message. Customer endorsements can be used in one or more of the following marketing mediums: media/analyst outreach, collateral, social media and/or inclusion on the website.

It’s 2011 and marketing has changed, even in the world of B2B technology. Your customers have different expectations about how they want to find, buy and validate products. If your marketing tactics haven’t kept with the times, you may be missing out on lucrative sales opportunities. The good news is… it’s not too late to adopt an inbound marketing game plan to extend your marketing reach and win more business.

Making the Sale: Credibility Counts

Early stage companies face challenges on all fronts, but establishing credibility with mainstream buyers is often one of the biggest marketing hurdles.

©iStockPhoto.com/Sveta

©iStockPhoto.com/Sveta

A press release claiming market leadership and marketing materials chock full of tidbits about your product benefits and expected ROI may help initiate conversations, but they won’t close deals.

For products and services with higher price tags, pragmatic business buyers often need more reassurance about the credibility of your company before making a buying decision – especially one that is seen as risky (a.k.a. investing in an innovative technology).

Ultimately prospective customers want peace of mind that you can deliver what you promise. People often seek the opinions of others whom they consider better informed within their community to validate the legitimacy of your company and technology.

Establishing credibility with the influencers within your buyer’s community should be a company priority if you want to hit your sales growth targets. Press, analysts, reference customers and influential partners can make or break your perceived credibility.

When it comes to building credibility it is all about a sound strategy and commitment to execution. While owning a large percentage of market share with a strong customer base can be helpful to your credibility building efforts – it is not essential or a guarantee of success.

We have seen clients with shoe string budgets and only a handful of customers successfully build credibility within their prospective buyer’s community. While better-funded players with broader customer bases may falter because they fail to make credibility a priority.

Here are 7 credibility building strategies and tips that we have seen work for our clients over the years:

  1. Create, document and disseminate a plan of execution. If you fail to plan, you will fail to succeed. Bring company stakeholders together to get buy off on plan goals, tactics, roles and responsibilities, timelines, and metrics for success. Then distribute the plan to everyone in the company.
  2. Declare credibility a company priority. Integrate credibility objectives into company and employee performance goals. Every employee should understand how he/she is expected to contribute towards meeting the goal and provide incentives for employees that make significant contributions.
  3. Resist over-inflating your marketing claims. You quickly lose credibility by claiming your product is a wonder tonic that cures all that ails your prospective buyer. Be realistic about what your product can and can’t do and then consistently deliver on your marketing promises.
  4. Get your sales team on board. Sales people tend to be protective of their relationships and resist opening customer reference discussions too early in the sales cycle. But the most successful companies begin these conversations early and aggressively. Brand promotion and contract discounts can be effectively used as bargaining chips during negotiations to secure reference agreements. But beware… before the deal is inked make sure the customer’s corporate communications team is on board or the agreement may be worthless.
  5. Integrate the plan into every stage of the customer lifecycle. An unhappy customer does not make a good reference no matter what type of pre-sales agreement was forged. Make sure your reference customers get the support they need at all costs.
  6. Build strong relationships with influential press, bloggers and analysts. Research and find the industry influencers, track what they are saying and try to forge a relationship. Avoid spamming this audience with meaningless noise and unsupported claims. The only way to solidify a productive relationship with press and analysts is to provide real value, so be strategic in your communications.
  7. Maximize relationships with strategic partners. High profile partners can elevate your credibility if the partnership has some substance. Microsoft Certified Partners are a dime a dozen, but if you are able to announce that you are joining forces with the likes of Oracle to solve an industry problem, you will instantly garner more credibility.

The Bottomline: Building credibility is a shared responsibility across the entire organization. With a properly executed credibility strategy, even small companies can achieve great things. So get your plan in order, commit to enhancing your credibility quotient, and witness an increase in sales conversion rates and revenues.