What is Inbound Marketing and why is it so important?

In a real sense, everyone needs to stop selling!

That statement is anathema to old school business, where graduates of the Dale Carnegie-style college of charm and smarm reigned supreme. But times have changed, and online consumers are not impressed by pearly white smiles and loud adverts anymore. Admittedly, social media might be lowering IQ across the globe, but when it comes to marketing and sales, consumers are significantly more sophisticated.

Online, there are no successful high-pressure sales techniques and FOMO only goes so far in spurring prospective clients to view anyone’s offer. SEO is important – very important, it’s true – as is exposure and visibility (the ultimate aim of SEO). Of course, the fundamentals that remain from the business since it started – having a good product or service that people want because it’s faddy, stylish, or genuinely eases their lives a little – are also important. Even with the best SEO on the planet and a great product or service, however, hard-selling jars on modern consumers.

What we’ve realized in the decades since the internet was plugged in, is that the remote nature of transacting (there is no customer standing in front of you in the store) demands a softer, more welcoming, and ultimately non-threatening approach. Enter Inbound Marketing and its carefully formulated approach to modern consumers.

Inbound Marketing is, in a nutshell, nice. It’s not selling. It’s not assuming that as soon as someone shows their face, you get to sell them all sorts of stuff. In a great feedback loop, Inbound Marketing emerged as a logical upshot of online business, and now also defines and constantly refines our approach to consumers.

Inbound Marketing demands that systems are in place

The term ‘Inbound Marketing’ was coined by HubSpot co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan in 2005. From humble beginnings as an idea or formula that would purge the online life of its hit-and-miss spammy approach, post 2010 saw the term and its practice start to define the online marketing space. It’s now standard practice for any forward-thinking company that hopes to succeed online.

Easily recognized by a series of steps that constitute the formula, Inbound Marketing won’t work in a haphazard environment. It requires the right tools (tech hardware) and the right upkeep (IT support) that both enable the right approach to consumers. It’s a dedicated role, and it demands fluid systems and protocols to facilitate the workload of keeping tabs on a client’s journey.

When it comes to operational assistance, finding a company providing IT support in London, New York, Tokyo or Prague has never been easier. Indeed, the IT support industry has capably sorted its own standards and baseline service offerings, so no company today should be stumbling through their tech ability. The old days of crashed Windows and offline servers – and even ‘no signal’ from Wi-Fi – are gone. Fluid connectivity is where Inbound Marketing starts, as it’s a process, one in which you shouldn’t have to drop the ball because of inadequate tech, systems or protocols.

Inbound Marketing is critical for online success because it’s the only methodology to date that ticks all of the consumer’s boxes. It also leads to sales and after-sales relationships – it’s a win-win for all parties, which is the best (and most profitable) world to inhabit. From haute couture to hash browns – no matter what one is selling, modern consumers expect to experience an Inbound approach in 2020.

The four stages or steps of Inbound Marketing are conventionally referred to as Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. Following the steps is designed to make ambassadors out of strangers, and each stage has its own identifying characteristics. The process is built around appropriate engagement and timing, so that at no stage does one just suddenly shove products or services in people’s faces. Sales are achieved through a proper investigation, however brief, of a client’s needs, and success is anticipated in meeting them.

Step 1: Attract

It’s now well known that literally seconds stand between online consumers reading further or clicking away from you. Inbound Marketing states that you need to wow prospective clients from the get-go. Legitimate value, legitimate answers to their pain points – all presented transparently and with reassuring style and (modest) authority – will further engage prospective clients. Consumers are fickle, and doubly so online. Vulgar “Buy me!” propositions are fading as Inbound Marketing is taking over the web. SEO is nothing without a good supportive offer or content. Likewise, having a sales funnel the size of Brazil will only supersize your disappointment if it’s not lubricated with the Inbound Marketing process.

You will have defined your anticipated buyer personas (people who might find value in your offer) and who will possibly become your customers. Quality content (and not vacuous, vague fluff) will attract them, backed by legitimate value propositions and relief of their pain points. There’s a fine line between attracting people with smart copy and content and blowing garish and pushy whistles. Inbound Marketing errs towards the former. Social media platforms, blog posts, email campaigns, and, of course, your home site are all locales to attract buyer personas.

Step 2: Convert

Ideally, you want new entrants to your business arena to wonder where you’ve been all their lives. Having wowed them, the next step is to convert them into qualified leads. This will allow you, with their consent, to journey further with them towards making them paying clients who will happily promote your offer. It’s good old fashioned ‘word of mouth:’ the online version. Wowed newcomers who will give you their personal contact details are also called ‘marketing qualified leads.’ This means that they have agreed to communicate with you, as they’re interested or impressed by your product or service.

Their contact details are gold for Inbound marketers. It’s a challenge to collect those details, but again Inbound Marketing has its logical approaches. It says that the cost of lost sales through other methodologies is greater than the cost of simply giving stuff away. People love free stuff, whether it’s goods or a free evaluation, a webinar, or an eBook of solid industry intel that constitutes your intellectual property (IP). You’ll need to hold out something of value in exchange for their contact details.

Step 3: Close

Although the next step is termed ‘closing’ a customer, both parties have come to this point without the usual play on FOMO or other obnoxious hard-sell practices that epitomized the self-satisfied sales techniques of yore. This step focuses on turning new leads into happy customers. Here you’ve addressed a client’s desires and reassured them of your integrity and innate value.

By this stage of the journey, you’ve been answering the client’s queries and narrowing down their issues (if any) to find a good fit. You’ve been helpful in a no-obligation kind of way – and in Inbound Marketing there really is no obligation, one can’t fake it – and the customer is informed and happy to be here of their own volition.

Step 4: Delight

Step four is really a crucial difference between the old and new schools of sales, as making that initial sale is just the start of the real journey. Inbound Marketing recognizes the cost of sale and the value of return business. The way the methodology addresses that is by making sure that you keep existing clients happy – happy to be associated with you and happy to recommend you to their contacts. This takes continued (consensual) engagement, and soft notifications of specials or other real benefits via social media or email.

In delighting your customers, you’re building genuine further sales opportunities amongst them, as well as anyone they recommend you to. Step four also encapsulates the reality that brand loyalty can only come from a continued expression of how much you value them as customers. Many companies get it wrong here, spamming people until they unsubscribe. It’s a conversation! An extremely polite one, at that: and any notion that now that you’ve got them in your grasp — so you can milk them for their attention and dollars — will quickly erode whatever goodwill has been built up during the Inbound Marketing process.

Sure, some customers are only after a once off purchase, or they’re seldom online, or simply don’t engage with the world that way. They’ll unsubscribe or otherwise let you have their preferences, and that’s also fine. They know you’ve been a fantastic experience, and if ever they do need something else from you, Inbound Marketing insists that you welcome them back warmly. More importantly, they and every other customer that has come through the Inbound journey with you, is now an ambassador for your brand. You’ve achieved brand loyalty without the tons of hype and massive ad spend to spin a product or service that used to be applied in the legacy arena.

Most importantly, you know that you have customers you can count on to recommend you as ‘their’ choice, because there was no push, no rush, and no pressure to buy throughout their journey into getting to know you. Inbound Marketing is, above all, nice!

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