For many professional services businesses, inbound marketing was the answer to their prayers. And for a while, they were right.
Databox CEO Pete Caputa puts it this way, "Five to ten years ago, when most companies were just getting started out and Google was the only game in town, doing anything online worked. I remember the days when almost every blog post I published would rank highly in Google. Now, we’re lucky if a 5,000 word missive that attracts 10 great inbound links will make it to page two."
So what happened? The answer is simple - competition happened. Inbound marketing is ubiquitous now, just about everybody is doing it. Competition for the holy grail of #1 Google ranking is fierce.
So as we turn our thoughts to planning for the upcoming sales year, just where does inbound marketing fit into your business development strategy?
Change your focus from quantity to quality
The old inbound marketing playbook was simple - the more blog posts you published, the more website traffic you got. And the leads and customers followed.
Over time, what happened was that a lot of crappy content was published. Buyers became much more discerning. How many "5 Tips For (Fill In The Blank)" blog posts does the world really need. Particularly when they all say basically the same thing.
So how can you separate your inbound marketing content from the glut of less than stellar content your competitors are throwing against the wall?
Focus on targeted segments. Rather than create content targeted for everyone that resonates with no one, create content that is highly relevant to a segment that you are targeting. The goal is to attract qualified buyers to your content, not to attract a broad segment of people that may or may not be able to help your business.
Strive for quality, not quantity. Take your time and create quality content that people will bookmark and come back to. Publishing listicles 3 times a week doesn't work any more. Creating helpful content often means creating long-form, comprehensive content.
Employ a content cluster approach. The content cluster approach is a bit too complex to describe in a paragraph. Click through the link to read an article by HubSpot that describes it in detail. This is the best thing you can do to optimize for search engines today.
In short, it's better to publish one great long-form blog post per month than to crank out the same old drivel that everyone else is publishing.
Use your inbound marketing content in your prospecting
Despite what you may be hearing from the die-hards, cold-calling is dead. Technology has allowed us to block out unwanted intrusions into our work day.
How many of you will answer a call on your smartphone from a number you don't recognize? And if someone leaves a message, how long do you listen before you delete it? How many numbers do you block when you see that someone calls you repeatedly and never leaves a message?
Does this mean that you should stop prospecting? No!!! What you should do is prospect in a helpful, respectful way that lets people consume your message on their terms.
In most cases, this means email prospecting. Remember that high-quality content you created for that target market segment? You don't need to wait for people to find it in Google for it to be useful.
Create a short email template (preferably less than 200 words) that describes the relevance of your content to the recipient. Then link to the content in your email.
A short email that will fit on the screen of a smartphone is much more likely to be read than the short story describing how great your company is. Particularly if it relates to a pain point or interest of the recipient.
Use email prospecting software like HubSpot Sales Pro to track opens and click-throughs. This will let you optimize your approach based on performance and create action-based follow up with your prospects.
Use paid promotion to accelerate inbound marketing results
The truth is that it takes time to develop an organic audience with inbound marketing. You need to publish content consistently to develop domain authority with Google. A content cluster approach will speed up your results.
However, to get eyeballs on your content quickly, you should consider using paid advertising. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google and other search engines is a good way to promote your content while you're building your organic audience.
If you're not careful, it's also a good way to waste money. Work with someone who can help you choose the right keywords, audiences and ad structures to maximize your return on investment. Start small to gain experience and see what's working for you and what isn't.
Another good way for professional services businesses to get their content in front of the right people is to use social media advertising platforms like LinkedIn Sponsored Updates. LinkedIn is where you can find your buyers and it's targeting capabilities let you focus your advertising on the right people.
Facebook and Twitter advertising may also make sense for your business, but we recommend starting with LinkedIn. As is the case with PPC advertising, start small and ramp up your investment as you understand what is working and what isn't.
As you build a larger organic audience, you can scale back on the paid advertising.
Use inbound marketing to facilitate customer success
The best inbound marketers realize that it's not just for selling new business. Particularly for professional services businesses who rely on referrals, cross-sells and up-sells to grow their businesses.
Create content that helps your customers be more successful. If you've developed a unique way to solve a problem for one customer, create content around that solution and share it with your other customers.
This type of content is the perfect fuel for your customer newsletters. And it's also appealing to potential buyers who face the same problems.
After all, it's just good business to treat your customers like they are prospects.
Inbound marketing is the focal point of a modern professional services marketing strategy because it matches with the way buyers buy. But in an increasingly competitive environment, getting good results is more difficult. Use the tactics described above to separate your content from the din of indistinguishable filler. Need a little help? Schedule a free consultation.