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Why inbound marketing is key to generating leads for SMEs
If you’re an entrepreneur, inbound represents a much stronger option

Here, Heather Baker argues for a cost-effective lead generation strategy for companies on a tight budget. 

Outbound marketers and muggers have a lot in common: both make unsolicited advances on their targets, employ an 'in your face' style, and expect the other party to simply hand over money. The main difference is the level of commitment.

It’s obviously a good thing that outbound marketers aren’t prone to criminality. The fact that they’re employing a borderline obsolete approach, and expending a lot of time and money doing so, is not so great. On a small business budget, nobody’s going to get much pop for their pound: 86 per cent of viewers skip TV ads; 90 per cent of sales calls end in a polite 'no thank you' at best. Even outbound professionals are cottoning on: per HubSpot, 32 per cent believe it’s the most 'overrated' tactic. 

If you’re an entrepreneur, inbound represents a much stronger option. It’s already been mentioned that it’s more cost effective, but it’s also more effective overall; it generates 54 per cent more leads than outbound, and those leads will usually be of a better standard. It’s not altogether surprising, given that if you’ve attracted an inbound prospect, you’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle facing outbound marketers – getting them interested in your offering.

You’ll also have more actionable information at your disposal; platforms like the aforementioned, justly acclaimed HubSpot help you accumulate customer data, which can give you valuable insights into how your prospects are behaving, and the opportunity to make meaningful improvements over time.

However, when we come to praise inbound marketing as a lead generation strategy, we must include the crucial caveat that it only works when it’s done properly. Those companies that do it well tend to be very effective in the following three areas.

Content

Lead generation is often mistakenly regarded as the science of 'getting more people to buy more stuff'. This may well be the overarching goal, but as Eric Wittlake is right to point out in this piece, it’s more accurately defined as 'capturing [customer] information'. By supplying useful, entertaining content, you have something to offer site visitors in exchange for this information, and a chance to prove your company’s subject matter knowledge and the value of its service.

Customers agree; 61 per cent of them are more positively inclined towards, and more likely to buy from, a company with custom content. Furthermore, 80 per cent of business decision-makers prefer getting information about a company from articles instead of advertisements.

That said, whether or not you generate any actual leads is contingent on your content being excellent. One of the highlights of 2015 for me was attending MozCon and hearing Rand Fishkin, a marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) expert, talk. His rule of thumb is that the content you create should be ten times better than the top result in Google’s rankings – and it’s a good one to follow.

Creating stuff that, if you read it, you 'wouldn’t vomit' isn’t going to cut it, so if you don’t have the internal expertise to write great blogs, articles, social posts, and email marketing, it’s worth contacting an experienced agency.  

SEO

The '10x content' principle is as much about SEO as quality control, and indeed, SEO is a vital part of any inbound strategy. Some 75 per cent of users never get past the first page of Google, so being within the top five results is the best way to ensure maximum audience share and leads. Getting there without SEO is nigh-impossible for most businesses.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard some negative things about this tactic; one illustrative Reddit post is entitled 'I’m quitting the SEO industry. We have worse reputations than used car salesmen'. But this shouldn’t undermine the work of those dedicated to their craft.

The best practice is to create audience-centric, high-quality content, both on your site and others. On your site, you can create landing pages organised around specific keywords that your prospects search for. For example, we wanted to attract people looking for B2B PR services, so we optimised this page for 'B2B PR agency'.

When other outlets link to pages, it improves 'domain authority', a score that lets Google know how trusted your site is. The higher the external site’s score, the more value the link has. 'Linkbuilding' by submitting useful, relevant articles to websites with a link to your site is therefore an essential part of building high-quality SEO leads.

This isn’t a theory, it works. Leads generated through non-paid search have a 14.6 per cent close rate; the rate for outbound marketing leads is a comparatively paltry 1.7 per cent. The same study notes that the highest spenders use organic search for information.

Video

To some extent, video is an effective tool for inbound marketing because video is an effective tool overall. By 2017, it’s expected to account for 69 per cent of all consumer internet traffic. People just prefer it: they process video content 60,000 times faster than text.

While some balk at the expense, businesses are finding that it works for them as well. A point that can get lost in a wall of text can be expressed with clarity and ease in an explainer video; it’s a medium that encourages simplicity and creativity at the same time, and it also shows that your company has more about them than mere ‘talk’. Again, this isn’t a theory: 71 per cent of people are better-inclined towards companies that publish video content, and those who view this content are 85 per cent more likely to buy.

When it comes to video, however, the need to consult experts is even more pressing than with content or SEO. The fact that you can create content quickly and easily on your smartphone is often taken to mean that you should. If you’re out to create yet another hilarious, grainy clip of a baby making silly faces at a cat, then go ahead. But if you want something that makes your company look professional, you’ll need to get in touch with an experienced production team.

Outbound and down

One of the worst mistakes an entrepreneur can make is to invest heavily in a failing marketing strategy. Outbound on its own makes failure at once more likely and more expensive: inbound costs 62 per cent less on a per lead basis – and those leads will typically be of better quality.

Rand Fishkin, as always, says it better than anyone else: 'Best way to sell something; don't sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, and trust of those who might buy'.

Heather Baker, is CEO of TopLine Comms

Further reading on digital marketing

See also: SMEs get direct marketing right

Related topics: Marketing business

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