Digital Marketing

Inbound Leads: Definition, Generation Strategies and More

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Have you ever been home, enjoying your day alone when all of a sudden there comes an unexpected knock on the door?

Now, you have to stop what you’re doing.

Get up.

Check the peephole to make sure it’s not a murderer.

Open the door.

And allow your neighbor in—even though you both have phones and they could have called first.

That is outbound lead generation.

Sound a little extreme? Let me explain. Brands running outbound marketing campaigns (your neighbor) do their best to meet their target audiences (you) where they are, but in a way that might feel intrusive or irrelevant at the time.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is a street fair, inviting you to come outside and greet your neighbor naturally.

Inbound Leads vs. Outbound Leads

An inbound lead happens when a prospect elects to contact your company after interacting with an aspect of your marketing program, such as through SEO content, social media, email or another format. The consumer controls the time and place of the interaction.

Examples of inbound marketing include:

  • Blogs.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Webinars.
  • eBooks.
  • White papers.
  • Social media campaigns.
  • Email newsletters.

Outbound leads are generated when a company sends out marketing material to their target audience, whether those people have shown initial interest or not. The marketing team decides the time and place of the interaction rather than the consumer.

Outbound marketing includes:

  • Billboards.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
  • Commercials.
  • Cold calls.
  • Cold emails.
  • Outside sales.
  • Direct mail.

Both inbound and outbound marketing are effective in their own way, depending on how they are used. Outbound and inbound marketing can work together as you build brand awareness and develop your website SEO ranking.

For example, Direct mail is emerging as a leader in sparking a relationship with potential customers in a post-2020 world. Leveraging your business’ aesthetic and values into a focused print feature may open the door to future collaboration. This outbound tactic can be paired with digital interactions for an omnichannel approach that bridges the divide between modern and traditional marketing approaches.

QR codes have seen a resurgence in marketing campaigns over the past year. Including these in your print marketing materials will help the consumer make the connection between your physical mailing and your digital presence.

Inbound marketing will help you succeed in the long run. Outbound will help you build awareness, but loses its value for customers after a while. Buyers are tired of being chased around with marketing messages out of the blue. Today, shoppers are looking for a deeper connection with the brands they buy from. That’s where inbound steps in.

Why Does Inbound Marketing Work?

Inbound marketing is effective because you are creating content that answers your customers’ questions when they’re asking them. Instead of interrupting their daily life with ads, you’re presenting your company at the right time to the right people.

In 2005, HubSpot’s founder, Brain Halligan, coined the term to describe a new type of marketing strategy. The notion was brought on by a shift in how people shopped online. Shoppers today are weighing customer feedback and their own research over advertising claims.

Inbound presents a unique opportunity to connect with customers at exactly the right time, whereas with outbound, you could really miss the mark. The customer could still be in the research stage or already purchased an item somewhere else.

Diving into the specific steps of a shopper’s process will help sales teams know when to reach out, and clarify how marketing teams should close.

Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s journey or marketing funnel includes awareness, interest, consideration and decision stages.

  • Awareness: When a buyer first becomes aware of your brand.
  • Interest: When the consumer begins to understand the benefits your company offers and becomes interested in learning more.
  • Consideration: When they start shopping online or in-person to compare prices, get advice and ask questions about the product.
  • Decision: When they make the ultimate decision to buy the product or service.

Creating content and planning marketing interactions for each layer of the funnel helps to nurture prospects and encourage them to make their way through each stage.

Buyer Persona

Understanding who your customer is will inform your content. Your content will help you stand out as a resource for your customers. Offering helpful resources at each stage of the buyer’s journey can create trust and loyalty between you and your prospects.

The process of understanding your customer is called building buyer personas. A buyer persona represents your best customer—someone who needs your products or services and wants to buy over and over again. Getting to know who these people are is the cornerstone of your marketing and sales strategies.

Here are a few ways to collect information about who your highest-converting customers are:

  • Online surveys.
  • Sales team inquiries.
  • Contact forms.
  • Focus groups.
  • 1:1 interviews.
  • Website analytics.

Some of these questions will help you understand and form the personas you want to target:

  • Where do they live?
  • How old are they?
  • What job title do they hold?
  • Do they use mobile or desktop for research?
  • How is their success measured?
  • Where do they work?
  • What’s their level of education?
  • What are the biggest business challenges they’re facing?
  • How do they measure success?

These questions must be answered by real people, or at least based on real people. If you think your customers are middle-aged moms but your product is actually attracting single Millennials, you’ll need to adjust your marketing strategy.

Your personas don’t have to all fit into one category. After the dust begins to settle, you’ll notice that you might have a wide range of customers who love your products or services. Segment them and develop strategies for them individually.

Inbound Lead Generation

Gaining leads with an inbound approach looks a little different from traditional outbound tactics. Instead of sending out your offers to the masses hoping someone will bite, you need to be more strategic and thoughtful about attracting prospects.

With inbound lead generation, you create web content and social media posts that spread brand awareness organically. Once prospects learn about your business, they might click through your website, express purchasing intent and become a sales-qualified lead (SQL).

The inbound sales process is less of a funnel and more of a wheel that each customer will circle, ideally, several times. It connects the buyer journey and the sales process by centering the customer for every step. The customer lifecycle also describes further how to connect to prospects during their buyer journey. The inbound methodology includes four steps:

  • Attract.
  • Convert.
  • Close.
  • Delight.

Each step has a specific way of connecting with the shopper.

Nurturing your prospects through the customer lifecycle is what makes inbound unique. With outbound, you might blindly knock on a prospect’s door, whereas with inbound, you’re nurturing the relationship with messages and events that draw people to you.

Inbound marketing aims to make business more human. Approach your prospects as if you’re a friend, rather than a dancing inflatable outside of a dealership. Lead generation for inbound marketing opens the door to reach customers in creative, friendly ways that invite them in to learn more.

Inbound Lead Generation Strategies

You understand who your customers are and the process in which to reach them. But what does that process look like in the digital world?

Here’s an example:

Imagine you are a B2B company that just got started. You want to start your marketing campaign using the inbound methodology.

Attract

You want to bring in as many qualified leads as possible for your new business. The attraction stage is when you generate inbound leads by appearing to be everywhere but really only marketing in a few select places where your ideal customers are.

You would engage them in a few ways:

  • Building relevant, quality content on your website.
  • Boosting a social media post that targets your primary audience.
  • Asking to post some of your blog content on relevant chat forums.
  • Answering Reddit questions in a friendly, approachable way that directs people to your website.
  • Hosting a free webinar that prospects must qualify for with a contact form.
  • Offering free, gated content.
  • Writing guest posts on a blog that shares the same or very similar company goals as you.

Marketing is different on each platform. After you know which platforms to use for your customers, get to know how to measure each campaign. Knowing how to measure your efforts will help you know where you need to improve or change.

Convert

You can help convert site visitors into SQLs by sprinkling calls to action (CTAs) throughout your website. While they’re clicking through each page, you may drop a CTA to download a relevant eBook, subscribe to your newsletter or connect with a chatbot.

The key for converting prospects is to be strategic and intentional. Genuine interest in your customers and their needs will come through versus coming off as salesy.

Create content for information relevant to your products or services. Your B2B company should know everything there is about the most up-to-date technology and tactics in your industry. This should include relevant blogs and products that demonstrate your insights. Customer testimonials and case studies will be helpful for this B2B organization as well.

After a prospect shares their email address with you, you’ll continue to create touchpoints with the lead through email, social media or PPC ads. This process is called nurturing the SQL. By creating multiple ways to stay top of mind, your lead could convert into a customer.

Close

The closing process is the same as a traditional sales funnel where a customer becomes a buyer. However, after their purchase, you’ll immediately continue the nurturing process. A ‘Thank you’ landing page after their purchase and email confirmation is one example.

A B2B salesperson can find this stage after a demo or auditing a customer’s first page for free. The digital age offers a number of unique advantages to close a sale on a personal level despite location differences with the buyer.

This stage aims to keep the conversation going.

Delight

Finally, delighting the customer with follow-ups emails, exit surveys or weekly newsletters will help them consider you for a future purchase. By ensuring the customer has a great buying experience, you are likely to turn them into ambassadors for your business.

Once a customer makes a purchase, they should still be treated as a high-quality prospect. Stay available for any questions or problems they might have after their purchase. Make a plan to resolve any potential issues that arise.

Happy customers become excellent promoters. Follow up with your best customers by asking for a review on a website your SQLs are using throughout their research stage.

A B2B company may ask their happiest customers to be case studies. A case study will tell the story of how your business solved the customer’s problems and can become one of your highest converting pages. Be sure to include CTAs for reader engagement.

Qualifying Inbound Leads

After all of your planning and strategic placements, you will still come across unqualified leads.

How do you recognize the difference?

Qualifying leads is the process of deciding whether or not a prospective customer is worth spending time nurturing. It’s important to make the distinction between good and poor leads for the sake of your sales and marketing efforts.

On top of building your buyer persona, you could develop a disaster persona. This is a prospect that may find your business attractive but would not be a great customer long term. They might make a purchase but have standards that do not meet yours. They don’t have the budget for or aren’t able to utilize your product or service to its full potential.

These are important to identify for your sales teams.

A marketing-qualified lead (MQL) is a lead that is ready for the nurturing stage. They receive personalized emails and follow-ups because they have engaged enough to qualify. MQLs have similar online engagements and show similar qualities to high converting leads in the past.

Inbound Lead Results

A well-executed inbound marketing plan can be significantly more effective than an outbound strategy. Making your company more customer-centric by focusing on their feedback and their happiness with the product can result in long-term customer loyalty.

Guaranteeing that success does take some trial and error, but here are some tips on how to get the best results possible:

Be Consistent

When customers can rely on you for certain assets or communication, they will integrate your business with their day-to-day plans.

Business blogging is an important part of any brand’s digital and inbound marketing strategies.. The key to a successful blog, however, is not just SEO. It’s consistently posting new material for consumers to read. When you build your company up to be an industry leader, you invite customers to rely on you for industry news and insights.

Content marketing can be your biggest challenge but can also have the largest impact on inbound ROI.

Stay Informed and Adjust

Technology changes often and rapidly. Being on top of the latest requirements for SEO and social media is a must.

On the other hand, you don’t need to be on every new platform your customers are on. New channels are popping up every day. If you spread your marketing dollars too thin by trying to appear on all of them, you won’t have any left over for much else.

Continue to research where your customers are and weigh the benefits of appearing on a few platforms that make the most impact.

Standardize Several Touchpoints

Shoppers may fill in a form but never click submit or abandon items in their cart without actually making a purchase. Include marketing automation to remind shoppers of your product throughout their internet browsing.

It takes about eight touchpoints to make a sale. This can come in the form of:

  • PPC ads on social media or in search.
  • Banner ads.
  • Email reminders.
  • SMS texts.

Spread these touchpoints out based on your research. Some shoppers take longer to make a purchase than others, so ensure that your efforts aren’t edging into the realm of intrusive or annoying.

Inbound marketing turns the sales funnel outward toward the customer instead of the company. By keeping your customers’ best interest in mind, the inbound method could be your road to business success.