This is a beginner's guide to inbound marketing for B2B companies. You may have heard about it, but what is it really and how do you actually implement it for your company to help it grow as you would like.
In this guide I'll talk about the principles of B2B inbound marketing and how you can utilise this well-worn strategy to grow a business sustainably. In today's highly competitive business landscape, B2B companies are constantly seeking effective strategies to attract and engage their target audience. Inbound marketing has emerged as a powerful approach that not only generates leads but also builds brand authority and fosters long-term customer relationships. This article explores the core principles, key tactics, and proven benefits of B2B inbound marketing, hopefully equipping you with the knowledge you need to leverage this strategy to its fullest potential.
Unlike traditional outbound tactics that interrupt prospects, inbound marketing earns their attention by addressing their pain points, educating them, and guiding them towards making informed decisions.
By aligning marketing efforts with the buyer's needs and preferences, B2B inbound marketing establishes long-lasting relationships and drives sustainable growth. This is done by creating useful content in different formats to help educate them and better their lives, business will naturally follow.
Inbound marketing is actually quite a simple process. It almost goes against the grain in terms of how businesses are normally built, through selling and pitching. By stopping focusing on selling and starting focusing on how you can help, you can build a more sustainable, holistic and arguably more ethical approach to business growth. more holistic and almost buddist in a way.
Growth marketing and inbound marketing are the same thing really, growth is just a more attractive name and job title than Inbound as it speaks more to the goal. The goal of Inbound Marketing is growth so calling it Growth Marketing makes sense, it also opens the door to adding more marketing strategies and tactics under the umbrella.
The founding theory and principal of inbound marketing is that it is a natural and organic approach to marketing. The term ‘inbound’ is key to explaining this. It means people are coming to you rather than you going ‘outbound’ to them.
In this section I’ll discuss the theory and tactics behind inbound marketing and how you can go about implementing a successful B2B inbound marketing strategy.
A common misconception about ‘inbound marketing’ is that it is just about attracting people to your website and product. In fact, inbound marketing covers all stages of the buyer journey from first awareness through to conversion and then even ‘delighting’ your customers as then that leads to more referrals, reviews and word of mouth which in-turn leads to more natural inbound leads.
HubSpot calls this a flywheel effect. This is based on a mechanical flywheel that stores energy and helps keep an engine rotating and moving. So using this metaphor in a business sense, by bringing in new customers through inbound and keeping them happy you will get more referrals and in turn bring in more customers. Resulting in this flywheel which spins as you grow.
Inbound marketing aligns with another popular framework; the B2B marketing funnel. If the top of the funnel is when someone discovers your brand then the bottom is when they purchase from you. Inbound marketing works in tandem with this funnel shape.
So if stage one is attracting them to your brand and website. Stage 2 is engaging with them to try and get them to convert. If you imagine a buyer journey down this funnel with a purchase at the bottom, this stage covers that whole journey from entering the funnel to converting at the bottom
The third and final stage is delighting your customers once they have purchased from you. This is just good service but it also fuels future growth by increasing the chances of customer referrals, great product reviews and therefore it attracts more customers. This is the only stage which doesn’t neatly fit into the funnel framework and is why HubSpot uses the metaphor of a flywheel instead.
I prefer to say that the B2B marketing funnel is part of the inbound marketing strategy and the final element is really customer success and product led growth (PLG) as many companies are now calling it.
Product-led growth is a catch-all term that describes building a great product and service and letting the product do the selling, a great product will sell itself, as they say. This is also part of the B2B inbound marketing philosophy.
By creating a great product and providing your customers with a great service you will generate more new business, organically.
This is why Product-led Growth is part of the Inbound Marketing Philosophy. It is all part of a natural approach to growing your business. When customers find success and share that success with others, it attracts new prospects to your organisation, creating a self-sustaining loop. This is how your organisation builds momentum, and this is why the inbound methodology serves as a strong foundation for your flywheel.
Before I dive into the benefits of B2B inbound marketing I'm going to talk about the downsides, because there are some. If it weren’t then everyone would be doing the same thing.
As humans we always look for the path of least friction, unfortunately, creating lots of great valuable content for our buyers is not quick, or easy. And, as ridiculous as this may seem, a lot of marketers do not have a great inbound marketing strategy because of the time and effort it takes to create loads of great content.
A lot of marketing is full of ‘cool’ campaigns and great ideas, but a lot of inbound marketing is just about common sense and answering basic buyer questions. Yes there is room for creativity but a lot of the foundational work can be mundane and a little uninspiring.
If nobody else was doing inbound marketing it would be pretty easy, but unfortunately it’s not a secret that it works and therefore your competitors will likely be doing it themselves. This makes it a highly competitive area and it means your content really needs to be top-notch to outperform your competitors content
Inbound marketing is very popular and there are plenty of reasons why. I’ll go through some of the main benefits of why it is so popular and why so many businesses employ inbound marketing specialists and agencies to help them.
One of the greatest benefits of B2B inbound marketing as a strategy is that in comparison to things like events and outbound marketing efforts it can be very cost effective in terms of return on investment. Producing useful content can cost you next to nothing and it can actually help your audience, whereas an advertising campaign can cost a lot just for a click.
Because much of inbound marketing is around building and serving useful content to your audience, through this content you can build trust with your audience and authority in a certain subject matter.
This is not unique to inbound marketing but it is still a great benefit of it. Through allowing people to download and get content through lead generation forms you are generating leads and acquiring more first party data.
Another great attribute of inbound marketing is that it has longevity and is a sustainable approach to growth. That's because the content you use can be reused and sometimes will never go out of date. In a way, inbound marketing is like investing in a savings account every month. Continuing to do will reap rewards in the long run without overstretching your marketing budget.
Like many modern marketing strategies, even though inbound marketing is cost effective and sustainable, it is still driven by data and is easily measurable.
To create a powerful B2B inbound marketing strategy, you must start by identifying and profiling your target audience. Understanding their pain points, motivations, and preferences allows for the development of a comprehensive content marketing plan that resonates with potential buyers.
This plan should encompass various channels, including SEO-optimised website content, thought leadership articles, blog posts, and engaging social media content.
Additionally, you should leverage email marketing and marketing automation to nurture leads and deliver tailored messages at the right time, ensuring a seamless customer experience and higher conversion rates.
So, as mentioned above, content plays an important role in every part of an inbound marketing strategy. This is because content is required for everything. Really, you could argue that inbound marketing is just content marketing but organised by data.
The key to inbound marketing is producing the right content at the right time for the right people. So, because of this it’s key to plan the content you are going to produce and when.
One great way to do this is by using search engine data to find out the questions buyers are asking relating to your product and/or services. This is often called keyword research and it is essentially a form of market research, using the search data entered into Google.
By using search data you will be able to produce content that is in most demand from your audience rather than trying to guess what would be best to produce.
Once you have conducted your research you should be able to create a simple content calendar that can be used to create your content.
Search Engine Optimisation is probably the most effective way to generate inbound leads, but, with the introduction of AI and tools like ChatGPT search engine optimisation is becoming less relevant. What is always going to be relevant is content creation.
Content is the fuel of everything when it comes to B2B marketing, and marketing in general. Content creator is a term that has cropped up in the early 2020’s as a way of describing a career in which your sole job is to create engaging content for your chosen audience. There is a good reason for this, it’s because great content, more than ever, is fuelling businesses.
A social media influencer is just a content creator that has a following. YouTubers create content for their audience and people are drawn to them because of their content. Now, in B2B marketing, your audience is in a business environment (typically), and most of the time they are looking for content that helps them make their work life easier, and potentially furthers their career and helps them make more money.
So for a B2B marketer, the question is, what content can I create that is engaging to my desired audience? What will make their professional work life easier? Traditionally, in B2B inbound marketing, that has revolved around content like this article. You would write down some information that answers a question and be as helpful as you.
It doesn’t really matter which form your content is in initially, but it is wise to produce content in as many different formats as possible so that you can serve your audience on lots of different platforms.
To capture the attention of discerning buyers, businesses must focus on delivering informative and educational content that addresses their specific challenges and provides valuable insights.
White-papers, case studies, e-books, and industry reports serve as powerful tools to establish thought leadership, while webinars and video tutorials engage audiences with interactive and visually appealing formats.
Repurposing content across different channels and formats not only maximises reach but also reinforces key messages, ultimately positioning businesses as trusted advisors in their industry.
This may seem a little bit of a stupid and obvious headline but it is easy to forget when you are working talking about ‘buyers’ and ‘audiences’ and ‘customer journeys’ but underlying all of this is the fact that people buy products for companies.
The question is, why do people choose one product over another? You may not be surprised to learn that sometimes it is personal preference. Most people buy things because it makes their lives easier, so, it's usually the thing that is easiest to buy. This is where B2B marketers have to be more pragmatic and less egotistical.
Unlike selling to a consumer who personally identifies with a brand and therefore may buy a pair of trainers costing $1,000, if that was a business-to-business transaction, where is the business sense and logic in paying $950 more for a pair of trainers that do the same job as a $50 pair, it is not enough to say “because i like them”. That’s not going to fly with the accountants tasked with ‘streamlining’ everything.
So, bringing this horse background to B2B inbound marketing, what does this mean? Well, it means you should be producing content that helps people make the best decision for their company and also helps them ‘sell’ the product internally.
Thankfully, this is not some mystic chalice that nobody has yet discovered, many marketers and companies already do this by creating useful content like buyer guides, listicles of ‘top 10 tools’, benchmarking reports and ROI calculators.
You need to create every piece of content possible that will help someone make the best decision possible, if at the end of the day they choose someone else, well, you cannot control everything, and not all products are made equal.
If you imagine 3 competitors all produced the same quality of content and had equal amounts of potential buyers, in the end the best product will usually win the race.
Well, all of them if you can. There are of course certain ‘channels’ that have more traffic when it comes to B2B purchases. For example, a lot of purchasing decisions for companies are made during office hours while at a desktop or laptop computer. That’s just human nature.
If you think about it from a common sense point of view, most people (unless a founder or CEO) are not sitting at home researching software or services for their job. They have lives to lead. So, what does this mean for B2B marketing channels?
It means most B2B purchasers are using traditional online channels such as industry websites, comparison websites and search engines. This is why creating articles and website content is often one of the best ways of generating revenue through inbound marketing.
This isn’t to say social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and WeChat don’t have a place in your inbound marketing plan. They are often greatly utilised in retargeting buyers when they are going about the rest of their lives, annoyingly.
The point is, it is unlikely that you are sitting on TikTok at work for 2 hours researching software for your company, even if you are an avid TikTok user.
It’s important to think about these things when trying to help grow a company. There are a lot of things that can fall under the category of B2B marketing and it can be hard to figure out where to start, so many channels, so little time. You have to prioritise and focus, so, for content marketing and inbound marketing you should prioritise the channels with the most buyer traffic and they are typically search engines and comparison websites.
Ok, so hopefully we have established you should focus on creating content that can appear in search results and help educate your buyer in all parts of their ‘buyer journey’? So what about when they land on your website, how do you go about convincing them to go beyond the content you are a great company and they should consider your services? We'll talk more about this next if you want to grab a quick coffee.
A website is the virtual front door of a business, it is like walking into a virtual store but without the annoying people following you around. Optimising your website for conversions is crucial for success for inbound marketing to work, without conversions you are basically doing nothing to help build your business.
What is a conversion? A conversion is to be defined by each company individually, but typically it is someone filling in a form on your website. The forms can range from newsletter subscriptions to request a demonstration of your software. For an e-commerce website it would be a purchase.
You should try to have a variety of forms on your website on a scale of buyer intent, from no interest of buying at all and i just want to download something useful, through to, ‘i want to find out more about your product’. You should have a form for every stage of buying intent to ensure you capture as many leads as possible.
Designing a user-friendly and intuitive website ensures that visitors can easily navigate and find the information they seek. User experience design is the practice of ensuring a product or application is as easy to use as possible.
Some simple tips for providing a good user experience through a website are:
Effective landing pages with compelling headlines and clear value propositions help capture leads. A landing page is the page someone ‘lands on’ when they first visit your website so it is important that you put your best foot forward when it comes to landing page design.
Incorporating strong and persuasive calls-to-action (CTAs) prompts visitors to take desired actions, such as downloading a whitepaper, requesting a demo, or subscribing to a newsletter.
A mobile-responsive design ensures a seamless browsing experience across devices, catering to the increasingly mobile-centric preferences of B2B buyers. The tips for creating a better user experience on your website are the same for your landing page.
The one difference with a landing page is that you really should be targeting buyers who are ‘in-market’. Meaning they are in the market for a product and the landing page should be doing a good job of trying to convince them yours is the right one. You should also try to reduce the amount of choice someone has on a landing page so they either convert or bounce.
Measuring the performance of B2B inbound marketing efforts is essential for gauging success, optimising campaigns, and maximising ROI. Key metrics such as website traffic, conversion rates, leads generated, and customer acquisition cost provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of various strategies.
Leveraging marketing analytics tools, such as Google Analytics or HubSpot, allows businesses to track and analyse data, identify patterns, and make data-driven optimisations. Continuously monitoring and adjusting campaigns based on performance metrics enable businesses to refine their strategies and achieve long-term success in B2B inbound marketing.
I’ve written another article specifically about B2B Marketing KPIS which you can read. It’s more focused on B2B marketing but being honest most of the KPIs and metrics are interchangeable and relevant to all B2B marketing strategies.
The most important metric to measure as a B2B marketer is revenue. The end goal of all B2B marketing is to help the company you work for ‘grow’, which is a nice word for ‘make more money’.
The main challenge B2B marketers face is attribution. Attribution means tracking revenue gained back to specific marketing activities, for example, if someone clicked on an advert on Google then went on to purchase your product you would attribute that purchase to the Google Ads channel, potentially.
There is one school of thought that you can just look at the input and output and decide if you are getting good ROI. For example, the marketing budget was X and the total revenue was Y and as long as you can see a positive correlation - you are getting out more than you are putting in, this is ok. However, this is a wasteful approach to growth and not conducive to an efficient and data-driven growth marketing strategy.
So how do you set up and configure an accurate and effective marketing attribution strategy? Well, if i’m being honest it can be fairly difficult for a growing company, especially if you are in the phase where you don’t want to invest in very expensive sales and marketing software, but it still can be done, firstly you need to decide, as a business, how you want to measure and attribute spend. This is something that is a personal choice and needs to be decided as C-level in a company.
There are a few different ‘models’ you can use as a framework for your attribution. These models measure attribution in different ways and therefore assign the value to different things so it is important to use one you are comfortable with and matches your goals.
You can change the model you use over time, so don’t worry about being stuck with one model or another. Hubspot Marketing Enterprise actually has a cool attribution modelling feature that allows you to switch models on the fly so you can see the different models and the impact that has on your attribution reporting.
So let's dive into the most common attribution models and see which one best matches your business model. For B2B inbound marketing it is common to have a low volume of conversions in comparison to B2C companies and also a longer buying cycle so consider this when selecting an attribution model.
One other distinction in attribution models is that they are either ‘single-touch’ or ‘multi-touch’. The difference between these two is simply that one only measures one touch-point and the other uses multiple touch-points to attribute conversions.
For B2B marketing it is generally advised to use multi-touch attribution models because the buying journey for a B2B buyer is typically a lot longer than B2C and in enterprise products it can take many months and sometimes years for someone to convert from their first interaction.
If you were using a single-touch attribution model across a journey that took 6 months with hundreds of interactions you are not going to get an accurate picture of which actions had the most impact on a buyer's decision.
So, first we will cover Single-touch attribution models and then we will dive into the multi-touch attribution models recommended for B2B marketers.
This model attributes 100% of the credit to the first interaction in a conversion path. This can mean the first click on an organic search result or first click on a Google Ad. This would attribute everything to that ‘first click’.
Choose this model if:
This model attributes 100% of the credit to the last interaction in the conversion path.
Choose this model if:
This model is not ideal for identifying which marketing assets and sales engagements are successfully moving leads through the entire pipeline.
The following attribution models are the ones I would recommend considering when working with B2B products, especially if the buying cycle can be pretty complex, these following models will help you analyse your campaigns much more effectively than the single touch attribution models.
This model attributes the credit evenly across each interaction in the conversion path. So if there were 4 interactions before conversion, each would be assigned 25% of the credit. And if there were 10, they would be assigned 10% etc.
Choose this model if:
This model is not ideal at identifying which campaigns or assets are more effective, because all interactions get credit equally. For example, trade shows or highly-segmented email campaigns will receive as much credit as when a prospect visits 20 web pages.
So although you attribute credit across marketing assets that perhaps are seen as un-impactful you do also dilute the focus and it can be difficult to pinpoint areas of effectiveness.
This model attributes 40% of the contact credits to the first interaction and lead conversion interactions each. It then attributes the remaining 20% evenly across all other interactions.
Choose this model if:
This is my preferred model because I personally think the first and last interactions are the ones that push someone over the line whilst still giving some credit to the interactions in the middle.
Data-driven attribution is probably the most accurate form of multi-touch attribution modelling. It is also the hardest to implement because you need the technology and data to be able to do it. Tools like Google Ads have Data-driven Attribution built in because they have all the data but you really would need a separate tool to do this.
Data-driven attribution modelling is likely to get easier and become more common in the future with the introduction of AI. AI tools will be able to analyse huge amounts of interaction data and correctly attribute interactions.
You may now have a model in mind at this point but how do you implement something like this? Well, to be honest to do multi-touch attribution really well you are probably going to need the help of a marketing technologist and/or operations expert and some configuration support with your chosen CRM and marketing suite, whether that's Salesforce or HubSpot (the two most popular).
From my experience these tools are not built for marketing attribution, HubSpot does have more inbuilt functionality than Salesforce.
The foundation to get marketing attribution right is having good data in your system and all of your tracking and conversion tracking information configured correctly. If you have inaccurate or missing data it doesn't matter which tool or model you use for attribution, it just won’t work. It likes buying an expensive car and putting the wrong fuel into it.
The other thing to consider is the amount of data you have and the volume of attribution you need to do. If the volume of deals you win and the marketing spend you have is not too large then you may not need to worry about implementing multi-touch attribution reporting.
Inbound marketing and product-led growth are both part of the same ideology. It's one that focuses on doing what's best for the consumer. Focusing on providing the best product and service possible and growth will occur naturally. In my opinion, all companies should be focusing on what is best for their audience rather than selling but that's not always the case.
Inbound marketing should be the default strategy B2B marketers IMO. Put ego aside and focus on what the data and what your audience wants.
I hope although long and perhaps a little wordy, that this has been a useful guide and a good introduction to those of you discovering and looking into B2B inbound marketing.