While inbound marketing is an essential marketing strategy for many companies today, the term (and general marketing philosophy) didn't actually appear until 2005. That was when HubSpot founder Brian Halligan, along with his partner, Dharmesh Shah, and advisor, David Meerman Scott, decided to found HubSpot and focus their efforts on a new, digitally driven marketing school.
Halligan and Shah realized that with the boom of the Internet, the landscape of consumerism was changing - and thus, the world of marketing needed to adapt as well. In the past, companies had relied on analog, in-person marketing techniques, like cold calls, door-to-door sales, television ads, billboards and more.
However, thanks to the dot-com boom of the early-to-mid-nineties, people were no longer paying as much attention to material in the world around them. Instead, they were choosing to consume media and information that was available to them on the Internet, which meant that many of the traditional marketing tactics and strategies were going overlooked - and that companies were missing out on important opportunities for sales.
The heads of HubSpot decided they could harness the power of the web and the reach of the brand-new search engines available on it to draw people into businesses. They, thus, focused their sights on helping companies figure out how they could attract consumers with high-quality content published on the Internet by using strategies and platforms like blogging, SEO, social media posts and more.
While Hubspot's inbound methodology seemed brand new at the time, the basic philosophies behind their marketing tactics had actually been used for decades (if not centuries). Inbound marketing built upon the idea that a company should best understand their customer in order to sell to them - and that you can convince a person to buy from you by making them like and appreciate you as a company (and not just pushing products).
Examples of marketing tactics that were similar to inbound marketing - but happened way before HubSpot ever existed - include things like the mail-order catalogs that Sears and Roebuck sent to customers to allow them to browse or shop at their own leisure and in the comfort of their own homes; or The Furrow, a helpful farming magazine that was published by John Deere in the 1800s to both build the brand's reputation as a helpful resource and convince people that their farming equipment was worth buying.
When HubSpot set out to create a new school of marketing and educate companies about the power of using the Internet and high-quality content to grow a business, they ended up developing a specific marketing methodology to help companies better understand how inbound worked. (If you've worked with inbound marketing before, there's a good chance you probably recognize the below methodology or have at least have read something it.) They've coined this the Inbound Marketing Methodology.
The inbound marketing methodology was developed by HubSpot to clearly lay out how and why their marketing philosophy works. It breaks down the inbound marketing process step by step, to show marketers what steps are required to attract strangers and convert them into happy, paying customers; what stages a buyer must go through during the inbound marketing and sales process; and different techniques you can use to tackle the process yourself.
What Does the Inbound Marketing Methodology Look Like?
HubSpot has created a graphic that outlines the inbound marketing methodology (you've probably seen this before!). If not, take a look at an overview of the methodology, and what you can expect to happen at each stage.
The Stages of the Inbound Methodology
The inbound marketing methodology breaks the inbound marketing process down into four specific stages. Here's a little bit more about what you can expect to happen at each stage.
Stage 1: Attract
Attracting strangers to your company is the first stage in the inbound marketing process. It is the time in which a company works to draw the attention of potential consumers, hoping to get their business on the consumer's radar.
One of the most important things for companies to keep in mind during the first stage of the inbound process is that you don't just want to attract anyone to your company - instead, only want to attract the RIGHT people. The right people are those who may actually end up wanting to become a lead or a paying customer of your business, and it takes some strategic work to ensure that you're appealing to and drawing the people that are interested in buying.
How do you start attracting the right audience?
If your company wants to start attracting an audience of qualified leads to your company, you'll want to start creating, publishing and disseminating high-quality, relevant content that those people will be drawn to. There are many effective avenues for publishing and spreading the word about your content. Here are some of the most powerful:
- A search-optimized website. Your company should have a web presence, but it's not enough to simply put information up on a site and leave it there. Instead, harness the power of the Internet to grow your business' audience by optimizing your site for search. Incorporate relevant keywords (that would people would search for on a search engine) into your site and ensure it's well-written and includes helpful information like where your business is located, its hours and how people can contact you. By focusing on SEO for your website, you can ensure you appear in search engine results when people look for a business like yours, and you can naturally draw in people who may be interested in buying from you.
- A blog. Your company should have a blog, and that blog should be filled with well-written, high-quality content that is related to your industry or what you do. That blog should also be optimized for search. That way, if someone is getting on the Internet to look up information about something related to your company, they may do a Google or Bing search and find you as one of the top results, bringing your brand onto the radar and getting them interested in learning more about what you have to say and offer.
- Social media posts. There's no doubt that social media is one of the most popular ways to spend time on the Internet. In fact, studies show that about 70 percent of all Americans are now a member of a social media network - which means that it's a good way to reach a lot of people. By posting entertaining and valuable content on social media pages, you make them available to a wide network of people. Social media can help you grow your list of qualified leads because you can easily network with people who have expressed interest in your field - by connecting with people who already engage with competitors, partners and more. Because social media is used far and wide, posting on it is an important step to take in the first stage of your inbound marketing process.
Stage 2: Convert
Once you've used awesome content to make people aware that your business exists (and convince them that they want to learn more about what you have to offer), you can start working on turning them from people who are simply curious into potential customers who are actual sales leads.
To start nurturing potential customers, companies must begin a relationship and discourse with these people. Start a conversation by delivering a consistent stream of contact. This shows that you not only have lots to offer people but that you're actually interested in what they want or need.
The convert stage of the inbound marketing methodology requires a lot of back and forth between a lead and a company. It's not a one-step process, and it can often take a significant amount of time. However, if a company dedicates itself to helping nurture a lead and move them through the sales funnel, they can ensure that a potential customer stays captivated by a business and that it's at the top of their mind until they finally make the decision to buy.
What are some helpful ways you can turn site visitors into sales leads that are considering making a purchase?
In order to nurture your potential customers, you need to get their contact information from them. That way, you can directly communicate to them to teach them about what you have to offer. In order to gather contact information, you should offer something of value that they want and that they're willing to exchange their personal information for.
This type of content is sometimes called "gated" content, and it can include things like:
- Downloadable white papers
- Downloadable eBooks
- Guides that expand upon shorter blog posts
- Premium website access
- Product or service demos
- And much more!
To gather contact information effectively, you need to design landing pages and forms that are easy to fill out. Gather as little information about your lead as possible - maybe even just their name and email address. You want to make it as easy as possible to fill out a form so you encourage everyone who encounters it to hand over their info - and don't push anyone away.
Keeping Track of Leads During the Convert Phase
When you start nurturing visitors to your site and turning them into leads, you need to keep track of information about them. That way, not only can you contact them easily to deliver marketing material to them, but you can also keep track of where they are in the buyer's journey - and tailor the content you send in order to ensure it appeals to them and entices them.
In order to keep track of sales leads during the convert stage, you should use a tool like a customer relationship management tool - or CRM. CRMs can keep contact information for leads stored and organized for you. Most CRMs also have a lot of other powerful functions, including sending automated marketing messages, helping you segment your audience so you sent the right stuff to the right people, and much, much more.
Ultimately, the convert phase should get the consumer somewhere: though they may enter as someone who has merely expressed an interest in the company, at the end of this phase, they should be someone who is seriously considering buying - or who has already gotten their credit card out to make the big leap.
Stage 3: Close
You've nurtured your leads, and they're really into what you're selling. They think you're trustworthy and valuable and they want to do business with you.
If this is the phase that you've reached in your inbound marketing and sales process, then you've reached the third stage: Close.
The closing stage of the inbound marketing methodology is the point in the buyer's journey that you convince them that they shouldn't just be a sales lead - the should be your customer. This is the time that companies implement tactics in order to close deals and make sales.
During the close phase, sales and marketing teams must work together. Marketing teams continue to reveal to leads the value of the product or service they're thinking about purchasing, while the sales team makes it possible - and easy - for that lead to buy.
In the Kissmetrics blog, Joseph Putnam explains why inbound marketing leads people up to the closing phase and why nurturing leads with free content will eventually get them ready to buy. He writes:
"As you give people more and more free content, customers arrive at a point where they want to reciprocate the benefit that they've received. If your company helps them become a better marketer and make more money, they'll come to a point where they'll want to buy something from you to pay you back for all of the free content you've provided."
Tools for Closing More Leads
If you want to do the close phase effectively, there are several tools or tactics that you should rely on. Here are some of the best:
- Lead scoring: As a marketer, you are right to want to try to sell to everyone who is interested in your company. However, in reality, the fact is, there are just some leads that are more valuable than others. That is, some people are more likely to actually buy than others - and some are more likely to spend more money over time than others. Use a predictive lead scoring tool to help you understand which of your leads are worth spending more time on and which your sales team can feel optimistic about but don't need to put too much time or money into.
- Drip email campaign: Use a triggered email campaign to push people towards making the final purchase. When potential customers hand over their contact information and indicate that they might be thinking about buying, you should encourage them to stay engaged. You can send automated emails that remind them of your company, emphasize the value of what you're offering and make it very easy for them to buy. By sending reminders right into their inbox, you can stay at the top of the mind of the people who've shown that they're almost ready to convert.
- Closed-Loop Reporting: Because sales and marketing teams work together during this phase, it's important for marketers to use closed-loop reporting. With closed-loop reporting, sales teams report back to marketing teams about what happened to each lead they received so marketing team can better understand the quality of each lead source - and ensure that time, energy and money is all allocated correctly.
Stage 4: Delight
The final stage of the inbound marketing is "delight." This is the phase that happens after you've already convinced people to become your customers. It's all about the experience they have working with your company.
During the inbound marketing process, what you've done is prove to your potential customer that you're someone worth doing business with. They've already been convinced that you're knowledgeable, valuable, entertaining and interesting (or maybe all of the above!)
Because the entire process is about pleasing a lead in order to make them a paying customer, you need to continue to make that lead happy once they've become your paying customer.
The perks of delighting your customers are many. First, you will ensure a happy customer, which means that you may turn them into a return customer, and that customer can make you a good deal of money in the long run.
Second, a happy customer can turn into a brand ambassador, and that person can do things like write positive reviews of your company, post about it on social media, recommend friends and family and more. Creating happy customers that are natural brand ambassadors is a great way to take advantage of marketing and promotion of your company - for free!
Finally, delighting customers allows you to build your overall reputation in the world, which can help naturally attract more customers and build a better business.
HubSpot sums up the importance and power of the Delight phase, explaining:
"The inbound way is all about providing a remarkable experience for your customers. Plus, they have much higher expectations of your business and how they're treated than ever before. So, it's even more important to engage with, delight, and make your customers successful. If you do, they will buy more, stay with you longer, refer their friends, and be happy to tell the world they love you."
Tactics for Delighting Customers
If you want to delight people that have chosen to do business with your company, you have to stay in touch with them after they've bought from you. Here are some ways that you can ensure that your customers stay happy and loyal after their first purchase.
- Social media interaction. Don't just make your social media pages a place where you post content into a void and don't interact. Instead, engage with your customers on social media - ask them questions about their experiences, request that they share photos and more. By engaging with them on social media, you can reveal your company's (awesome) personality, make yourself likable and build a stronger bond with customers.
- Email marketing. Just because your customers have bought once from you, it doesn't mean that you don't want (or need) them to buy again. Set up automated marketing emails that allow you to reach out to customers a certain number of times after purchase or after one of their behaviors triggers an email (for example: they sign up for a new newsletter or express interest in a new product). You can send automated marketing emails pushing products or services related to the thing that they already purchased or deliver reminders that they will run out of something or need to purchase something soon. Marketing emails can also allow you to simply check in with a customer about their experience working with your company so far.
- Awesome customer service. Once someone buys from you, they may have questions, concerns or comments about what you sell. Keep your customers happy by offering GREAT customer service. This means that you should have easy ways for customers to get in touch with you - like chat platforms, email addresses, phone numbers and more. Show your customers that you care about their experience working with you and want to help ensure they get the most out of what you're offering.
- Customized CTAs. Don't show your current customers the same CTAs you showed your potential customers. Instead, personalize the CTAs you show them on your website, blog, newsletters and more. Customized CTAs will show your customers that you're paying attention to where they are in their journey and that they're not just another person you're selling to - they're someone you've built a relationship with.
If you follow the inbound marketing methodology as laid out, you can effectively utilize your content and tactics to move people through the buyer's funnel and help build both the audience and reputation of your brand. HubSpot explains that the inbound marketing methodology is one that will "turn strangers into visitors, leads, customers and promoters" - and that it can be even more powerful and effective when used in conjunction with your sales, customer success, social media tools - and more.
ICYMI: Part I: What Is Inbound Marketing?
and Part II: Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing: What's The Difference?