Why Inbound Digital Marketing is More Important than the First Sales Hire for B2B Tech Companies

Neil HartleyB2B Inbound MarketingLeave a Comment

Domino Digital Marketing | Lead Generation for B2B Tech Companies Thinking BIG

You’re a bootstrapped entrepreneur with some level of repeatable sales in your B2B tech company.

As the founder, you’ve taken significant personal risks and worked extremely hard to build your product and win those first deals. Your passion and knowledge of the product and the problem you solve are unmatched and you’re ready to take the next step and gain broader adoption for your product. You’re likely looking at external investment and the time when you can get back to doing what you love – working on the product – and hand over that ‘sales’ thing off to the professionals.

Sound familiar?

Finding your first sales leader becomes an imperative. Someone with knowledge of the market and a rolodex they can call on. Let them pick up the sales baton and build a team to accelerate the growth of the business.

The first problem is you’re likely a strong tech person with little knowledge of hiring sales people. And sitting across the table from you is something of a chameleon, who knows what you want to hear and even knows the questions they should be asking you to reinforce their own candidature.

You push on the rolodex point and hear what you want to hear. And here’s the second problem. You’ve just committed your company to a course with an ‘outbound’ engine – which is not going to work. You get frustrated that your new sales professional isn’t performing. Your sales leader is frustrated because there’s no engine in place to at least generate some leads for them.

There’s an elephant in the room and a Mexican stand-off just around the corner (to mix a metaphor or two).

If you’re doubtful of this argument, here’s a chart from the 2018 Mainsail Partners Bootstrapped Survey conducted in November and December 2018.

Clearly Sales is seen as important, but a weakness. Also, if you check the survey out using the link provided, you’ll see that Sales was the functional area with greatest leadership coverage (even greater than Engineering). So, it’s deemed important, has the greatest leadership coverage of any functional area, yet is seen as a weakness.

Marketing, on the other hand, is seen as neither important nor unimportant but it too is viewed as a weakness.

To our mind this totally supports the argument made at the start of this post. Let’s hire a sales person in the belief that their rolodex and ‘outbound’ activities (i.e. shaking the trees to rustle up sales) will drive growth. After all it worked for you, the founder, didn’t it? Well, yes, but you had the credibility, the in-depth knowledge of your product and market, married to your passion for everything you’re doing that enabled you to find those early-adopters. This early success and the comforting interview process and your new hire’s impressive rolodex leads to the thinking that Marketing’s not important…

But, not only are you hiring someone who doesn’t have your credibility/knowledge, you’re looking to grow beyond the early market to the mainstream where the nature of your buyer is changing from innovators/early-adopters to early majority. I’ve taken this language from Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm” which you’re doubtless aware of.

Our point is not that you shouldn’t make that first sales leadership hire, it’s that you should recognise that Marketing is critical to the success of Sales and that a well-orchestrated ‘inbound marketing’ can generate the leads Sales need to be successful and can be done cost effectively.

The rest of this post walks through the inbound marketing process we use for lead generation. It’s a long post. If you don’t have time to read it now, you can get an abridged PDF version by filling in the form over to the left. If you want to cut to the chase and see how we can help your B2B tech company without reading anything else then you can contact us here.

A Word on Domino Digital Marketing

Welcome to Domino Digital Marketing, providing lead generation services to B2B tech companies thinking BIG!

Our target market is B2B tech companies with some level of repeatable sales but likely less than £2M in annual revenue. You look like the bootstrapped entrepreneurial company described above.
We use advanced, inbound digital marketing techniques to create awareness of your product/solution, from which we generate leads, and nurture those leads until they’re ready to engage with your sales team.

Of course, as you grow further, you’ll want to to take this function back in-house but for now we can provide the leads required to turn your Sales function into a strength not a weakness.

Why Domino? We’ve been developing these techniques for may years. They are tested and they work. Plus, we’re always adapting what we do to test new lead generation techniques that can help you grow your business efficiently. By implementing these techniques we will ensure you see more leads, shorter sales cycles, and more sales.

Advanced, Inbound Digital Marketing

Firstly, why ‘inbound’ and not ‘outbound’? Generally speaking cold calling, e-mail blasts (‘outbound’) no longer work. They do in some situations but if you’ve just hired a sales person hoping (s)he can leverage their rolodex then you’re likely to be disappointed.

We used to talk about a ‘sales process’ orchestrated by Sales and governed by Account Reviews and Target Market Selling. Sales was in control and dictated the terms and pace of the process. Some time towards the end of the last century and with the massive availability of easily-findable information afforded by the internet, things started to change and the balance of power started to swing towards the buyer.

Spam e-mail and telephone calls led to a situation where calls were screened and went unanswered and the delete key on the keyboard became worn from deleting unread emails.

That switch from a sales process to a buyer’s journey is pretty well complete and for our target market (i.e. you) focusing on ‘outbound’ is a sure route to failure. You’ll have seen quotes to the effect that the buyer is 50%+ through their discovery process before they even reach out to potential vendors.

Let me give you an example. We had a client recently who insisted on giving ‘outbound’ one last shot and we agreed to work with a telemarketing company supported by a predictive dialler to call a list of 7,314 potential prospects. The dialler made 13,105 dials, the telemarketers had 427 ‘conversations’ of which only 16% expressed any interest and, of those, only 4 agreed to have a call with the client. Of those 4, only 1 turned up at the appointed time and that lead went nowhere – in fact, didn’t go past the initial call.

$18,000 for nothing. Zip. Nada. There’s an awful lot of inbound marketing you can do for that amount of money. This kind of outbound, interrupt-driven approach does not lend itself to our target marketing. It can and does work as a pure volume play where marketing budget is not an issue but it’s a fools errand for our target market.

So, accepting the buyer is now in control then the job of the marketer is to ensure that wherever, whenever and in whatever format the buyer wants to find a solution to a problem you solve, you are there.

There with the relevant information, there with the ability to collect their information, and there with the strategies to stay in touch until they are ready to buy.

These inbound marketing techniques look something like this:

The broad process is to:

  • Create awareness of, i.e. demand for, the product/solution
  • Turn that awareness/demand into website traffic
  • Turn that traffic into leads using lead magnets (webinars, white papers, etc.)
  • Retarget traffic that doesn’t convert into a lead (advertise to them through other channels).
  • Nurture leads through multiple, educational touchpoints until they’re ready to engage with your sales team.

The rest of this post examines each stage in more detail.

Demand Generation

Have you been to a website and struggled to understand what the business does? That’s probably because they’re trying to be a catch-all in the hope of satisfying everybody and, as Scott Martineau of Infusionsoft said, “If you target everybody, you target nobody”.

Establishing your target market is essential if you’re going to be efficient and effective with your marketing. You may have a tech solution that addresses many markets (problem areas) but you have to focus, to choose one and become successful there, then move to the next one.

Your target market will define how you proactively market your business. You can always “react” to opportunities that come your way from outside your target market. Pursue them by all means but efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing demands focus.

In the B2B world focus may be by sector, geography, functional application (e.g. customer service rather than sales) or even company size. With Domino, our target market (you’ll have gathered) is:

  • B2B (not B2C)
  • Tech (not a.n.other B2B category)
  • Some level of repeatable sales but <£2M in revenue (not too big, not too small)
  • UK based

On this latter criteria, this means our marketing spend (e.g. Google Adwords) is focused on the UK but, reactively, if we were approached by a non-UK company, would we take them on? If they fit our other criteria, of course.

So, what target market does your company best fit? Think about your existing customers. If they’re a good fit for your product/solution then what is common about them? If you can identify a target from them then all the better as, hopefully, they will provide case study material you can use in your new marketing campaigns.

Having established your target market how do you go about creating awareness and turning that awareness into traffic for your web properties?

From an inbound digital marketing perspective, there are two broad approaches to getting traffic to your web properties: you pay for it and/or take the ‘free’ bus to Google town and work to organically rank for relevant keywords.

The ‘free’ route requires content marketing which requires investment so, actually, isn’t free. The paid traffic route also requires content to be effective, so developing content is fundamental to whichever route you take and to your inbound marketing efforts generally.

Before exploring each of the routes in more detail, it’s worth establishing that web traffic is simply a commodity. One way or another you’re going to pay for it which means you should understand the ROI of each traffic source. This then requires you to track and be able to attribute sales back to the source of traffic. If you can’t do this then how do you know which is working best and how to scale your spend?

Solid keyword research should underpin your content marketing efforts – how are your prospective customers describing their potential problems in search engines? Implementation of SEO strategies both within your content and throughout your web properties is also critical. Note here with SEO that this is an on-going discipline and not something that can be done in a vacuum. Also, the days of trying to game Google are long gone. Understand the basics of SEO, do that and then write good content that your prospects want to read.

Getting back to traffic commoditisation, and accepting that you’re going to pay for traffic either directly through paid ads, or indirectly through your efforts in organically ranking, this presents you with the opportunity to use paid ads to generate leads while you’re building search engine ranking.

For example, you can get to x leads by y using paid traffic, or by z using organic. A combination of paid and organic will get you to x at some point between y and z. The chart is merely conceptual but,, hopefully, illustrates the point.

Once you then have the data on what works and doesn’t work (which sources produce the best ROI in terms of generating leads and, ultimately, sales) then you can tweak your spend – if certain paid ads are working then keep them going.

Before discussing paid and organic in more detail let’s take a moment to review the three main types and purpose of content.

Website – The purpose of which is to say enough to get the visitor to ‘engage’ with you. It’s purpose is not to lay everything out in detail so the visitor can make their own mind up and leave. The purpose is to start a conversation with them as quickly as possible.

Blog – Probably your most important tool from an organic ranking standpoint. Develop a cadence for how often you post and stick with it. Weekly is optimal based on our experience – Google recognises frequent updates. Think thought leadership, problem solving, not product and features.

Lead Magnets – What did we mean by ‘engage’ above? You want a visitor to put their hand up and share their information with you (thereby creating a lead). This could be a white paper, webinar, etc. There are many examples (see later).

There are many other types of content too, of course. One of the keys to converting awareness into leads is, as far as possible, ensuring a seamless experience from the visitor’s initial search term, say, to the ad content (if using paid traffic) and then through to the landing page. If the visitor searched for x, and x is in your ad, address x on your landing page and also have a lead magnet that illustrates how you solve for x. Again, more on this later.

Organic Traffic

If you’ve identified your target market, done your keyword research, institutionalised SEO across your web properties and content, established a cadence to your content production then traffic will come. It will take time to ramp up, but it will come. Your job then is to convert that traffic into leads.

There are other sources of ‘free’ traffic such as social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Can you confidently say that your target market is using one of them to explore potential solutions to problems you solve? If yes, then engage and spend the effort trying to help them but recognise that this a very manual process. If the answer is no, then move on and spend your effort elsewhere.

Word of mouth and referrals are another great source of leads – an excellent source coming from a trusted friend, colleague – but a topic to itself and beyond the scope of this post.

Paid Traffic

There are many forms of paid advertising, both online and offline. For our target market looking for efficient, effective, measurable/trackable sources of paid traffic, the two axes of interest are:

  1. Buyer Status – Are they out searching for a solution to a problem that you can solve, or is your paid ad going to interrupt something else they were in the middle of?
  2. Targeting – Are you placing an ad that is specific to your target market? Can you address every specific demographic of your target market through this source?

The quadrant shows where various ad platforms sit. Capterra is an online directory of software solutions – predominantly US but with decent UK traffic so worth looking at for software vendors.

Which makes most sense? Advertising to those already looking/searching for a solution or inserting your ad into, for example, someone’s LinkedIn feed when they’re busy doing something else? The interrupt approach requires a lot of luck – and money (or effort).

That said, LinkedIn’s demographic segmentation capability does allow you to be very specific about who you target. More so than Google Adwords which requires your use of keywords and ad copy to do what you can to not incur clicks (and cost) from people outside of your target market.

There are other ad platforms that may be more appropriate to your product/solution. How would they fit in the quadrant?

We’ve tested every kind of paid ad and can confidently say that, for clients in our target market, the best platforms are those where the user is already searching for a solution. Pretty obvious, right?

When using paid ads, being able to measure the activity (from click to sale) is critical to understanding what works and what doesn’t, and then what to scale up and what to drop. There are many ways to achieve this tracking/ attribution. Please contact us to discuss further.

In terms of common mistakes here is one example with multiple errors.

The experience should be seamless from the user’s initial search term, to the content of the ad, through to the landing page after they’ve clicked. Then, on the landing page, what action do you want the visitor to then take? How do you want them to engage with you?

Clearly in the example above, this just doesn’t happen and, you would imagine, is wasted marketing budget. If you’re going to pay to advertise to your target market, you must go the extra mile of joining the dots – search term to ad – ad to landing page – landing page to lead magnet/engagement. Yes, it’s work to have multiple ads/landing pages/lead magnets but that’s something we can help you with.

Whatever you do, please please please don’t send paid traffic to your home page and hope the visitor will figure out what you do and how you want to engage. It’s worth the extra effort to get a return from your ad spend.

Lead Generation

We’ve already touched on tracking/attribution and the type of content that works at this top of funnel stage so the focus of this chapter will be on lead magnets and retargeting.

Lead Magnets

The vast majority of visitors to your website are not ready to buy so it’s critical you engage with them. A lead magnet, a piece of content offered in exchange for their contact information, is the first tool you can sensibly deploy to engage your visitors.

Reports * How-To Guides * Resources * Assessments * Tests * Surveys * Coupons * Free Trials * Webinars etc. can all be used to good effect as lead magnets.

The best lead magnets should:

  • Deliver value quickly (so stay away from 500 page reports, you want your visitor to be delighted by the exchange of information as quickly as possible and the 500 page report is likely to remain unread)
  • Address a specific problem with a solution
  • Be targeted at the visitor
  • If the visitor came from a paid ad, make the landing page and lead magnet specific to their search query.

Note that ‘Contact Us’ does not count as a lead magnet. Great if a visitor is sold and wants to immediately contact you to find out more, but this is unlikely and the vast majority of visitors will want to learn more before directly reaching out to you. It is really is amazing how many B2B tech companies have nothing by way of lead magnets on their website. This is a crucial error up there with driving paid traffic to your home page.

Two good examples of lead magnets from Hubspot are as follows:

If you’re a SaaS vendor your lead magnet may be a free trial as with Hubspot above – just make sure you have a frictionless sign-up process; and then whatever support is required to make them successful, followed by an easy process for converting to a paid subscriber.

The second lead magnet offering 10 free infographic templates is interesting. Infographics are a popular way to digest information (particularly top of funnel content) but are not so easy to create. Providing 10 templates in a PowerPoint format is, therefore, double useful.

Two good questions to address here is how much information should you collect as part of the sign-up form and how does GDPR impact this?

On the first one, we normally go for First Name, Last Name, e-mail and Company. As a general rule, the more you ask for, the less likely people are to complete the form so there’s a trade-off there. Also, should you accept personal e-mails at this stage or should you prohibit submissions of gmail/yahoo/hotmail addresses? It’s easy to prevent ‘personal’ submissions in WordPress if you’re using Contact Form 7 but, again, will impact the number of people completing the form. What’s most important to you? How many leads are you already receiving? Can you afford to be picky? As you mature, you’ll find your propensity to prohibit the use of personal e-mail addresses (in B2B) will increase.

GDPR will be the subject of a separate blog post. For now, suffice to say we use, and recommend our clients use, the principle of legitimate interest as the lawful basis on which to process personal information and communicate with prospects. This works for B2B but not for B2C and still does not give you the right to spam people and you should always give people the right to unsubscribe from your emails. Watch out for the future post when we’ll go through this in more detail.

Retargeting

Not every visitor will convert to a lead during their visit but you can’t assume this is through lack of interest. They may have been distracted by a phone call – literally, anything!

So why not retarget them with relevant ads via other channels. This is easy to set up with LinkedIn, Google Display Ads and Basis (among many other similar broad platforms).

Both Google and Basis allow broad categories of websites to be targeted to carry your ads, which will only be seen by people who’ve been to your site and didn’t convert. These are display ads on other sites and do suffer from ad blindness to a degree but are inexpensive to run and worth setting up as you will find some people come back to you via these ads.

For B2B tech companies thinking big (you) we’ve had most success with retargeting through LinkedIn but it’s still interrupt driven and, as such, we would recommend only running ads for a short period after the initial visit to your website.

Lead Nurturing

“81% of sales happen after 7 or more contacts, but 85% of the time sales people stop after 1 or 2 contacts/attempts.”

“People buy when they’re ready to buy, not when you’re ready to sell.”

The number of leads you’re generating and the size of your sales team will dictate whether/by how much you automate the lead nurturing process. It may be that you stay in touch using one to one email’s or phone calls. It may be that you have the volume that necessitates use of a marketing automation platform such as Hubspot, Infusionsoft or Pardot.

Whichever it is, the key is to provide content that is both educational (relevant and helpful – e.g. how others have solved the same problem) and demonstrates your capabilities to solve the problem (case studies, preferably companies/problems very similar to them, are good examples of middle of funnel content).

Don’t confuse lead nurturing with drip email marketing where a new lead is fed a prescribed series of emails regardless of who they are or if/how they interact with those emails.

Lead nurturing is both personalised and adaptive, meaning the nurture sequence (what you send through which channels) can change based on how the lead interacts with your communications. An extremely simple example might be as follows:

This is a simple schematic taken from Infusionsoft and shows different routes based on actions taken, e.g. which link did they click in the email? These kinds of nurture sequences can be as complicated as you want to make them, e.g. did they click the link for the video in the email, and then did they watch more than half of the video?

What you want to do with every touchpoint is: 1) score them based on action taken, and 2) give the prospect the opportunity to put their hand up to engage with you directly. Those most interested will engage with you earliest in the process.

One other thing to consider with nurture sequences is the inclusion of direct mail. We’ve gone from everyone avoiding junk mail that comes through the door to people being much more receptive to well-considered direct mail pieces.

So why do you need lead nurturing in your business? As we intimated earlier:

“Most consumers have seven contacts with a business before they purchase but most businesses stop following up after two contacts.” – Infusionsoft

“79% of marketing leads never convert to sales. Lack of lead nurturing is the common cause for poor performance.” – Marketing Sherpa

“Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at a 33% lower cost.” – Marketo

“Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.” – The Annuitas Group

How do you personalise your nurture sequence? You may have started this process already with your lead magnet. Asking for extra information may drive down conversion rates on the lead magnet but doing it in a fun way which produces a personalised lead magnet may actually produce higher conversion rates. If your lead magnet is not personalised, then try including a way of gathering further information as part of your initial follow-up. This will help you segment your leads and offer different nurture sequences to each.

Of course, what the best nurture sequences are for your business depend on the nature of your business. A good starting point is to sketch out what the ideal sequence would be if you were to run it manually. Thinking this way would probably lead to thoughts of segmentation, “this type of lead we’d treat this way, this one another way,” and you’re starting on a process of building a nurture sequence and thinking through not just what you would send to each segment but what you need to gather early on to categorise leads into each segment.

You’re now almost in a position to automate the process. Almost, but first you need to answer the question, “what is the goal of the sequence?” Is it to have your lead get to a point where your sales team can call them in the knowledge that they’re now a hot lead?

Given each lead will interact differently with your nurture sequence (did click/didn’t click; did watch the video/didn’t watch; etc.) a system that can award points based on a lead’s activity in the nurture sequence can be used to set up goals that trigger actions from your business (call the lead; send this offer etc.).

Thinking about how you nurture leads will help you ask the right questions of your potential marketing automation provider (if you haven’t already committed to a particular vendor).

For example, if we take lead scoring as an example, perhaps you’ve decided to directly call a prospect once they get to X points. Does it matter how long it takes them to get to X? Of course it does. If it takes two years of marketing communications for them to engage enough to get to X points, we’d suggest that lead is not as hot as someone who gets there in two months. So ask your potential marketing automation vendor if they can alert you based on points scored over a specific period of time. At time of writing, Pardot can’t do this – they can only tell you when the lead reaches the score of X.

Also, can the marketing automation system automatically remove leads from a particular sequence when the prospect takes a specific action? Sounds like a basic requirement, right? If the prospect has clicked a Contact Us link and submitted the contact form, then you want to take them out of the sequence and stop sending them further emails and just deal with the contact form submission. Again, with Pardot, you can only take people out of their Engagement Studio sequences manually (at the time of writing).

We’re not picking on Pardot, it’s an excellent system and, being owned by Salesforce, has unbeatable integration with SFDC. There are trade-offs everywhere but thinking about how you want to build your nurture sequences will help you ask the right questions of the marketing automation vendor. Don’t assume they do the obvious…

Being able to run lead nurture sequences, whether manually or automatically, will help you reduce lost leads and generate more sales, faster!

Why faster? Our experience has shown us that dramatically increasing the number of leads and following the principles of lead nurturing naturally results in more opportunities for our clients’ Sales teams that close with shorter sales cycles.

Imagine only having 5 leads per month. The chances of one of them having a real, short term need is slim and you will need to be very lucky if this lead is going to close quickly. Now, if you have 100 leads per month and you nurture them well, the chances are the ones with the most pressing need will put their hands up early, thereby, resulting in shorter sales cycles.

Intuitively you would imagine that to be the case, our experience says it’s definitely the case. More leads, more opportunities, more sales, that close faster.

So that’s the end of what has been a very long post. Deliberately long. Future posts won’t be this long, you may be glad to hear. There’s method in the madness. If you want to understand the madness then feel free to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!!

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