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This year, our agency was forced to come to terms with a big change in the way we do things.

When we opened our doors in 2010, inbound marketing was revolutionizing how marketers increase traffic, grow leads, and nurture them into customers. At the time, it seemed like the magic formula. Create content people are searching for, and you’ll be rewarded with traffic and quality leads.

It was the kind of marketing we always wanted to create. The kind that genuinely helped consumers and businesses simultaneously. And it worked really, really well. At first.

One of our biggest success stories has been a surgical weight loss center. When we brought them on board, and, for a few years following, keyword searches were high, difficulty levels were low, and there was little similar content competing for attention. By optimizing our blog posts and publishing frequently, we increased their traffic from 200 visitors per month to over 17,000 web visitors and 150 qualified leads. More importantly, these leads converted, allowing us to quadruple their number of monthly patient surgeries.

While our veteran clients have continued to see a snowball effect when attracting visitors and leads, we began to notice a trend over time: it was getting more and more difficult to easily repeat that same success with new clients. Traffic became slower and slower to build, and often flat lined. Form submissions became fewer. When we saw increases, they were generally tied to campaigns rather than our consistent blogging and inbound efforts.

Understandably, we were puzzled. As we added on new clients, they saw increases in organic traffic and leads, but the results paled in comparison to our previous successes. We couldn’t help but wonder why if we were applying the same approach that created success were we unable to replicate the same level of success.

After some digging, we found that many marketers were experiencing a similar shift. Most recently, Peter Caputa CEO of Databox and previous Sales VP at HubSpot, discussed their struggle getting results from the inbound methodology. Peter has spent the last decade teaching agencies the inbound methodology and agrees that its impact is fading.

These findings, along with our own experiences, led us to explore new ways to market our clients’ products and services. For our B2B and enterprise clients, this exploration has allowed us to discover a new approach to attracting prospects quickly and with quality in mind. Below, we will discuss where inbound marketing is heading and how this new approach fits into your overall marketing strategy.

The New Approach to Attracting Prospects

The biggest game-changing trend in content creation and inbound marketing is that it’s not working anymore. At least not like it used to.

For years the industry has been focused on inbound marketing as a way to cast a specific net to attract a specific audience. But there’s a faster, more direct way to get your prospect’s attention.

Instead of using an inbound-only approach, some businesses are taking their marketing a step further by delivering content directly to buyers. This new approach to attracting prospects, known as Account-Based Marketing (ABM), is more like fishing with a spear in that you create an ideal customer profile and target specific “fish” directly, rather than waiting for them to swim into your net.

ITSMA defines it as “treating individual accounts as a market in their own right.” Rather than taking the inbound approach of “create value and they will come,” ABM takes the approach of “design content specific to our ideal customers, and deliver it to them directly.”

Tactics include actively searching for accounts who match your ideal customer profile, developing prospect-specific offers, emailing them personalized communications directly, and running account retargeting ads, to name a few.

What makes ABM so vital for B2B companies?

  • Get multiple decision makers on board. On average, 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase (CEB in HBR). Account-based marketing allows you to target each decision maker within an account in order to get them on board and speed up the sales process.
  • Strong ROI. Eighty-seven percent of marketers measuring ROI say that ABM outperforms other marketing investments. (ITSMA)
  • Drives revenue. When ABM has been in use for at least a year, 60% of users reported a revenue increase of at least 10%, and 19% reported a revenue impact of 30% or greater. (Demandbase in eWeek)
  • B2B marketers agree. More than 90% of marketers believe account-based marketing is essential.
  • Aligns sales and marketing. ABM aligns sales and marketing while focusing teams on the highest value accounts.

Recently, we ran an ABM email campaign for an event services client. By clearly defining their ideal customer profile based on revenue, number of employees, services, location, and employee title, we were able to create a content offer that was relevant to the accounts we were targeting and appealed directly to our target prospects.

By using specific content, we were able to earn the attention of our prospects. After including this content offer in a multi-step email campaign, we were able to see an 80% average open rate for the campaign as a whole.

If you’re looking to give ABM a try, with similar results, you can apply the approach we used by involving your target prospects in the content creation process through market research surveys.

Ask your prospects to share their expertise about something relevant to their industry. This approach will get your target prospects involved and warmed up to the idea that you’re not just trying to sell them. We’ve seen this tactic work incredibly well for multiple B2B and enterprise clients, including the case study mentioned above.

This approach creates an instantly engaged audience, invested in learning more (or at least seeing the results of the survey they’ve contributed to). This makes it the perfect foot in the door method for approaching cold or lukewarm prospects.

By participating, your prospects are expecting to hear from you – which can go a long way when you’re targeting prospects that may have never had contact with your company prior to this exchange.

Once the report makes it to their inbox, your prospects will also know they’re getting new information and insights that are relevant to their industry and careers. This will help to establish your company as an industry expert with prospects who feel they read the same regurgitated information over and over again.

But don’t mistake ABM for a stand-alone “campaign.” While it can produce results faster than inbound marketing due to its direct approach, it’s best applied as a long-term strategy and an extension of your overall marketing and sales process.

Where does this leave inbound?

While the ABM approach is being explored, and the lead generation and nurturing advantages realized, it doesn’t eliminate the need for inbound marketing.

While inbound marketing may not be what it used to be, it’s still a relevant and necessary strategy – especially for businesses that offer products or services with a high CLV and a long sales cycle.

Before you consider throwing your inbound and content marketing strategy calendar out the window, consider the following:

  • Your buyers are searching. In the 2014 B2B State of Procurement Study, Accenture found that 94% of B2B buyers did some kind of online research before making a purchase decision.
  • Your competition is blogging. Competition is one of the main reasons for a decline in the rate and level of inbound marketing success. Everyone is blogging – making it harder to get noticed. But by cutting yourself out of the picture completely, you’re only guaranteeing you won’t get noticed.
  • Lead nurturing is still a must. It takes multiple touches with a brand before someone will hand over their credit card. Over 50% of customer interactions happen over a multi-event, multi-channel journey – emphasizing the importance of being active across multiple channels.
  • Brand recognition pays off. Seventy percent of consumers click on “known retailers” first — highlighting the importance of using content publishing, distribution, online advertising, and co-marketing to position your brand as a known industry expert.
  • Relevance matters. Of nearly 200 marketers surveyed, 95% identified “better tailoring of content” as a top priority.

Clearly, inbound marketing still matters. It’s how we can use it effectively that is changing. Rather than tossing out inbound marketing and blogging completely, consider revising your strategy to produce quality content that can also be applied to your ABM audience.

In the earlier days of inbound marketing, businesses looking to rank quickly in search engines might have produced mid-quality, 500-word blog posts, publishing them as frequently as once a day.

To beat out your competition now, you need to place your emphasis on quality and distribution. Orbit Media’s blogging trends analysis shows that both word count and creation time is trending up-and-to-the-right while blogging frequency is trending down.

With so much mediocre content available online, authors must create longer, higher quality blog posts in order to stand out, attract visitors, and get shares. The frequency of this content depends on the resources you have available.

However, even with quality content and thoughtful distribution, traffic and leads can be slow to build. To accelerate the lead generation process and improve your overall marketing results, apply an ABM approach to your content creation efforts and tie this highly specific, account-catered content into your ABM strategy.

Inbound Marketing + ABM (Account-Based Marketing)

In 2017, a decade after inbound marketing was introduced; the time has come to reinvent ourselves and our beloved inbound marketing methodology by combining it with ABM and sales enablement strategies.

At our agency, we’ve seen success combining inbound with account-based marketing – proving to us that content, along with a multi-channel presence are vital to the lead nurturing process, whether you’re fishing with a net or fishing with a spear.

The conclusion we came to is that inbound marketing is valuable and here to stay. But in order to generate quality leads more quickly and avoid flat-lining returns, B2B and enterprise companies will need to apply a new approach – one that combines quality inbound marketing tactics with account-based marketing.

Is your approach to inbound marketing changing, and, if so, how are you shifting your strategy to generate more traffic and customers? Send us your thoughts!

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