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From Content to Lead to Handoff: Inbound Marketing in Six Steps

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In this article, you'll learn strategies and tools to...

  • Fill the top of the sales funnel with inbound leads.
  • Keep leads interested and engaged throughout the buying cycle.
  • Optimize your marketing campaigns to meet the needs of today's buyers.

Technological innovations have had a dramatic impact on how buyers find, evaluate, and purchase goods and services.

Today, consumers readily look online, often via their mobile devices, when seeking information and advice. And just as readily they tune out advertising and other interruption-based messaging.

As a result, marketers need to be more attuned to where, when, and how people want to receive messages. You can't just blast your message out and hope it reaches someone and sticks. Instead, you need to build a presence online in the places that matter most—including social networks, blogs, and search engines—so that when people come looking, they find you.

But that's not all. Once leads enter the sales funnel, marketers need to build brand preference and loyalty via personalized, strategic outreach at all stages of the sales cycle and beyond. Doing so requires hybrid marketing professionals with skills in data analysis, SEO, content marketing, social media, PR, email marketing, mobile, and development and programming.

A Modern Marketing Campaign in Action

So what is possible today, and how does it all fit together? Let's look at how a marketer today might approach the release of a new, gated content piece. We'll use an e-book as an example.

Step 1: Create valuable content

Targeted content is great at generating leads and so filling the top of the sales funnel. It can also be used throughout the nurturing process to move leads through the sales cycle. But creating effective content is a difficult, specialized task, requiring skilled copywriters who know how to write for a specific audience with specific goals in mind. Generally speaking, solid copywriting is brand-centric and focused on the user, as well as technically sound and optimized for search engines.

So you find a skilled copywriter, and with a lot of input from you and your colleagues, she creates an e-book...

Step 2: Set up tracking mechanisms

Prior to distributing the e-book, plan how you'll track its success. Depending on the technology available to you, consider the following:

  • A/B landing page testing: Test full Web pages or elements within a page against variations to determine which messages and layouts perform the best. Based on the results, adjust the landing page to drive more content downloads.
  • Behavior tracking: Set up behavior-based analytics to determine users' first and last touchpoints before they downloaded your e-book and track online activities that are most likely to lead to conversions.
  • Revenue tracking: Tie content from completions to a specific revenue dollar amount in your payment processing or CRM system for closed-loop reporting.
  • URL tracking: Use tracking URLs to determine which sources drive the most downloads, and which links are clicked within the e-book.

With tracking mechanisms in place, the next step is to promote your e-book to target audiences.

Step 3: Launch an integrated distribution strategy

Expand your content's reach by taking an integrated approach to distribution:

  • On your website: In addition to a dedicated landing page for the e-book, link to it from other pages on your site, such as relevant product pages or an introductory blog post.
  • Via social media: Share the content on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Media relations outreach: Identify publications or blogs that are an ideal match for your content, and pitch them. Tip: Tie your pitches to editorial calendars for better results.
  • Search marketing: Insert targeted keywords into the landing page, copies of the piece, and PDF properties to increase the likelihood that the e-book appears in related search results.
  • Email: Send direct emails to key contacts—partners, customers, leads—who may find the e-book informative, and determine whether it makes sense to integrate them into lead-nurturing campaigns.

Step 4: Automate follow-up

With a great e-book and proper promotion, you should start to see leads flow in. But attracting leads naturally via content, social networks, and search engines isn't enough. Keep those leads interested and engaged throughout the buying cycle, and establish trust and preference by staying top-of-mind using marketing automation.

And don't limit yourself to email. Technologies exist to automate outreach via multiple channels, such as SMS or social networks—depending on your customers' preferred communication methods.

Step 5: Score leads and hand them off to Sales

Next, grade prospects by quality with a lead-scoring system that gives greatest weight to the factors that matter most to your organization, such as decision-making power. In that case, someone who indicates he is a CMO on the lead form gets a higher score than someone of lower rank. Lead scoring helps your sales team qualify leads and prioritize follow-up.

In addition to lead scores, give the sales team access to key metrics and data associated with each lead. For instance, what content the lead downloaded or what pages she visited can give your salespeople insight into what products that person may find most interesting, allowing them to tailor messaging to her unique needs.

Step 6: Monitor and adjust

Remember: Your campaign does not end after the e-book is launched. Continually review the analytics and ROI to determine what is working and what isn't, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Your Experiences?

What are you doing to attract, nurture, and convert leads? What challenges have you faced, and what successes have you seen? Share your experiences in the comments section.

For more information on modern marketing capabilities, check out PR 20/20's The B2B Marketer's Guide to Going Inbound e-book.

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Tracy Lewis is a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency, specializing in content, search, social, and PR.

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  • by Jonathan Tue Nov 13, 2012 via web

    Great article Tracy and I think you do a wonderful job of breaking down the steps very succinctly. I wanted to comment on step 5, the handoff to sales. I understand the value and importance of lead scoring, but in our experiences, we have found that just because a lead scores high doesn't mean the prospect is ready to engage with a sales professional. Often times sales reps have spent time trying to connect with these prospects to no avail. I would recommend passing the leads to an inside sales team for further qualification before getting a sales rep on the phone with the prospect. What we've found is a higher ROI on Marketing Campaigns because all the leads are followed up on by the Inside team, instead of Sales reps cherry picking what they deem to be sales worthy. Also, once the leads are ready to speak to sales, the pass over process is more seamless and the leads are in more of a position to buy. this keeps the sales reps involved in more "sales ready" conversations and less time spent leaving voice mails and sending emails and ensures that all the MQL's get touched and passed at the proper time, again increasing ROI. Curious to hear your thoughts?

  • by Prugh Roeser - The Devereux Group Wed Nov 14, 2012 via web

    Hi Tracy,

    Nice description of the tactical steps of Inbound Marketing.

    But I think they need to be dropped into a full campaign context in order to optimize them with focus and direction. A full campaign context front-ends tactics with objective-setting and strategy development. Once these steps have been completed and agreed on, tactics will be executed in the most informed way.

    For example, in order to create targeted content, we need to know who the targets are; and this can only come out of the objective-setting and strategy steps during which target audiences are identified, and offer (i.e., content in this context) overviews established. Otherwise, how can we tell whether the content will be valuable?

    The same applies to determining which outreach channels should be emphasized, and what can and should be tested and tracked. With objectives in place and strategies for achieving them explicitly formulated, all of these issues of tactical execution will be clearly decided, and there will be built-in frameworks for evaluating success.

  • by Scott Olson Tue Nov 20, 2012 via web

    Good post Tracy, and I agree the breakdown is solid. At each step in the inbound process it's important to have metrics in place, and as Prugh mentioned, milestones or goals in place to see how each campaign is tracking toward those goals.

    For targeted lead nurturing campaigns we've found the most critical piece is ensuring the targets are who both marketing and sales want them to be. That sounds simple, but often sales is nervous about marketing reaching out to 'their' prospects. By developing the list of contacts, messaging and timing with them, their comfort level increases and everyone gets behind the program.

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