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Does inbound marketing work for b2b?

It’s one of the buzz areas of marketing, coined by the legendary Seth Godin and popularised by our friends at Hubspot – but what really is inbound marketing? What does it involve? What do we need to know? And is it worth us b2b marketing folk worrying about?

We have been using inbound as part of the various campaigns we run for clients and wanted to share some thoughts on this hotter-than-a-hot-cross-bun-on-fire topic.

What is it?

According to Wikipedia:

“Inbound marketing is advertising a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, e-newsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing. In contrast, buying attention, cold-calling, direct paper mail, radio, TV advertisements, sales flyers, spam, telemarketing and traditional advertising are considered “outbound marketing”. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

In one case inbound marketing was defined by three phases: Get found, Convert and Analyse. A newer model from Business2Community illustrates the concept in five stages:


  • Attract traffic
  • Convert visitors to leads
  • Convert leads to sales
  • Turn customers into repeat higher margin customers
  • Analyse for continuous improvement

So in essence it’s a technique that looks to leverage content marketing and distribute that content out via the web, to draw visitors through to that content and then through to your website, to then look to nurture them through to the point of lead or sale.

Take a look at this graph – it’s from a client campaign where we have used inbound to draw in traffic to a client website (hosted on Hubspot, which allows us to nurture and keep in touch after the initial visit). You will see the clear difference in not just traffic but sales-ready leads during that time:

(The red line denotes the start of the inbound phase of the campaign.)



So it’s just SEO by another name?

No, not quite – it’s broader than just SEO. A key benefit of inbound marketing is it will build your SEO and grow a much longer tail to your marketing. More broadly than SEO, social is a key component of inbound – using channels and platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter to find congregations of potential customers and engage in conversation, discussion and comment with them. This seeding of content in the right areas can help draw a steady stream of quality traffic (if you target the right sites) that you can then aim to convert to leads or sales.

It sounds more like outbound than inbound: I’m confused

Well there’s the funny thing! In our view it is actually somewhere between the two – you have to push out messages to LinkedIn groups, for example, and then draw them back through to your website or web landing pages as inbound traffic.

We could get hung up on semantics, but instead it’s worth looking at some real-world examples and hopefully you’ll get the picture.

Give me a useful marketing-based analogy will you?

Personally I like to think of it as a bit like PPC vs. SEO. Outbound marketing still has a huge part to play in your b2b marketing, but is like PPC – it’s far quicker to get action and results but can be more expensive. Inbound is not unlike SEO – it takes more time to get things moving, to build up content and momentum, but over time you will generate a longer term channel to deliver quality traffic, leads and hopefully customers.

In reality I strongly recommend the use of both inbound and outbound (such as telemarketing or email) in unison – this will give the best possible results in the short and longer term – so very much like a combined SEO and PPC campaign.