We get some variation of these questions frequently: “We’ve been in business for [insert number of decades here]. We have a marketing staff. Why should we outsource our inbound marketing strategy?” At times, we’ve stumbled over trying to figure out exactly how to answer that. The obvious reasons are to “rent” expertise you don’t have and because you (or your staff) doesn’t have the time to either develop the expertise or devote the time to implementing a strategy (after all, strategy without implementation is useless).
A few months ago, I had a “duh” moment as I was writing about the benefits of managed print services for a client website. The same arguments copier dealers make – service, expertise/knowledge, time saving, simple budgeting, etc. are nearly identical to the reasons to outsource inbound marketing.
But Inbound (and Marketing) Isn’t Complicated
We’ve heard this before too. It’s true. The basic idea of inbound marketing isn’t complicated (or as we like to say when talking about assets, content and campaigns: “It ain’t rocket science”).
Reduced to the essentials:
- Have a decent website (to be blunt, many copier dealers look to have websites created in 1998 so here’s a free recommendation: if you wouldn’t buy something from your website, you need a new one)
- Have offers and calls to action on your webpages to capture demographics (name, email, company name) to turn web visitors into leads
- Write useful content that educates and answers questions customers and potential customers ask so that people will want to share their contact information
- Use email campaigns to nurture leads to a purchase decision
- Lather, rinse, repeat
The elements aren’t complicated.
Of course, on the surface buying copiers and printers for your office isn’t all that hard either:
- Buy (or lease) printers and copiers
- Have IT install them and add drivers on users’ computers
- Print and copy away
- Fix when they break
- Lather, rinse, repeat
Yet your customers benefit from your hard-won knowledge and expertise, right?
Quick Aside – Why Inbound Marketing?
Whether you call it inbound, online, content or simply marketing, you need to invest in it. Copier dealers’ salespeople are some of the best salespeople in any industry. They have to be, with razor-thin margins and selling a product that is basically a commodity. Many dealers double down on more salespeople to grow rather than on marketing. That’s what you’re comfortable with.
But buying habits are changing. What percent of the buying decision do you think is made before someone contacts your company? 10 percent? 25 percent? Maybe a decade ago. Today, 70 percent of the buying decision is made BEFORE a customer picks up the phone and calls you or fills in a “contact us” form online. As personalized, one-to-one marketing becomes ever more powerful that percentage is likely to grow.
What’s informing those decisions? Predominately it’s through online research – looking for information about needs and finding a trusted resource online through blogs, whitepapers, articles, reviews, etc. The Google search box is the beginning of nearly every sale today.
Your salespeople aren’t part of this buying process; inbound marketing is.
It’s Not Complicated. It Is Hard.
“Wow, Bryant, you’re doing a GREAT job of making the argument for these services – or, you know, not!”
Here’s the rub – just because something isn’t complicated doesn’t mean that it’s easy. The basics of inbound aren’t complicated, just like the basics of managed print services aren’t complicated on the surface.
However, start digging into the details – configuring the copiers for the customer, training, set up and placement, attaching the device to the network, ensuring that meter counts are accurate, etc. – and you start to get an idea of why a business is often better off outsourcing print fleet management, because it’s time-consuming to manage for a company’s IT staff. Plus, IT staffs are often pulled from their jobs because “the printer is broken/copier is down again.” I know I was shocked at how much goes into getting a copier set up when I dug into it.
The basics of inbound are, again, simple. Based on a good website, create helpful content for your potential customers, capture their names, guide them to a purchase.
- Finding the right keywords is hard.
- Creating an email campaign and workflow (with if/then logic, branching, and the calls to action (CTAs) and email text that match each step) requires painstaking attention to detail. I consider myself very, very good at inbound and I struggle with creating email workflows (thankfully, we have Kate, HubSpot goddess, to do this for us).
- Content is hard.
- Design is a skill not many have.
- Creating a website is hard (your site is probably more complicated than those Wix ads you see on TV).
- Choosing a marketing automation tool, yep, also hard – there are, literally, thousands, from complete suites to point solutions.
And these are just a few of the elements that go into an inbound strategy – starting with needing a strategy! Other elements of an inbound marketing strategy include persona building, social publishing/sharing, building forms, calls to action and landing pages, social monitoring, surveys and smart content. Together, they create a story of your business for your customers.
From personal experience, here are a few reasons why these things are so hard.
Keywords and SEO
Let’s get this out of the way: keywords are NOT an SEO strategy. They are only part of an SEO strategy. Search engine optimization is the skill of being able to use search engines to direct traffic to your website. Inbound marketers use elements of SEO – particularly keywords – to structure content and campaigns. I understand the elements of SEO that directly contribute to inbound success, but I’m not close to being an SEO expert. SEO is a field of expertise of its own.
When you type a word into Google to search, that’s a keyword. “IT services,” “copier repair,” “laser printers,” etc. are keywords. In inbound, we focus on identifying keywords relevant for your business and structuring content around those keywords. Which keywords to target? How do we target local keywords? How do we use the keywords in blogs and on landing pages to attract web traffic? When does it make sense to use a keyword in a blog title? Are you using too many keywords on a page and confusing the search engines? By the way, Google will penalize your website if you do this wrong even though no one, other than Google, understands the rules. These are only a few of the questions we ask ourselves for every piece of content created.
Content Is Hard
Content is anything we read, watch or listen to – blogs, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, e-books, infographics, tweets, gifs … you get the idea. Is it better to create a blog or a how-to video to answer a question? Should you do both? Does your audience like to watch videos but hate podcasts? Are they on social media? Which social media channels? What content do they like on which of those social media channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.).
I’m good at the written word, but not nearly as good at creating videos and podcasts. I’m nearly hopeless at creating an infographic on my own after I write the copy.
Writing freaks people out. It freaks ME out and I do it for a living. If you want to have a successful inbound strategy, you need people who can write (and that’s not including how to decide WHAT to write and if a blog or an e-book is better than a webinar or YouTube/Wistia video).
Email Campaigns and Workflows
In marketing automation tools, you can create an email campaign with as many emails and steps as you like. Should your subject lines be long or short? Personalized or not? How long should the emails be? Should you use images? Embed videos? What’s the best placement for CTAs? When creating the workflow, which lists should you use? How do you make sure people who unsubscribe are removed from the campaign? Honestly, I can create an email campaign, but creating the workflow blows my mind.
Tools like Canva, Pablo and others allow non-designers to turn out decent-looking images and presentations. I’ve used them and others. A real designer blows anything I can do away. Sometimes good enough is good enough. For instance, what colors help convert? Will arrows or other clues pointing at form submission buttons increase conversions? Other times, you need to blow the customer away with excellent design.
Like SEO, website design and creation overlaps with inbound, but is also a different set of skills. Regarding inbound, we decide where to add calls-to-action (and should they be images or simply words?) on webpages. Are there pillar pages we can create to serve as a search engine traffic magnet for traffic? Are all the links working and easily visible?
I’ve just finished writing copy for two websites – and helping a little with design direction. Web writing is different than writing for a blog or an e-book (or an article).
Which Tool to Use?
Our business is based on HubSpot and I’ve also been a customer. It’s powerful and easy to use. I’ve also used Marketo. It’s also powerful though not as easy to use. There are thousands of other marketing automation tools that do everything in one package (like HubSpot and Marketo) to different tools that do the different elements of marketing – email automation, CRM, social media automation and so many more. I remember spending days on end researching various options six years ago – there are more now.
Are You Answering Their Questions
I just bought a book (They Ask, You Answer) by one of the more influential practitioners of inbound marketing, Marcus Sheridan. In brief, he owned a pool installation company. It was failing. He wrote a blog post answering the question, “How much does a pool cost?” Because people (his potential customers) were searching Google for that question, he began to bring traffic to his site because of that single post. Over time, traffic turned to customers. Now, his pool business is successful AND he’s launched a second career and company consulting and training on inbound marketing.
Terrifying, right? I can’t write about PRICE because my competitors will undercut me, my customers will squeeze me, or insert your reason here. But the thing is, prices are everywhere – eBay, manufacturers’ sites, and through office supply stores for the smaller models. You’re keeping something a secret that’s not really a secret. We help you overcome that fear. We help uncover the questions your customers are asking – by research, talking to your customers and salespeople, through keyword research.
Marketing Isn’t Just Brochures and Leave Behinds
I still read books – actual books, ink-on-dead-trees books – so I like the idea of a tangible “thing” that salespeople can leave with a potential customer after a visit. However, if your view of marketing is someone who designs product brochures and event announcements for your salespeople, then your view of marketing is – how should I say this – wrong. Marketing today is list management, sending promotional AND educational emails, creating and running a good website, assisting sales in identifying what makes a good lead, and all the “stuff” I mentioned here.
You should do inbound. Given time and patience, it’ll help your business grow. And while you can hire the internal resources to create and manage a strategy for you (and that might make sense for your company), you don’t have to.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel