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The fundamentals of inbound marketing

Whether you’re new to inbound marketing or brushing up on the basics, here’s what you need to know to grow your business.

The fundamentals of inbound marketing Blog Feature

Kimberly Marshall

Evergreen Content Editor, 15+ Years of Publishing and Content Marketing Experience

September 9th, 2021 min read

With so many inbound marketing resources out there — and lots of conflicting advice — it’s easy to get confused about which approach is best to take. Maybe you’re completely new to the concept, or perhaps you’ve tried a million things and none have worked as you hoped. 

If you believe in the power of inbound marketing, but you’re afraid to waste your money on a strategy that might not work, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’re going to explain the basic concepts of inbound marketing — not just any inbound marketing strategy, but a highly effective inbound marketing framework that has worked for our clients, time and time again, in any industry, whether B2B or B2C. 

While the majority of other “learn inbound marketing” resources out there will teach you the basics from a surface-level perspective, you will walk away from this article with in-depth knowledge of how to create content that increases not only traffic but also leads and sales. If you can get your entire team on board and are able to do it right by implementing all the specific fundamentals outlined in this article, then your company will be on its way to creating greater revenue and a better ROI in no time, thanks to a simple inbound marketing strategy that delivers big results.

It helped drive millions in revenue for our client Yale Appliance:

And also millions in revenue for FBi Buildings:

Not to mention hundreds of other clients too.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

The need for inbound marketing: How today’s buyer has changed 

To better reach our buyers, we need to understand how they’ve changed.

Buyers used to know roughly 20% to 30% of their decision by the time they reached out to your organization or someone in sales. But today, at the moment you know your prospects exist (or the zero moment of truth), 70% of their buying decision is already made

If we’re being honest here, this means the marketing department has the biggest impact on sales. Yet the first department that gets cut is marketing (which we often label as an expense) and the first to get hired back is sales (which we label as revenue). 

The reason most companies operate this way is that it’s how they’ve always done it.

As businesses, doing what we’ve always done is never going to make us unique or spark substantial growth. What we need is an evolution in the way we lead our sales and marketing departments: Your sales and marketing teams should work together to create powerful inbound marketing content that shortens the sales cycle and closes more deals faster.

It’s a better way to help your buyer not only find you but also understand how to buy from you — and it will help you build a better sales funnel and stronger ROI with inbound marketing.

A revolutionary approach to inbound marketing

Marcus Sheridan, a principal here at IMPACT, used to own a swimming pool company when the crash of 2008 nearly took everything. Within 48 hours of the crash, River Pools lost five customer deposits totaling a quarter of a million dollars — and the coming weeks were worse. Marcus and his business partners considered filing for bankruptcy, but this meant they would lose their homes and their employees would lose their jobs.

Without much to lean on, Marcus became consumed with saving his business. After immersing himself in the world of inbound marketing, he boiled all the advice down to one simple philosophy: Obsess over your buyers’ fears and concerns, and be willing to answer their questions on your website.

He decided from that day forward if any of his prospects had a question — no matter how difficult — River Pools was going to answer it on the website. His goal was to help River Pools become the Wikipedia of their space. 

Because of this decision, River Pools continues to thrive to this day. It’s also the reason Marcus developed They Ask, You Answer — a highly effective inbound marketing framework that has an incredible effect on sales and ROI and that we explain how to do in this article. 

This simple approach to inbound marketing works because it not only grows organic traffic, but it also helps your buyers ease their fears. When consumers research products and services, they’re looking for information that thoroughly addresses their questions, worries, needs, issues, etc. It’s the only thing your buyers want to understand — and easing their fears is the quickest way to build trust.

Here’s how CarMax does this so well. 

How CarMax got it right

When our clients succeed with They Ask, You Answer, it’s because of their willingness to lean into fear. Most companies don’t do this, at least not as well as CarMax. 

We know most people think of used-car salesmen as pushy and untrustworthy, and after a bit of self-reflection, CarMax did something incredible: They admitted that their buyers didn’t trust them. 

Instead of pretending this issue didn’t exist and ignoring it, hoping it would go away (something we call ostrich marketing here at IMPACT), they listed the major fears buyers have when purchasing a used car and built out a plan to address them:

  • Buyers want to avoid buying a lemon, so CarMax includes a history report of all the issues that the car has had in the past. 

  • Buyers don’t want to buy a used car and regret it later, so CarMax lets you bring the car back within the first three days, no questions asked. 

  • Buyers prefer not to deal with a salesperson, so CarMax offers no-haggle pricing. There is no need to negotiate — the price is the price.

  • Buyers want a good price or value, so CarMax salespeople get the same commission, regardless of the price of the vehicle. 

These are the four major fears the CarMax buyers had, and the company built its entire business model around easing them. 

The question is, are you willing to answer your buyers’ questions truthfully, no matter how difficult they are to answer? 

This is the essence of They Ask, You Answer — it’s a monumental shift in the way businesses operate today, and if you do it right, you won’t believe how much the course of your business can change.

To learn more about They Ask, You Answer, visit our What Is They Ask, You Answer? page on the IMPACT website or talk to an advisor who can explain how well this approach to inbound can work for you. 

Inbound marketing content that has the most effect on driving company revenue

Now that you know the importance of building trust and being the No. 1 teacher in your space, what does that actually look like? 

You can start by brainstorming the top 100 questions your buyers ask and producing a piece of content addressing each, or you can start with topics that get the biggest results. We recommend the latter, as it gets your inbound marketing efforts off the ground faster. 

When Marcus Sheridan reviewed the analytics at River Pool, he noticed there were certain subjects that drove a drastically greater response rate and ROI than others. After years of teaching these to thousands of businesses all over the world, he also proved they worked for companies across any industry — yet most businesses aren’t willing to address them. 

They are The Big 5, and they’ve become the centerpiece of content guides all over the world. They are the topics you should address first because they generate more traffic and leads. 

They include:

  1. Pricing and costs: How much does your solution costs (factors, considerations, what defines value, etc.)? 

  2. Problems: The negatives about, or issues with, your solution that buyers ask about. 

  3. Versus and comparisons: How your product or solution compares to similar products or solutions. 

  4. Reviews: Honest and unbiased opinions and observations about your product, solution, etc. 

  5. Best in class: What the best solution available is.

Here is how you can write each. 

Cost and price

Most people shy away from talking about cost on their websites, but when we are the consumer and we search for cost on a business’s website without finding it, we are frustrated. If buyers don’t find what they’re looking for, they will instead keep searching until they find it. And whoever gives you what you’re looking for is the one getting your business. 

It all comes back to trust. You know the company knows the answer, but if they aren’t willing to share it, you won’t trust that business. 

There are three major reasons we avoid talking about cost on our website:

  1. We offer a customized solution. Let’s say I came to you as a prospect and asked what drives up or down your cost or why some companies are expensive or cheap. Can you explain it? We can talk about cost — even if we’re not giving a definitive answer and “it depends.” We just have to take the time.

  2. The competition will find out. Just like you know what your competitors charge, they already know what you charge too. And besides, when was the last time your competitors paid your bills? We need to stop catering to our competitors and focus on what our customers are looking for because they’re the only ones that matter. 

  3. We might scare them away. The thing that scares your prospects away isn’t when we’re willing to talk about and explain cost. What scares them away is when you don’t, and you force them to find other means. 

We’ve seen businesses book hundreds of appointments and land millions in sales because they address cost on their websites. We’re not saying you need to post a pricing chart, and your answer might also be, “It depends.” But you need to be willing to address the question and explain the marketplace to your buyers; otherwise, they won’t understand what goes into your process and will seek the cheapest option.

To see an example of how to write a pricing article of your own, here’s a cost article published by River Pools you can reference to get an idea of what these articles include.

Problems

Every business has an elephant in the room. Think about the questions people ask you on sales calls that you hope they won’t ask. 

For Marcus Sheridan at River Pools, these were questions like: 

  • “What are the problems with fiberglass pools?” 

  • “I’ve heard it’s possible these crack over time or come in limited sizes. Is this true?” 

You have a choice: You can address them and be part of the conversation, or you can allow your competitors to address them. River Pools generated over $2 million in sales using these articles.

When we are willing to address the problems our buyers might experience, we explain the elephant in the room before it becomes a concern, and our customers appreciate the transparency.

Again, it all comes down to trust.

Here’s an example of a problem article written by IMPACT client West Roofing Systems

Versus and comparisons

As buyers, we love to compare. Think about your own searches. How many times have you met with a prospect, and they’ve asked, “If you were me, which would you choose?” We get these questions all the time. 

Most businesses won’t talk about their competitors' goods and services because we think that if we don’t talk about them, our prospects won’t know they exist.

At the end of the day, people want to know how your products and services compare to other options, so we need to talk about them. 

The trick here, though, is we don’t want to sound biased. We must be honest because sometimes the thing we sell isn’t going to be the right choice for our prospects. We need to explain to them what to consider as they make their own choice. 

You must show both sides of the coin if you’re going to be seen as trustworthy and the expert in your space, like RetroFoam of Michigan did in their comparison article “What Is the Best Insulation for an Attic?

Reviews and best in class

As buyers and consumers, we also love to search for reviews and best in class. If we can stack up our options and see what everyone says, we can make an informed decision.

Questions like “Who are the best pool builders in Richmond, VA” might sound like a topic you want to avoid, but your prospects want to know. List the options, and talk about your competitors without putting yourself on the list. If you create a “best-of” list, your prospects will know you wrote it, and if you put your own business on it, you appear biased and you lose credibility.

Brainstorm these topics, and write down as many as you can. Furthermore, listen to your customers for more ideas as to what your prospects are looking for. These five questions aren’t the only ones your prospects are asking. If you keep your ears open to their questions and concerns, the topics your business can address will be limitless.

For more information on how to create this content effectively, watch our free course How to Write “The Big 5”. Also, set up an appointment to talk to an advisor here at IMPACT. We’ve taught hundreds of businesses like yours how to write these articles, and we can answer any questions you have. 

Why using inbound marketing for sales can be revolutionary for your business

Chances are your competitors are not using content in their sales process, despite its ability to dramatically reduce the sales cycle and increase revenue. After learning the benefits this can have for your business and sales teams, you’re going to wonder why you haven’t done this all along.

The benefits of using inbound marketing content for sales

When your sales and marketing teams work together to create inbound marketing content, and your sales team also uses it to sell, there are several benefits for your company: 

  • Producing content forces us to understand our buyers and the way they think. When you do inbound marketing in the way we’ve described, your sales team learns your buyer’s persona inside and out, and can speak to and understand your customer like never before.

  • Producing content makes your sales team better at explaining and teaching your customers about your business offerings. As part of this process, your sales team members become subject matter experts, and your sales messaging improves.

  • Company content doubles as training guides for future employees. Businesses that write inbound marketing content well can send new employees to their learning center. Once the content is produced, the onboarding process becomes easier for all

  • Assignment selling is the process of using content in the sales process to dramatically decrease the sales cycle and increase closing rates by educating the buyer at a much faster rate (which we’ll explain more in-depth shortly). Your sales team will also use the content more when they help produce it, which makes them more efficient and knowledgeable about the content you have.

  • Sales teams can learn what prospects and customers truly care about before they enter the sales funnel. When we embrace content and look at the analytics, we can see what our customers are consuming before we meet them. This gives your sales team a story to work with, and you can design sales presentations that are more effective.

  •  With content, a relationship forms between the salesperson and company before the first sales meeting ever occurs, which means we can build trust earlier in the pipeline. Our buyers can watch videos with the salesperson and subject-matter experts and feel connected from the start. When your sales team sees the benefit of this, they are more likely to get excited about and help produce this content.

Great content means more trust, more trust means shorter sales cycles, and shorter sales cycles mean happier sales teams. This is what’s possible when content is part of your sales process. 

Inbound marketing and assignment selling 

If your sales and marketing teams do inbound marketing correctly, your website will be your company’s best salesperson. And you can use it to better educate prospects and dramatically shorten your sales cycle.

This discovery took Marcus by surprise when he was selling at River Pools. After receiving a sales appointment request from a prospect, Marcus noticed this prospect and his wife, who we call Mr. and Mrs. G., had viewed over 500 pages of his website! Was this person a competitor or something? Obsessed with swimming pools? Marcus was certainly intrigued and didn’t know what to expect. 

When he walked into their home, Mr. G. was holding a spreadsheet. One side of the sheet had the swimming pool model he wanted to buy, and on the other side listed every option and accessory he wanted to add. This meant the only thing Mr. and Mrs. G. needed from Marcus was the price, and Marcus left the appointment 45 minutes later with a signed contract and a $5,000 deposit

Mr. G. was not a competitor or strange person obsessed with swimming pools. Rather, he was a surgeon — and he was also a consumer, a consumer who, along with his wife, wanted to feel comfortable with their buying decision.

It turns out that when a prospect reads 30 pages or more of your website, they are ready to buy 80% of the time

Content is a powerful tool for educating prospects and helping them feel more comfortable with their buying decision, driving more qualified leads to your sales team, and shortening your sales cycle in the process. 

When you send prospects content to read before your sales calls — a process we call assignment selling — this increases the likelihood your sales team will have a smoother interaction with them and a greater chance of landing the sale.

Learn more about assignment selling and how to do it with Marcus Sheridan’s course Assignment selling: Content is your greatest sales tool. And talk to an advisor about using this method to shorten your sales cycles and increase revenue for your business. It’s something you don’t have to wait to use. You can create content and use it in your sales process today. 

How to build an inbound marketing culture in your company (and why that matters)

Here at IMPACT, we like to say that you shouldn’t set up an inbound marketing program at your business because programs are too often planned, implemented, and then abandoned. Instead, you want to make inbound marketing a culture, which means it will get everyone involved and have a greater chance of growing with your business. 

To implement an inbound marketing culture with your leadership, sales, and marketing teams, here’s what to do:

Get buy-in, top to bottom

To succeed at inbound marketing, you must get buy-in from top to bottom. Explain to your team the what, how, and why of inbound. Becoming the voice of trust in your space and taking the time to create content is typically met with resistance. Many will tell you they don’t have time, but all this means is they don’t yet see the incredible benefits of inbound marketing. 

Start engagement with some sort of workshop. Discuss how buyers have changed, how the sales team can use content, and what that might look like moving forward. Once everyone sees how well this works and understands how it helps your business, it’s easier to get folks excited about and engaged in the process. 

Insource your content needs

The first major component of inbound marketing success is insourcing. Use your existing talent and subject matter experts to get their knowledge out there and onscreen. We often see companies try to outsource content production, and although it’s possible to produce effective content that way, it is never going to be as effective as when someone in-house owns the content creation process and gathers information from sales staff and staff experts to make the content. 

As a result, the tone, style, and information will read and feel like you. 

Hire a content manager

For inbound marketing to work, you need one person on staff who purely owns the content creation process. We call them content managers. It will be someone in charge of content who isn’t wearing a bunch of hats and can produce lots of content (at least three per week).

This is a full-time job, and when this person is embedded in your organization, you’ll have a better publishing rhythm, relationships will develop between them and the team, and this will show in the number of leads and sales. 

Use the right tools

We need to measure the efficacy of our inbound marketing efforts and ROI. If we don’t measure this data, it’s infinitely more difficult to make smart decisions. This means we must use the right tools. At IMPACT, we recommend HubSpot, and while it’s not the only inbound marketing tool out there, it’s certainly one of the best.

It allows you to track where your leads start and tie revenue back to social campaigns, pay-per-click (PPC), blog articles, videos, etc. Someone will eventually say, “Maybe we’re getting traffic, but I can’t see how this is making us money.” We need to be able to point to a definitive number or ROI so we can show it’s working. 

Check out Marcus Sheridan’s 2017 keynote, Building a True Culture of Inbound with They Ask, You Answer, or talk to an advisor about how you can implement this program at your company for even better results than doing it on your own.

Ready to see results? Start building your inbound marketing strategy today

Learn more about the They Ask, You Answer approach to inbound marketing with our free course They Ask, You Answer fundamentals with Marcus Sheridan, and start building your strategy today. 

We’ve helped thousands of businesses learn and implement this process, which has resulted in unimaginable growth. Be our next success story!

Set up an appointment with an advisor to learn more, or book some time with our inbound marketing coaches, who will work with you one-on-one to get you started on your They Ask, You Answer journey — one that guarantees results. 

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