Up to 70% of the decision making process for a major business purchase is now carried out online - before any individual supplier websites are visited. Decision makers are educating themselves and forming their own opinions so they can be in control of the buying process. This consumption of information and appetite for insights provides an opportunity to engage much earlier in the process than you could previously. But only if you do it right.

Here are my 6 factors critical to a successful Inbound Marketing strategy. These are your guiding principles out of which tactics can flow and they are critical in the sense that, if one of these principles in missing from your approach, you’ll struggle to achieve the results that are possible online and the return on investment and effort.

1. Gain a deep understanding of your target customer’s circumstances

Attract new people to your website by understanding your existing customers like you never have before. Understand their circumstances, aspirations, daily frustrations and the things that keep them awake at night. Go back two, three even four stages in their situation before they even considered your service and the competitors you have. Get the granular detail on why this rose to the top of their to-do list, how they went about researching their situation and the list of criteria they came up with against which they would end up shortlisting and eliminating suppliers. This is the context which is vital to attract others like them.

2. Publish, share and cite articles that helps their problems

Be generous with your knowledge! Publish your experiences and insight and share ideas and views of others that will help the customer in their research into the broader situation or challenge. Present all this in the context you have identified and use their language so it stands out in a world of information over-load.

3. Optimise content for their search engine queries

On average, business decision-makers will carry out 12 searches into their situation and potential ways of approaching it before they start to engage with individual supplier websites. The more specific their research and search queries, the more of a chance you will have to rank on page one of Google. But you need to be able to put yourself firmly into their shoes to identify the likely search terms and topics. These are the phrases to build a content strategy around. You don’t need to be super technical anymore - Google has become incredibly sophisticated at identifying and rewarding the most relevant and highest quality content so this is an excellent place to start when it comes to SEO.

4. Share content and actively build connections on the social media platforms they use

 While you are waiting for Google to crawl your website and start associating your content with search terms and ranking your new webpages accordingly, you can market your content on the social media platforms your target customer groups use. Remember to use their context in ever post and explain what they will get form the article.

There is no quick fix for building a social media following so work on this every day; follow people, engage with posts and use event hashtags to connect with others you didn’t know about.

5. Provide opportunities for visitors to engage with your website earlier in their decision-making process

Most websites simply have a contact form or phone number with which the customer can engage and whilst this is of course essential basics, it only caters for those visitors who are much later in the decision making process and ready to start meeting with suppliers i.e. 50-70% along the way. By providing high quality education or assets as content they can download you can engage those who are earlier in their thought process. You can ask their email address in exchange but do this with caution; you can only ask for this precious information if the value of the asset is proportionate to the request. Plus, GDPR kicks in here - be super clear and transparent about what you will do with their email address,

6. Capture customer-response data; analyse and adapt

At the other end of these digital platforms and tools is a human being. This means you cannot possible predict which tactics will work better than others and at what stage. The only thing you can do is do it and observe the response. Make sure you record this data so you can start looking back at trends on a monthly or quarterly basis. There are some amazing software packages with automation built in but an Excel spreadsheet could do the trick just as well for you. Either way, collect the data, analyse and adapt. You’ll soon be confident with investing more time and perhaps budget in some things and being able to say no to other tactics.

It’s never too early to start

The most exciting thing about this approach is the search engines and social media platforms have become incredibly sophisticated in recognising and rewarding the highest value content. However, Google only crawls your website once every 3-4 months and there is no quick fix for building a social media following. This means it is never too early to start building your online presence.

I share insights and ideas on a regular basis on LinkedIn and Twitter so keep in touch if you found this useful. Best wishes, Alix