SMEs operating in B2B markets too often don’t understand inbound marketing and its huge value to them

August 2019

I’ve recently carried out an especially enjoyable piece of marketing consultancy for a transport business. It was especially enjoyable because firstly the management team were a great bunch of people (straightforward, unpretentious, keen to learn) and led by an exceptional MD, and secondly – and very much helped by the first point – we got to a really good place. And that place was a clear marketing strategy and plan which I’m confident will ensure growth to their already impressive £15m annual turnover.

Of note, though, was that their collective perception of marketing at the start of the project was all about stuff you went out and did and messages you put in front of potential customers – e.g. a stand at a trade show (they specialise in transport services for certain industries) or an ad in a trade publication. The idea of inbound marketing – so potential customers coming to you from, for example, a search phrase typed into Google – was not even on their radar. Well, that’s not entirely true as obviously they all got the fact that folk routinely now turn to search engines when they want to find something out and find a solution to their problem, but they just didn’t see it as part of their marketing effort. Indeed, not only was their entire marketing spend on outbound, but their very low cost website had received no development in years, and to the point that a technical analysis I had carried out showed it was pretty-much invisible to search engines.

Along with the technical analysis of their website, I also had some basic key phrase research and analysis carried out to determine the sort of level of searches on Google for just the more common phrases that were relevant to them, with this revealing more than 11,000 per month.

You might think that my client is an exception and that the majority of SMEs operating in B2B markets have got the whole inbound thing licked, but my experience over the years shows this not to be the case. Of course some are brilliant at it and continually invest in areas such as SEO and PPC (pay per click) to ensure relevant traffic comes to their website, but overall it’s the very big players in B2B markets which have typically got the bases on inbound covered.

Across all B2B markets, around 90% of new purchasing starts with an online search – and I wouldn’t mind betting the figure for transport services was closer to 100%.

In a rather crude sense, a way to think about the value of inbound for B2B is that someone arriving at your website is doing so because they probably have purchase intent – i.e. they’re actively looking for your product or services. Why else would a person search online for a company that could urgently move 10 pallets of blue widgets from Plymouth to Glasgow? They certainly wouldn’t do it for fun. This is a rather different model to B2C, because consumers could have a host of other reasons – including fun – for searching online for products and services. For example, I’ve searched online for vintage sports cars that I know I will never, ever buy, but I still enjoyed looking at them on my PC screen.

For outbound, a transport company might place an ad in a trade publication the company in Plymouth possibly subscribes to, but if that company only very rarely needs transport services then it’s highly unlikely they’d be interested when they saw the ad.

If you’re an SME operating in B2B markets and reading this has started a few alarm bells ringing about your current understanding and approach to inbound, then get in touch with me so we can have a discussion.

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