3 Tips to Increase Your Inbound Marketing ROI

You’ve probably read statistics that B2B buyers are well into the buying journey before they engage a potential solution provider – the statistics vary by study and company sampling; however, what appears to be evident is self-research before engaging with a salesperson is common. More than 42 percent of B2B buyers surveyed for the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study (CSO Insights) said they wait until they have identified the solution to meet their needs before engaging a seller. This means that they have been doing research and shortlisting companies based on the information they are finding online.

Inbound marketing, which involves drawing customers to your website using content marketing, search engine optimization, social media, and digital advertising, can be a successful tool for capturing prospects early in the buying cycle. However, in the same study mentioned above, it was reported that 70 percent of buyers are waiting until they have a clear understanding of their needs before engaging. It becomes imperative that the content you are sharing through various marketing channels addresses the specific end customers’ needs and the value your company will bring over the competition. This puts you in a position to help the buyer evaluate and prioritize their needs. 

“Leads” Are Coming in; Now What? 

Many companies have engaged in what likely could be considered a “successful” inbound marketing campaign. People are coming to their website, they are filling out forms to get information or download media, and the company now has a long list of “leads” to pursue. However, how qualified and successful are they if they don’t turn into sales (or even the right type of sales opportunity)?

Once “leads” start flowing in through inbound efforts, they are usually handed off directly to the sales team. Some sales teams can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume and, therefore, many of the “leads” never go anywhere. It’s not the fault of the salesperson or team; they either don’t have time to follow-up, or there isn’t a process in place to handle the flow. If the “leads” don’t convert, it hurts your ROI.

The word leads is in quotation marks because it is a word that is casually tossed around by many in sales and marketing circles as a metric for success. The problem becomes when they don’t differentiate between marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL). There is a big difference, so let us define each. 

When discussing inbound marketing,  MQLs are those leads that you have lured to your site who have taken the bait and filled out a form or requested contact. Some of these people may buy from you, and some will never buy from you (e.g., not a good fit, competitor, researcher, curious person, etc.).   

SQLs, conversely, are those prospects that have raised their hand and are ready to engage in conversation. They have likely filled out a contact us form or otherwise have asked to be contacted by a salesperson, they present specific needs your company can fulfill, they have the right volumes, you’re talking to a decision maker, and they have shared a specific timeframe to buy (qualified). The challenge is most inbound leads arrive in the MQL stage and need to be converted into SQLs. 

Here are three tips to help you turn more MQLs into SQLs. 

Target Market Profiling Allows You to Focus

The appeal of inbound marketing programs is typically both the number of leads (volume) estimated and that people are coming to your site (so the assumption that these leads are “ready to buy” stage). However, more isn’t always better, particularly if the leads fall into the status of “not the right fit”  bucket. They just become noise and can actually negatively impact sales productivity (salespeople spending time following up with leads that don’t fit the defined qualified status).  

While you can never eliminate them completely, you can minimize the number of companies that aren’t a good fit by developing a target market profile or buyer persona. You may need to create more than one if you are in different industries. 

Look at your current ’best‘ customers and decide what makes them a great customer. Some attributes to include: 

·       Industries and applications where you excel (and why you excel, i.e., solving a specific problem, issue, need that is common to these segments) 

·       Type of sale (commodity versus specialty)

·       Geography

·       Company size

·       Annual and lifetime spend (keep in mind a small startup today could turn into a large customer tomorrow)

·       Annual/month spend and volumes

·       Contact titles – decision-makers and influencers

All of your inbound marketing initiatives (website, SEO, blogs, white papers, social posts, etc.) should speak directly to the profiles you have created and address their specific needs. This should help eliminate some companies that aren’t a great fit from becoming MQLs. Having fewer targeted MQLs is better than having more ill-defined leads.

You can then further whittle down the list of MQLs by removing any that don’t fall within the parameters of your target market profile or buyer persona. You may have to invest in a resource who can go through and research (pre-screening) the companies on the list to determine if they are a fit.    

Follow-up and Nurture Remaining MQLs and SQLs

Following up and nurturing of leads is an essential step in conversion. To do it efficiently and effectively, you need to have a process. We highly suggest  following-up immediately with any MQLs and SQLs you receive (so leads do not age). Having a process in place will help you screen and manage opportunities to make sure they are fully qualified before hitting the sales team’s active pipeline. 

Your process should include a way to monitor and track the progress. We recommend using a customer relationship management (CRM) system and marketing automation tools (MAT) that provide you with the technology, automation and analytics required to measure the impact (return). Immediate follow-up (meaning within minutes of receiving the inquiry) will have a significant positive impact on your conversion rates. If the prospects are not followed up with quickly, they will simply move on to the next provider to obtain what they are looking for, so the speed of response is highly important to conversion.    

MQLs that fit your target market profile should be placed in automated drip or nurturing programs. Email drip campaigns send out emails at specific intervals designed to educate MQL, keep your brand in front of them, provide news (however, if sent too frequently or if they always promote your products and services, they can be perceived as spam). An email nurture campaign is an automated campaign sent based on the MQL leads behavior, or they responded as having interest at a future date and time (e.g., downloads white paper, reads case study, attends a specific webinar) and is designed to guide the lead down the sales funnel to a future SQL conversion.    

In addition to the automated emails, the MQL should receive a periodic follow-up within an agreed-upon time. This means someone will need to call them and find out what their needs are and when they might be ready to buy. Ask when you can call on them again. Check-in periodically, but don’t be a nuisance. In the meantime, a drip and nurture email campaign will keep your company name in front of them. 

Track, Measure, Monitor Everything

You’ll never know your return on investment (ROI) if you aren’t tracking, measuring, and monitoring performance targets for your inbound marketing initiatives. If you have an inbound program, you are probably already measuring website visitors, bounce rates and time on site, website and landing page conversion rates, engagement, and possibly sales. It is crucial before entering into an inbound program that your program implementor defines specific estimated goals (monthly or annually) for MQLs and SQLs. If your inbound provider does not define or will not define estimated goals, be very cautious in how you proceed, as we highly suggest these program estimates are a requirement for any inbound (or outbound) program. 

To determine your true ROI, you will also need to track, measure, and monitor some sales elements as well. It is important to know how many MQLs will convert to SQLs as they move through your sales cycle as well as historical conversion rates to reach your desired sales goals. You can do this by identifying the stages in your sales cycle and associated conversion rates.  

The stages in the sales cycle will depend on your business and may include MQL, SQL, initial meeting, site tour, RFP/RFQ/RFI, negotiate and close.  Knowing historical conversion rates (specific to new account development, as current customer conversion rate will most likely be different) will help you know what type of flow you need to achieve your sales goals. Work backward from how many closures you need to reach sales goals and using conversion rates you can calculate the number of leads you need at each stage. 

If you haven’t measured these, you can start with an educated guess. For example: 

Step1MQL15 percent
Step2SQL75 percent
Step 3Onsite meeting, webcast, or conference call40 percent
Step 4Scoping, proposed design solution60 percent
Step 5Formal proposal, RFP, or RFQ50 percent
Step 6Negotiate95 percent
Step 7Close 

Going forward it will be imperative that you do measure these targets because you will want to make adjustments as your numbers become more accurate. You also need to have a clear understanding of the length of your sales cycle, which includes knowing how many touches it takes to convert an MQL to an SQL. As you continue to track, measure, and monitor, you will have a clearer picture and be better able to calculate your true ROI.   

Inbound marketing is a great way to reach potential customers early in the buying cycle and puts you in an excellent position to help them evaluate their needs, hopefully, converting them to a sale. However, without the right people and processes in place to follow-up with MQLs and convert them to sales, you may be throwing your money away. 

cid:image010.png@01D6869D.AFCF8A90 Lisa BensonSenior Marketing Content Consultant O: 716.270.8118M: 716.989.1400
E: lbenson@athenaswc.com
100 Corporate Parkway, Suite 200Amherst, NY 14226www.athenaswc.com