Best Pratices: How to Build an Inbound Marketing plan using the Buyers’ Journey concept

The two most common questions that I get asked by startups (whether they’re earning under $1M ARR or over $10M) are:

  1. How do I attract more of the right visitors to my website?
  2. How do I convert those visitors into leads better?

There are multiple answers to those questions, so today, we’ll explore one of them by creating an Inbound Marketing plan. I’ll also provide you with a template based on the concept of the Buyers’ Journey, so that you can do it yourself. This post is part 3 of the Best Practices Series: How to build a Content Marketing Strategy for your Product or SaaS Startup.

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Quick Recap: I’m David Booth. I helped build ZeroTurnaround (as CEO) from $0 in ARR (annual recurring revenue) to $2.5 million USD in ARR in 3 years, profitably, on a minimal budget, largely using inbound and content marketing. #humbleSelfPromotion.

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If you’ve read my previous posts in this series, then you know it’s important to set goals, pick target metrics, and target an audience before putting together the plan. For our example today, let’s set the following:

  1. Goal: Increase leads for our sales team by X% over last year
  2. Target Metrics:
    1. Revenue Contributed by Content (ARR) of $A
    2. Conversion Rate from Visitor to MQL of B%
    3. Conversion Rate from Visitor to SQL of C%
  3. Target Audience: User Champion Persona (as defined in Best Practices: How to Build Personas for your Content Marketing Strategy), within a niche market (in our case, she’s an online marketing manager for a software firm considering the need for content curation tooling). Who’s a good target in your case?

Start your inbound marketing plan by thinking like the human you are targeting.

You are now the B2B user-champion persona. You’re an optimistic problem-solver. When you go to work, you kick butt. You’re rising up the ranks of your organization, learning great things, and overcoming hurdles as fast as you discover them. You’re active and motivated, and you’re constantly looking for solutions that could help your team to get more from their resources (employee time & company budget) – so that you can fulfill the company mission, get recognized by your VP and the CEO, and gain more responsibility in the company.

Tweetable Tweets: “Start your #inbound #marketing plan by thinking like the HUMAN you are targeting” by @DaveBooth  ow.ly/w3XzG #startups #SaaS

While perusing the interwebs one day, you come across a concept that some other people are using to solve an insidious problem in their organization called, “Problem Alpha”. It strikes a chord, and you decide to learn more. “I think we might be suffering from Problem Alpha in our organization too..”, you think. “How can I be sure? What complaints are typical symptoms? Are other teams affected? Does it affect our customers? If we solve this, what benefits could we expect?” At this point, you’re focusing your web browsing, as you research answers on a specific topic, and although you’re not interested in sales pitches at this point, you’re engaging in Stage One of the Buyers’ Journey.

Inbound Marketing Plan: the Buyers’ Journey

Using the Buyers' Journey concept to create an Inbound Marketing Plan

modified from Matthew Sweezey’s article The Keys to Understanding the Buyers’ Journey

In Matthew Sweezey’s article The Keys to Understanding the Buyers’ Journey, he describes the blue line as:

“the average amount of content a person will engage with on a daily basis over the course of their buyer’s journey. The key takeaway is that these engagements are not implications of buying habits, but of personal interest.

[The red] spikes on the graph depict when a person researches a topic, and represent the increased engagement with content outside of their average content consumption. Notice that the spikes go up very quickly, before dropping off drastically. They are spaced out, and there are three of them. These are the three stages of the buyers’ journey within the marketing life cycle, where your content can have the greatest impact.”

Matthew is the Head of Thought Leadership for B2B Marketing at Pardot – a Salesforce.com company, and he’s not the only one talking about this. Take a look at Nathan Safran (Director of Research at Conductor) – How Content Marketing is Changing & What we can do to be ready, and Hugh McFarlane (@funnelguy) who originated the concept in his book, The Leaky Funnel.

Let’s go back to walking in our persona’s shoes:

In Stage Two, you have a relatively clear idea of what Problem Alpha is doing to your company, but you still need to figure out how to prove the need for a solution internally.  So you research more (red spike #2) – and once again, you’d love to find content that gives you the answers you’re looking for. In this case, content that helps you answer B.A.N.T-related questions (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline). How much will it cost to solve this problem? Who typically makes this decision internally? If we solve this, exactly what benefits will we receive? How much time will it take to solve it? What’s the priority of solving it? When should we start? In Stage Three, you’ve identified B.A.N.T, and you’re looking for vendors who can solve Problem Alpha. You discover a new product by a credible-looking company that might be interesting for your team. How you react to this company depends on:

  • Situation A: You just found them at this stage, and you’re not exactly sure what the product does, how it works, who else is using it, if it does the job well, or if you can believe anything that you’re reading on their website. Maybe you watch a video or read more content from their site.

  • Situation B: You heard about these guys back at Stage One, and they seemed respected in the space for their thought leadership. You heard about them again at Stage Two, and they provided a handy ROI calculator that helped you to make the case to senior management. You’ve even started reading ahead a little, so you have a decent idea of how their solution works, and the solution is compatible with other infrastructure you already have in place. You schedule a demo with a sales rep.

Be the company that leads a majority of potential customers to Situation B.

What content should I create for each stage of the Buyers’ Journey?

If you want a rough and quick answer to this question, try this exercise:

  1. Think about each of the people involved in the purchase decision at your customers’ office.
  2. Write down the Top 5 Questions that each of them is likely to ask, and create content that answers each question. Use the question itself as the title of that piece of content, and post each of them in places that those people are likely to look.
  3. Create a summary of those content assets, turn it into an ebook called “Everything you need to know about <solving Problem Alpha>”. Gate this asset on a landing page of its own, behind a form that requires First Name and Email Address. Link to this landing page from each of the separate content assets.
  4. Congratulations – you’ve just created your first funnel that converts visitors into marketing qualified leads!

Tweetable Tweet: “What #inbound #content should I create at each stage of the #buyersjourney? @DaveBooth ow.ly/w3XzG

A more in-depth exercise will likely give you better conversion rates, and it will serve as the framework for your inbound marketing strategy as time goes on. So far, I’ve loosely termed your industry, solution, space, tool, or product: “Problem Alpha”, but feel free to substitute any other appropriate keywords that define the problem, solution, or space below.

Stage Questions our user is asking Content we’ll use to answer the questions Where do we post it? Metrics we track
1 What is <Problem Alpha>?How can I <solve Problem Alpha>?How are other people <solving Problem Alpha>?Roughly, what are the benefits for my team if I <solve problem alpha>?What are the benefits for <other teams> if I <solve Problem Alpha>?What are the benefits for our customers if we <solve problem alpha>?Who are respected vendor and non-vendor experts in this space?

Blog posts, thought leadership articles (ebooks, guides, whitepapers, analyst reports), slideshare presentations, presentations at events & conferences, videos of those presentations

Our blog, Offsite: community forums, targeted media channels, collaborations with other people respected by the persona

# unique viewsconversion to website visitor (make sure that you track each piece of content a visitor engages on site, and use campaign tracking for all links shared offsite)conversion to MQL (passive attempt – don’t push too hard at this stage)

2

How can I solve this problem on my own, for free?If I pay something, what additional benefits can I receive?What could we afford to pay to solve this problem?Who typically makes this decision internally?What helps that person to understand the problem clearly?If we solve this, exactly what benefits will we receive? (ROI)How long will it take to solve it?How many people need to be involved to solve this?What’s the priority of solving it?When should we start?

Webinars, product comparison charts, white papers, ebooks, infographics

Our site: blog, landing pages, homepage

number of unique views of content assetconversion to MQL

3

Which solution works best for us?What solutions make it onto our shortlist?Which solution are other companies using?Which solution fits our budget?Which solution fits our team?

trial download, product walkthroughs, customer case studies

Our site: blog, homepage, product description pages, inside our tool

conversion to SQL

You will eventually use both off-site and on-site content to attract leads for each stage of the buyers’ journey. Remember to track leads sent from offsite content so that you can account for it when you measure Revenue Contributed by Content. Based on the piece of content a visitor is looking at, you’ll know approximately which stage of the journey they are in. From there, you can recommend other appropriate content, and create timed lead nurturing email campaigns that help to guide that potential customer through the rest of the journey.

Lead Nurturing emails are part of your Content Conversion Flow. We’ll get into these in more detail in an upcoming post, but for today, an example of medium complexity might look like this:

Example of a medium complexity Lead Nurturing Campaign and Content Conversion Flow in our Inbound Marketing Plan

Example of a medium complexity Lead Nurturing Campaign and Content Conversion Flow in our Inbound Marketing Plan

Your goal is to nurture your lead through the stages of the Buyers’ Journey, as they convert to a Marketing Qualified Lead and then to a Sales Qualified Lead. When you are creating a content conversion flow of your own, think of the topics that answer the questions that your lead is asking at each stage. Experiment with different types of content at each stage, or start with this advice from Julie Spatola’s The Marketer’s 3 Step Guide: Mapping Your Content to the Buyer’s Journey.

Inbound Marketing Plan content, organized by stages in the Buyers' Journey

Let’s pull this all together and make a plan

  1. Remember A) our goal: Increase # of SQLs by x% over last year b) our example target audience: The User Champion Persona, in a software firm, considering content curation tooling
  2. Assess your team to predict how much content you can create per month
  3. Assess your market to get a list of keywords that are relevant for searches at each stage of the buyers journey
  4. Create a list of all the content you already have, and assign it to stages of the buyers’ journey
  5. Look for visitor and customer behavior that shows a content conversion flow. Can you see patterns in content consumption that lead visitors to becoming clients? If so, emphasize and encourage that flow of content with supportive email lead nurturing campaigns.
  6. Organize your plan. You can start with a simple template like this, and then get much more detailed as we move on to marketing automation.

Coming up next in the Best Practices Series: How to build a content marketing team to execute my content marketing strategy

  1. What are the key roles in a content marketing team?
  2. How do industry leaders HubSpot and Marketo structure their teams?

Other topics we cover in the series:

  1. What is a Content Marketing Strategy and how does it relate to an Inbound Marketing Strategy?
    1. 5 Steps to Building a Content Marketing Strategy
      1. Set Goals
      2. Track Success: Metrics
      3. Analyze your audience and your offering
        1. Develop Personas to clearly answer, “Who am I writing this content for?”
        2. Create an Inbound Marketing plan using The Buyers’ Journey concept
      4. How to build your content marketing team structure and integrate it within your organization
        1. Marketing Organization Charts
        2. Roles on the Content Marketing team
        3. How does HubSpot organize their team? How did that team evolve from day one? – An Interview with HubSpot CMO, Mike Volpe
        4. Tips for a B2B SaaS company with a $5M Series A
      5. Design a Framework and build your Plan inside it
        1. Design for Modularity
        2. Create a Style Guide
        3. Plan your Content Conversion Flow
        4. Choose your Content Mix
        5. Where do we Publish?
        6. Ingrained Organization – AKA How will we stay organized?
  2. Executing your Content Strategy
    1. How / Where can I get content ideas?
  3. Conclusion
  4. Sources

David Booth
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David Booth

Revenue Consultant, Founder at Revenify
David Booth is the founder and lead consultant at Revenify. He specializes in taking early and growth stage B2B SaaS startups to profitability, and building the foundation for scaling revenue growth.
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