In today’s saturated marketplace, businesses are always looking for an edge in their advertising techniques and strategies. They are also looking for more effective ways to help customers move down the sales funnel. As a result, you’ll often hear a variety of buzzwords thrown around, such as “inbound marketing,” “conversational marketing,” and “account-based marketing.”
The thing is, each one of these buzzwords actually refers to an important marketing strategy that can help you to grow your business, boost your customer conversion rate, and drive increased revenue. In other words, by using these marketing methods, you can attract customers and turn them into lifelong advocates.
This article will define what each term means, and how the 4 major marketing platforms use these methods to help their customers. It will also discuss why the future of effective marketing involves components of each strategy.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a method of attracting customers by providing valuable content and/or experiences tailored to them.
For example, SEO-driven content would be one form of inbound marketing. A company’s website publishes blogs or articles that target a specific niche audience, either in the general public or in a business sector. That content is not only optimized for Google searches, so that it appears on the first page or two of Google’s results; it is also designed to add real value to its intended readership. In this way, prospective customers that receive insights or benefits from the content are encouraged to engage with the company in future interactions.
Other types of inbound marketing could include social media marketing, branding, and PPC campaigns. Inbound marketing is one of the most effective ways (if not the most effective way) to generate marketing qualified leads for a business.
What is Conversational Marketing?
Once people visit your website, conversational marketing comes into play. What is it? In short, it’s a way to actively engage visitors to your site through real-time conversation, generally via chatbots.
In the days before chatbots became popular (also known as “the dark times”), prospective customers were often forced to fill out annoying lead capture forms, and then wait for days until an agent from the company reached back out to them. However, businesses that use conversational marketing techniques can engage with visitors right away. In addition, conversational marketing offers the following benefits:
- Companies can filter out sales qualified leads (SQLs) from MQLs and other “cold” leads
- Customer service becomes much easier and more convenient for the user on the other end
- Businesses can personalize the customer experience on a more granular level
What is Account-Based Marketing?
For B2B companies, account-based marketing (ABM) is another key strategy that can complement inbound and conversational marketing techniques.
ABM is the opposite of “casting a wide net;” instead, companies focus on key accounts in a specific sector of the market, and personalize their advertising campaigns for each one of those accounts. What are the benefits from doing so?
- Instead of diluting their efforts, companies can focus their resources on those organizations most likely to purchase from them (aka, “hot leads”)
- An ABM strategy can help companies to understand which decision makers need to be targeted within a specific account, thus saving time and frustration down the road
- Customers acquired through ABM typically provide higher lifetime value than those acquired through other methods
The 4 Major Players
There are many, many companies that operate within the inbound/conversational marketing industry. Some of them are new startups, and others are well-established corporations. Among these companies, there are 4 major players that offer a range of inbound and conversational marketing services for their clients.
HubSpot’s CRM platform is used by many B2C companies for its ease of use and array of basic marketing features, such as analytics and lead management. All of HubSpot’s features and components are offered via a single system; each add-on comes with its respective fee. This integrated approach makes HubSpot’s system highly intuitive, and highly customizable.
HubSpot also features Conversations, its own free messaging tool that can be leveraged for conversational marketing. However, this tool comes with some limitations. Overall, HubSpot’s platform is more oriented towards small businesses and the B2C sector than enterprise-level marketing.
Marketo’s automation tools are primarily designed for B2B and enterprise-level clients. As opposed to HubSpot, Marketo’s business model does not provide for a single, integrated system with add-on capabilities. Instead, its system is divided into 5 main modules that can be purchased separately, bundled together, or delivered as a fully-integrated platform.
Like HubSpot, Marketo provides lead nurturing capabilities, SEO analytics, and other features to help clients optimize their marketing techniques. Marketo has a steeper learning curve than HubSpot; however, it provides deeper analytical capabilities, such as tying in marketing campaigns to revenue fluctuations, and performing in-depth predictive analysis.
As far as conversational marketing goes, Marketo and Drift can be integrated together to provide robust chatbot capabilities that will help boost conversion rates. Both HubSpot and Marketo have features that are oriented towards account-based marketing; many of these features are only accessible at the Enterprise plan level.
Intercom is a customer messaging platform that enables sales reps to engage with customers in real-time conversations. Intercom can be integrated into HubSpot, Marketo, and many other CRM platforms. It offers a high level of customization for your specific business needs; however, the implementation of such a unique platform could easily get complicated.
Drift is another customer messaging platform, and provides the same basic functionality as Intercom. It also can be integrated into HubSpot and Marketo, although its overall integration database is smaller than that of Intercom. Drift provides a simpler, more streamlined platform, and its Profiles feature offer a more personalized touch for agent-to-customer interactions. Plans from Drift are typically less expensive than equivalent options from Intercom.
The Future of Marketing Strategy
When discussing inbound, conversational, and account-based marketing, it’s important to note that many aspects of these 3 strategies overlap with one another. Because of this fact, the future of effective marketing will largely depend on how well companies can integrate the components of these 3 strategies into one unified framework that fits their specific needs and objectives. For instance:
- An account is identified as a preferred target (ABM), and a sales rep directs his point of contact within the account to an article on the company’s website that can answer a pressing question he or she has (inbound marketing).
- The account’s point of contact continues to use the company website to add value to his/her business processes (inbound marketing). One day, the point of contact decides to engage with a chatbot for further information about the company’s services (conversational marketing).
- The point of contact recommends the company’s services to senior management within the account. A meeting is scheduled, and the company’s sales department tailors a presentation to answer specific questions that the account’s executives would likely present (ABM).
As you can see, when it comes to forming, implementing, and/or refining an overall marketing plan, a combination of these 3 strategies is often the most effective approach.
Inbound marketing, conversational marketing, and account-based marketing: taken separately each one is important, but when joined together in a unified approach, they can be unstoppable. If you take the time to analyze which features of each method will work best for the specific circumstances of your company, and then partner with superior service providers, then you can look forward to significant and sustainable growth.
Buzzwords? Yeah, maybe. Effective? Absolutely.