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5 Steps to Inbound Marketing for Meetings Industry Suppliers

In our last post we concluded that preventing a slump in your sales means that you should always be prospecting.  But in the new sales process, to “always be prospecting” means having an inbound marketing approach and the infrastructure to support it.

What does this mean for meetings industry suppliers such as hotels, CVBs, convention facilities and other meetings industry services?  This post aims to demystify inbound marketing and identify the components of a sound strategy. 

First, Some Definitions

According to Wikipedia, “inbound marketing” was a term coined by Brian Halligan, the founder of Hubspot in 2005.  It’s a process by which a business seeks to pull or attract prospects to their website with useful content.  With inbound marketing the potential client drives the process because he/she finds information and controls when and how the message is consumed.

This is in contrast to outbound marketing, which pushes messages to prospects.  This would include most traditional marketing vehicles – TV, radio and print advertising, along with direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing all attempt to interrupt prospects and grab their attention.  Even though it is several years old, the poston Hubspot’s blog provides a great perspective.   

Step One: Focusing on “Being Found” First

But why is inbound marketing such a big deal?  Why all the emphasis now on content to attract prospects to your website?  It’s because of the growingimportance of the online world; buyers, whether consumers or B2B, now want control of the sales process.  They investigate potential purchases online first.  They expect to find the information quickly.  And if they don’t find it they may reach out to friends or family through social media.  It’s the self-serve mentality.  So if a company is not easily found online, or if its content is lacking in what prospects are looking for, it is out of the game.

This means your website MUST be properly optimized.  Unfortunately, search engine algorithms are always evolving and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing art and science.  One day a particular practice is recognized and encouraged; the next day, it is frowned upon.  But it is important that your site have the “bones,” the right SEO architecture, to get found. 

Step Two: Developing Content to Reinforce SEO

Putting flesh on those bones, one of the best ways to build your site traffic is to provide informative, educational content that both users and search engines find helpful.  This is when you choose to create resources such as blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, white papers and other helpful material for your various target markets.  

It is important that this content be factual and non-promotional in tone.  And that you regularly update and add to that content so that you have something to talk about with your social media strategy with step three:

Step Three: Using Social Media to Share Content

Once your site is optimized and you have a foundation with solid content, you use social media to share your content and events.  The right social media strategy will provide helpful information to prospects and followers, striking a balance between posting your own content, sharing industry news and articles, promoting your own events or special offers, and engaging followers in relevant conversations.  

The above visual provides a great example of what is required to be found online today: being found on the internet entails formulating a solid SEO strategy, steadily augmenting your site with relevant content, building interest and generating inbound leads through social media.  

Step Four: Capturing and Nurturing Leads

The fourth component that often gets overlooked in the above scenario is integrating a marketing automation platform that allows you to capture leads and nurture them until they are sales-ready.  That's because according to many experts, only 5-15% of leads are considered to be "sales-ready".  The rest must continue to be nurtured with information to "ripen" until they are ready to buy.

Marketing automation may involve integration with your existing CRM.  At a minimum this platform should capture leads: requests for downloadable material (where you ask prospects for basic information in return for the free information), subscriptions for e-newsletters and promotions, registrations for any live events or webinars, etc. 

A proper marketing automation platform also will enable you to segment prospects (is the contact an established planner managing a large trade show, or a volunteer looking to market a local fundraising event?), and regularly disseminate nurturing communication to stay top-of-mind and spur engagement.

Step Five: Allowing Prospects Self Identify When Ready

The above-described process is largely one that takes place without the intervention of a salesperson.  Prospects browse online and choose the information they need.  They raise their hand when they are ready to talk to someone in sales by emailing, clicking on a chat window, or calling a toll-free number.  While this should not eliminate the need to proactively contact prospects at the appropriate moment, this does mean that the salesperson is now more of a guide for interested prospects, and less of a prospector “dialing for dollars,” looking for business from raw sources.

So there you have it, the basic architecture of an inbound marketing system to help your hotel, CVB or meetings industry business attract potential clients and generate leads.  In our next post we will explore how successful sales team leverage inbound marketing efforts.