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4 Lessons About B2B Inbound Marketing from a Sunday Morning in the Coffee Shop

I was in Starbucks the other day, and in walks an older gentleman. I couldn’t help but notice that people kept focusing on him and chatting him up — in line, while waiting for a drink, etc.

I could overhear the conversations a bit, so I asked someone sitting near me, “Was that guy in the NFL or something?” He responded, “Yeah, that’s Rocky Rochester. He was defensive tackle for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.”

He happens to sit by me, and we strike up a conversation. He notices I’m wearing a Hofstra shirt, and he says, “Hey, we used to practice there.” Then, when I notice his Super Bowl ring on his finger and mention it, he does something that simply shocks me.

He just hands it to me. So, I’m sitting there, holding a ring from Super Bowl III. The Super Bowl of Super Bowls. Broadway Joe. The Guarantee.

I share this story because inbound marketing was on the top of my mind in that coffee shop on Sunday morning — the team at our sister company, MarketingSherpa, was putting the finishing touches on the Quick Guide to Inbound Marketing for B2B  — and I realized this story was the perfect analogy for effective inbound marketing. Often, we get so focused on data and metrics, technology and automation that we overlook everyday human interactions like this.

However, normal human interactions are what we should be trying to emulate with our marketing, especially inbound marketing.

Lesson #1: B2B inbound marketing gets you recognized

The first lesson speaks to the power of inbound. Whatever you’re selling — marketing automation tools, hospital diagnostic equipment, construction software — your buyers have a list in their head. It’s the consideration list.

I need to buy a B2B product. I can’t consider every possible company. Who’s going to make that short list?

When you create an engaging inbound B2B program and build an audience, you’re like Rocky Rochester. No longer are you just another guy in a Starbucks. You’re someone everyone wants to talk to. And hear from.

And the value of that has a ripple effect through your marketing. When prospects are at a trade show scanning booths, name recognition makes them much more likely to engage. When they get a phone call or email from someone representing your company, they’re more likely to give it a small opening. And, when they’re making that all powerful consideration or RFP list, you’re more likely to be on it.

Lesson #2: Have a good story to tell

Recognition isn’t enough. Prospects must have the desire to actually want to engage with that brand.

Sure, it helps to have the biggest brand in the world in your industry. However, if customers know they will only be sold to when they engage with you, they’re much less likely to seek out your content or subscribe to your newsletter.

The reason everyone was engaging Rochester in that coffee shop is they knew he would have good stories to tell.

On the flip side, if everyone had recognized him as, say, a vacuum cleaner or insurance salesman, they likely would have had that moment of recognition as well. However, they also likely would have gone out of their way to avoid him, not engage him.

Lesson #3: Effective B2B inbound marketing is relevant

When we were talking, Rochester noticed my Hofstra shirt, and he mentioned how the Jets would practice at Hofstra.

It’s a minor detail. And it happens naturally in a human conversation.

But all of your inbound marketing should, as closely as possible, replicate these human interactions and seek to provide relevant, helpful content to your audience.

Do you give your audience different email newsletters to subscribe to based on their interests? Do you de-dupe email sends when you know someone has already taken advantage of the offer — for example, removing people who have already registered for a webinar from the invite?

What can you do to make your B2B inbound program more relevant to customers?

Lesson #4: Surprise and delight your audience

Once they know who you are, are interested in your story, and know it’s relevant…still, these are busy people with a million different concerns. Even if they’re reading your blog post, they’re probably skimming it and only half reading it. And, how likely are they to share it with their social network?

To stick out from the clutter, you really need to delight them.

When I noticed Rochester’s ring, I didn’t expect him to hand it to me. It was so far above and beyond my expectations that I didn’t even think to take a picture of the ring on my finger until the moment was well over, and I had left the Starbucks. D’oh!

How can you surprise and delight your prospects? How can you go above and beyond? Here’s a great example from the Quick Guide to Inbound Marketing for B2B with New Relic, a software analytics company.

The company had a photo booth at an event and turned the photos of visitors — along with their answer to the phrase “Data helps me ___” — into virtual picture billboards it shared on social media. A great inbound strategy — customers hearing from customers.

But, the New Relic team didn’t stop there. They decided to surprise and delight. They turned the virtual billboards into tiny physical billboards that they then mailed to the customers. What do you think happened when they received those billboards in the mail?

They were surprised and delighted, so they shared that story with their peers on social media. Just like I’m sharing my minor brush with Super Bowl history with you.

“It’s really important to connect on that personal level, because no matter how big the companies that you’re selling to may be, they’re still people. And any time you can find a way to engage that’s a little unexpected and fun, that makes a huge difference,” said Baxter Denney, VP of Growth Marketing at New Relic.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

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