Inbound marketing, ultimately, is about recognizing your target audience’s needs and providing these needs to attract them to your business. The better your understanding of your target audience, the more successful your inbound marketing will be.
In this guide, we will discuss how to implement inbound marketing in software companies, but let us first begin by discussing unique challenges in marketing software companies.
Let us begin.
Unique Marketing Challenges for Software Companies
1. Communicating your value
In this digital age, building brand awareness is something of a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it’s now very easy to get your message in front of a lot of people. You can simply pay an influencer with a lot of followers to promote your software product, and now their followers are aware of your existence.
However, no one really cares if you exist if you can’t show them how you can provide value and help them in one way or another. You have to effectively communicate your value, the benefits your software will provide in a way they can understand.
Inbound marketing for software companies is especially effective in establishing your credibility as a brand and communicating your product’s value in a soft-selling way.
2. Keeping people to use your software
Nowadays, many software products are fairly affordable thanks to the SaaS (Software as a Service) model, and there are also many software companies that are offering their products for free (or in a freemium model).
So, getting a customer to start using the product is now relatively easy, but getting them to keep using the software is another thing. Probably we are also familiar with being someone who signed up for a SaaS product, try it for a little bit, and abandoned it completely after a few hours.
Again, if you can’t consistently communicate the benefits of using your software, you won’t be able to get your customers to use your products. This is especially important for SaaS software companies: if you can’t keep your customers, you won’t have recurring revenue and your business won’t make money.
3. Profitably acquiring customers
Again, getting customers to sign up for your software is one thing, but if the customer acquisition cost (CAC) is too high, then you won’t make money, and in fact, you can lose money every time you acquire a new customer.
Inbound marketing is cost-effective. Meaning, if you can acquire customers via inbound marketing, you can keep your CAC low and your software company can stay profitable.
4. Scaling your revenue
An issue, especially with a SaaS model, is that you are initially selling your software at a loss, and the idea is to recoup these losses by keeping them to use your software longer. This can be an issue if you can’t retain your customers, which we have discussed above.
Also, how can we offer them another product if they’ve stopped using the first software? Keeping your customers happy so they will buy something else from you and make repeat purchases can be a major challenge for today’s software companies.
5. Getting customer advocacy
The nirvana of software marketing (or any marketing at all) is when your happy customers convert into advocates and promote your software to their peers.
To accommodate this, you obviously need to keep your customers happy, but you also need to have a system that encourages referral. The classic idea of offering incentives if they can drive referrals can still work when done correctly, but again, inbound marketing can be especially effective in retaining and keeping your users happy and engaged.
So, What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing, as we know, is a relatively new form of marketing strategy, with the term inbound marketing itself being coined by HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan, back in 2005. However, it wasn’t until 2012 until it started to grow in popularity, and ever since then, inbound marketing has been the major buzzword in the digital marketing world for almost a decade by now.
Yet, many people and even marketers still don’t fully grasp the meaning of inbound marketing itself.
So, what actually is inbound marketing?
Simply put, inbound marketing is marketing efforts that are designed to attract your customers inwards, towards your business, but to really understand the concept and its importance, we have to discuss why traditional marketing–or outbound marketing– no longer works.
As opposed to inbound marketing, traditional marketing like advertising is designed to spread the message outwards to as many people as possible. In the past when most forms of media are one-way (television, newspaper, magazine, etc.), this method used to be effective since we simply don’t have many options to avoid them.
However, these marketing efforts are, by nature, disruptive. We want to watch SuperBowl, not an ad about a product we aren’t even interested in. We want to watch a YouTube video, not to watch an ad, and so on. People, as we know, don’t like to be interrupted, and this is why now so many internet users use ad-blockers, and even without ad-blockers, all of us are getting better and better at ignoring ads, a phenomenon we call “banner blindness”.
Simply put, traditional marketing, or outbound marketing, is no longer effective in this digital world where we have so many choices.
This is where inbound marketing comes in.
Since inbound marketing is designed to pull, not push, and is not disruptive, it will meet less resistance from our target audience. This is why inbound marketing is effective.
The principle of inbound marketing is fairly simple, we identify what our target audience is looking for, and we make it available for them. In practice, this is most commonly done by publishing relevant, high-quality content and optimizing it through SEO so that it becomes available when our target audience searches for it.
This is why inbound marketing is often confused with content marketing and/or SEO. While it’s true that inbound marketing is about content and does consist of SEO, it is much more than that.
To summarize, we can say that inbound marketing is the holistic marketing strategy of publishing relevant content, optimizing it with an SEO agency for software companies, and converting content readers into leads and finally actual customers.
How Inbound Marketing Works?
Inbound marketing begins by attracting our target audience to visit our website or platform with high-quality content. However, just getting people to consume our content won’t directly provide value to our business, right?
So, how does inbound marketing actually work?
The general principle is that in inbound marketing, we are going to convert our target audience in four different stages:
- Strangers into website visitors
- Website visitors into leads/prospects
- Leads into customers
- Customers into advocates
This is why inbound marketing is divided into four phases: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight
Phase 1: Attract
This first phase is about attracting strangers to visit your website or platform, so we’ll effectively convert them into visitors. Although this is the first phase, this is also arguably the most important aspect of inbound marketing: if you can’t attract people to visit your platform, you won’t be able to convert them, period.
Phase 2: Convert
In the next phase, once we’ve successfully attracted visitors to our website or platform, the next step is to convert these visitors into qualified leads. We can say a visitor has successfully converted into leads once we’ve captured their contact information, mainly email addresses. The challenge in this phase is how we are going to capture these email addresses, but the common method is to use lead magnets: something attractive/valuable that we offer for free in exchange for the prospect’s contact information.
Phase 3: Close
This phase is about convincing our prospects/leads to finally make a purchase and convert them into paying customers. This phase can involve many different processes from qualifying leads to ensure our efforts are focused on those with the highest chance of conversions. Also, this phase often involves joint efforts between the sales and marketing teams to maximize success. The objective of this phase is pretty clear: convincing people to buy.
Phase 4: Delight
A common misconception made by inbound marketing practitioners is to abandon the customers after they’ve made a purchase. However, proper inbound marketing doesn’t stop there, but the last phase is about keeping customers happy to convert them into advocates or promoters of your products/services.
Below, we will discuss how we can specifically implement these phases in software companies.
Inbound Marketing in Software Companies: Implementation
You won’t begin a fruitful relationship with customers without the attraction phase. And in software companies, the objective of this phase is to attract as many individuals as possible who have the biggest potential of becoming valuable users of your software products.
This phase will involve the following processes:
Identifying and Understanding Your Target Audience
The first thing we should embrace is the fact that we cannot attract and please everyone. So, a very important thing we should do in developing an inbound marketing strategy is to first identify your target audience and gather as much data as you can about them.
The common approach is to develop a buyer persona; a semi-fictional model of your ideal customer. In your buyer persona model, you should identify as much information as you can including but not limited to:
- What problems are they currently facing?
- What common questions do they have about your industry?
- (For B2B businesses) Who does she/he report to in the company? Does she/he have the ability to make a purchase decision?
- Their hobby and interest
We shouldn’t build a buyer persona based on assumption, but rather on factual data. For example, we can research our existing customer base or our competitors’ customers.
Also, if you are a B2B business, it’s important to note that you are targeting a company or organization, not an individual buyer. In such cases, the sales cycle can involve more than one decision-maker in one company, possibly with different roles and different behaviors/needs. So, you might need to create different buyer personas for each of these roles.
The main pillar of inbound marketing in attracting your target audience is to develop high-quality, relevant content that provides value for your target audience. The content might solve the audience’s problems or provide value for the audience, and by making this content available (for example, via SEO), we can attract them.
As we can see, how effective the content marketing will be would depend on whether you’ve properly understood your audience’s needs and behaviors in the above step.
Content can come in various forms, but the most common approach is to start a blog where you’ll regularly post relevant content. However, nowadays we can also use other mediums like YouTube videos or even podcasts. You can always combine different forms of content in one post, for example, embedding a video in the middle of your blog post.
We’d recommend creating an editorial calendar/publishing schedule to keep your publication consistent and organized. You can start with a 3-month worth of calendar, although ideally, you should have a year-round schedule ready.
Keyword Research and SEO
Creating high-quality content is one thing, but it won’t bring any value if you can’t attract enough people to consume this content.
In order to drive organic traffic to your content, this content needs to rank prominently in Google’s (and other search engines’) SERP, and this is where SEO comes in.
Although SEO can be a pretty deep subject on its own, and we’d recommend checking our in-depth guide to SEO for software companies here, the most important foundation is to develop your content based on proper keyword research. You’ll need to know what your target audience is searching for on the search engines, and optimize your content for these keywords.
There are three important principles in performing keyword research:
- The target keyword should be relevant and valuable for your target audience. This is mainly signified by a high enough monthly search volume
- The target keyword should be relevant to your product or service and brand as a whole. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience are going to align well with your brand.
- Based on the available budget and timeline, the competition for the target keyword should be manageable. It might not be wise to focus on a very popular keyword with overly high competition.
Based on your keyword research, you should optimize your content for the target keywords. The basic principle is to focus on providing comprehensive content for a human audience and include your keywords naturally. Also, make sure you are optimizing the content according to the searcher’s search intent.
In this social media age, it’s very important to keep a good social media presence to attract more visitors both to your social media profiles and your website.
You can use social media to promote your content (i.e. blog posts), but it is also important to build genuine interactions and engagements with your social media conversations. You can be more casual in your social media presence than your blog post or main content channel, so you can use this opportunity to showcase your brand’s personality, as well as the people behind your brand.
If you can build a great social media presence, it can be a great, sustainable way to attract your target audience to your platforms.
This phase, as discussed, is about convincing your website/platform visitors to submit their contact information.
We have briefly mentioned lead magnets above and essentially lead magnets are something attractive that we offer for free in exchange for their contact information. The more valuable your audience perceives this offer, the more likely they’ll convert. However, you also need to make sure the lead magnet aligns well with what you are selling, or else you’ll risk getting unqualified leads that are not a good fit for your business.
The most common form of lead magnet is more in-depth, informative content that is related to what the audience is currently consuming. For example, if the visitor is currently reading an article about inbound marketing, then we can offer an in-depth eBook about inbound marketing. This, when done right, can still be very effective, and the key here is perceived value.
There are various forms of lead magnets you can offer: free webinars, discount codes, tools, templates, and even a free trial for your product. However, a good lead magnet should:
- Provide immediate value: it should help your audience to easily and immediately achieve something.
- Solving a problem: the lead magnet should solve a real problem your ideal audience has for it to work.
- Easy to understand and use: if it’s too complex, your audience might not be interested to take the offer, even for free.
- Clear and specific: the more specific the benefit of the lead magnet is, and the clearer you can communicate this benefit, the better.
- Demonstrate your brand’s UVP: the lead magnet should help communicate the unique value proposition of your product or service.
- Easy to access: make the conversion process as easy and seamless as possible. For example, make it so that the user can easily download it right after entering their email address.
Call To Action (CTA)
A CTA is a button or sometimes a hyperlink on your page that persuades your visitors to take action and access your lead magnet (while providing their email address).
This button can be something like “Download your eBook here” or “Sign Up for our Newsletter”. How and where you place the CTA button, as well as your copy will be very important in determining whether your persuasion for your visitors to convert will be successful.
Your CTA buttons should:
- Use action-oriented copy: for example, use action-oriented words like “try” or “get” rather than asking them for something like “submit your email here”.
- Have catchy colors: green and orange buttons generally performed best according to various research, but the general idea is to use a color that contrasts your website’s background so they stand out.
- Readable text: make sure the button text is large enough so they can read it easily.
- Short and to the point: use only two to five words. Be concise and straight to the point.
- Create a sense of urgency: even adding “now” to your copy can be effective in creating a sense of urgency, but if you can offer genuine limited-time offers, then even better.
Also, always A/B test your CTA buttons. Test various elements like placement, color choices, style/shape, copy, and so on.
Landing Pages and Forms
Once your visitor clicks on the CTA button, they should be directed to a landing page, where the conversion process will happen.
The landing page should include a form for the visitors to fill in with their contact information, and it’s very important to ensure that this form is easy to fill. Only include absolutely required fields. In many cases, only including two fields: name and email address can be very effective. For B2B businesses, you can also add adding company name, address, and role in the company.
In this phase, the focus is to convince your qualified leads so they can make the purchase. There are several tactics and campaigns we can focus on in this phase.
Lead scoring is very important to ensure our efforts are going to the most qualified leads with the highest chance of converting. The idea of lead scoring is to assign a numerical score to a lead, signifying how ready they are to make a purchase. There are various approaches you can use for lead scoring, and you can check out Marketo’s guide on lead scoring here.
You’ve captured your lead’s email address in the previous phase, and it’s time to put it to good use. By sending a progression of emails with relevant, valuable content and messages, we can guide the leads until they are ready for making the purchase. Check out this guide on how to maximize email marketing for conversions.
The last phase is about keeping your (converted) customers happy to establish brand loyalty. The ultimate objective of inbound marketing is when your loyal customers promote your software product to their peers, friends, and family members as advocates, which is the secret of growing your software company’s revenue.
You can do this by maintaining engagement with existing customers through content marketing, email marketing, social media, and other means to continuously delight them.
Implementing proper inbound marketing will give your software company a significant competitive advantage in attracting and converting your target audience.
While inbound marketing might seem complex at first, but by following the tips and techniques we have shared above, you can implement inbound marketing to your software company right away. It might not be easy at first, but it will pay off not only in growing your software business’s revenue but also in building sustainable, long-term partnerships.