Broadly speaking, strategy refers to a company’s high-level plan for reaching specific business objectives over a set period of time under uncertain conditions.
So what exactly is an inbound strategy, and how is it different from any other strategy? As defined in the new book, “Inbound Organization,” “An inbound strategy is how you help your customers achieve their goals. Many companies confuse their strategy with their go-to-market activities. The strategy buyers want from your organization is very simple: help them achieve their goals.”
While companies may confuse their inbound strategy with their go-to-market activities, they are not the same. An inbound strategy includes a target persona and an understanding of their specific buying journey, defined by the steps they take to solve their problems. This kind of strategy documents whom you will help and how you will help them achieve their goals.
Well-thought-out inbound strategies are crucial for industrial companies and manufacturers in this time of constant, accelerating change. With today’s companies facing massive competition and ever-changing trends, it’s important to remember that the only thing that will remain constant is your buyer’s need to solve problems — which you will help them solve.
How buyers research solutions, how they organize their businesses, how they use technology, where they deliver value — these will all change. Your goal is to find the answers to the questions they are asking and help them answer these questions in a way that allows the customer to achieve their goals.
The Key Components of an Inbound Strategy
An inbound strategy is typically comprised of a vision statement, mission, objectives, values, budget, action plans, and Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis. A solid inbound strategy will also reflect the changes taking place in your business environment and will take into account that the expectations of industrial buyers have changed.
Inbound strategies for manufacturing and industrial businesses:
- Are honest and reflect an understanding that the buyer is in control of much of the buying process.
- Are engagement-oriented by being empathetic to the person you are trying to help, focusing on creatively solving their problems.
- Are persona-based, involving a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on real data and some select, educated speculation about customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals backed up by interviews with actual prospects and buyers.
- Match the buyer’s journey, which begins before they know you and continues through the whole process — in other words, it is not just targeted to the end of the process, focused solely on people at the buying decision stage, for example.
The key differentiator of an inbound strategy over general strategy is the commitment to the customer over the features of your product or service. Manufacturers are used to thinking in terms of technical and design strategies, go-to market strategies, channel strategies, and internal organization strategies like lean methodology. But many businesses do not take the time to consider building a strategy that is inbound — a specific, documented, and measured strategy to give the buyer a great customer experience that will ultimately help them achieve their goals.
Innovative delivery of an amazing customer experience is the best strategy available in an inbound world. And to create a great experience, you have to know the details of your persona and the buying journey that they take. As I note in “Inbound Organization,” “Inbound strategies are based on helping buyers achieve their goals. An inbound strategy is an attitude and mindset that centers on developing the best employee, partner, and buyer experience possible.”
Assessing Your Buyers’ Experiences
A good first step is to document how you help your customers now. Leaders must understand how helpful their employees really are. Ask your customer how helpful you are, and try to understand the buying experience from their point of view.
Many technical leaders assume that the customers are content, that the technology or product is working as specified. But this level of satisfaction is just table stakes now. Everyone expects the basic utility of the product or service to be satisfactory. What matters now are the experiences that buyers have at every point in the process.
- How well does your service team respond to call?
- Are they proactive, or do they wait for a problem to talk to a customer?
- Is there self-help information available about your products or services? Videos?
- Do you make it easy and convenient to pay your company?
- Does your sales team stay relevant and helpful after the sale, or are they on to the next hot lead?
- Is your marketing all about you and your product, or is it about the buyer and their issues?
- Is your website a glorified catalog, or is it a tool to help your target buyers understand key issues and find pathways to success?
- Does someone answer the phone, or do you put callers in a phone tree?
- Do your salespeople pitch and quote, or do they understand that they must always help first, and only sell to fit buyers?
Leaders must get out of the office and invest their time with buyers, see the world in their shoes, and understand how they need to be helped.
The Importance of Inbound
Inbound strategy serves as the foundation of an action plan guided by the mission of your organization and the vision of what you want to achieve. In other words, inbound is the framework within which your teams work toward a mission focused on your customers and their specific goals.
How are you going to succeed in today’s competitive world with digitally enabled buyers? The answer lies in your inbound strategy. This is how you will link your mission to what people do every day.
For more information on implementing inbound organizational principles into your industrial business, check out “Inbound Organization,” now available on Amazon. Todd's next article in this series will outline key strategies to employ in order to attract buyers and further grow your business.
Image Credit: everything possible/Shutterstock.com