Inbound marketing is playing an increasingly important role in lead generation and sales. More marketers and sales professionals alike say that inbound methods, including social media, blogging, SEO and email marketing, have increased in importance as lead sources in the last year compared to telemarketing and direct marketing. This chimes with predicted spends for 2015, with more than half of businesses upping investments in content marketing, SEM and social media advertising, marketing and listening. As companies increase the resources they’re putting into inbound channels, how can they leverage data to refine and improve their campaigns? This is particularly vital for smaller and medium companies, where every marketing tactic used needs to justify its spend to avoid becoming a black hole in the company accounts. To ensure that inbound marketing campaigns are as targeted and relevant as possible, generating more leads and ROI, businesses can look at three ways to leverage data: social listening and customer insights, online and offline conversion tracking and optimising email marketing. Social listening and customer insights Social listening around brand terms allows businesses to easily spot conversations around their products or services and jump in – whether that’s to solve a customer service crisis or retweet a customer’s positive views. This is a valuable bolster for inbound marketing, as 71% of customers who received a quick brand response on social media would recommend that brand, whereas only 19% of people who didn’t receive a response would do so. But social insight data can be used to help refine the content and medium used for inbound marketing too. Social monitoring tools track industry relevant key terms or influencers, to see exactly what is relevant to an audience at a given time. Cisco used social listening to position themselves as thought leaders on social channels, rather than simply responding to messages, and discovered new sales opportunities. The company receives between 5000 and 7000 mentions every day, so even though just 3% of these are described as actionable, when the person is expressing a short term need, this is a considerable pool of potential customers. These conversations are assigned one of three priority levels, assigned a classification which might include ‘Lead’, ‘Support’ or ‘Critic’ and then assigned to an employee or ambassador to action. Overall, the company experienced a 281% ROI on social listening in one year, across several different areas This level of organisation obviously isn’t for every business but even microbusinesses can act on the main takeaway of monitoring and acting on what people are talking about online. At a much smaller level, a locally focused business might look at conversations in community groups or set up an IFTTT query to track social conversations in their neighbourhood. Bringing together social listening with insights from the customer service team can make inbound marketing even more efficient. There’s been an increasing overlap between the two functions and knowing what the common queries are that come in by phone, email, chat or in person means that businesses can create marketing resources that support this – for example, this might be anticipating queries about how a product works by providing fun and informative videos that can be used on the website, YouTube and other social channels. Tracking online and offline conversions Standard analytics programmes let businesses know where their traffic is coming from and how people travel through the site. Even at its most basic, this can provide valuable insight to improve your inbound marketing campaigns. For example, if Facebook refers to a significant amount of traffic but those visitors have a high bounce rate, it might be time to reconsider your Facebook strategy. Perhaps the wrong group is being targeted or social messages aren’t aligned with the services or products offered on the website. The Google URL Builder gives visibility on how much traffic is coming through specific links, allowing businesses to see where it’s best to place links within blogs, which type of posts create the most traffic and which type of links get the best click through rate. This means that over time a clear picture of the most effective topics and presentation for blogging emerges, while highlighting areas that need to improve, such as product pages with an unusually high bounce or low conversion rate. For some businesses, the issue can be that online tracking only goes so far. BPP, a provider of specialist professional courses, found that many of their conversions weren’t trackable as they happened over the phone, so they used integrated call and web tracking to see which PPC keywords and pages were resulting in inbound leads. They were able to use this data to improve year-on-year call volumes by 30% and concentrate their PPC marketing efforts on the keywords that paid off. Optimised email marketing Email marketing is still a highly effective way of generating inbound sales, 40 times more effective than both Facebook and Twitter according to McKinsey research. Using data effectively ensures that businesses maximise this potential. This can be as simple as using sign-up information to segment lists appropriately, to avoid making Gap’s error of sending maternity wear emails to a customer who had indicated he was male during sign-up. At a more complex level, first person data collected from social logins and purchase history can be used to create highly segmented marketing lists. Not only does this avoid the type of mistake made by Gap, but it means that a business could send deals on shoes only to those who’ve purchased footwear in the last year or send them a reminder about when an item is left in a basket for more than 24 hours. Businesses do need to consider how far their targeted email marketing goes though, after Target famously worked out that a teenage girl was pregnant and sent her tailored pregnancy coupons in a mail shot, which was opened by her father. This doesn’t have to entail highly complex customer tracking and segmentation either. Simpler options for smaller businesses could involve asking people to check business type or interest boxes on sign-up and, if suitable, using an email marketing system which can detect when a customer’s activity shows that they’ve moved between groups and tweaking email content appropriately. The surge in data available to inbound marketers means that campaigns can become ever more laser targeted on the customers most likely to convert, cutting out superfluous spends on less relevant leads. 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