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3 Ugly Truths About Inbound Marketing

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Jun 22, 2016 4:00:00 PM

iStock_82441813_LARGE.jpgWhile it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of inbound marketing, I like to consider myself a pragmatist as well. The promise of inbound is a powerful one:

  • Generating a higher volume of qualified leads
  • Significantly lower costs per lead generated
  • Higher closing rates
  • Higher average sales values
  • Greater predictability and sustainability

Plus, it just make sense. Stop peddling and interrupting unsuspecting prospects with self-serving claims and boring “we-do’s.” The idea of attracting interested prospects by sharing your insights and intelligence just feels right. So right, in fact, that it’s easy - very easy - to think that making the change will be effortless, and quick. And that’s where problems can begin.

This issue has come to the top of my mind recently because we’ve got several clients that are initiating their inbound marketing programs. On a recent call, one of my clients expressed concern; saying in effect, “I’m not sure this is working. We’re getting like nothing from the content we’re creating.”  

With that, some of the ugly truths about inbound present themselves. If you’re considering adopting inbound, be sure you know about these truths so you can be prepared to manage their consequences.

Here are the three that are most prevalent:

1. When you start, inbound marketing can be very discouraging

I started blogging before it was called inbound marketing. I remember about four months in, one of the key people with me at the time came to me and said, “Doug, there’s something wrong with how you’re blogging. It’s not leading to anything.”

At the time, he was right. Sure my mom and sometimes my brother (and some crazy guy from China) would read a post, but other than that I couldn’t really see any important trend, and it certainly wasn’t connecting to revenue. Today, 11 years later, I can unequivocally say that if I hadn’t started blogging when I did, Imagine would not still be in business.

Starting up is hard and frustrating. For many companies, you’re being asked to do something that you’ve never done. You’re spending a lot of time on something that you don’t fully understand but you’re totally aware of the results you want to achieve. So you blog, create checklists, white papers, worksheets and so on. You create landing pages, write follow up emails and design beautiful CTA’s. And then...nothing (or at least what feels like nothing).

A few months in, your marketing person or agency does a review and says something like, “We’re beginning to see a nice trend emerge. Blog traffic is up x% month-over-month and lead generation is up y%.”  And you think, good news?!  We had 67 blog views last month and 14 leads, WHO CARES WHAT PERCENTAGE GROWTH THAT IS...THIS ISN’T GOING TO MAKE MY NUMBER...AND I CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH TIME AND MONEY WE’VE SUNK INTO THIS!!”

What to do about it:  

  • Start with reasonable expectations
  • Be sure you’ve got a clear baseline to track where you’re beginning
  • Define the key metrics you’re going to track
  • Realize that you’re going to get frustrated, but remember that if it weren’t frustrating, there wouldn’t be any advantage to mastering it

2. It take times - often a significant amount of time - to get the results

This is a close cousin of the first ugly truth. Inbound marketing results take time. This is not a strategy if you’re looking to “change the game” in six months - hell, I wouldn’t suggest it if your time frame is one year.

There are two places where inbound marketing is going to impact your growth profile:

  • If you’ve been active in sales and marketing efforts, your inbound program will positively impact those results. You’ll generate more and higher quality leads (and more lower quality leads) from those efforts, and your sales team should see better results as well. However, it will be hard to fully attribute these results “to inbound,” and they are very unpredictable.
  • By implementing the inbound playbook effectively, you see far greater lead generation (it’s not unusual to see an increase in lead generation by a factor of 10x - 25x), and you’ll build a marketing asset that behaves much like the flywheel and doom loop. This is the reason to embrace inbound.

Expect that your first 3 - 6 months are primarily an investment, and that it will be 6 - 9 months before you begin to see the return show itself (and this could be longer if your sales cycle is more complex or longer). The ugly truth is that you can’t legitimately begin to assess the ROI from inbound until year 2.

If you’re screaming right now (“Year 2??!!! Is this guy crazy...How can I be expected to do that?!  I NEED RESULTS NOW!!), I totally understand. And I share these thoughts with you:  

Do you plan on being in business in a year?  If the answer is yes, then I’d follow by asking, “If you don’t start now, what are you going to do to ensure that your company is in a stronger position than it is today?  

Feel free to dismiss the strategy because it takes too long. Keep your focus short-term and figure out what you can do this quarter. Here’s an idea. Hire some salespeople and launch a cold call blitz. Oh...wait, you mean you’ve tried that before (and it’s really expensive)?  It didn’t work?  Oh yeah, that’s why you’re in the position you’re in. That’s why growth isn’t becoming easier for you.

To paraphrase a famous chinese proverb:  The best time to start an inbound marketing program is five years ago. The second best time is now!

What to do about it:

  • Don’t stop doing what you’ve been doing, until your inbound programs starts yielding results.
  • When the program starts yielding results, ease back from what you’re doing; don’t just stop. Remember transition is what leads to transformation.
  • Stay on top of your key metrics so you can make course corrections - lots and lots of course corrections - while the program builds.
  • Utilize tools and tactics that can drive quality traffic faster and increase engagement with visitors, leads and prospects.

3. It’s not enough

My favorite wealth story is J. Paul Getty’s three rules for becoming rich. The first rule is to wake up early. The second is to work hard,  The third - and this is the key - is to strike oil. Later in life, he admitted that if you followed the third rule you could ignore the first two.

Far too often people look at inbound like it was striking oil. They point to success stories like HubSpot to show that inbound marketing is all you need. The ugly truth for 99.8% of companies in the world is that inbound is not enough.

Somewhere in the last 10 years, a silly battle emerged. The proponents of outbound say inbound is a mirage, while inbounders like to claim that outbound is dead. The reality is both arguments are foolish. Companies that are serious about growth don’t view strategy through the prism of inbound or outbound - they view it through the prism of allbound. The truth is that both, done properly, reinforce and make the other stronger.

What to do about it:

Bonus, It’s no longer a choice

I get it. Inbound is hard, takes time and is frustrating. So what?  That’s life. The bottom line is that if you’re not creating relevant, resonating content, building and supporting a full funnel approach to growth and/or doing the things that make you attractive, then your growth prospects are dimming. Your costs are going to rise, your closing rates are going to decrease and your margins are going to disappear.

So, it’s your choice. Choose your poison. My recommendation? Get started today, so that two years from now you can snicker at all of your competitors that are still thinking about it.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing