Inbound marketing has come a long way in the past few years. What was once an obscure concept (inbound?) is now a common industry buzzword, and more and more companies and organizations are incorporating inbound marketing in their strategies for 2015. Maybe it’s all the data out there about the ROI of inbound:
Holy cow! With data like this, it’s no wonder folks think that inbound marketing is a magic bullet!
Unfortunately, the reality is that inbound marketing doesn’t work for everyone and it isn’t guaranteed to get you results like the ones I’ve listed above. As an agency that helps a variety of organizations (B2B and B2C companies, for-profits and non-profits) develop and implement their inbound marketing strategies, we’ve seen incredible success stories and even more incredible failures, including some clients who haven’t renewed their contracts because they simply weren’t seeing the results they had hoped for. What I’ve come to realize is that in most of these cases, the company shouldn’t have been doing inbound marketing in the first place. Why? The commitment simply wasn’t there.
While I really DO believe that inbound marketing can transform your business and dramatically improve the results you get from your marketing efforts, I also know that there are certain factors that must be in place for you to be successful with inbound. Here are five ugly truths about inbound, along with anecdotes (or maybe war stories is a better term) about actual clients that I’ve worked with whose inbound strategies didn’t work because of them.
1. It’s Not a Quick Fix
I’ve had plenty of conversations with business owners who have read about the results you can get with inbound marketing and then call me wanting to get started so that they can bring in 10 new clients next month. I love the enthusiasm and the excitement and it would be easy to say „sign on the dotted line and lets get started“ but what I do instead is tell them to pump the breaks a bit.
The reality is that it takes time to put the building blocks in place for a successful inbound strategy. Before you can bring in new business with inbound, you’ve got to create great content, publish it on your website, promote it via social media, have strong calls to action in place to convert your website visitors into leads, and have a robust lead nurturing plan in place.
None of this can happen overnight, and all of it presumes that you understand your audience (and ideally have good buyer personas developed), know what questions they are asking, and have researched the keywords and phrases that you need to optimize your content for.
In short, it’s not quite as simple as „if you build it, they will come.“ It’s more like, „if you hire a great architect, create really good plans and drawings, get the permits, lay a solid foundation, use top quality materials, and THEN build it, they will come.“
Having a good inbound marketing strategy, and then consistently working (and adjusting) the plan, is key. And once your strategy is in place and you begin to produce content, it takes a bit of time for that content to raise your search engine rankings and improve your organic traffic. Let’s be honest – if all it took to rank in the top 3 results in Google was putting up a few blogs, every single company on the planet would have done it by now. Instead, Google (and other search engines) reward websites that consistently produce fresh, keyword rich content.
The more content you produce, the higher you will rank, and the effect is cumulative over time. If you’re looking for a quick fix, you’re better off doing pay per click advertising, but that can be expensive and is like a bad habit that you can’t kick. I always equate this to the difference between renting your house and owning your house. When you rent (pay-per-click), you can have a lovely home as long as you keep sending in those rent checks. The minute you stop, you’ll get evicted. On the positive side, renting is often less work. Something breaks, call the landlord. By contrast, when you buy (inbound marketing), you’re making an investment in an asset. You’re usually going to have to work harder to maintain and increase the value of that asset, but at the end of the day, you own it and you will continue to enjoy the value of it. With inbound marketing, the more content you produce, the more authority you will build with search engines. This is the reason we insist that new clients sign contracts for at least 6 to 12 months.
Shorter timeframes just aren’t as meaningful when it comes to demonstrating results with inbound marketing. I was reminded of this last spring when a particularly promising new client drove a hard bargain and got me to agree to a 4 month retainer contract for her inbound strategy. Disclaimer: That little voice in my head was telling me NOT to do this, but I did it anyway because I wanted to win the business. Turns out I should have listened to the little voice and things began to go south after the second month of our arrangement. By the third month, it was clear that we were a bad fit. She wanted instant results and to get them, kept wanting to change tactics and try something new. She never gave the strategy we developed a chance to work and everyone (she and my team) was frustrated as a result. In the end, it was a mutual parting of the ways, with the client leaving to find an agency that would promise instant gratification, and me promising myself I would never again agree to such a short contract.
So you get the point. Inbound marketing is about consistency and commitment. Having said all this, there ARE ways that you can see some quick results, but its important to set realistic expectations and have the management commitment to sticking with the strategy for at least a year before jumping ship.
2. You Get Out Of It What You Put Into It
Inbound marketing is a lot like working out. If you go to the gym once every few months, you’re not going to see results. Similarly, if you go to the gym every day for three months and then stop altogether for the rest of the year (ahem, guilty as charged!), the results you got aren’t going to last. Working out five times a week is better than working out once a week. Working out hard and putting real effort in is better than just showing up and doing an easy 20 minutes on the elliptical.
You get my point, right? To see great results from inbound marketing you’ve got to work at it, do it consistently, and stick with it for the long term (see „It’s Not a Quick Fix“ above). If you want to see results quickly, you’re going to have to do more. In this case, that means increasing the volume and frequency of your content.
I always tell clients that, at a minimum, they should blog once a week. Over time, a weekly blog will help to improve your website traffic and ultimately, will result in more leads for your business. But, data shows that businesses that blog 15 or more times per month (so three to four times a week) actually see the biggest jump in traffic – and the numbers are particularly high for SMALL businesses that blog frequently.
In short, the more frequently you blog, the better your results will be and the quicker you will see those results. Last year, I had a client who hired us to do their inbound marketing and write their weekly blog. They saw a nice increase in traffic but I got a call from the CEO saying that although their numbers were up, it wasn’t up as much as he wanted and he needed a bigger jump in traffic. I explained that (amongst other things) we would need to increase the frequency of the blog in order to deliver the kinds of results he was looking for, but he wasn’t willing to increase our scope.
Similarly, I’ve had other clients get frustrated because they weren’t seeing great results, but we couldn’t even get a blog published weekly for them because they didn’t make the time in their schedule to review and approve the draft blogs we created. Every time we’d get on the phone for a weekly call they would say, „I know I’m the roadblock – I promise, I’ll review the blogs and get back to you this week“ and then it wouldn’t happen. Not surprisingly, their visitor traffic dipped and they wound up ditching inbound altogether because they didn’t see any ROI.
This is a little like telling your personal trainer that you want to loose another inch off your waist but you’re not willing to change your workout – or work out at all! It just doesn’t add up, and there is plenty of data to prove it. As your inbound marketing agency, I can’t get you leads if you’re not willing to make the time to review the content I’m creating on your behalf. And if you do inbound on your own, you can’t expect to get the same results by blogging once weekly that you would get if you blogged three times a week. Truth!
3. Perfect Is the Enemy of Good
You’ve probably heard this quote (or a variation on it), commonly attributed to Voltaire. There’s a reason people are still repeating it after all these years. We all like to do our best work. I’m pretty type A myself and spend a LOT of time writing my blogs and making sure they are well researched and supported by plenty of data. It kills me when I hit „publish“ and then find a typo (but it happens more often than I’d like to admit). In my mind, the „perfect“ blog is not only well written from a grammatical standpoint, but it also captures the unique tone and personality of the writer, has a clear point of view, makes a compelling argument, and teaches you something you didn’t already know. That’s a lot of perfection to try and capture in one little blog!
When it comes to inbound marketing, the search for perfection can bring your lead gen efforts to a grinding halt. I know. Last year, I had a client who felt very strongly that every blog we created for her needed to sound exactly like she wrote it herself or like she would say it in a conversation. She had very high standards and didn’t want to settle for anything less than perfection. My team of writers spent a lot of time on the phone and in person working to understand her brand, her personality and her personal preferences, as well as her industry and target market. The blogs they produced were very good, but she didn’t feel like they were written in her conversational tone. So we started having her record herself using her smart phone and answering questions in exactly the way she would if she were speaking to a client or prospect. She would then send us the recordings, we would transcribe them and edit them, optimize them for search engines, and format them properly for publication on her blog.
She still wasn’t satisfied that they captured her tone. She got frustrated, my lead writer on her account was literally driven to tears, and I realized we were fighting a battle we couldn’t win. Our writing would never be perfect because the only person who could write perfectly for her was HER – but she didn’t want to do the writing.
Did her audience really need blogs written perfectly in her tone? I would argue that they did not. They needed blogs that captured her point of view and answered their questions or solved their problems. While I would love to be able to say our writers can perfectly channel the voice of our clients, this really isn’t the case. Instead, our team is great at producing content that will attract the right audience, answer their questions, and get them to convert as a lead. That’s the ultimate goal of inbound marketing, right?
Voltaire was right. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Your inbound marketing will suffer as a result.
4. Personality and a Point of View Are Crucial
Here’s another scenario I run into a lot. A business owner hears about inbound marketing and thinks, „I’ve got to do this.“ They call me, we talk, and they want to hire us, but they don’t want to have to do anything. They’re too busy. I can relate. I’m a business owner, and if I found a genie in a bottle, the first wish I would want granted is for there to be an 8th day in the week (and then a 25th hour in the day, etc.).
They want a blog but they don’t want to write it and their sales team and other staff are too busy to contribute. Fine. We can write your blog and we do it for lots of companies, from insurance agencies to trade associations, tech companies, landscaping firms, and eye doctors. We have a great team of writers who are articulate and know how to do good research, and they can produce a well written, accurate blog for just about any type of company. What they CAN’T do (see Perfect Is the Enemy of Good, above) without close cooperation from our clients is capture their personality and point of view.
Having a point of view and an opinion is key to developing a following online. There are plenty of informational blogs out there that state the facts and answer questions, but they don’t always attract an ardent fan base. Why? They’re boring!
Think about the blogs, websites, or people that you like to follow online. Odds are, they are funny or entertaining or provocative. There is something about their personality or their opinions that you enjoy or find appealing. They are successful because they connect with their audience on an emotional (and not just a logical) level. And they don’t have to be perfectly polished and professional do accomplish this.
My favorite example of a super successful online personallity is Gary Vaynerchuck. If you’ve ever seen him speak or watched his videos, you know that he drops the F bomb all the time. But he is one of the most successful digital marketers/public speakers of our time. And it all started with him doing video blogs for his dad’s wine store. Watch the videos on his YouTube channel, Wine Library TV, and you’ll see. He is incredibly irreverent, but also very honest, very authentic, and very entertaining. It works and it has garnered him thousands of followers on YouTube and made him millions of dollars.
Too many businesses are afraid to show personality or have a strong point of view for fear of alienating their audience. Instead, they alienate no one but also ATTRACT no one by straddling the fence with boring, plain vanilla content.
I’ve seen this play out in an interesting way with our clients. We’ve worked with several insurance agencies from throughout the United States. One in particular – Gibson – puts a lot of effort into creating content that reflects the personality of the firm. The CEO himself writes many of their blogs and as a result, they’ve built up an impressive number of subscribers, both on the blog and on their social media accounts. Compare them with agencies that we worked with in the past who didn’t want to „rock the boat“ or spend time working on their own content and you would see a difference in their results. All of them saw an increase in organic traffic and leads, but Gibson’s increases, coupled with the online engagement with their audience, have been far more dramatic.
My advice – don’t be afraid to make it personal. If you have an opinion, share it as long as its not downright offensive or hurtful. Its okay to be a bit controversial, and you may even find that you build a strong audience and fan base by doing it.
5. You Still Need To Close Deals
Let’s say you read this and you want to do inbound marketing. You have the commitment and you’re willing to put in the effort, do it consistently for the long term, and develop a point of view in your content. I can build you a great inbound strategy. I can increase your website visitor traffic. I can get you good leads for your business. What I CAN’T do is close deals and get you customers. You’ve still got a role to play in your own sales process. It’s marketing’s job to generate leads, but it is the job of sales to close those leads.
When inbound marketing is done right, it generates lots of leads. But leads don’t equal revenue for your business. You need to have a plan in place to follow up on the leads that your inbound strategy generates because if you don’t, you’re not going to make money and you’re not going to be happy with your inbound marketing efforts.
I ran into this exact situation last year with a client who had a very specific sales target that he wanted to reach by the end of the year. We delivered over 100 new leads to him in the first six months of our engagement but he didn’t have a plan in place to follow up with them or close deals. He didn’t make his numbers and he grew frustrated that his investment in inbound wasn’t paying off. We’re not working together any more and while I wish him luck, I worry that he’s going to run into the same problem regardless of how he markets his business. Marketing simply isn’t a replacement for sales, particularly in a high touch industry.
Don’t forget – when developing your inbound strategy – do also put a sales enablement plan and service level agreement in place. When you consider that responding to new leads within one hour generates 7 times the number of conversions, you’d better be ready when those new inbound leads start rolling in!
There you have it. All the ugly truths, both about inbound marketing and about the client relationships that haven’t worked out and the relationships that have gone south. I thought long and hard about sharing these stories and maybe its just too much information. They’re all true and every one of them represents a painful lesson learned for me as an agency owner. BUT, they also hold important lessons that I think need to be shared. I’m actually planning to share this post with prospective clients as part of the sales process and use it as a tool to determine whether we can be successful working together.