Inbound marketing sure has come a long way. The term was coined by HubSpot, a company that was founded just 7 years ago, and is now one of the hottest concepts in the marketing world. When we signed on as a HubSpot partner back in 2011, nobody in our neck of the woods (Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington) had heard of inbound and we found ourselves having to explain the concept so that we could then sell our services. Fast forward to today and the number of companies that have adopted inbound strategies has skyrocketed and instead of explaining what inbound marketing is, we can now spend our time sharing best practices. Or, in this case, worst practices…
Learn from the mistakes of others
In the 3 three years that we’ve been a HubSpot partner, we’ve helped more than 15 companies implement inbound marketing strategies and watched countless others go it on their own. Thanks to the very active HubSpot partner community, we’ve also been able to gain insights into how other partners do inbound marketing (the good, the bad and the ugly!).
The lessons we’ve learned have helped us improve our own inbound marketing strategy (yes, we’re drinking the Kool-Aid and we use HubSpot and rely on inbound for lead generation) and get better results for our clients. In some cases, the best way to learn is to review the mistakes others have made – and then put plans in place to ensure you don’t make them too!
If you’re new to inbound marketing, or if you’re simply looking to improve your results, make sure you don’t make these five mistakes.
1. Launching without a plan
It sounds simple. Start blogging, create premium content (whitepapers, ebooks, webinars, etc.), build some landing pages, add a few calls-to-action to your website, optimize it all, and promote your stuff on social media – and then watch the leads roll in! Right? Wrong! While all of these steps are critical ingredients in the inbound marketing recipe, they don’t really work unless they are all designed to support a well-conceived strategy.
Too many companies decide to “do inbound marketing” and just start writing blogs in a scattershot way thinking that the traffic will follow, only to discover 6 months later that they aren’t seeing results.
If you build it, they will not necessarily come.
What makes a good inbound marketing strategy? It all starts with setting goals, understanding your audience, and then creating blogs and offers that speak to their questions and needs at each stage in the buying process. Having this strategy in place before you launch really helps set a framework for action that will enable you to go fast and get results.
2. Not developing buyer personas
There’s nothing worse than reading a blog full of industry jargon, or dowloading an ebook only to discover its a glorified sales pitch, or spending an hour on webinar only to leave with more questions than you started with. When these things happen, it is usually because companies have created content without their audience in mind.
As I mentioned above, one key to developing an effective inbound marketing strategy is understanding your audience. We do this by creating buyer personas, and we it is one of the first things we do when we start working with a client on their inbound strategy. Why? Buyer personas are the foundation of just about everything you do as an inbound marketer. They dictate the keywords you target, the topics about which you blog, and the types of offers that you create.
A good buyer persona is more than just a demographic profile. Sure, you still want to know whether your audience is male or female, how old they are, where they live/work, what their income is, etc. But that information can’t tell you what type of middle of the funnel content your buyer will respond to. For that, you need to dig deeper and answer such questions as:
- What are their pain points?
- Where do they get their information?
- Who influences them?
- What type of a decision-maker are they (innovator? early adopter? etc.)
- How do they make decisions?
- What do they like/dislike?
- What are their goals and objectives?
Not only will adding this layer of psychographic information provide great context and help you understand what makes your buyers tick, a good buyer persona will improve the ROI of your marketing. We like to take it a step further and give our persona a name and a photo (hint: if your persona is a VP of Sales, do a Google image search for “VP of Sales” and browse until you see a photo of someone who looks like you imagine your persona would!). This way, our fictional buyer begins to seem like a real person, making it easier for us (and our clients) to imagine what kind of content would appeal to them and what types of offers would be most compelling.
Develop your own buyer personas (you’ll most likely have several) or use our free buyer persona template.
3. Focusing on only one part of the sales funnel
Buyers have different needs at different stages of the sales cycle, and most buyers get about 70% of the way through the buying process before they are willing to engage with a salesperson. What this means is that in the earlier stages of their buying process, they are in research mode and are typically looking for educational information. As they grow more knowledgeable, they then shift into what I like to call “vendor research mode.”
Let me give you an example. I bought my Honda Odyssey (yes, I’m a minivan driver – don’t judge!) about four years ago. When I realized I was in the market for a new car, I started by going online and researching the type of car I should get (a minivan? sports car? SUV? hybrid? station wagon?).
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This phase of the buying process is what we call “top of the funnel” and good inbound marketing content should be purely educational in nature and answer the question “what do I need.” In my case, I learned from the content I consumed that I needed a minivan (sigh).
Once I narrowed that down and determined I was in the market for a minivan, I began researching which makes and models were best for large families (imagine me in my minivan with my husband, four kids, and two dogs – yikes!) and had great safety ratings and maintenance records. I quickly narrowed my search to the Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. The next step was to sit in each of them. The Odyssey won out when my tall husband (he is 6′ 4″) sat in the Sienna and deemed it too cramped.
This phase – the aforementioned “vendor research mode” – is the “middle of the funnel.” At this point, buyers know what they need (ex. minivan) and are now trying to determine who they should get it from (in my case, Honda). Content, therefore, should be designed to answer this question. A good way to do this is through case studies, online reviews, testimonials, analyst reports, or webinars. In the case of my car search, I found online reviews particularly helpful.
Once buyers know what they need and who they need to get it from, its all about getting the to pull the trigger and make a purchase. Here – at the “bottom of the funnel” – you can stop educating and informating and start selling. Great bottom of the funnel content includes coupons, free trials, demos, etc.
In my car buying journey, I discovered I needed a Honda Odyssey minivan and immediately went online to dealers’ websites and requested price quotes. That then enabled me to walk into my local dealer armed with all the knowledge I needed to make a great deal and buy my car. The dealer who won my business offered a good trade-in value, a demo, and the best price.
What lesson does this hold for you as an inbound marketer? Make sure you have offers for every stage of the sales funnel. Your buyers are out there researching your product or service. You may not have made contact with them yet or even know who they are, but they are educating themselves and doing their vendor research. Unless you’ve got content aimed at their buyer persona and designed to address their needs at each stage in the buying process, chances are you will lose out to the competition.
Map out your content strategy for each stage in the sales funnel with our free, downloadable Buying Process Stage Template.
4. Lack of a lead nurturing and scoring strategy
Here’s one mistake I made and from which you can learn. When we first started doing inbound marketing for ourselves, we produced a ton of content. From our Guide to Mastering Social Media (one of the first ebooks we created!) to handy tools like our Instagram for Business Checklist, we created content and promoted it through social media, and the leads started pouring in.
The chart below (courtesy of our HubSpot dashboard) shows how our leads grew in the first 7 months of implementing inbound marketing. During that time period, we went from just 5 leads a month from our website, to more than 65!
Those were giddy days and we were very excited at the results that our efforts were producing. But after a while, we began to realize that while it feels nice to watch your leads grow, its kind of meaningless unless those leads start to turn into customers.
We did a little soul searching, spent a lot of time on the phone with our HubSpot consultant, and learned that we were missing a couple of key elements of inbound marketing – lead nurturing and lead scoring.
Lead nurturing involves taking your leads through multiple touch points in order to stay top of mind with them as they travel through their buying journey and, hopefully, help them along that journey by providing them that great top, middle and bottom of the funnel content at the right time. Once your visitors convert into leads, what is the next step? Do you send them a follow-up email? Now that you know what offer they’ve converted on, what other types of content can you offer that would entice them to come back? By setting up a series of timed emails with additional offers or information, you stay engaged with your buyers and develop relationships that position you as a preferred provider.
Lead scoring is a good compliment to lead nurturing in that it helps you to identify the most qualified leads and determine when they should be passed to your sales team for follow up. Every company will have a different lead scoring methodology that is unique to their audience and corporate strategy, but you can learn more about lead scoring in our blog on the topic or you can download our free lead scoring template, which will help you to get started on creating your own scoring methodology.
5. No service level agreement with sales
Maybe you’ve nailed inbound marketing and you’re a lead generation machine. What happens when you drum up all those leads and send them to your sales team? Do they close them? How many of your leads are really turning into customers? I think the dirty little secret of the inbound marketing industry is that in most cases, the lead to customer conversion ratio is quite low. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an indictment of inbound marketing. It’s a failure to link inbound marketing with sales that’s to blame.
My husband has a saying to describe this phenomenon. “Time kills all deals.” If you’ve taken the time to nurture those leads and use lead scoring to weed out the good ones, it would be a real shame to let them languish in your sales team’s inbox. Instead, we suggest putting in place a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between your marketing and sales team. This isn’t meant to be a complicated contract. Instead, it can be a simple promise that any marketing qualified leads that are handed over to sales will be contacted within “x” amount of time. That’s the most basic form of SLA. Some companies get more sophisticated by adding things like “the sales person will have three touch points with the lead in two weeks” etc.
My advice? Don’t make this overly complicated. Start with a simple SLA that sets out your expections for how soon sales will contact your leads. See how that works. Over time, if you’re able to acheive that initial objective, then you can add more layers to it. But if you try and impose a complex SLA from the start, you will find you’ve got a rebellion on your hands!
Do you feel smarter now?
Want to be a genius inbound marketer? Take my advice and don’t make the mistakes outlined above! With these five simple tips, you’ll have a super-effective inbound marketing strategy that should start producing results pretty quickly.
Have you made some inbound marketing mistakes worth sharing? What advice would you offer someone just getting started? Share in the comments – we’re pretty sure it will earn you good karma points!