One of the most common questions we hear from clients and other inbound marketing agencies is "how much effort do we need to generate positive return on investment from inbound marketing?" Clients want to know how much to budget and when to expect to achieve their business goals. Agencies want to know how much to charge their clients and what resources are required to get the job done.
Based on the excellent research by Dan Zarrella at HubSpot and our own client results, I can give you some broad guidelines on levels of effort and budgets upon which you can base your planning. ROI, of course, depends on your products and market. Selling a $10 widget to a global marketplace is very different from selling a $100K product or service to a narrowly defined region or demographic. The markets themselves will also differ in the levels of effort and kinds of inbound marketing tactics needed to move the needle. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's dive in. First, let's define the moving parts of the inbound marketing machine.
Do you have a team or a single player involved? Are they dedicated to inbound marketing or part-time? Are they insourced or outsourced? Are they experienced, or do they need training. How often do they meet? What reporting is required? We will measure this in hours per month.
Who's blogging for you and how often do they post? What subjects are covered and who has approval authority? Do you allow guest posts and do you seek guest posting elsewhere? We will measure this in blog posts per month.
Do you create advanced content such as e-books, white papers, podcasts, videos and webinars? Who does this and how often? We will measure this in content pieces for quarter.
Who is involved and how often do they post updates in the major social networks? What do they post about and is there an approval process required? Who monitors social media channels and responds as needed? Do you run social media campaigns, how often and what about? Who is responsible for creating, executing and analyzing them? We will measure this in updates per day.
How do you capture leads from your blogs, social media and premium content? Who creates calls-to-action and landing pages? Do you perform A/B testing or more sophisticated conversion rate optimization tests? Who analyzes lead generation data and works with the rest of the inbound marketing team to maximize results? We will measure this in hours per month.
Once leads are captured, who responds and how? Do you have an inside sales team that responds immediately or a single sales person who responds only to "hot" leads? We will measure this in hours per month.
NOTE: I haven't included outbound marketing, which can also help significantly in boosting online lead generation. You should probably allocate an additional 10-15% of your budget for e-mail marketing, press releases, trade shows, print advertising and/or media advertising. The mix of these activities will vary by product, market and timing, for example new product rollouts vs. sustained sales.
NOTE 2: I hear a lot of you screaming about SEO. I'm assuming you're putting together a sensible SEO strategy as part of your Team activities and that you're optimizing all of your content accordingly. If you want to spend a ton of cash on PPC and link-building campaigns, knock yourself out. All I have to say is "wake up and smell the Caffeine! Or is it Panda?" Yuck...
Now, let's define three levels of expectations, or "reality checks" that we can use to gauge success based on effort.
|Strategy, Team &
|1 hour/mo||4 hours/mo||8 hours/mo|
|Blogging||2-4 per month||12-20 per month||60+ per month|
|Premium Content||2 per year||1-3 per quarter||6-12 per quarter|
|Social Media||2-4 per day||10-20 per day||100+ per day|
|Lead Generation||4 hours/mo||12-16 hours/mo||20+ hours/mo|
|Inside Sales||4-8 hours/mo||16-20 hours/mo||40+ hours/mo|
|Monthly Budget (@ $100/hr)||$2,000-$3,000||$5,000 - $7,000||$12,000+|
Now, before you starting nit-picking my schedule, please remember that these numbers are approximate, and budgets will vary depending on how you choose to perform inbound marketing. In some cases, you already have personnel in place to perform all of these activities, and they are dedicated to inbound marketing. In far more cases, you either don't have the experienced personnel or you don't have sufficient time allocated to meet these guidelines. This is where inbound marketing agencies may be a more cost-effective alternative.
In either case, you should work with your marketing team (inside or outsourced) to come up with a realistic set of business objectives and a plan to meet them. If you underestimate the time and resources required to achieve these results, you will almost certainly be disappointed. What's the alternative? Well, you can ignore inbound marketing and go back to what you were doing before - but how well has that worked out for you? If you want to make this work, commit the necessary time, people and effort to the process. Track your success over time and calculate your ROI metrics. This is the new recipe for marketing success.
Photo credit: M-Haftek