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6 Reasons Why Your Inbound Marketing Strategy Is Failing

By Annie ZelmDec 16, 2015

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By now, you're all in with inbound marketing.

You've mastered the art of writing a good eBook.

You frame your thoughts and conversations in numbered lists like, 5 Things You Wish Your Friends With Kids Would Stop Telling You. (Just kidding, friends with kids.) 

You constantly find yourself analyzing your friends' Internet search habits. 

Yet for whatever reason, something isn't connecting. On the rare occasion you're attracting leads, they're not the kind of leads you want. What gives? 

Here are six reasons why your inbound marketing strategy could be failing and what to do about it.

You Don't Know Your Audience

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Did you take the time to develop a strategy based on detailed buyer personas, or did you take shortcuts and stick to basic demographics? Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal audience based on real people. In addition to basic information about the person's gender, role, responsibilities, typical age, income and location, a well thought-out buyer persona should address factors such as:

  • Primary and secondary goals
  • Motivations
  • Common challenges
  • Typical decision-making process
  • Influencers (to whom do they report? Or who reports to them?)
  • Preferred channels (where do they go for information?)
  • Questions during the sales cycle

Even if you think you know your audience well, it's helpful to spend some time talking to current and prospective customers to find answers to these questions. You can also do research through surveys or digging through customer data. Keep in mind that your ideal target audience and its needs may change over time, so you may need to check your assumptions at the door. 

If you need more help getting started, check out this HubSpot post on how to create meaningful buyer personas. 

You Don't Have Buy-In From the Rest of Your Team

Do you feel like you're doing all the work with inbound marketing or fighting an uphill battle to convince others it's worthwhile? Without support from your executive, sales and customer service teams, you'll never achieve the full potential of your efforts. 

Start by involving them in the conversation from the beginning. Ask these teams what type of content would be most helpful.

HubSpot published an article outlining what marketing metrics CEOs care about most, and it's a great way to frame the type of discussion you need to have. To demonstrate the value of inbound marketing to your executive team, you'll want to focus on: 

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC): Look at all the programs for advertising and marketing. Take all those dollars, including overhead, salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, outsourced help, etc. Divide that by the number of new customers in a set period of time, and you know what your cost for customer acquisition may be. This reframes the conversation. Instead of going in and asking your boss to fund another year of inbound marketing, you can talk about using it to transition to a new way of doing things that will significantly reduce customer acquisition costs. 

  • Marketing as a percentage of CAC: This could be different depending on your industry, but here’s how it may break down: Let’s say you have a long, complex sale and you need an active sales team. Your product or service needs to be explained because it isn’t something your customer is going to just click a button and buy. In that case, 10 to 20 percent may be a common percentage of CAC.

    Maybe you have inside sales that are a little more complex, so 20 to 50 percent of CAC would make more sense. Or maybe you have simple, short sales, and the percentage of CAC for marketing might be as high as 60 to 90 percent. Having some idea where you set benchmarks against this other data can help you go in and talk about whether you’re on track and what the goals should be.

  • Ratio of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) to CAC: Say your CAC is $100,000. The lifetime value of that customer is $400,000, so the CLV to CAC ratio is 4:1. But if your CAC is $50,000 and your lifetime value is $400,000, then your CLV to CAC ratio would be 8:1. But a higher ratio isn’t always better. If it’s too high, or if you have a higher ROI, you might spend more on sales and marketing to grow faster because you’re still restraining your growth by underspending. A high ratio may also mean you’re making it too easy for your competitors.

If you can provide these metrics to your boss or CEO, then it is easier for him or her to see the impact marketing has on the bottom line and helps you set goals you can target for future conversations. 

You Haven't Integrated It With The Rest of Your Marketing Efforts

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In the rush of excitement to jump into something new, sometimes we abandon what has been working well for years. Inbound marketing should be an extension of the rest of your marketing efforts, not a silo. Ask yourself:

  • Is our content consistent with our branding and messaging?
  • Does it reflect our strategic goals?
  • Are we promoting it effectively across our established channels? 
  • Are we discussing it in our regular sales and marketing meetings? 

Inbound marketing can't succeed in a vacuum. Make sure you've incorporated it into the bigger picture, not only within your marketing department but within your entire company.

Your Inbound Marketing Budget Is Too Low

Does your company view inbound marketing as a strategy or an experiment? If you feel like it's the latter, it will be difficult to make progress. After a set period of time, someone will say, "Well, it looks like we blew through our budget and didn't get the results we wanted, so let's move on." 

Of course, your company isn't in the business of writing blank checks, either. So how do you set an inbound marketing budget that is sufficient to meet your goals but also reasonable? 

First, look at some benchmark data. 

According to Gartner, the average budget for digital marketing is about 2.5 percent of revenues. That should be an easy number to figure out. That's right: If you're a $10 million company, your digital marketing budget would be $250,000 a year.

"Wait a minute," you might say. "That's almost our entire marketing budget."

If that's the case, your marketing department might have to fight for a bigger piece of the pie. According to an article on marketing budgets by Caron Beesley on SBA.gov, a business that is generating less than $5 million in revenue and wants to grow should be spending 7 to 8 percent of revenue of marketing.

For other businesses with greater revenues, Scott Margenau at ImageWorks Studio put together this table to help guide budgeting: 

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It’s important to benchmark against other people in the industry, so you’re not overspending or even worse, underspending and missing opportunities.

You're Missing Opportunities for Distribution

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Speaking of missed opportunities ... you could be shortchanging your efforts by neglecting distribution.

Forgetting about distribution is a common problem, but fortunately it's easy to fix. In addition to an editorial calendar, you should maintain a comprehensive marketing plan that includes all the ways you intend to use the great content you're creating. Don't let it go to waste! 

You also need to consider whether you're investing enough in paid distribution to complement your inbound efforts. According to McKinsey & Company research, companies typically allocate about 50 percent of their digital marketing budget toward content creation while 30 percent of it goes to distribution.

Not sure where to start? Consider incorporating these five channels into your demand generation strategy.

You Haven't Been At It Long Enough

Inbound marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. While you should experience some quick wins in the form of increased website traffic, more engagement on social media and improved email response rates, you probably won't see a dramatic jump in leads in the first few months unless you're in an industry with a short sales cycle. 

For many industries, the typical sales cycle lasts six months to a year or even longer. Even if a prospect has begun to read your content and shows interest, they may need to go through an extensive review and approval process before committing—or even requesting more information. 

The idea is to continue to provide him with helpful resources so when he is ready to make a decision, he thinks of you first. 

When you embrace inbound marketing as a philosophy rather than a campaign or an experiment, everyone wins. Your customers feel you're listening to them and addressing their needs, rather than constantly hitting them over the head with a sales pitch. Your marketing, sales and customer service teams are united around common goals, and your salespeople are receiving a steady stream of qualified leads. And your executive team can focus on long-term goals and growth, rather than scrambling to maintain revenues. 

If you don't have the bandwidth to achieve this internally, consider partnering with an inbound marketing agency that can help. For more tips on succeeding with inbound marketing, check out the 2016 edition of our popular guide, Inbound Marketing: Buy-Ins, Budgets and Best Practices. 

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The Author

Annie Zelm

As the content manager, Annie manages a team of brand journalists and is the driving force behind the content strategy for companies in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology and professional services. Relying on interviewing skills she developed in her seven years as a journalist, she uncovers insights about what motivates buyers in these industries and uses that knowledge to shape client websites and editorial calendars.
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