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10 Questions to Ask Before Diving Into Inbound Marketing

By Annie ZelmMay 13, 2016

If you've been thinking about incorporating inbound marketing as a way to educate your buyers and promote your brand, your head is in the right place. 

The internet and the mobile revolution have transformed the way consumers search for a solution to their problems, compare their options and  decide to buy. Inbound marketing is a way to meet your prospects where they are and join the conversation they're likely already having—long before they ever talk to a sales rep. 

And by and large, it works—if you're willing to commit the time, effort and resources needed to see it through. Inbound marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It's not for everyone. If your company is desperate to see immediate results, it may not be for you. Or at least it should not be the only strategy you rely on.

So how do you know if it's a good fit? Here are 10 questions to ask before diving into inbound. 

What are your goals?

What high-level goals are you most eager to achieve? Boosting engagement and brand awareness? Increasing the number of qualified leads? Improving the close rates of your sales team? 

Inbound marketing can help with all of these goals if you build your strategy upon them. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive (SMART). 

Say you want to increase the number of qualified leads. Start by looking back at historical data to determine how many qualified leads you're averaging per month, determine what a realistic percent increase would be and set your time frame. 

How do you see inbound fitting into your goals?

Consider what you're lacking now in your marketing plan that's keeping you from fully achieving those goals.

Do prospects have a hard time finding your website? Or does Google Analytics data show high bounce rates, indicating they are arriving there only to turn away after a few seconds?   Is it difficult to close the loop between marketing and sales when it comes to who should be considered a qualified lead? 

Understanding your greatest sales and marketing challenges is the first step; the second is to determine how you can address them using the inbound methodology

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What is your timing?

Inbound marketing is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix. If you need to see an immediate boost in sales and are more interested in meeting a quota than achieving long-term results, this probably isn't the right game plan for you. 

When our clients ask how long it takes to see a return on their investment in inbound marketing, we're typically looking ahead at least six months to a year. Some do see some "quick wins" with the launch of their first campaign, but the majority aren't ready to go full speed ahead into a campaign yet. Many need to set the foundation first by redesigning their website so it's optimized for search, qualifying prospects and converting them to leads. They also often lack the content they need to speak to prospects at every stage in the buyer's journey, from their initial search for answers to the point where they're comparing your product or service to other solutions. 

What is your budget?

Just as you shouldn't expect results after a month or two, you can't treat inbound marketing as an experiment where you reallocate a few thousand dollars from another part of your marketing budget and see what happens. 

Though you're likely to see an initial spike timed with the launch of an email blast or promoted resource, that effect will fade after a month or two. Here are the results we saw with a company that wanted to give inbound a trial run. 

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The results in orange show new contacts acquired through email. As you can see, the effect of the experiment wore off after the first month. Although the company saw another spike in direct traffic (blue) from an advertising campaign six months later, it was short-lived because the investment was minimal and sporadic.

Compare this to a manufacturing company that launched a blog and created a new resource center specifically for engineers, its primary buyer.  The company redesigned its website and began sending regular emails promoting its new resources. This took time, but the steady growth in contacts resulting from organic and direct traffic speak for themselves. 

Inbound_marketing2.jpgSo if a few thousand dollars isn't a realistic budget, what is? That all depends on your goals and your internal resources. To see results comparable to what this company achieved, you'll need to have a steady stream of engaging, relevant content that educates your prospective buyers. If your team doesn't have staff capable of writing, designing and distributing these resources and you don't have the budget to hire additional people, partnering with an inbound marketing agency allows you to have access to the same resources for a fraction of the cost. 

Benchmarking against industry averages can help you set a reasonable, realistic budget. According to Gartner, the average budget for digital marketing in 2014 was about 2.5 percent of a company's total revenue. That's not counting other marketing efforts, such as traditional advertising, events and public relations, which tend to be about 3.5 percent of total revenue. When all these elements work together, your company will see the most bang for its buck. 

Do your sales and marketing teams communicate regularly and have shared goals?

Sales and marketing alignment is critical to the success of inbound marketing efforts. If both teams aren't invested in it, it's going to be very difficult to sustain momentum. 

If your teams tend to work in silos, work on obtaining a few "champions" from sales and get them involved in the conversation now, long before you get started. 

Are you using a CRM to nurture leads?

One of the first things you can do to build support from sales is to learn as much as you can about their process. If the team is already using a customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage leads, that's a huge step in the right direction. But you need to go beyond checking the CRM box. Find out how sales is collecting, qualifying, assigning and nurturing leads to become customers. 

The most important thing you can do from there is ask how you can support their efforts. Ask not what your sales team can do for you; ask what you can do for your sales team.

Does your company actively nurture potential buyers at every stage of the sales cycle?

This is another discussion your marketing and sales departments need to have in the early stages. Many sales teams have no issue attracting new leads and closing the deal once a customer is ready to buy, but they struggle to engage prospects who are in the consideration and decision stages. B2B companies in particular have issues with this because their sales cycles tend to be longer than those that market directly to consumers. Their products and services tend to be big-ticket items, so there are more stakeholders involved in the buying process and more deliberation. 

Unfortunately, too many companies have general educational content designed to help buyers perform better in their roles and sales sheets specific to their products, but not much in the middle. 

That mid-funnel content is crucial for nurturing those who are on the fence. 

Do you have a primary point of contact who has time to participate in and meet regularly to discuss content and campaign creation and goals?

In our work with companies of all sizes, we occasionally encounter two extremes.

The first is the Stretched-Too-Thin Inbound Champion, someone who is passionate about the effort and fully committed, but is being pulled in many different directions. He or she is so busy traveling and launching a multitude of other initiatives that it's nearly impossible to find time to meet once a week to plan the next campaign. Unfortunately, since this person is the sole champion of  the project, there's no one to stand in for him or her. 

The second is the large team that suffers from Too Many Cooks In the Kitchen Syndrome. No one person has the authority to implement anything on their own, and the executives don't trust them enough to give them free rein to do what they feel is best. Therefore, every email, blog and design must go through a lengthy review process  with multiple weighing in, often with differing opinions. 

To keep momentum going, it's best if one person is the primary point of contact and has both the time and decision authority to ensure things get done. 

Are you willing to try new things to build brand awareness and attract leads?

Inbound marketing is not an experiment in itself, but it does involve many small experiments and taking risks once in a while. Testing everything from email subject lines to calls to action is an important part of the process. And if you want to stand out, you also need a strong, bold voice and a willingness to try some unconventional tactics. You might even stir up some controversy in the process. Lane Bryant took at bold stance against Victoria Secret with its #IMNOANGEL campaign, but it paid off in a big way. 

Does your executive team fully understand and support the goals you want to achieve with content marketing?

 Aligning with sales is critical, but without support from your executive team, you'll never get anything off the ground.

HubSpot frequently talks about the marketing metrics CEOs actually care about, including: 

  • Number of qualified leads: It's one thing to bring in new prospects, but how many of these prospects are actually within your target audience and truly ready to buy? Unless you've taken the time to develop lead scoring criteria with your sales team, you'll never know. 
  • Cost per lead: Consider what you spent on your last marketing campaign, and divide that by the number of new customers you acquired in that set period of time. When you can demonstrate a reduction in the cost per lead as a result of your marketing efforts, it 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 the cost per lead. 
  • Conversion rate: Of the leads you're attracting, what percentage are actually taking the next step and requesting that free trial or consultation? While much of the responsibility for moving qualified leads through the sales pipeline falls to your sales staff, a lot of it hinges on your marketing efforts. That includes your ability to speak to prospects at every stage in the buying cycle and provide them with enticing offers. 

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. 

All this is a lot to consider, but it's best to think it through now, rather than dive in too soon only to realize you don't have the time, budget or buy-in to continue. 

If you don't have the bandwidth  internally, consider partnering with an inbound marketing agency that can help. For more tips on succeeding with inbound marketing, check out 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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