How long does it take for inbound marketing to work?
I write a lot about the advantages of inbound marketing and how it can help increase business for industrial companies. I also have many conversations about it, and although there are a lot of questions about how it works, the one question I hear most often is “when will I start seeing results”? There’s not a one sentence answer to that question, and in fact, there are many factors that affect the results you can expect. Since this question is asked so often, I want to share some of the most important factors that affect results based on experiences with dozens of clients, as well as provide guidance on how to get the results you’re looking for more quickly.
Whether you like it or not: the key to success is largely up to you
Even though I always tell a new inbound client that we cannot do our jobs without their participation, many seem to have selective hearing. The companies that understand this and partner with us are always more successful than those who don’t. A good inbound firm will have the experienced staff to execute your plan; but true success depends upon your commitment to provide them with the resources they need:
- Your TIME, meeting with your firm and educating them about your business and industry
- Ongoing communication with your firm to review results and confirm expectations
- A dedicated subject matter expert (SME) who will help writers craft blogs and social media content
- Funds and SME support to produce video, Webinars, White Papers, or other “premium” content
Let the marketing experts BE marketing experts
Clients can also sabotage their inbound firm’s ability to achieve results by micro-managing; directing them to do things that the firm, as the expert, knows will not achieve the desired objectives; or not allowing the firm to use the entire, integrated methodology they KNOW will produce results.
A perfect example of this is the company that refuses to let their firm include social media marketing in their inbound marketing strategy. “We just don’t belong on Facebook.” “None of our customers are ‘tweeting’.” “If I’ve never heard of Google+, I doubt if my customers have.” Your inbound firm knows (because this is what they do every day) that social media activity is the NUMBER TWO signal to Google to rank one site higher than another in searches. Let your marketing experts DO what you’ve hired them to do, and trust that if they are allowed to use their proven process, you will achieve results.
Make it an “all or nothing” thing
Another big reason companies don’t succeed with inbound marketing is that there hasn’t been buy-in for the program from the C-Suite down through the ranks. The inbound marketing program is viewed as an experiment with an expiration date. We advise clients to take the attitude that quitting isn’t an option. Your entire management team has to be ALL IN for inbound. If this doesn’t happen, if you have adversaries who will work to undermine your efforts: I advise you don’t take on this challenge. We have seen first-hand what happens in this type of scenario and it is stressful and frustrating for the inbound advocates and never ends well.
Don’t put the cart before the horse (brand strategy comes before execution)
If you don’t have a plan to tell you where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? And I don’t mean a plan that simply deals with inbound marketing. Putting an inbound marketing plan into place before doing your foundational marketing work is putting the cart before the horse.
Has your company ever undergone a “brand identity” process? Do you even know how to articulate your company’s value proposition or unique differentiation? What brand messaging should be consistently communicated, not just online, but in all of your communications and by every one of your employees? What are your company’s back stories, the themes that can be consistently interwoven throughout your communications that will help define your brand’s personality and mission? Have you identified and defined your customer personas? Who ARE all the people you will be communicating with through inbound marketing? What is important to each, what drives them, how do they think?
If you are working with a full service marketing firm, they should be able to guide you through the planning process as well as your inbound marketing execution. After working with many clients, I can honestly say that having a brand strategy can be the difference in achieving impressive results – or mediocre results.
The hub of it all – your website can make or break your program
The first goal of most inbound marketing plans is to get more visitors to your website and then “convert” each visitor to take a desired action, such as filling out a form to receive blog updates or downloading some form of premium content; making a phone call; filling out an RFQ and sending it in, etc. However, the number of conversions go down if you don’t have a world class website. What is a world-class website?
- It provides every possible type of information a prospective buyer may need wherever he is in the buying cycle, and it is easy to find
- It is convenient and FAST for anyone to obtain the assistance or information they need when they have questions
In short: your website should be your BEST sales person. Your inbound program will depend heavily on how well your website engages visitors and provides them with the information they’re searching for.
What if you don’t want to invest in a new website?
If your website is more than five years old, skip this section altogether and just make up your mind that you will have to invest in a new one.
If your website is basically sound: built in an SEO friendly content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, ModX, or others and was built within the past several years, which means it is using current technology, it may not be necessary to start from scratch. Here are some website “musts” that will improve your inbound marketing results:
- Your site should be “responsive” (viewed easily on all mobile devices)
- The site should be easy to navigate and built so that pages load quickly (no FLASH, please!)
- Assess the site for either too much or too little content
- If you don’t have a Blog on your site, ADD ONE (because blogging is essential to successful inbound marketing)
- Remove outdated content (who cares about the trade shows you were at in 2012?)
- Conduct an SEO audit of your site
- Make sure page titles, URL’s, meta descriptions and image descriptions are all correct and keyword optimized
- Repair broken links
- This will sound like a no brainer to many, but believe it or not, there are companies who do not have Google Analytics set-up on their website. If you’re one of those companies: it’s free and it’s easy to do, so do it NOW.
- Add a phone call tracking system to your site – for a nominal monthly service fee, you have the ability to see real-time reports on every caller to your business that originated from your website. Not only that, you have a recording of the call. What other marketing tactic gives you that kind of insight?
You only get what you pay for: are you under-budgeting?
Since most of what we do in inbound marketing takes time or money (and time is also money), it only stands to reason that if you budget $6,000 per month things will happen faster than if you budget $3,000 per month. Increased budget = faster results. I can tell you this with assurance, because we’ve worked with companies at both ends of the scale. How are you going to gauge success? If you have aggressive goals, the amount you spend should match your goals.
After the initial ramp up period (typically 2-3 months), begin gauging results and track them for a minimum of ten months. It’s necessary for industrials to wait longer to look for patterns, since sales cycles are longer. It won’t be an exact science, but after a year or so, you should be able to formulate some basic assumptions. For instance: if you spend $6,000 per month (retained inbound marketing firm), you will get an average of 50 leads, of which 5 are truly qualified prospects. 1 of those leads will turn into a sale or new customer every 2-3 months. This may not sound like much; but consider that one sale for an industrial manufacturer could translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you think of it like this, the return on your $72K investment in inbound marketing for one year sounds pretty good, wouldn’t you say? It’s unrealistic to expect the same results if you’re spending half that amount.
Don’t discount the intangible ROI of inbound
There is monetary ROI; but there’s also brand equity ROI. A robust inbound marketing program is the quickest way to increase brand recognition, position your company in a certain way, become known as a thought leader in your industry, and increase awareness for your company’s products and services. This is the component of inbound marketing that is impossible to effectively gauge, but we have seen the results time and time again. Brand equity isn’t tangible, but long-term, it translates to more customers who prefer your brand over your competition, and may even be willing to pay more for your products and services.
The psychological component to ANY type of marketing has long-ranging effects, and may not produce results for years; but never discount it. This is the stuff that great brands are made of.
Keep expectations reasonable
It is rare for an inbound marketing plan to take hold in a few months. Inbound marketing works depending on the aggressiveness of the plan, the capital invested, and how much competition you have. However, those who strategize correctly can see a slight uptick in website traffic and leads within the first few months.
Once you’ve got the ball rolling, your results are likely to improve from month to month, provided you stick with the plan and make adjustments as needed. Businesses that stick to their plan and allow it to flourish can see their web traffic increase ten-fold, their lead generation increase five-fold, and their sales or customer base substantially increase. But you HAVE to stay the course. Never consider your inbound marketing program an “experiment.” If you do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, or worse: failure.
There are no short-cuts or magic formulas in marketing. ALL marketing, whether inbound or traditional, must be viewed as an ongoing cost of doing business and a consistent component of your overall business strategy.
It’s a journey, not a race
It is important to trust your inbound marketing firm (if you have one), which happens when you’ve carefully selected them through client referrals and past results. And of course, it isn’t all about inbound marketing, as certain companies still need a measure of outbound marketing such as print advertising campaigns, tradeshow exhibits, direct marketing services, etc.
As much as we would like to tell our clients we will produce “X” number of leads for them in “X” amount of time, we simply can’t. Every business is different, their sales cycles are different, they have different competitive forces working against them, and on and on. There are so many variables it is impossible to make accurate predictions. If a marketing firm seems to have a crystal ball, you might want to look around a bit more.
Overall, remember that all marketing strategies, whether they are inbound or outbound take time to initialize, develop, and produce enough business to be worth their price. The cliché of “it’s a journey, not a race” applies well here. However, businesses who are willing to put the patience and resources into a comprehensive inbound marketing plan can receive an impressive ROI over time