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The #1 Complaint About Inbound Marketing

Once every month or so, we hear the same complaint from prospects who are working with inbound marketing agencies and clients that are working with us on their inbound marketing efforts. Not to mention that this complaint is one that I’d make myself with our agency if I didn’t understand how inbound marketing actually worked.

Complaint: We’re not getting any business from our website.

There’s a serious problem in the inbound marketing industry in how it’s explained and how inbound marketing actually works. The notion that establishing a web presence will turn your website into an engine where prospect after prospect will find you on search or social, read your material, and instantly fill out a form on your website is not the reality. It’s sort of how it works, but the majority of business never takes this route.

Prospect Behavior

Let’s discuss buying behavior, first. We’ve written about micro-moments and customer journeys before and I’d encourage you to read the post. The fact is that people don’t find you in search results, visit your home page, and buy your services with that simplicity. In fact, the data provided by Cisco shows that the average business has over 800 distinct journeys (please read the ebook we wrote on this).

If you’re a service company (like our agency), here’s how a purchase journey often works:

  1. Word of Mouth – a client often mentions us to their colleague when they’re looking for assistance that we can provide.
  2. Search – the prospect searches online for your business and finds your website and social.
  3. Website – that prospect visits our website. They are looking at what expertise we have, resources that may help them make the decision, the team they’ll be working with, and what credentials or customers that we’ve already done work for.
  4. Content – the prospect reads your content and may even download or request additional information.
  5. Follow – that prospect sometimes connects with us socially, sees what kind of work we’re doing, asks people in our network how we are to work with and whether or not we can handle their problem.
  6. Subscribe – many times the prospect isn’t in a position to buy, but they are doing research and so they subscribe to your newsletter to keep in touch and get fed with valuable advice.
  7. Meet – that prospect connects with us through the Word of Mouth connection to get a personal introduction. After meeting, they determine whether or not they trust us and we start doing business.
  8. Or Contact – sometimes the prospect contacts us directly via email or phone to set up the meeting with us.

Given that process, do you see where inbound marketing fits and what it’s actually providing your business? That’s quite a different funnel than what inbound marketing sites often share, which is:

  1. Search – for a topic and find your site ranked.
  2. Download – register and download collateral.
  3. Close – get a proposal and sign.

Inbound Marketing ROI

Given this range of behavior, can you see how difficult it is to attribute your inbound marketing to your overall sales and marketing strategies? If you have an outbound sales team, virtually every sale is attributed to that team – especially if they’re experienced and already nurturing relationships with prospects you wish to do business with.

The questions for inbound marketing need to include:

  • When you close a prospect, did they visit your site in the sales process?
  • When you close a prospect, did they sign up for a newsletter?
  • When you close a prospect, did they download or register for content?
  • When you close a prospect, did they search for you online?

It’s not that you can attribute the entire sale to their inbound marketing visit, but not thinking it didn’t have an impact on the sales cycle is an unfortunate mistake. Here’s some statistics from one of our clients who is wondering:

Inbound Statistics

These stats filter out any bot or ghost bot traffic and provide a year over year snapshot of their website analytics. The previous year had a website that was slow and actually had some broken elements… unfortunate for a technology company. They were found in 11  search results outside of their own company name, 8 of them on page 2. And even their company name was mixed in with some similarly named companies. Now they dominate the search engine result page.

Now Google has a full company profile displayed, their social profiles are displayed, and an extended company description with sublinks on the search engine result page. They rank for 406 different keywords, 21 on page 1, 38 on page 2 and the rest of them continuing to gain traction as they build authority with organic search.

How are You Helping?

Inbound marketing isn’t a hands-off approach for a business.

  • Are your employees promoting your content online?
  • Are you enlisting the assistance of public relations to promote the strategies online?
  • Are you paying for promotion of content online?
  • Is your sales team utilizing the content to help close their prospects?
  • Is your sales team providing feedback on content that would help or content that’s not helping?

I think companies are absolutely nuts when they have dozens of employees and no one is promoting the content the company invested in. Advocacy is critical as you continue to grow your reach. If I see a friend or colleague promote their business and I’m in the decision stage, I’m absolutely going to check out what they have to offer.


Inbound Marketing is not an option anymore. We recently visited with a prospect who has been advertising without a website for 15 years online and they told me that every year the cost per lead goes up and their close rate continues to drop. People are hesitant to do business with them because they have no web presence. Now they’re asking us how they can make up for those lost years that they didn’t invest. They said that they’re getting beat by competitors with that have great sites, dominate search results, and are engaging on social media.

Short answer: They can’t compete right now.

But they can invest in inbound marketing now that will generate momentum, let them close more sales now with authoritative content, and continue to drive attention and awareness to their brand online. Sure, crappy leads will come through at first, but over time they’ll close more leads, take less time, and save a ton of money.

It’s no longer an argument of whether or not inbound marketing works. Every major company is investing more and more into their content, search and social strategies as they continue to see the return on investment. The argument is how you quantify and attribute the return on that investment.

If you have invested in inbound marketing and are seeing poor leadflow or poor quality leads, are you paying attention to other information?

  • How many prospects are visiting your site since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?
  • How many prospects signed up for your newsletter since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?
  • How many prospects downloaded or registered for content since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?
  • How many prospects searched for you online since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?
  • How large are your sales closes since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?
  • How long is your sales cycle since implementing your inbound marketing strategy?

Inbound marketing is having a demonstrative impact on the overall sales and marketing of every company across every industry. But it doesn’t work in a vacuum, it works alongside your outbound and other sales and marketing strategies. To maximize ROI, you have to be dedicated and work to ensure you are building momentum and authority in your industry. Growing your readership, growing your network, growing and sharing with your social following… all of this takes an incredible amount of time and effort.

I’m not selling a program that I don’t believe in. I’m selling a system that has grown our reach and revenue with our agency for 7 years straight. And we’ve done the same for dozens of marketing and technology companies. Those who appreciate the value and effort long-term absolutely recognize the results.

Our industry (including our agency) needs to do a better job of educating clients and providing all the statistics that provide that the inbound investment is the best investment a customer can make in their marketing efforts.

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About Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of The Marketing Technology Blog and recognized MarTech expert. Doug is a Keynote and Marketing Public Speaker. He's the CEO of DK New Media, an agency specializing in assisting marketing technology companies with their inbound marketing - leveraging social media, blogging, search engine optimization, pay per click and public relations. He's assisted SaaS companies like Angie's List, GoDaddy, Salesforce, Webtrends, and SmartFOCUS with their digital marketing and product strategies. Douglas is also the author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies.

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