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The Biggest Problem with Inbound Marketing

On Sep 1, 2017

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Over the past few years, more and more companies have bought into the inbound approach to marketing. Inbound Marketing is all about attracting prospective customers to you. Instead of interrupting people with ads, commercials and mailers, the inbound approach is all about adding value to the end user before they ever make a purchase. While the rise in digital technologies has help inbound gain momentum, it has a major problem on its hands.

We live in an instant culture. With just a click, we can buy nearly anything we want and can have it delivered to our door in some cases less than an hour after purchase. While this is amazing, it has also significantly skewed our sense of reality. We’ve now come to expect nearly everything in our lives to be instant.

This is not just a consumer issue either. Business owners across the globe are constantly looking for ways to grow faster, sometimes at all costs. They get caught up in the growth they perceive others are having and want it for themselves. This leads to massive copying and lack luster results.  Just like the consumer, business owners expect instant results.

To make matters even worse, many digital marketers press in on this desire for fast growth and make outrageous claims. They promise fast results and then in order to deliver; they resort to less than ethical practices. This leads to poor ROI and increased skepticism about the inbound marketing community.

Now, I am not going to let inbound marketers off the hook. As a group, we often believe that we have the “magic bullet” and over sell our solution. We can be narrow in our approach which leads to missed opportunities for ourselves and our clients. We have a big problem, and we must fix it.

The problem isn’t our tactics or our message. Our problem lies in something way more abstract. The old saying is true, “Expectation = Reality.” We are battling unrealistic expectations from clients, their customers and yes, even ourselves. If we are going to be effective in our inbound marketing efforts, we must learn how to set the right expectations.

The great thing about expectations is we do have some control over them. Sure, the other person gets to perceive reality any way they want, but they are making their judgment based on what they know. So, it’s our job as marketers to set realistic expectations.  Below are three simple things you can do to set better expectations for your business when it comes to inbound marketing.

1. Communicate The Timeline

Every client asks “how long will it take to see results.” I get it. If I am going to invest in a marketing campaign, I want to be sure that I see a return as soon as possible. The typical response is somewhere between three to six months. While this is an ok estimate for some industries, for others it can take nearly a year.

Laying out a timeline of when you expect to see results and communicating that clearly and frequently is important. Just mentioning it once at the beginning is not enough. People get excited when they see blog posts and social media campaigns start rolling out and tend to forget the timeline.

Inbound marketing is a long-term strategy. While you can find some quick wins using email, PPC or even other traditional channels, inbound is about building a lead generation machine to fuel the business long-term.

2. Clearly Define Deliverables

After you have set the timeline, you then need to define what you are delivering. Inbound is comprised of a number of different tactics and strategies. It’s a mindset, not a tool set. Your boss or client may have one impression of inbound and if it doesn’t line up with yours, you’ll have some friction.

Outline what you are going to do and when key deliverables will be delivered. This helps set the tone and align the expectations of all involved.

Early in my career, I was not good at this. Clients knew what I was doing worked for them, but they were not sure what I was doing on a daily basis. Today, we work much harder to help our clients understand our process and what we are doing to help attract new customers to their business.

You don’t have to get technical. Just give them the basics. Not only will this help with expectations, but they will also know why they pay you. If a company can’t tangibly see how you are adding value, you may lose your position.

3. Break Down the Numbers

After you have communicated the timeline and defined deliverables, you need to be able to share the results in a way that they’ll understand. Giving them access to Google Analytics or sending them an automated report from a tool isn’t enough. While most business owners want to understand the metrics, they just don’t have the time.

Inbound marketers need to do a better job of explaining the data. Again, this will help level the expectations. Helping your boss or client understand what is happening and how your work has influenced their brand online is essential to success. This means we have to translate the metrics into something they will grasp.

For our agency, we’ve created reports that show KPIs and what they mean to the business. Using Google Data Studio, we are able to pull in the data from a number of sources and customize our reports to meet our client’s expectations.

Inbound marketing can be a powerful way for businesses to acquire new business. The number one reason many businesses quit inbound is that they had the wrong expectations upfront. As an inbound marketer myself, I believe we as an industry must do a better job of setting the right expectations by communicating the timeline, defining our deliverables and making the metrics easier to understand. In doing so, we will solve one of the biggest problems in our industry.

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Ryan Shelley

By Ryan Shelley

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works has also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing solutions.

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