At the recent inaugural UK HubSpot User Group event in Oxford, Rikki, our director, opened up the event, speaking about how to craft an inbound marketing strategy. From start to finish, with all the theory and all the advice he gave the delegates, here's what he covered. After the video is an explanatory blog post and transcript of Rikki's presentation.
I'm going to talk to you about crafting an inbound marketing strategy.
Now, trying to talk about crafting an inbound marketing strategy in 15 minutes is a little bit tricky, so we're not going to be deep-diving into every element.
What I'm hoping to achieve from this is to give you a little bit of context to today in terms about what the inbound methodology is and what you need to contain. And then, hopefully, some of the other people in the day will take deeper dives into each element of what I'm talking about.
So before I jump into that, I just wanted to give you a quick intro to myself. My name's Rikki Lear I'm the director at Digital 22. We have a Hubspot Platinum Agency, and I myself I've been involved in digital marketing for around 10 years.
So I'm going to start the inbound marketing strategy probably where most people don't start. If you've read online anything to do with this, probably isn't the first step. What I think it's critical to, really early on in your journey of making a plan, is to identify what your marketing and sales funnel will look like. The reason for this is if you got this right, you've got a set of goals, which both your marketing and your sales team will both have to make sure you are aligned and hit the company's targets, and it will also give you a place to analyze whether you're going right or wrong.
To do this, you'll need to understand a few crucial things. So if you're an agency, you're going to need to understand what your client's goals are in terms of new revenue, what the lifetime value of an average customer is. And you're also going to speak to these guys. This is the representation of what I get when I think of a salesperson. And I know for most marketers, and particularly agencies as well, speaking to sales people is something that most of us don't do, or most of us try to avoid. But I think it's pretty critical that you do this very early on, because you need to understand what happens from when you submit a lead to the sales team to then become the customer, so you can figure out what you need to do with marketers to achieve those company goals.
When you start this conversation with salespeople, if you've had any experience, the same as me, most of them will just say just give me the leads. I'll close them. My close makes 100% or 90%, or whatever. You're probably going to want to ignore that advice, and try and talk to them a little bit more about it, because if they're telling you they're going to close 90%, then that means you have to provide them less leads, so the pressure will be on them to close at 90%. So you really want them to understand what they're saying is true. And the reason that most salespeople will tell you a high number like that if they haven't been inbound in the past, is because they are used to dealing with leads from things like referrals, which tend to close a lot higher rate and obviously a lot faster, as well.
Once you have those pieces of information, you can start putting the funnel together, which looks something like this. So the funnel I put together here is-- it's quite a simplistic funnel, and every company's funnel will look extremely different. It could be longer it could be shorter those conversion rates could be much higher and lower. But just to give a very brief overview of how this could look-- if a company is looking to achieve 2 million pound sales in your business over the next three years, and an average client to them is worth 18 and 1/2 K, you can quickly work out that you need roughly 108 customers over that time frame, which equates to about three customers per month.
Now, after speaking with sales, you've got them down to somewhere near a realistic target of what their close rate, which is 15%, which means they know they need to be doing six proposals per month. Again, speaking to the sales guys, they reckon they can turn a third of leads into proposals, so that you know you need to provide to your sales guys with 20 leads per month. From your experience as marketers, you can figure out how many contacts will turn into leads, and in this example we've got 10%. And then again, from your experience you can figure out what your conversion rate is from your website-- to contacts.
Again, I think it's pretty critical to do this upfront, and what it will allow you to do is figure out if the inbound marketing strategy isn't working for whatever purpose. Which stage has fallen down at? Who is dropping the baton, so to speak, and you can quickly fix it. Once you've got that established, you'll want to do a little bit of research before jumping in and figuring out exactly how to make those numbers come to life. So the two pieces of research, which you've probably come across if you've done anything around inbound, buyer's personas, firstly. Again, pretty critical that you don't skip this step.So having good solid buyer's personas is going to make the rest of your marketing much easier, which I'll talk about in a moment. It will also give you that context and understanding of your market that you need to produce correct content.
From my experience, every extra hour you put into making these personas right, you'll get back in market in results. So what does a persona include? So typical personas include what the roles and responsibilities of that individual are, what their goals and challenges are from both a personal perspective and a business perspective, as well as what their expected experience is with you and your product and services, and what common objections they may have to that. To get this information, you'll need to use your own experience in that industry or perhaps your clients experience in that industry- you'll need to through some third party research online, and most importantly you actually need to be talking to some of these personas. So I would see this go wrong quite a lot, because people will make personas just off their own perceptions of what they're expecting these guys' days to be like, what their challenges are, without actually speak to them, and sometimes that perception and reality is quite different.
Once you've got those personas, you're going to want do buyer's journeys for each one of them. So a buyer's journey is the process that those guys go on to eventually buying our product and service. So again, pretty critical that you do this for two reasons. From my experience speaking to marketers over my career, most people focus on marketing right at the decision phase of the buyer's journey.
So this means it's extremely competitive down there, and if you think of most traditional digital tactics like SEO and PPC, most people are focused on those keywords that are decision-based, hoping that people are going to land on their website today and buy. In reality there's actually, in most markets, only somewhere between 3% and 7% of people at any one time ready to pick up the phone to you and buy, or buy online, or whatever your business model is. So by not thinking about the full buyer's journey, you're actually not talking to the vast majority of people who go your website. You're missing out on a chance to engage with them quite early on. So the phases of the buyer's journey are awareness. At this part of the journey, people have a problem, and they're expressing symptoms of it and want to understand it. So put that in context, on the last slide we had a persona of a business owner, which is a persona we target.
One of their challenges might be, my business is plateauing, and how do I take my business to the next phase of growth? That might be the awareness stage symptom that they're showing. They'll then go into the consideration phase, which is when they'll try and research and understand, what are my options for solving this problem. Again, tying it back to the persona I just spoke about, if he's wanting to grow his business, he is going to get a wealth of options. So he might be represented with tele-sales, PR, hiring more sales people, and inbound just happens to be one of those solutions that could solve that problem. Then finally they're going to get to the bottom of the buyer's journey, and at this phase they're really committed to solving the problem that have. They're committed to one of those solutions, and they're just picking a supplier to provide them with that service.
So again, they might know they want to grow the company. They might choose to use inbound at this stage. They're just pick an agency hiring skill sets they want to do.
So the final bit of research you'll need to do to bring these stats we spoke about on the market into sales funnel to life is keyword research. Obviously the strategy that I'm outlining is a numbers game. So it's important to get into keyword research, and try and understand how we're actually going to bring that top-level traffic to reality. Keyword research is one of the best and most accurate ways you can do this. So I'm not going to go into each of the four ways of attracting traffic, which are in the inbound methodology, because we've got talks on these later. But the four key ways and the methodology for attracting traffic are SEO, blogging, social media, and finally paid, which used to be a bit of a word in Inbound and Hubspot. We've always used it and the advantages of having paid in your strategy, it can give you that short term boost. So inbound, by its nature, is quite a slow burn. If you all want results in the first six months or so, you're probably going to want some paid as part of your strategy.
The other reason we use paid is to try and do some testing. So there's nothing worse to the marketer than spending months building out detailed workflows, is building in out landing pages building out calls to actions, only to find out six months, when you actually start getting some traffic to them, that they don't work. So if you want to know pretty early on, send some paid traffic to them. Make sure they work, and test it so that when your inbound really kicks in from an organic perspective, you're ready.
Next, if you're getting those top level of visitors to your site, you're going to want to have to figure out how to convert those into contacts, and how to convert them into leads, and through the inbound methodology, the way we do this is via content. So the first thing you want to do, if you are creating a strategy for the first time, is do a content audit, which is basically mapping out what content you've currently got against the phases of the buyer's journey. Don't be surprised if you do this for the first time and you've never done inbound that all the content you've probably produced is at the decision stage.
So people are most comfortable writing about and producing content about what they know, which usually is product literature, service literature, case studies, testimonials. If you're new to this that's probably the only type of content that you've produced. So it's good to map that out and note down where your gaps are in your content strategy. And what I'd make a note of here is you want a lot more content awareness phase than you do decision phase. So it probably only takes a couple of pieces of content really to get somebody over the line at the stage.
You may only want a couple case studies, a couple of testimonials, a trial or a demo of whatever your business model is. It doesn't actually take hundreds of pieces of content at the bottom of the funnel to convert people. But sometimes actually it does take hundreds of pieces of content at the top of the funnel to get those contacts you need to fill the funnel. So, back to sales guys and where marketing can align with these-- from my perspective, you need a market in CRM to pin this all together. This isn't a sales pitch for HubSpot, but from my experience trying to do it the other way, a lot of your data disconnects. And when you've had that conversation with your sales guys about what makes a lead-- a lot of the trigger points via these channels we're talking about which can easily disconnect.
So if you talk to your sales guys, and you know that the trigger point for them to be able to talk to a prospect when they're marketing qualified is them visiting in a pricing page on your website, downloading a particular case study, or requesting a demo. You're going to want all that information in one place so you can easily pass your leads along from marketing and say, hey, these guys are qualified, they've done the trigger that you set out, and now they're ready for you to speak to them. That's pretty hard to do without a CRM. The second way you guys can help is obviously there's going to be a lot of contacts coming into the database at the top of the funnel through all our content we spoke about. So people are downloading an eBook.
So back to our example, if it's just a guise to grow new business, they're not ready to talk to sales yet. So you're going to want to nurture them via e-mail, until they're ready to speak to a sales rep. So they might just download an eBook about growing the business.The next stage might be to show them a comparison of inbound versus outbound, what the pros and cons are. Eventually, through a series of emails, they'll get to the bottom of the funnel. They'll download a case study on how we did this for a client, or something like that. And then that's when you're part's done and you pass the baton over to sales.
So a few other considerations when you're putting your strategies together-- as I said, the platform is quite important. We suggest HubSpot. Others are available. picking what the roles and responsibilities are. So across all the channels I already spoke about and the tactics, there's actually quite a wide skill set needed to pull this off. Sometimes you can find this in one person, it's quite hard, but sometimes you can. But you've got to really map out who's going to be doing what parts to make it happen. For some reason my third point's popped off my slide, but it was to analyze and iterate. So, from my experience, if you don't put milestones in your strategy of when you're going to analyze you'll probably never get around to analyzing. So it's really important that things like workflows, landing pages, you've got times pointed out when you believe these will be ready to analyze, and you can make a plan accordingly. Personally, we think 90 days is about right to do that, so we work in 90 day cycles for our analyzing and iterating.
And I hope that's given you a very top-level overview of inbound marketing strategy, which some of the other members of the UK hope are going to go into more detail. We're going to send around an email with some templates relating to all of our content. So you can have a go at making your own buyer's personas, buyer's journeys, and your marketing-to-sales funnel. I'll be in the room at the back after this event, if you're wanting no more in-depth discussion on inbound marketing strategy, and I'm going to pass you guys over.
Here's the steps, click to read them to read more in depth. Alternatively, follow the blog through to get the full picture. Alternatively, get your own inbound starter pack:
Rikki and the team were invited to speak at the first national HubSpot User Group (HUG) event in the UK because Digital 22 are a Platinum status partner of HubSpot, the leading inbound marketing software in the world.
We work with a diverse range of clients, from all over Europe and the US, to provide all aspects of their inbound marketing. As part of this, we also provide Pay-Per-Click advertising management and Search Engine Optimisation services.
The successful growth we bring to our clients is what earned us our Platinum Partner Agency status.
From start to finish, we will give you the ins and outs of how to plan and craft an inbound strategy. Here's the sections and what they will cover:
So, let's get to it...
And to achieve this, your marketing and sales team need to speak to each other productively and aim towards the same goal. You also need to be aware of:
And it's vital that your marketing and sales team work together to agree a sales goal which can achieve this growth. This is because:
From here, you can work backwards to create a chain of goals, that you need to meet with your inbound marketing, in order for your sales team to work close enough with customers to meet your company growth goal.
You need to know the percentage of visitors which become contacts, of those how many of them become leads, the percentage that can be nurtured and pitched to, before how many of this number typically become a customer.
A major part of this discussion needs to be honesty and fully embracing of the practice of inbound marketing.
To deal quickly with the former, both marketing and sales need to be honest with what is actually achievable. Sales shouldn't be promising to close 90% of leads and marketing shouldn't be promising millions of website visitors, because the key number - the number of customers - will be incorrect if they do.
Secondly, the whole business needs to be fully on-board with the methodology and mindset of inbound marketing. Whilst sales can still outreach to cold leads and see how far they get - if they so wish - they need to be made aware, and also agree to, the fact that once a lead is in the inbound marketing funnel, they are marketed to in a way which nurtures them into being ready to be a customer by earning their trust.
The inbound process can be undermined by a fresh lead, who is nearer the start of their buyer's journey, being contacted by the sales team. If they aren't ready for conversion yet, the answer will obviously be "no" but they also then can't be nurtured further along their journey in the same way.
If both teams are singing from the same hymn sheet here, it can save a lot of potential Marketing vs Sales conflict in the future.
The benefit to the sales team is that the leads they get in touch with will be a lot more qualified, a lot warmer and therefore more likely to close.
Going back to the first thing we said you need to be aware of, company growth target, let's assume company growth goal is £2m in three years and that the lifetime value of a customer is £18.5k. This means that we need 108 customers over the three year period.
From here, you can work back along the marketing to sales funnel to work out the rest of your goals. And this is where the honesty of what is achievable needs to be nailed down.
There's no point setting a Proposals target which is too low (which would happen if Sales is dishonest/unrealistic about pitch success rates) or a Visitors numbers which is simply unachievable (because this will result in the promised amount of proposals not being delivered.)
But back to working back along the funnel, as this is how to make sure you craft a strategy which is realistic and meets your growth goals. And, remember, your numbers will vary at every step of the funnel, depending on your business, niche and industry.
But based on needing 3 customers per month to meet the company growth target, let's build up the funnel.
If your sales team looks to close 50% of their Proposals, then you need to be able to pitch to 6 potential customers per month. This will bring your 3 customers in that you need to meet your growth target.
When it comes to Leads, these are people who have become part of your marketing workflow and have been nurtured along their buyer's journey so successfully that they are happy to see your Proposal.
They may have started in this funnel by coming across a video or blog post you did which explained how X is a problem and why it should be avoided. They then might have downloaded your infographic which explains other problems they need to look out for. And then another eBook which offers some solutions. You've obviously gained their trust and they enjoy what you are teaching them. Meanwhile, your email workflow will be encouraging them along their buyer's journey at the same time. More on this later, but back to building up the funnel.
Even though plenty of leads read most of your emails and download several pieces of educational content, only around 30% of these leads might be happy to see your Proposal. So that means we need 20 leads of this quality each month.
But not everybody who visits your site or watches your YouTube channel or reads your blog is going to become a Contact by downloading something. Even less so, are they likely to repeatedly download content, read your emails and follow on social media, etc and qualify as a worthwhile Lead.
So you can see how as the percentage of people moving along the marketing to sales funnel decreases the number of each required category per month increases.
In this principle example, for the sales team to get 3 customers per month, the inbound plan needs to bring in 200 Contacts and 4,000 Visitors per month.
This has given you a well thought out and achievable set of goals for your upcoming inbound marketing campaigns. Now you need to plan how to bring those Visitors in, how you will entice them to become a Contact and how you will successfully nurture them into Leads.
Jumping ahead for a second, you are going to need to plan what types of content you will be producing for the different stages of the buyer's journey. What will go on your blog or vlog, what your downloadable content will be, your email workflow timing and content will need planning and writing.
But, first, you need a proper Buyer Persona.
First of all, these are different from an ideal customer or target audience. They have features of those two things in there, but are actually something different. It's tempting to either rush this or skim the research process. It's also tempting to create a Persona of who you would like your customers to be.
But this should be avoided. Instead, spend the time making sure your Buyer Persona is thorough and accurate.
What you are making is a complete profile of a small number of your customers. Usually just three is enough. And the content of these Personas is based on you or your client's own experience, what you know already about current customers, third party research that you can find and, if possible, interviewing current and potential customers.
A Buyer Journey is what a customer goes through in the cycle of realising they have some sort of problem that needs resolving and deciding to purchase a resolution. Traditional, outbound marketing - and the majority of inbound marketers (i.e. your competition) still do aim at the wrong end of the funnel - they target their efforts on the potential customers who are in the final stage of this journey. The Decision Stage.
But only 3% of consumers are ever at this stage of the journey at any one time, so this is where competition is highest.
You need to plan an inbound strategy which targets all three stages of the buyer journey, otherwise you simply won't be able to generate enough leads. Your inbound strategy should focus on all three steps in the journey and, to do this, you need to plan content which addresses all three stages. If you don't do this, they will find the content from other sources and be marketed to by other inbound-savvy businesses who will have a head start on you. Here's the stages explained a little further:
Don't forget, in this example, we need to be attracting 4,000 visits per month to our website. To do this means some thorough and holistic planning needs to take place before you can get down to producing content and putting out blogs and videos.
How to get the amount of traffic you are targeting starts with proper keyword research because this underpins the rest of your inbound strategy. They will shape your Search Engine Optimisation, your social media copy, your Pay Per Click campaigns (yes, "Paid": it should be part of a fully effective inbound strategy), and your blog and video content.
For the avoidance of any doubt, keyword research is the process of finding out how many people are searching certain words, phrases, terms and questions on the popular search engines every month. In case you aren't familiar, three terms we will be using next are:
Underlined, as closely as possible, are the respective keywords which you might try to target. Obviously, you could target the full long tail keyword search term but when it comes to analysing your performance, you should research keywords which are adaptable. That search term could easily be, "Best Manchester theatre with disabled access and good seats" or "Popular Manchester theatre with disabled access and restaurant facilities".
Your keyword performance can be analysed against all searchers who search around your keyword then, rather just a specific and precise question or term.
Important note at this point: the volume of long tail keyword searches per month will be much, much lower than short tail. But so will the competition.
This is how an inbound marketing strategy becomes effective: if you target more medium and long tail keywords, you can gather more visitors than if you just target widely searched short tail terms where competition is huge. "Manchester theatre" searchers could be looking for any old show and seats, restaurant menus with theatre deals, or anything else related. But a medium and long term keyword is more focused and therefore where you should target.
But, for a fully effective strategy, you should still target all forms of keywords:
The keywords you want to target should be highly searched and with low competition (or as close to this ideal as you can manage). Then, you can start including them in your key aspects of your inbound campaign.
Your blog titles and content should include the searched keywords that you want to target. But they should be included as secondary to the main aim of blogging
The main aim of blogging as part of an inbound strategy is to provide useful content which users will respect and enjoy. This is how you can then earn their trust enough to move them along the buyer's journey and become a customer.
Always prioritise quality information and value over red herrings and sales talk.
You should also be closely aligning your blog content with your persona's:
This is your means of getting your content out there to cold leads and a new audience before SEO starts to take effect.
Again, use your well-researched personas to make sure your social sharing:
Whilst others may suggest that paid ads shouldn't form part of inbound marketing, we think it's vital to a fully holistic strategy.
It brings in quick, short terms boosts of traffic and is important for testing out the effectiveness of copy, Call-To-Action designs and landing page effectiveness, and attracting traffic from those users who are right at the top of the buyer journey sales funnel.
You can also target paid ads which catch people using short tail keywords and pick up those who are already in the decision stage. Granted, this is straight up PPC rather than inbound-related-PPC, but it should still be based on the inbound keyword research and buyer persona knowledge.
Now that people are visiting, it's equally as important that you are giving them the right content to turn them into Contacts. And then, once that has happened, you have other content which turns them into Leads which are keen to hear a Proposal.
Here's how to craft an strategy which gives the right content at the right time for wherever a user is in their own personal buyer's journey.
See what content you already have and make sure it is in line with your keyword research and buyer persona knowledge. We most often find that if any of our clients have existing content, it is aimed at the Decision stage users.
That's fine to leave live, but make sure you tidy it up in terms of keywords, Call-To-Actions (CTAs), landing page links and branding.
What you produce for each stage will be different depending on your services, industry and persona habits. Also, different content types can be used in multiple stages.
As a general rule, look to produce content for different stages of the buyer's journey as follows:
Offering the various types of content can then turn Visitors into Contacts. To highlight the principle, if somebody is in the Awareness stage and has found your blog interesting because it highlighted a problem they didn't think was that big of an issue, they might download your eBook about how to solve said problem ("And 25 other issues you never knew you had - SOLVED!").
This requires creating effective CTAs and landing pages to get people to sign up and download.
They can then be nurtured into becoming a lead.
Finally, you need to both nurture and monitor your contacts to judge when they are ready to be contacted.
To do this you need a marketing CRM which allows both intricate automated email marketing and close contact behaviour tracking. HubSpot is the one we use, as we wholeheartedly believe it to be the best. It isn't perfect, we gave it an honest review here, but it offers everything you need to know about a contact to know when it's time to pick up the phone.
You will need to create:
Then, when you see a Contact has been moving along the buyer's journey, the sales team can get in touch and be prepared to give further explanations about how your company can be the one to solve the problem they have been researching.
There's a lot to consider there. And you're going to need a few things to get it all done. For example, you'll need a platform which allows you to tie it all together: produce the content, host it, send the emails, track contacts, track performance...
Because that is key too. You must analyse what is working and what isn't. It's pointless spending months producing content that isn't leading anyone further down the funnel. As a point of reference, we use a 90 day campaign cycle for our inbound marketing.
When it comes to skill sets and tools, you will need the following:
We have created some free inbound marketing templates for you to use when putting together your own inbound marketing plan. From Persona Templates to Content Planning; everything you need is here.
Download it for free and start your own inbound process: