The No-Frills Inbound Marketing Executive’s Primer

This inbound marketing guide for executives and directors helps them align teams for greater success
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Written by Caleb Rule

January 27, 2021

Have you ever felt that marketing has to change every 3.5 seconds to adapt to customer demand? Well … it’s (basically) true. New market dynamics, new tech, and new customer choices roll out almost everyday, making it tough to cut through the clutter and really make an impact – especially when it comes to inbound marketing.

As a leader, whether you’re a director with a team of 3 or a CMO with a team of 300, it’s your job to keep your team(s) well-equipped to continue driving revenue and position them for sustained success.

So, what do you as a marketing leader need to know when it comes to inbound? Let’s dive in, with help from a survey we sent to inbound marketers in summer of 2020:

Click to jump to a section: Statistics To Know | Trends | 7 Questions To Ask | 4 Mistakes To Avoid | What To Do Now

Inbound Marketing Statistics To Know

Per Kuno Creative, 36% of Chief Marketing Officers struggle to prove the return on their marketing spend
  • While 69% of C-level executives believe their marketing strategy is effective, only 55% of their marketing employees agree. (glean.info)
  • 36% of CMOs had a difficult time proving the ROI of marketing spend. (Kuno Creative)
  • CMOs are spending 29% of their marketing budgets on marketing technology. (MarTech Today)
  • Nearly one in three buyers say they chat with businesses in order to determine if they’re trustworthy and credible. (Facebook)
  • Consumers continue to embrace short-form video, and “… people who frequently watch short clips are more receptive to advertising.” (Deloitte)
  • Landing pages, the least popular type of signup form, have the highest conversion rate (23%). On the other hand, popups, the most popular signup form, have the second-lowest conversion rate (3%). (Omnisend)
  • 80% of consumers say they’ll only download an app from a company they know and trust, and 72% are concerned apps are tracking their movements. (Sinch)

From The Survey:

We had inbound marketers rate which channels were most important to them as part of a survey, with 1 = not important and 5 = very important. A few data points jumped out:

Inbound marketers think content distribution and SEO are highly important tactics, while display was the least important
  • Executives viewed Digital PR, Display, and Paid Social as less important to their inbound strategies than respondents who were Managers / Directors
  • Organic social media had the widest distribution of answers, receiving most votes in the 2-4 range but with some 1s and 5s
  • Some Managers / Directors struggle with identifying what’s most important – we had multiple respondents list each channel as important or very important.

At a high level, here’s what you need to know to help your team(s) align throughout the organization and be prepared for what’s coming next.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

This has been a hot topic in the marketing space for years, and its growing adoption signals it a coming war between leading platform providers for market share.

But how does this impact inbound, you ask?

You – and your team – will need to marry the two concepts together if your organization adopts the technology and underlying processes needed to ramp up ABM. (More on that in our Executive’s guide to ABM)

The intent data within these platforms enables marketers to know what a given company is researching – and what buying stage they may be in. It also provides new ways to identify target companies your sales team may want to pursue.

It’s focused on two key areas:

  • Marketing identifying greater Sales opportunities and engaging them with relevant content to their buying stage and topics of choice
  • Sales investigating potential targets and asking Marketing to help warm prospects before they reach out

Inbound relies on cohesively reaching customers and prospects through multi-channel (or omnichannel) strategies that keep you top-of-mind as someone goes through a buying cycle. You’re inviting a user to view your content and eventually volunteer information to you through a form, chatbot, or scheduling software to become a lead.

How they work together:

  • ABM will fail without a strong inbound marketing strategy and pinpoint execution
  • Inbound can be enhanced with ABM technology, but that alone is only part of the ABM process

What Buying Stage Is Your Content For?

Any strong use of a customer journey requires knowing what content to serve to a given prospect / customer … and when. More on this below in common mistake #1!

From the survey:

“Often, inbound marketing struggles because you’re sending out the wrong messages.

Your marketing is too self-centered when you need to make the customer the hero. Or, you’re too focused on tactics like SEO but not enough on brand marketing, which is an invisible driver of many of those searches.”

James Gerber, Vice President, Account Services @ CracklePR

Index Bloat is a problem

If you have dozens – or hundreds – of irrelevant, low-quality pages / assets on your website, it hurts you in three ways:

  • Customers can have a poor experience, leading them to look elsewhere for solutions to their problem
  • It acts as an anchor on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranks, keeping your content from being front-and-center in search results
  • Both marketing and sales have to keep sifting through irrelevant content to find what will truly help a user / customer / prospect

Read how we did our own SEO content audit (and results we attained) to dive deeper into this topic.

Google hates your team

They love your Google Ads money, but they’re making it more difficult to control how its spent – and harder to ensure it’s spent efficiently:

  • In mid-2020, Google setup a barrier on terms in Google Ads that caused ~20% of words / phrases people type into Google to trigger your ads to be hidden.
  • They’ve also removed various methods of bidding in the Google Ads auction, instead putting control into Google’s algorithms – and creating more waste.
  • On top of this, they’ve added “recommendations” into their Ads platform. Most are terrible and will hurt your advertising efforts.

These are just a few of the roadblocks Google is throwing into your team’s ability to do more.

Click Fraud

Click fraud is exactly what it sounds like. It’s clicks on your advertising that aren’t legitimate, often from automated bot systems designed to make website owners money from ads showing on their sites. This not only skews your data … but it wastes your marketing budget!

Per PPC Protect, only 13% of businesses they looked into had "little to no fraudulent activity" on their online marketing.

If you follow some leading PPC (pay per click) experts on LinkedIn, you’ll notice this topic has come up more often of late. While fraud has been known for a long time, it’s become more prevalent as large companies such as Uber discover its impact.

And per a PPC Protect study, only 13% of customers had “little to no fraudulent activity.” In fact, they said “As businesses start to spend more money on online ads, it’s clear that they are exposed to more fraud and ultimately lose more money.”

This is significant, as the online ad industry continues to soar far past the $125 billion mark.

If you invest heavily in digital spend (and especially Google / Facebook / LinkedIn advertising), you’ll want to have your team look deeper into this area.

Heightened emphasis on user privacy (a.k.a. The cookie-less world)

DuckDuckGo. Safari and Firefox browsers. uBlock Origin extension.

These are just a few ways it’s become more and more difficult to identify who’s reading your content, as these all cater towards increased market demand for a more private online experience.

DuckDuckGo – the search engine is aggressively marketing itself in contrast to Google as a place where your behaviors aren’t tracked, and it passed a significant milestone as it continues to grow.

Browser wars – Safari and Firefox already have integrated tracking protection, meaning they actively block tracking code from doing much of what it’s intended for. Google, feeling pressure to keep market share with their Chrome browser, is moving to the same.

FLoC – Short for “Federated Learning of Cohorts“, this is Google’s proposed solution in response to the move towards cookieless browsers. It has been met with some skepticism in the marketing community and is something to keep an eye on.

In addition, extensions continue to flood the market with the sole purpose of blocking one’s ability to be tracked. This puts a greater emphasis on relying on intent data + on-site behaviors to determine what makes the most sense to take to market.

The never-ending quest for better CX

Every interaction – both digital and in “the real world” – either causes a person to become more or less likely to buy from you.

It’s why customer experience (CX) continues to be something bandied about in boardrooms and marketing teams everywhere. Inbound’s role in building strong CX spans all of your content, your advertising, and how it all ties together.

More on CX in this primer.

The importance of brand

Inbound is predicated on a customer choosing to invest time with your content. This means you must cultivate a sense of trust with the audience that makes them more likely to click on your ads, pick your organic search result, or pause when your post appears in a news feed.

The problem? Most leaders give it lip service … and nothing else.

When a prospect sees your company’s name, what word / phrase jumps to mind? Do you have voice of the customer research to accentuate this? How does this impact the likelihood a prospect will want to continue their buying journey with you?

A related data point worth browsing: Branded searches in Google Search Console data. Are more or less people looking specifically for you? And using keyword planning tools, how does this compare to your competition?

From the survey:

I used to focus on lead generation v demand generation in pursuit of leads (because that was how I was measured). But ironically, by focusing on providing value to customers, you drive more leads and build stronger word of mouth and brand perception over the long-term.

Peter Lorenco, VP of Technology @ Avid Technology

Mobile-First indexing

It’s become an age-old drumbeat for any website: Is it optimized for mobile?

Well, as of March 2020, it’s even more important than ever. That’s because Google announced “Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.”

In short? If every high-value page on your site hasn’t been tested on mobile to ensure a fantastic experience, you’re only hurting yourself and tanking your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Site speed matters more than ever

Per Google and Deloitte, even boosting website load times by 0.1 seconds can improve conversion rates!

Another big factor in SEO! As Google integrates its Core Web Vitals into its ranking algorithm(s) and customers demand faster websites, your website’s speed becomes even more important.

We’ve seen many clients losing out on ranks due to slow websites that aren’t technically optimized. This could be due to a number of factors such as unimportant code loading first, large images, too many tracking codes … the list is extensive.

In fact, we saw many common issues with the Fortune 100’s websites, and they extend to many of the enterprise websites we optimize now.

Multi-Channel vs. Omnichannel

This is a common question we get from clients, and we have a primer on key differences here.

Proving inbound’s impact on revenue

This is really a broader marketing shift, as more and more companies adopt a revenue marketing mindset where teams are measured by bottom-line impact (and not something like marketing-qualified leads).

A greater emphasis is required on reporting, with airtight information flow from initial ad click to analytics conversions to your CRM or marketing automation tool.

It starts with scalable utm tagging (more on that here) to ensure high-quality data, but you also need a dedicated dashboard to measure cost per lead and cost per closed-won deal metrics – preferably broken out by channel.

From the survey:

The number one goal of the marketing organization is pipeline contribution. Modern marketers look at revenue through inbound sourced deals, marketing influenced revenue and win rates as their north star metrics.

Aleksandar Atanasov, Head of Marketing @ Cylindo

7 Questions To Ask Your Team

Our own Jonathan Searle chimes in with his views on how marketing leaders can reduce mistakes in their organizations + avoid common errors he’s seen many enterprises fall into.

If your inbound marketing campaign isn’t hitting bottom-line goals, can you pinpoint where or why it’s failing?

Many marketing teams can’t. 

There’s no doubt – inbound for corporations and enterprises is complex. It can be challenging to get a crystal clear picture of what’s working best and what’s not.

There’s a secret to getting ultimate inbound clarity … ask the right questions. 

These are the seven questions you (or your agency) should be able to answer so you can get clear on your results and drive the most ROI. And we can perform a full audit – not just with some automated tool, but with an expert looking over everything – to identify where your campaigns may have opportunity to do more.

From the survey:

Marketing evolves. CMOs and VPs should always remain agile in their approach to be the leaders within their organization.

As executives move further up into an organization, they must have a firm grasp on new methods of marketing or outside-of-the-box approaches that will help drive more revenue vs. only relying on strategies or tactics they may have used in the past.

Nicholas Price, Sr. Manager, Content Marketing @ Aircall

#1 – What are our KPIs through the customer lifecycle? Are we hitting them? 

The most effective way to determine where you could be losing leads and prospects is to set benchmarks through the customer lifecycle.

But often when we begin working with a new client, we find they’ve only reviewed spreadsheets with weekly high-level aggregated data. They don’t see KPIs for intent, behavior, and engagement through the customer lifecycle. And, they often don’t see that data at the campaign-level. 

Here are some metrics to track engagement: 

  • Time spent on site
  • Number of pages viewed during a website visit 
  • Opt-ins on forms 
  • New Visitors vs. Returning 

Tracking these insights at a campaign level will allow you to quickly see what’s working and what could be improved to scale your results.

#2 – What’s our average cost per lead per campaign?

Many corporate marketing teams focus exclusively on the end goal – cost per acquisition. They might only have a vague idea of their average cost per lead. And, most don’t know their average cost per lead per campaign. 

Having KPIs for your inbound marketing - at every step of the customer journey - allows your team to better optimize your marketing
HERE’S WHY KNOWING YOUR AVERAGE COST PER LEAD PER CAMPAIGN IS CRITICAL:

Let’s say your weekly spreadsheet report includes aggregate data for all campaigns and the average cost per lead is $150.

What if one campaign generated high-quality leads at $50 while another was averaging the same quality leads for $250? If you know the average cost per lead at the campaign level, you have the opportunity to scale by adjusting or turning off the campaign getting the $250 leads!

#3 – Which channel is driving the most high-quality interactions and leads?

If you have KPIs set for each stage of the customer lifecycle, then you should also be reporting on which channel is achieving those KPIs at the lowest cost. With that data, you can confidently make the business case to scale your budget on the top-performing channels. 

That’s how one of our B2B enterprise clients quickly got a $10,000 budget approved for LinkedIn ads. They could prove – with data – that LinkedIn advertising was their top-performing channel driving the most leads and revenue. And they could predict results from the $10K ad spend based on past achievements. 

Related: Learn how to accurately track results per channel with UTM tagging. 

From the survey:

You need to embrace “guerrilla” tactics and push the bounds of creativity. EVERYONE is over-reliant on email and webinars.

Lacey Miller, Director of Marketing @ Vertify

#4 – How are we nurturing leads after the first inquiry? 

One of the biggest mistakes we see is Marketing passing leads to Sales before those leads are ready to speak to a sales rep. It’s a massive lead management problem, but it’s quite fixable!

We break lead generation inbound campaigns into four categories based on audience engagement – cold, cool, warm, and hot.

These are inbound marketing funnel stages to know and what kind of content people have interacted with

Simply sending traffic to a gated form isn’t customer-centric at all, and yet there’s still many companies that do it! Customers demand a company prove its value to them before they’ll even consider offering up an email address, much less signing up for a demo or sales call.

A warm lead might have opted in on a form with 2-3 form fields and agreed to receive a piece of content with a minimal time investment, like a checklist, infographic, or guide. They might be interested in reading that content, but are they ready to buy at this time? 

Unlikely!

There should be strategic content to nurture the warm lead to the hot phase. Then, those hot leads could be passed to Sales when they’re much more likely to convert.

Many inbound agencies stop tracking KPIs after the first inquiry. Check in with your team and make sure you have a strategy to nurture prospects into sales-ready leads. 

#5 – Are we accurately attributing closed opportunities to inbound campaigns?  

What if your campaign is not actually failing… but you don’t have proper attribution set up to connect all inbound activities to revenue? 

Most companies aren’t properly tagging links to accurately track results. Without clean data in Google Analytics, it’s impossible to see how your campaigns are influencing closed opportunities.  

Check out this article to learn how to use UTM tags to maximize ROI from inbound campaigns. And, to prove it! 

#6 – Are we A/B testing? 

There are so many elements of an inbound campaign that could affect results: 

  • Landing page
  • Headline
  • Copy
  • Ad image or video
  • Target audience 

How do you know for sure the combination chosen for a campaign is getting the most possible results? 

Answer: A/B testing.

You should be testing different elements to determine what’s working best. And, once you know the elements that are consistently driving results, you can apply that insight to future campaigns too. 

Related: Why is A/B testing important? (+ Free infographic)

#7 – Do we have full access to our ad platforms and Google Analytics? 

We do hundreds of inbound audits and assessments for top B2B brands. The biggest red flag we see is when they don’t have full access to their own data such as Facebook Ads Manager or Google Analytics. 

The client is completely at the mercy of their agency to be transparent and communicate what they’re implementing and the results!

If you want to get a clear understanding of your results and drive the most possible ROI, make sure you have full access to your ad platforms and Google Analytics. It’s your budget, and you should always have full visibility into how it’s used.

4 Common Traps Teams Can Fall Into

Ask your teams about each of these areas!

Mistake #1 – Your content and customer experience isn’t focused on the customer 

This builds on the cold-warm-hot concept earlier: No matter how ready (or not ready) a potential customer is, do you have content that will help them in their current buying stage?

From the survey:

The first and only really important first step is to map the journey you prospects go through before finding you to make sure yo know where to focus your efforts on.

If you’re struggling, ask yourself: have you mapped that journey? Have you done this discovery with current prospects?

Emeric Ernoult, CEO @ Agorapulse

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: 

Design your inbound strategy to create an experience that will engage customers through their journey AND drive bottom-line results. Start by breaking your inbound campaigns into four categories based on engagement with your business: 

  • Cold (likely a first-time visitor to your website)
  • Cool (have visited the website, like a blog post or an opt-in page, but aren’t yet a lead)
  • Warm (have opted in on a minimal form)
  • Hot (have opted in for a higher commitment free offer, like an assessment or a webinar)

For cold traffic, instead of driving them directly to a gated form, drive them a quick video or read a blog post that helps them overcome a top challenge or answers common questions. Then, you could offer a bundle of related documents as a low-barrier gated asset, with an interactive assessment as a high-value gated asset that’s for warmer leads.

This is a customer-centric, multi-channel strategy that will not only get leads at a lower cost but it will also result in higher-quality leads because you’re driving traffic to a gated form after they’ve interacted with other content.

You cannot drive just anyone to a gated form and expect it to be an efficient use of marketing budget!

Related: Get a multi-channel assessment and discover your gaps

Mistake #2 – You’re not implementing remarketing by audience traffic type 

If you’re dumping your full inbound budget into driving traffic to gated form pages, you’re banking on one of two scenarios:

  • The website visitor will convert to a lead immediately on their first visit OR…
  • That website visitor comes back to the gated form page on their own

More often than not, on inbound marketing audits, we see that it takes six visits or more for a lead to convert on an opt-in form.

If you’re not engaging opt-in page visitors with remarketing, your inbound strategy is like filling a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. You paid to drive traffic to the opt-in page, but you’re relying on those visitors to continue their customer journey on their own. And, many won’t. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: 

Plug that hole (i.e. set-up remarketing). Run ads that will engage people who have visited opt-in forms but haven’t yet become leads. Do this and you’ll be getting a lot more bang for your inbound advertising buck. 

If you’re wary about setting up remarketing throughout your funnel because you think having multiple campaigns might increase your ad costs – think again. It’s much cheaper to target a narrow warm audience, like opt-in page visitors, than it is to target a broader audience. 

Even though you’re using multiple campaigns, your ad costs are much lower because you’re reaching more targeted audiences with more targeted messages. 

One massive (but common) inbound marketing mistake? Serving the wrong type of content on the wrong channel ... or at the wrong time!

Mistake #3 – You’re not customizing content based on the channel 

Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the big four when it comes to the B2B space. Even when using a multi-channel strategy, the common mistake is to use the same content across every channel.

The customer’s mindset shifts based on where they are in their journey … but it also varies based on the channel they’re using.

Think about it – when you’re skimming through Facebook or Twitter, are you looking for a white paper, ebook, or webinar to opt-in for? Or, are you surfing around looking for posts that pique your interest? 

In general, Facebook/Twitter users are more likely to watch a short video or click a link to a blog post than they are to opt-in on a form. And, the way your audience engages on Facebook or Twitter is likely different than LinkedIn and Google. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: 

If you don’t aim to engage the customer how they want to engage on that channel, you’ll be adding to the noise not cutting through it. Consider the lifecycle of your customer and use channels strategically to engage and nurture them through their journey.

For example:

  • Facebook and Twitter ads might be a part of your strategy, but these ads may only drive to blog posts that are much more research-focused for buyers who aren’t yet ready to purchase.
  • Then, you might use LinkedIn or Google to retarget those blog visitors and drive them to a gated form. 

Mistake #4 – You’re not properly attributing results to content and ads 

We do hundreds of inbound assessments for corporate and enterprise brands. In about 50% of those assessments, we find they’re not properly tracking attribution from any of their ads or content. They’re solely looking at data in their Marketing Automation Platform or CRM, like Marketo or Salesforce.

There are two main issues with this: 

  • Some data isn’t setup to pass through from the platform (i.e. Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) to the Marketing Automation Platform or CRM. So, the data they’re viewing isn’t holistically accurate.
  • If their Marketing Automation Platform or CRM is not collecting the right data, these platforms will only include broad, end-goal data. But, you can’t make optimizations and get the most ROI from campaigns without accounting for Google Analytics and top-of-funnel data.

The number one goal of the marketing organization is pipeline contribution. Modern marketers look at revenue through inbound sourced deals, marketing influenced revenue and win rates as their north star metrics.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD: 

To optimize ad campaigns to get the lowest costs, you must be tracking KPIs correctly in Google Analytics. 

With a multi-channel strategy, you’re segmenting campaigns based on the buying process – cold, cool, warm, and hot – to get the lowest ad costs on each channel in each phase. Because you’re segmenting campaigns based on the buying process, you also need to measure segmented results. 

Start with these three steps to accurately track and attribute results: 

  1. Set KPIs for cold, cool, warm, and hot campaigns
  2. Track those KPIs in Google Analytics 
  3. Report on KPIs for cold, cool, warm, and hot campaigns and optimize ads to get the lowest costs in each phase 

Next Steps To Greater Inbound Marketing Success

Don’t hesitate to ask your teams about many of the topics mentioned above – and what other trends they may be seeing in the market!

Then:

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