Many agencies are curious about adding more inbound services or transitioning to an inbound agency. Demand is growing, and agencies need to adapt to meet the changing needs of prospects. 

Adding inbound services is one way to stand out and differentiate your agency.

And while this idea is exciting for some agencies, it’s important to set the expectations of what it’s really like to be an inbound agency so those considering this transition can be well prepared for success. As a channel account executive for HubSpot’s Agency Partner Program, I’ve seen agencies make the transition to offering inbound services with misaligned expectations, and because of this, the firm wasn't able to fully capitalize on the move for their business or their clients. 

The Top 8 Misconceptions About Becoming an Inbound Marketing Agency

Misconception #1: Marketing automation eliminates the need to pick up the phone.

According to the Lead Response Management Study, the odds of making contact with a lead increases 100X if called within five minutes. In addition, the chances of qualifying a lead are 21X better if called within five minutes.

Marketing automation is a valuable tool for both marketers and sales reps, but if you rely on that and nothing else, the bottom of your marketing funnel will suffer. Your customers are people at the end of the day, and they buy services from other people, not machines. As an inbound agency, you're still going to have to pick up the phone and have a conversation to identify the needs of your leads so you can sell them tailored solutions.

A successful inbound agency uses lead scoring and nurturing to optimize the process so that they’re picking up the phone when their prospective clients are ready to have a conversation and are receptive to the agency's pitch.

Misconception #2: I’ll see results immediately.

Some people believe that if they start doing inbound marketing for their agency, they can simply buy software, sit back, and watch as the leads roll in and sales take off. The reality is that change is not immediate. In the graph below, you can see how consistency of effort pays off. Yet, most agencies quit after three or six months. 


This is a long game, but it is more sustainable than traditional outbound methods, such as cold calling, networking, and responding to RFPs. According to the State of Inbound, 2X as many marketers say inbound delivers below average cost per lead than outbound methods. And Demand Metric found that content marketing generates three times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing but costs 62% less. The more you put into the machine, the more you get out.

Misconception #3: All inbound leads are qualified.

Consider these stats:

  • 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least 3 months, and 20% will take more than 12 months to buy. (Source: The Marketing Donut)
  • Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. (Source: Forrester Research)
  • Nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. (Source: Aberdeen Research)

The numbers don’t lie; leads need to be nurtured before you try to sell to them. Just because they come to your website and filled out a form does not mean they are ready to buy. There are multiple different types of inbound leads that can come through from your website -- marketing qualified (MQL), sales qualified (SQL), and anything in between. It’s essential as an agency getting started that you define the criteria for each lead type and nurture each stage accordingly.

Misconception #4: I’ll create content for my clients, not my agency.

You can’t expect a client to rely or trust your content creation and lead generation skills if you can’t demonstrate that ability on your own site. Your agency needs to be your own best case study. 

An example: Element Three publishes 16 to 20 blog posts per month on topics brought up by prospects or clients in meetings. By writing about meaningful and relevant topics, the agency was able to increase monthly web traffic by 175%. The team then identifies high performing blog posts, and they create more in-depth ebooks. This approach increased the agency's lead generation by 3,680%. 

Misconception #5: I have to give up on outbound.

Even though your agency is now focused on inbound marketing services, you shouldn't give up on outbound methods. Paid promotion of your content is one great way to build up an audience before you have an organic one. Continue or consider hosting events, running PPC campaigns to high-value content, using retargeting, traditional advertising, etc. This can all help to drive more results for your agency and your clients. 

Misconception #6: Other inbound agencies are my biggest competition.

By becoming an inbound agency, you’ve become part of a community -- leverage it, network, and help each other. This is an open and sharing group of individuals, so use that do your advantage. 

“There is something about inbound that pulls our tribe together," said Ryan Shelley, founder of Shelley Media Arts, LLC. "It’s not so much about who can beat who. It’s about collectively working together to educate, assist, and grow with each other.”

Misconception #7: I’m going to have to hire new staff.

When you transition into an inbound agency, you might want to reconsider what type of talent you need on your team. Some agency CEOs think they need to hire a completely need staff. 

Instead of hiring immediately, consider outsourcing content creation and other acticies. Once you have a few clients with high volume needs, you can begin looking for inbound marketers, content creators, and other specialists to join the team. In addition, you should make it an effort to train your staff, allowing them to learn new skills and put these to use for your clients. 

Misconception #8: I’ll take on every new inbound client that comes my way!

It’s OK to say "no" if a lead comes in that doesn’t seem like a good fit for either inbound marketing or your agency. You should have an ideal client profile and be able to qualify the prospect to determine if your two teams will work well together. I can’t tell you how many horror stories we’ve heard about bad-fit clients sucking time and money from an agency on projects that should never have been taken on.

Bryan Adams, CEO and founder of PH Creative said, “To work with us, a client must provide two out of three of the following criteria: fame, fortune, or fun. It’s just not negotiable."

He has this advice on avoiding nightmare clients: “Always ensure the scope of work and the boundaries of the deliverables are set in stone along with setting client expectations firmly in reality. Under promise, over deliver, and don’t be afraid to fire clients if they become too demanding and will not up their budget to compensate for the loss of sanity.”


Originally published Jan 29, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017