At HubSpot, we have the privilege of talking to a lot of marketers on a regular basis. And although we're ultimately trying to sell inbound marketing software, a big challenge for our salespeople isn't just in convincing people our software is a good choice for them -- it's also in selling them on the idea of inbound marketing in general, especially if those marketers aren't convinced they should be shifting their marketing from a traditional, outbound approach toward a more inbound one. Because this is the case, our salespeople have heard every concern in the book when it comes to shifting gears to inbound -- and a lot of those concerns have to do with their perceived limitations and shortcomings of inbound marketing.
So let's clear the air once and for all by highlighting some of the most commonly believed inbound marketing shortcomings we've caught wind of from other marketers on the phone and on the web, and giving you our two cents about them.
Claim: It's not easy to target specific audiences with inbound marketing.
This claim usually comes from marketers who regularly market to purchased or rented lists of contacts or who pull together lists of contacts at specific companies they want to target. The thought process behind this one is that inbound marketing is based on organically attracting people who opt in to receive your marketing messages, and there's no way to guarantee that the specific people you want to target will opt in to receive your messages.
Rebuttal: Inbound marketing allows you to target specific audiences -- throughout the entire funnel.
With inbound marketing, targeting specific audiences and sets of contacts is not only very possible, but it can also be much more effective than traditional targeting methods. With inbound marketing, you're attracting potential buyers to your website with relevant content that is targeted at the specific interests and needs of your business' buyer personas (found through channels like search engines and social media). As a result, inbound marketing allows you to focus your efforts on prospects who have already shown an interest in you, making them much more qualified than people you might target who have never heard of your company or shown any interest in you whatsoever.
Marketers should also consider that inbound marketing applies to the entire funnel beyond just the top of the funnel -- all the way from attracting new visitors to your website, to converting them into qualified leads, and then nurturing them into becoming happy customers. And once you've attracted visitors to your website and converted them into leads for your business, you can use the information you've collected about them -- where they came from, what offers they've converted on, which pages they've visited, the demographic information they've provided on your lead-capture forms -- to nurture them in the middle of the funnel. In other words, you can send them much more targeted, personalized messages in the form of email marketing, dynamic content on your website, etc., all of which moves prospects further through the funnel and makes them much more likely (and ready) to buy.
We disagree with marketers who argue that inbound marketing is more about pulling in a broad audience rather than targeting specific groups of people. In fact, I'd argue that inbound marketing enables you to do the very opposite with targeted content, and that the concept of capturing the attention of a broader audience much more appropriately applies to more traditional, outbound marketing techniques. Effective inbound marketing ultimately allows you to market to segments of one, whereas outbound tactics usually involve bombarding lists of people with mass marketing messages.
Claim: Decision-makers don't spend their time online researching products and services.
This argument is mostly prevalent in B2B marketing in which longer sales cycles and more high-ticket products and services are involved. The idea is that the typical C-suite executive doesn't spend his or her time online reading blogs, conducting searches in Google, or participating in social media -- all of which are top-of-the-funnel, traffic-driving channels for inbound marketing.
Rebuttal: Decision-makers are influenced by online channels when it comes to purchasing decisions.
To say that decision-makers and C-suite executives are not spending their time online is an overgeneralization. Just consider the fact that, according to a Forrester-commissioned study by LinkedIn in November 2012, 59% of IT decision-makers said they are influenced by at least one social network when considering business purchases. And during each of the five phases of decision-making (awareness, scope, plan, select, implement) social networks influenced nearly 50% of all IT decision-makers involved in each phase -- close to a 60% increase since 2010. Furthermore, 73% have engaged with an IT vendor on a social network.
Even if a C-suite executive doesn't spend a lot of their time reading blogs, using social media, and conducting research online, that doesn't mean there aren't others within their company who are doing those things. And chances are, these people have some level of influence on the decisions of those C-suite executives.
Claim: Inbound marketing doesn’t push people to take action.
In other words, because inbound marketing is built around the idea that buyers have more control over their purchasing decisions than they had in the past, inbound marketing waits for prospects to take action when they're ready.
Rebuttal: Effective inbound marketing leverages compelling calls-to-action to get prospects to take action.
First of all, is it really a bad thing to let your prospects have control over when they decide to act? Second, just sitting around and waiting for potential buyers to take action is not a tenet of inbound marketing. Savvy inbound marketers know they have to motivate their prospects to move down the funnel -- and they do this with compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) that encourage prospects to take the next logical step depending on which stage in the sales cycle the prospect is currently in. Content pulls them in, and relevant CTAs serve as that "push" that incites them to take action. And with technologies like dynamic, Smart CTAs, inbound marketers can ensure they're automatically displaying the right CTAs, to the right visitors, at the right time to increase the likelihood that prospects will convert through targeted messages and content. So, depending on the prospect's position in the funnel, that CTA might motivate them to download an educational ebook, sign up for a webinar, request a product demo, get a free trial, download a coupon, or contact a sales rep, incrementally propelling them closer and closer to sales-readiness.
Claim: With inbound marketing, you miss out on the inactives, or late adopters.
Another argument that inbound marketing skeptics will bring up is that inbound marketing doesn't allow you to capture late adopters, or people who are content with their current solutions and/or are not actively seeking new alternatives or solutions.
Rebuttal: Inbound marketing attracts people's interest before they even realize they need your solution.
There's no doubt that those types of people exist, but the problem is that this argument is referring to the bottom of the funnel -- when people would actively seek out a new solution. Here's the thing: Those laggards may not recognize the need for a new solution or actively shop around for new products/services, but that doesn't mean they aren't looking for information that helps them solve the everyday problems they have ... and that's where inbound marketing comes into play.
Let me explain, using HubSpot as an example. We sell marketing software, and yes, ultimately we want the people who come to our website to buy that software. But a lot of the people we end up closing as customers didn't first come to our website because they were specifically looking for marketing software. Instead, they were seeking solutions to problems that are symptomatic of a need for a new marketing software solution -- maybe they wanted to know how to generate more leads, or how to better market to their existing contacts, or how to get more traffic to their website. So, in other words, they were drawn in at the top of the funnel -- probably by an educational blog post or ebook about how to generate more traffic/leads/customers -- and then over time, as they interacted with our website and our content more and more, they realized they needed a better marketing software solution and decided to buy.
What other inbound marketing shortcomings have you caught wind of? Looking forward to hearing your own thoughts on the ones above in what I anticipate will be quite an interesting debate in the comments ;-)
Originally published Feb 22, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated March 21 2013