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August 1, 2013

What It's Like Growing an Inbound Company Culture

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traci-fenton-quoteMost people think of a transition to inbound marketing solely as a marketing decision. But it’s really a cultural decision. When you go inbound, it takes a whole lot of confidence -- and maybe even a little bit of arrogance.

Because what you’re saying is that you know something important -- that you have something worth saying out loud -- and that the rest of the world needs to hear your message. You’re saying that you can change the lives of your customers.

And when you start affecting the lives of others, it’s hard to look at it as a tactical strategy. It's much more than that.

People don't always understand inbound marketing at first. 

The first thing that always happens when I start to explain what it really means to adopt an inbound marketing strategy is the response ... “That’s it?”

Because like anything hard, it takes patience -- so sometimes, the natural thing to do is to water it down and oversimplify it. It gets transformed into an action, like writing a blog post or sending an email. It's hard to understand at first how something that seems so simple can transform an organization from the inside out. 

Don’t think for one moment it’s that simple. 

Inbound marketing is all about taking risks and chances -- leaving the door open for new possibilities -- instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done. It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. And that shift in mentality is a cultural shift within your company. It's a cultural shift toward inbound.

The next thing that happens is that members of the organization start to "get it." Instead of one advocate trying to push her crazy inbound marketing ideas on the organization, it’s three people that are buying in, then four.

It’s hard trying to convince people to start blogging, for example. Instead of forcing people to be a part of it, allow them access to it. Let people participate to gain their buy-in. Then, you can get people excited about the measurable stuff, like when your website traffic increases by 7%. With those metrics, they can see their own impact on the company's bottom line. 

Start encouraging cultural change.

It may sound silly, but finding ways to encourage behavioral and cultural change is worth it. For my organization, Element Three, it was encouraging our already-existent competitive spirit. For yours, it may be something else. But when everyone is invested in the organization, employees are empowered to come up with their own creative ideas. 

Having a team full of motivated, inspired, talented, smart people used to be something you only dreamed of, but the last thing that happens when you go inbound is a changed corporate culture. When there’s a consistent feedback loop, and members of your team aren’t afraid to experiment and be inventive, the results are amazing. When your organization is culturally stable and aligned with your overall strategy, anything is possible. It’s brilliant.

Get comfortable with change, and be patient with inbound marketing. 

Like Traci Fenton says, people want to have their voices heard. When you go inbound, you’re not just changing the way you do things; you’re empowering every single one of your employees to take a larger stake in your company’s future. By allowing them to get involved, and allowing them to build their own personal brands, they become directly invested in the company's success.

This is a change for most people! One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned came from Jeffrey Gitomer, who quoted an old business adage that says, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things not equal, people still want to do business with their friends!” His estimate was that over half of sales are made because of trusted relationships. 

What does that have to do with inbound marketing? To a certain degree, I think it’s about transparency. Instead of being a faceless corporation, having a team of visible, talented people each building their own personal brand gives customers a view of the inside. Would you rather buy from a stranger, or from a friend? When those interpersonal relationships are encouraged, your culture changes.

But like all good relationships, it doesn’t happen overnight. It's easy to get upset and disheartened if you have the mindset that becoming active on Twitter and starting a blog will suddenly and magically grow your business. Persistence, and understanding that it’s a journey, will make it rewarding when you start to see results. 

And you will start to see results. 

It takes a certain element of boldness, because you’re leaping without looking. I mean, you never know what’s going to happen when you start anything new, right? But having that spirit of vision for the future is what makes inbound marketing work.

Think, work, and celebrate as a team.

Our team at Element Three recently hosted a conference called Go Inbound Marketing 2013, and I consider it to have been a great success -- it exceeded my own wildest expectations for what it could become. The idea started, however, as a note scrawled on a sticky note. But because members of my organization felt encouraged creatively, the idea evolved and became a reality. The same thing happened with another project that went from an idea with no budget to a reality -- a new video called “This is Inbound Marketing.” Take a look:

These projects were only possible because everyone’s voice was heard -- literally, quite literally, with the video. Every member of our team was in the video, playing a role, having their voice heard. To me, it’s the perfect example of inbound culture making members of the organization feel like they could run with creative ideas, because that’s exactly what happened. A member of our team had an idea and wasn’t afraid to come ask me about it. That’s inbound culture. 

Smart CEOs and decision makers -- the ones that are paying attention -- understand that inbound marketing is not just a marketing strategy. It’s not just about the actions you perform when you're positioning your business in the marketplace. It’s also about supporting a culture of openness. A culture of sharing. A culture of being okay with imperfection (if it’s a result of being honest in your marketplace). It’s building a brand that is a force in the marketplace and, maybe more importantly, a culture that matches that brand. 

Empowering everyone in your organization is what inbound marketing is all about. I get emotional when I think about how far my own organization has come, and how we have grown -- and it’s because of a cultural shift toward inbound marketing that encourages us all to work together on the company's success.

Tiffany Sauder is President of Element Three, an inbound marketing agency based in Indianapolis, IN. You can read her blog at Element Three or follow her on Twitter at @tiffanysauder.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing

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