Inbound Marketing Deception Uncovered

This is a guest post by Kathryn Roy, Managing Partner, Precision Thinking

Numbers And Finance

Inbound marketing is great. Done well in the right situations, it can be a cost-effective way to reach new prospects.

But it doesn’t work for everyone.

When inbound marketing works − and when it doesn’t

Kathryn Roy, Managing Partner, Precision Thinking

If you’re selling a product or service in a category that is hot (i.e. there’s a high volume of Google searches for related terms), then inbound marketing is a great fit for you. That’s why marketing automation vendors rely heavily on inbound marketing; many companies are investing in these solutions and there’s a heavy volume in Google searches for related terms.

But what if you are introducing a new product of a type that’s not in particularly high demand (because people aren’t aware there’s a credible solution)? In this case, relying too much on inbound marketing is a recipe for disaster. You really have to use outbound marketing and sales to proactively find and sell to those initial customers that will help you establish credibility.

Unfortunately, some companies that should be focused on outbound marketing are deceived into thinking that inbound marketing is working for them when it’s really not.

Here’s an example of how this happened to one company, and what you can do to avoid a similar fate.

When appearances deceive

A CEO was getting ready to double-down on investments in inbound marketing. He based this strategy around the fact that most of the company’s incoming leads came from people visiting the website and using the contact form, email or phone number.

Digging into the numbers showed this pattern for visitors to the website:

Based on these numbers, would you recommend that the company increase its investment in inbound marketing efforts?

The truth is, we really don’t have enough information to make that call.

Getting the true picture

Further examination of the site’s most popular keyword sources showed that 65% of these visitors used the company name in their search term.  In this case, a more representative view of the site’s traffic is seen in the pie chart below (left). The pie chart on the right shows traffic sources only for visitors who didn’t bounce. This is probably the best representation of traffic coming to their website. Note that the shrinking AdWords slice reflects high bounce rates for AdWords-sourced visitors.

Roughly 2/3 of visitors who don’t bounce either typed in the company’s URL or searched for the company name.  Further digging would uncover how well these categories converted.

The company’s goal is to intercept people looking for their type of solution that haven’t heard of the company yet. But the data indicates that most website visitors had heard of them through some other means, and were searching for the company directly.

Is it possible the company is simply using bad keywords? Looking at keyword volume for other terms (including those used by competitors) suggests otherwise.

The more likely explanation is that this is an early market and buyers aren’t yet searching in droves for this type of solution. The company would be better off continuing its outbound marketing initiatives – direct sales, speaking and writing opportunities, and press and analyst education – to educate the market and win those early adopters. That way, it can continue with outbound marketing to leverage early wins and educate other prospects with latent pain. Keep in mind that all of the outbound marketing activities build content that can later be leveraged by inbound marketing activities once the market transitions from latent pain to active buyers.

Writing opportunities, as cited above, should now include participating in blogs or LinkedIn groups for related topics. There may also be forums that are starting to discuss the types of solutions now offered by the company, or how to deal with the limitations of the solution will be displacing.

Websites are NOT campaigns

Websites are valuable. But we shouldn’t equate them to direct mail or email strategies where the results can be attributed to a specific campaign. In fact, direct mail and email campaigns — along with other marketing investments — may trigger website visitors.

It’s difficult to isolate the source of visitors who type in a URL or search for a company name, but understanding how much of your traffic comes in this way is invaluable.

What you can do

In its July 11 edition, B2B Magazine reported results from a survey of B2B marketers at over 400 companies. In the survey, 44% of respondents reported that their companies did little or nothing with Web analytics.  The key obstacles were lack of resources (71%), low priority for management (38%), and personal lack of knowledge (37%).

Few B2B companies need the depth of expertise or investment that B2C companies require. It’s a daunting task to become an expert in Web analytics, and you may not be able to afford to hire one. But you can agree on some specific Web analytic reports that provide invaluable guidance for marketing spend.

All B2B companies should complete the analysis illustrated above to understand their traffic sources and the implications when making decision on how to spend their time and money.

Kathryn Roy is the Managing Partner of Precision Thinking, a consulting firm that helps B2B technology companies boost the effectivenessof their marketing and sales organizations. Her weekly blog serves up unusual tips for B2B marketers. She can be reached at [email protected]or followed on Twitter @karoy1.

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Share Your Thoughts

  • Stephen Cobb

    Terrific B2B marketing advice Kathryn. I think many early stage B2B companies steer clear of analytics because a. so much of what is written on the subject is B2C-focused, b. they don’t realize that a simple high-level analytics of website traffic like the one you describe will actually reveal a lot of insight, c. they look at total site visits growing over time and assume that means their inbound efforts are going well.

    Fortunately, we started outbound marketing from day one, even though it was called “Marc, the amazing Sales Director”. As in the scenario you describe, people did not know, or could not believe, that we had a viable solution to a wide range of problems, some of which people didn’t even know they had. 

    For three years Marc spent countless hours explaining what our product did to everybody in our market that would take his call. Today people are beginning to believe and our inbound marketing is starting to fill the funnel. And Marc? He is closing deal after deal right now and totally crushing his quotas.

    • Kathryn

      Thanks Stephen. It helps to have more people validate this!

  • Dharmesh Shah

    Great, thoughtful article.  

    One quick note that inbound marketing is not about search.  Agreed that in many early markets, there is insufficient search volume for a meaningful campaign.  

    However, inbound marketing can also mean creating content and engaging with your market via social media.  Even when users are not directly searching for a solution in a given industry, they are often still reading blogs, often watching social media to see what links their friends are posting.  The immediate intent isn’t there (as it often is for search), but it’s often an effective way to build early reach and gain some leads.

  • Kathryn

    Darmesh, glad you found the article thoughtful. On Hubspot’s website, “Blogging, SEO and social media tools to help you get found.” indicates search is an element. My next post on openview will cover when social media works and doesn’t.