7 years into our inbound journey with HubSpot, and with some awards under our belts, we share the lessons we’ve learnt on the way.
We’re not perfect. Gosh, it’s a relief to admit that! No, we’re not perfect, but we’ve learned a few things while we’ve been creating inbound strategies for growing businesses. Chances are that you probably know you’re not perfect either. So if you’re looking for ways to improve your marketing, sales and CRM strategy, or just make your results a bit better, we hope this will help.
FIRSTLY: WHAT IS INBOUND AN STRATEGY?
Let’s start by saying what Inbound Strategy is not.
It’s not fluff
It’s not a huge accumulation of to-do lists or wishes without any prioritisation
It’s not just a braindump of information that finds its way into a formal document.
It is not only marketing, sales or CRM
HubSpot defines your marketing strategy as “ a plan for reaching a specific marketing-related goal (or goals) in a focused and achievable way. It takes into consideration what your business is currently doing well and what you're missing in regards to the objective you set, so you're more likely to accomplish it." https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/digital-strategy-guide”.
We want to go further than that. We think that your digital / inbound marketing strategy is:
A measurable, practical way of reaching your goals, based on theory, with a practical outcome. It must be actionable, based on data, and focused on the results you want to achieve.
The advantages of an inbound sales strategy as highlighted by HubSpot include creating the foundation for a cohesive and successful sales organization. Sales strategies and initiatives also align salespeople on shared goals and empower them to do their best work — keeping them happy and successful, too.
They go a little further and define a sales strategy as the following:
“A sales strategy is a set of decisions, actions, and goals that inform how your sales team positions the organization and its products to close new customers. It acts as a guide for sales reps to follow, with clear objectives regarding sales processes, product positioning, and competitive analysis.”
And finally, HubSpot captures the essence of a CRM strategy beautifully in this image:
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT INBOUND STRATEGY?
1. Get the right people on board
When we start the inbound strategy process with our clients, it’s immersive. That’s why we know it’s important to get the right people on board and why we always make sure people from sales, marketing and leadership are part of the consulting process. But what we’ve learned along the way is that it’s also sometimes wise to wait for the right person to get on board.
If you’re about to hire an additional resource, rather wait until they’ve joined the company before you kick off the strategy process. You need an internal inbound champion – someone who is completely your partner in this journey. Don’t worry, your inbound strategy will still work if not all team members have participated, but our clients who have seen the best success in the quickest time have their entire marketing, sales and leadership teams involved – no matter how large or small their business is.
2. You can’t ‘sausage-machine’ strategy
There is no such thing as a ‘plug and play’ strategy. Every group of people is different. Their company goals are different. Their personas are different. And the dynamics of the group and the nature of their business is different. Over time, although we’ve learned to create strategies in a more efficient way we know that, while templates are a helpful way to start creating a strategy, following a template on its own will never be enough.
The art and science of turning theory into practice is about doing the research beforehand to make sure that the right questions are being asked in order to trigger discussions and change things if they start heading off track. For example: remove buyer personas that aren’t relevant, don’t let one person monopolise the conversation, and remember that two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two.
3. Creating a new strategy can be scary – but it doesn’t have to be
Change is often scary. There’s the fear that doing things differently may not work – especially if things are going well so far. That’s why at the end of a strategic workshop series we make sure that everyone is clear on the next steps and that everyone is accountable for what needs to happen in order to turn that strategy into reality. Set clear expectations and clear parameters. That’s true for inbound strategy, and for every other successful project.
4. People need a safe space to be honest, and to change
Disagreeing with people is often uncomfortable. That’s why we make sure the sessions where we develop our clients’ inbound strategies are confidential, collaborative, and comfortable. There are no wrong answers, there’s only useful information. Clients talk, but it’s up to us to help sift through that information to come up with insights.
The more they share, the better. We’ll also make sure that everyone really gets a chance to participate. Sometimes it means we’ll ask senior leaders not to answer the questions – or not yet. We also do a few surveys during the process which are really important. The anonymity of a survey gives people the security to be more honest, especially if there’s a mix of people participating in the process.
5. Remain agile
Great inbound marketing and sales strategies requires constant optimisation. This means that someone always needs to be looking at what you’ve done, what’s performing, and what can be tweaked to improve performance.
Whether it’s a landing page that can convert better, or an email nurture that isn’t quite getting the right message across, there is always room for improvement. When you get to a point where you’re running things like a sausage machine that’s a problem: you need to change it.
6. Change meaningfully
Bob Buckley says, “Stop doing ‘random acts of marketing and sales’” and we agree. We run pretty cool workshops that help people identify what their inbound strategies should be and, while we love doing them, and people in the workshops get really excited doing them, we can sometimes feel like it’s not new enough.
We forget that we’re the only people who have been in this kind of experience multiple times before. So we have to keep telling ourselves: we can change and improve things, and we should, and we will, but we also have to remind ourselves – and you should too – that it’s important to optimise things because the optimisation delivers results, not because we’re/you’re bored.
7. Keep the flywheel spinning
Like riding a bicycle, you have to build up a minimum speed before you can really get things moving. When we first started creating inbound marketing strategy sessions for businesses, we used our Spitfire Interceptor Strategy to get people on board over a period of months. But we realised that we were pedalling too slowly, and we nearly fell off our bicycles and had to walk the rest of the way home. So we changed things.
We still use the same process, but now we combine several steps into more intense sessions that are several hours long and we do the whole process faster. This way people get the bigger picture and we don’t have to ‘catch them up’ between sessions. It also means that our clients get a handle on their strategy sooner and are able to implement it and, therefore, see results sooner too.
8. Measurement is key – but it’s not magic
Sometimes inbound marketing really does seem like magic. And if you don’t understand the ins and outs, it’s okay if you’re skeptical about its power. But it’s not magic: it’s about measurement, content, strategy, optimisation and the integration of various different tools.
However, because you can pull out near-real-time information, it is really easy to get meaning out of your data and to turn those meaningful insights into results – but only if you’re tuned in to them and understand what your numbers are really telling you. And this is relevant for not only marketing but also sales and CRM!
9. Strategy is only the beginning
Okay, so once you’ve created a fantastic inboundstrategy that you’re really proud of you’re done, right? Wrong. Once the strategy is created, inbound campaign management is usually left to the marketing team. And that’s where sometimes things can get a bit lost. We’ve discovered that it’s absolutely critical to touch base with sales, marketing, and everyone else who was involved in the original process six months later (yes, that soon!) to align what’s happening with their business goals and what they’ve learned in their teams.
If it’s not in the form of a meeting with the whole team, it could be a survey – but we’ve discovered that we have to give people feedback, and receive it. There are all sorts of valuable lessons that people across the team have learned, and can share, but if they’re not invited to do so, those learnings can never be turned into actionable insights. Plus, it gives people a chance to see how well inbound marketing is working and impress them. This is over and above the weekly and/or monthly reporting and insights that you share with the team.
10. Strategy is never done
Once the strategy is created and the hard work has started the analysis begins. When you’re constantly gathering data and fine-tuning and updating your campaigns it’s important to schedule regular strategy refreshers.
A year is too long in the digital world. We recommend doing it every 3 months. This is the time to re-align all the lifecycle stages, workflows and criteria. And it’s the time when we tell our clients what we’ve been doing behind the scenes, so they can see the amount of data we have gathered over the time, and what we’re doing with it.
11. Facilitate, don’t dictate
Over the years we have come to appreciate the art of facilitation and active listening in the strategy process. If you go to your clients with a preconceived idea of the outcome, you are not giving them the value that they deserve. The strategic process requires people to be open, to share, to disagree and to not have an agenda.
Facilitating means that you ask the stupid questions, that you give everyone the opportunity to share whether that is during, before or after the session, that you capture what is discussed and not only what you think the conclusions are, that you reframe the input and often take on the role of clarifying points and asking the difficult or unpopular questions to ensure that everyone gets to the point and that you always are the 2 year in the room by repeatedly asking why.
12. Test your strategy internally before you present this to your client
Once you have crafted the strategy, always test this internally with the exports in the business. I have found that when I have my ‘internal board of directors’ go over the strategy with me, then the results get so much better. It is true that two brains are better than one as well as that the more viewpoints that you invest in, the less bias you will create.
We hope this post has made you think about some of these questions, even if you haven’t quite answered them yet… Things like: Do you have ‘fluff’ or real strategy? And if you have real strategy, are you using your current strategy to it’s full potential? And if you are, are you implementing, measuring and optimizing it? Do you know if it’s really working? Do you feel like it’s on track, or do you need help?
Regardless of how you feel about your current strategy, it’s always good to know that there are people out there in the same boat as you. We’re all learning, all the time – but hopefully these tips will mean you can learn a bit faster or, perhaps, even get the help you need to fast-track your processes. We’re happy to help – give us a call ☺
What are your thoughts on lessons you’ve learned about inbound marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you! Join the discussion we’re having already on LinkedIn.
Featured Image by Alison Leishman (With a solid inbound strategy, you're bound to hit your target)