How long does inbound marketing take to deliver results?

Posted by Darren Leishman

Inbound marketing is a long game. Just like training for a marathon, it takes time to build momentum - but once you get going, you’ll see the results faster and faster.

Over the past four years I’ve learnt many lessons and answered hundreds of questions about the inbound methodology. However, there’s a particularly difficult question which frequently pops up.

This is a tough one to answer - but I’ll do my best. . .

"How long does inbound marketing take to deliver results?”

The first thing you need to understand about inbound is that it’s a marathon - not a sprint. Your fitness level will determine how quickly you gain momentum and how well you can sustain that momentum.

Gearing up your inbound strategy

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In a business context, marketing is your lifestyle and inbound marketing your niche: it’s the marathon you’re training for.

Whether or not your business already has a solid marketing and sales strategy in place, and existing digital platforms (like a website and social media) will determine how quickly you can build momentum with inbound marketing.

If you have all the necessary processes and a robust strategy in place , all you need to do is refine your existing marketing efforts. You’ll start seeing results far sooner than the business that has no formal marketing or sales strategy in place.

If you’re the inexperienced or unprepared entrant to a marathon, you’re going to need to do some ground work before you attempt your first race. However, just because you had a slow start, doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance to win your marathon - the methodology and consistency that you apply through the race will yield results. The reverse is also true - just because you had a head start, doesn’t mean you’re automatically set to win.  As time passes, businesses often become complacent - big companies tend to believe they’re invincible (take Kodak as an example), only to have the smaller (but proactive) competition sneak up out of nowhere and take the lead.


Need help getting started on your own inbound marketing strategy? Download our Guide to inbound strategy, to help you plan your first campaign.

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There are four main factors that affect your inbound success 

1. Your sales cycle

Just like some people are born more athletic than others, some businesses are better suited to inbound marketing.

Certain factors, like the length of your sales cycle, the budget and resources you have available to dedicate to your marketing efforts, will affect the speed at which you start seeing results. If your customers decision making process is short or spontaneous , you probably won’t benefit much from inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is best suited to purchases that are complex and therefore demand more consideration and research from the buyer.

For example: A chocolate manufacturer (whose product is an impulse buy) would benefit far less from inbound marketing than a business to business service like logistics or fleet management where customers are trying to solve big problems and doing lots of research.

If your product is well suited to inbound marketing and sales, but you don’t have the budget or resources available, you’ll need to start slowly using free tools (HubSpot offers free versions of both their sales and marketing software) and work your way up to full inbound marketing. You’ll still see results, they just might take a little longer in the beginning.

2. Planning: what you put in is what you’ll get out

At Spitfire Inbound, we believe in the five P’s of success: proper planning prevents poor performance.

If you were to continue the analogy, training for a marathon, you’d set up micro goals like correct eating, covering certain distances and so on. You’ll also need to research what other athletes have done in preparation for similar marathons, to ensure you’re properly prepared for the journey ahead.  And get a coach or join a club where you can learn from others who have done it before..

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“If you don’t put time and effort into the goal setting, research, and planning phase, you won’t be able to measure your efforts.”

You won’t know whether you are in fact ready for the marathon, and you run the risk of not being able to complete the race. That’s why here at Spitfire we go through an in depth onboarding process using our Interceptor Strategy to strategically look at your business goals, buyer personas, content strategy, lead generation, marketing automation and finally the bow that ties it all together - your inbound strategy. This process, although time consuming, ensures you have the best possible chance to succeed with your inbound marketing and sales efforts

3. Commitment and perseverance

It’s the middle of Winter and you don’t feel like getting out of bed at 4:00am to go for a run.  Do you roll over and go back to sleep, or heave your freezing body out of the sack and onto the road?

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To see the best (and fastest) ROI from your inbound marketing and sales efforts, you need to consistently be working toward your goals set in your strategy process. If you commit to your inbound marketing strategy, you’ll see the results you need much sooner - trust the process.  

This also means that you and your inbound agency needs to be closely aligned. Once your sales and marketing efforts are consistently working hand in hand, the rewards are immense.

4. Continuous improvement

As with anything in life, you’re likely to experience some challenges along the way. It’s how you overcome these challenges that determines your level of success.

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The trick with inbound marketing is to identify things that aren’t working for you early on. Using the data you have available (and there is a lot!), you’ll make small tweaks to optimise your campaign for success. If you wait until the end of a campaign before analysing your results, you could miss opportunities to turn a failing campaign around.

The bottom line is that every person gets fit at their own pace. The same logic applies here - every business is different. One company may see almost instant ROI from their inbound marketing efforts, while others could take six months before the leads start flowing. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but it’s the truth. There’s absolutely no definitive timeline when it comes to inbound marketing and sales.

What I can tell you, is that every effort you make (no matter how small) is better than no effort at all. As long as you are consistently publishing quality content, and nurturing leads through the sales funnel, you’ll see ROI. If you continue investing back into your business, slowly ramping up your inbound efforts over time, you’ll achieve the results you need.

Check out our handy reporting template, How to consolidate your inbound marketing reporting into 12 slides, to help you build great reports and see the long-term ROI on your marketing efforts.

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