The Forward Observer

How Long Does Inbound Marketing Take to Reach Success?

Are you interested in inbound marketing but worried about how long it will take to start working? Results are not immediate but they are long term.

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A growing number of companies are awakening from their long, outbound marketing slumber. A comfortable sleep where companies could leverage the power of media to interrupt what consumers were interested in and shout marketing messages at them. And for a long time, it got dreamy results.

Wake Up And Smell The Inbound Coffee

People have always hated being marketing to. And in recent years they have been able to tune out more and more unwanted marketing messages.

These days, consumers can avoid a lot more marketing messages than before. For that we can thank DVRs, satellite radio, MP3 players, Caller ID, Do Not Call Lists, Do Not Mail Lists, CAN-SPAM legislation, Internet ad pop up blockers and RSS readers.

And the trends for outbound marketing are not good:

  • 86% of the population skips TV ads
  • 91% have unsubscribed from email lists
  • 44% of direct mail is never opened
  • Over 200 million phone numbers are on the Do Not Call List

Newspaper revenues in 2012 dropped to 1950 levels. And they’re not coming back.

declining newspaper revenues

The growing effectiveness of inbound marketing is because it responds to the changing way that people want to research purchases and buy.

In years past, when a buyer was researching a purchase, they had to contact the seller in order to research the product, pricing, options, guarantees, etc. For instance, when someone wanted to buy a car they had to make a trip to the dealership to get most of the information. At that point, the sales person could influence more of the sales process since they had the leverage of information.

Now, thanks to the Internet, buyers can research the product without having to first go to the seller. Before visiting a dealership, the car buyer can research what options are available, the selling price (and the dealer’s price), reviews, safety data, etc. The buyer can also use social media to get the opinion of friends and even strangers.

In a B2B buying situation, a study by the Corporate Executive Board found that buyers are now 57%-70% through their purchase before they first contact the seller.

Corporate Executive Board Study

Does inbound marketing work? According to HubSpot’s annual State of Inbound Marketing Report, companies who are increasing their inbound marketing budgets are enjoying a lower cost per lead, shortening their sales cycles and increasing their sales close rates. And, marketers are moving more of their budgets to inbound marketing from outbound marketing.

increasing inbound marketing budgets

inbound marketing cost per lead

Why Doesn’t Inbound Marketing Work Immediately?

So if a company has awakened and is now smelling the inbound coffee, how quickly will they see results? Not right away. In fact, it could be anywhere from 6-9 months. Not every company is going to see results within that time frame. There will be some companies that see results before or after those 6-9 months.

One of the key reasons that inbound marketing generally takes longer to show results than the old days of the quick, outbound marketing “hit” is that you’re building relationships. That’s why inbound marketing is often compared to a marathon, not a sprint. But once you’ve built up momentum and stay with it, inbound marketing is like compound interest – it continues to pay dividends.

There are also a number of things that have to happen in order to crank up your inbound marketing machine such as:

The preliminary steps alone can take a few weeks to a few months depending upon the “marketing readiness” of a company, and how long they have been in a cultural slumber of outbound marketing.

Similarly, depending upon the marketing competitiveness of your particular business category, it takes time for your content to get discovered, shared and move its way up the process of getting found online by your prospects.

You Can Increase Your Speed

One of the most effective ways to speed up results with inbound marketing is to increase your activity, particularly blogging and premium content. Based on HubSpot research, the more of both you do, the more traffic and leads you should get, assuming your content is good and properly mapped to your buyer’s journey.

The more blog posts you have, the more leads you will get.

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The more premium content behind landing pages you have, the more leads.

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It’s Important to Manage Expectations

Rand Fishkin, in a Moz Whiteboard Friday, talks about the “SEO Slog,” i.e. the timing, investments, frustrations and expectations when doing search engine optimization work. He refers to that startup/transition period as the “Delta of Disappointment.”

A company making the move to inbound marketing goes through similar timing and emotional throes. “The Slog” is when all the stakeholders are impatiently waiting for the leads to come rolling in right after having done so much work.

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“The Slog” is that period of time when the powers that be (clients, bosses, boards of directors) are sweating and wondering where the ROI is. Getting to the point where you see returns from your efforts takes time.

Don’t Rely On Inbound Marketing Exclusively

While some marketing automation software salesmen might give you the impression that all you need to do is inbound marketing, don’t fall for it.

Inbound marketing should become the core of your marketing efforts, but for it to work, you should not eliminate other activities that contribute to your overall lead generation.

You may still benefit from (gasp!) advertising, trade shows, speaking events, direct mail and public relations just to name a few. But in time, you might be able to do less of those other marketing tactics.

Your turn: what are your timing expectations for inbound marketing to produce results?

photo credit: pj_vanf via photopin cc
graphic credits: HubSpot, Corporate Executive Board, MOZ

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