When Inbound Marketing Doesn’t Work

When Inbound Marketing Doesn’t Work

Don’t get me wrong, I love inbound marketing. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are awesome marketing tools. But this specific tool won’t work for every type or stage of business. I hear too many startup companies talk about Growth Hacking and Virality as if it’s an app they can deploy after they build their product to go from zero to $1B in revenue without understanding how marketing and sales really work.

It’s time to put your inbound marketing magic wand away next to the viral wand and get to work learning tactical marketing to grow your company.

“Growth Hacking” is a term coined by Sean Ellis, the first marketer at Dropbox. There was a great article from Referral SaaSquatch about the Stages of Growth from the recent Growth Hacker Conference in San Francisco that references Sean’s Growth Stage Pyramid Growth Vs. Growth Hacking – Lessons from Square’s Former COO, and it’s worth the read.


Where won’t Inbound Marketing work?

  1. Too Early  – Inbound marketing won’t work if you haven’t taken the time to really validate that your product fits the market that you are addressing. The reason is that you don’t really know who the customer is and what the messaging is that will get them to purchase your product.
  2. Too Complex – In many B2B products, the offering can be too complex. For example, if your product require services as part of your implementation or training that can’t be done by video, you’re going to require an educational sales process. One of the things I love about Dropbox is how it has evolved the idea of “Consumerization of IT”. The idea is that the product is loved by the consumers and supported by IT. This is different than the way the Customer Resource Management (CRM) or other enterprise apps were sold in the past – IT and corporate made the decision and forced it on the users. In order for this method to work for your product, however, you need to be easy to use.
  3. Too Expensive – Big ticket items don’t work well on inbound marketing. You can capture leads on big ticket sales, but you’re not going to take a credit card on these orders. I spent many years in consulting and when we were sold the inbound myth we discovered that customers weren’t looking to spend $250k plus on the web. Our website served to confirm what we told them in person and validate our creditability, but not make the sale. Very few of our customers went to Google’s search bar and typed in “$250k consultants”.
  4. Too New of a Market or Product – Let’s face it, if you’ve developed something that is truly innovative, no one knows that they are looking for your product – yet. If you’re not sure if this applies to you, go to Google Key Word tool and type in the key words and phrases you think you customers will use to find your product or service. After that, start to build out your SEM campaign around the competitive offerings that exist in the market to get some additional traffic. New Markets can take years to develop.

There are some great examples of companies using Inbound Marketing in the B2B market. For example:

  • SEOMoz has created a B2B tool to help marketers with SEO. They don’t have a salesforce selling the product. They don’t have a Freemium offer, but a 30 day free use that converts to paid. They do have multiple pricing levels. 
  • Dropbox – both meet the consumerization of IT description. When you arrive at the websites, you won’t see product positioning for the IT manager and consumer, it feels like a consumer app. You’ll have to make your message simple for this to really work for customer acquisition.

Want to learn more about Inbound Marketing? Start with Inbound.org or the many resources on SEOMoz.

One Reply to “When Inbound Marketing Doesn’t Work”

  1. Dave,
    Thanks for the great article.

    I think point 4 is particularly important for people to remember. If you are working on too new of a product or market it’s important to think about content marketing to parallel markets. If you can find areas of interest that your target customers are already looking for you can create great content around that area and then slowly introduce them to your product or market.

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