If I've learned anything from the last 10 years in the industry, it's that everybody struggles with implementing inbound marketing at first. I say that not to discourage you, but the opposite. If you’re having trouble making HubSpot work for your business, you’re not alone! There is a whole world of fellow HubSpot users out there to learn from.
One of the undersung aspects of the community of like-minded marketers that HubSpot built is the sheer scale of it. It’s humongous. I should know; I’ve seen it grow (and played my own small part in its evolution) from a tiny group of users to the massive size it is today — over 86,000 strong.
I’m now entering my second decade of involvement in the inbound marketing world.
I began as a customer in 2010, and by 2011, I was onboarding customers as a member of the Customer Team at HubSpot. In 2013, I joined the HubSpot Academy Team, where I helped create training content and professional certification products that help thousands of HubSpot users master inbound marketing.
I left HubSpot in 2015 to experience inbound marketing from the agency point of view. Since then, I’ve served in various leadership roles for three of the world's most successful HubSpot partners. That includes my current post as VP of Agency Services for Media Junction, one of the few HubSpot Elite solutions partners.
All this is to say I’ve had the opportunity over the years to watch and participate as hundreds of businesses — of different sizes, representing all kinds of industries — try out HubSpot and inbound marketing for the first time.
The Six-Month Syndrome
What I’ve learned is that almost every time, using HubSpot effectively is more challenging than people expect. At some point in the first six or 12 months of using the software, progress seems to stall out.
Does either of these scenarios sound familiar?
- The initial growth spurt that accompanied your concerted content marketing effort has plateaued. Website traffic has reached a certain level, and you’re unsure how to increase it any further.
- After the rush of enthusiasm for inbound marketing subsided, your team has lost its focus. Time and effort are wasted. Procrastination and paralysis of analysis have set in. Sales targets have been missed, deadlines have been delayed, and careers may even be in jeopardy.
These things aren’t happening because you’re horrible at inbound marketing — or because there’s something wrong with HubSpot. In fact, I believe these common struggles are baked into the inbound marketing philosophy, which is about experimentation, reiteration, and revision based on the data.
I want to encourage you to think about your difficulties with inbound marketing not as roadblocks but as milestones to success. You’re on the right track. The question is, where do you go from here?
In my experience, there are two kinds of HubSpot users: those that get stuck and stay stuck, and those that get unstuck.
I want to help you get unstuck (or prevent you from getting stuck in the first place). And to do so, I want to draw on the wisdom of those businesses that have overcome their early struggles to create sustainable inbound growth engines.
Here are five secrets I’ve learned from working with hundreds of HubSpot users over 10 years:
(Full transparency: This article is a condensed version of a presentation I gave to a packed house at the INBOUND17 conference in Boston. Click here for a complete audio recording and slide deck from my talk.)
1. Get Organized
When I ask companies why they invested in HubSpot, I often hear, "Our marketing department is unfocused," or, "Our sales process is disorganized."
It’s true that HubSpot (the company) is a paragon of organization around laser-focused sales and marketing goals. But HubSpot (the software) cannot compensate for lack of planning.
I tell the businesses I work with:
“HubSpot is not your strategy. It is a platform to execute your strategy.”
Doing inbound right requires a strategic gameplan. And executing on your gameplan means assigning roles, setting expectations, and stripping away distractions.
As I’ve learned the ins and outs of inbound marketing over the past decade, I’ve also learned about project management. Project management might seem like a dry topic, but it is an essential skill for achieving anything that involves coordinating multiple moving parts and people.
Here are some project management-based tips for getting organized around inbound marketing:
Draft a Project Charter
Before accepting any project (such as HubSpot onboarding), be sure to get the assignment and expectations in writing.
This can be done with a project charter, which should include items like:
- A high-level project description.
- Key drivers or justifications for the project.
- Measurable project objectives.
Manage Key Stakeholders With a DARCI Chart
A DARCI chart is a useful tool for assigning roles. It identifies decision-makers, as well as those who are accountable, responsible, consulted, and informed.
This article, from my former agency, IMPACT, describes how and why to create a DARCI chart.
Map Out Your Conversion Machine
When you log into HubSpot for the first time, you’ll notice it doesn’t come with blueprints. There are no step-by-step instructions that say, “Start here. Next, do this.” This is by design; HubSpot is a powerful suite of tools that you can deploy any number of ways.
It’s up to you to build the blueprint. I’m a visual person, so I find flowcharts and diagrams immensely helpful.
I recommend putting together a chart that labels the stages your customers go through before making a purchase, the questions they’re asking, and the assets you plan to use in HubSpot to convert them at each stage.
This chart will serve as a reference point as you build out your vision. (And it can also help you identify pieces that are missing.)
Documentation is how you make your mistakes — and your triumphs — count. Over time, you will figure out how to do inbound right, and when you do, you’ll want to do it again.
At IMPACT, we documented everything we tried. And we revised our documentation as we went along to ensure it reflected our most up-to-date thinking.
We compiled all this documentation into a “playbook of playbooks.” The idea was when we brought on new staff, we could refer them to the playbook, and they could get started right away replicating our successes.
You don’t have to use the same playbook format we used at IMPACT. But my point is: If you do something that you want to repeat, write it down. Don’t count on your memory, or the memory of staff members who come and go, to preserve your hard-won inbound marketing expertise.
2. Get Quick Wins
Are you ready to become an inbound team of one? Because as much as we might dream of the inbound philosophy taking hold throughout our organizations, most people will be reluctant to change their ways until they see some results.
You might have to get the ball rolling on your own. The good news is, it only takes a few minor victories to start turning heads.
Bring in that first quality lead that only could have been generated online. All of a sudden, you may find yourself swarmed by the sales team: “Wait, you got this how? Tell me more!”
Here are some ways I’ve seen small teams score big inbound wins quickly:
- Land more appointments for sales. To inspire company-wide support for your inbound efforts, you’ll need them to be tied to a revenue-generating initiative, not just a marketing initiative. So, focus on activities that will put more people on the phone with sales, such as creating a landing page for a free consultation offer.
- Lean on existing content. Any company that has been in business for six months or more will have built up a library of content assets: PowerPoint slides, long emails to prospects, sales training manuals, and so on. Identify these assets and extract their messaging for your first blog posts and offers.
- Plan your persona interviews as your next blog articles. Persona research is inbound 101. If you’re not doing it, do it. And while you’re talking with your top contacts and customers, think like a journalist. These interviews are often packed with insights, observations, and questions you can turn into compelling blog articles.
- Host a webinar. Webinars build urgency for you because you have to be prepared to deliver on a certain date. They build urgency for your prospects because if they want the material, they have to attend. (Don’t offer a recording of your first webinar.)
- Re-engage your old contacts with news of your new content. Your CRM is probably full of contacts who gave up on your site long ago. Send out an email; let them know there’s a change in the air. Invite your dusty old contacts back to experience (and hopefully, fall in love with) your refreshed and better-than-ever content.
3. Seek Constant Feedback
Have you ever worked hard to craft a beautifully-written, insightful, unique piece of content, and then...crickets? Of course you have. That’s one of the most universal experiences in inbound marketing (and one of the reasons so many people get disillusioned by content).
Here’s another common frustration: You put out content, and it attracts people to your website. But the people who fill out forms are too low on the totem pole to matter, or they’re outside your target market, or they’re competitors.
I’ve heard stories like these more times than I can count. It’s aggravating, and not merely because of all the work you sink into a content piece. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to construct an effective content strategy with zero feedback.
But don’t worry. If your content is disappearing into the void, I have some suggestions for coaxing feedback from a seemingly indifferent audience:
Start a Subscriber Snowball
Begin building a critical mass of subscribers with the people you know best: your marketing department, sales reps, everyone else in your company. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Ask them directly to subscribe. Then move on to your top prospects.
The thing about subscribers is they tend to invite other subscribers — provided they appreciate your content. A few hundred subscribers can quickly explode into thousands. And if it doesn’t, that’s already a clue something is missing from your content.
Recruit a Group of Content Beta Testers
The beta-testing model works great in software design, so why shouldn’t it work for content?
Consider forming a “content advisory board.” Find the people who engage with your content the most and invite them to participate in a group email or monthly conference call to critique your content, make suggestions for improvement, and bounce new ideas around.
Study Visitor/Contact Data to Understand How People Interact With Your Content
Qualitative feedback from people you know is valuable, but verbal and written feedback can be colored by bias. (Haven’t you ever filled out a survey about a friend and been a bit nicer than they deserved?)
Data tells the unvarnished truth about how people respond to and interact with your content. There are some excellent data analysis tools for this in HubSpot, such as lead intelligence and the contact timeline.
4. Report the Full Return on Investment (ROI)
Now that you’re putting out content people actually like and use, how do you effectively report the outcomes of your hard work?
Reporting ROI is, unfortunately, not something that is well covered in HubSpot onboarding. It should be, in my opinion, because not everyone readily sees the value of inbound marketing. If you can’t justify the expense to your organization, you may find your HubSpot subscription fees on the budget chopping block.
(Plus, inbound marketing is hard work. You deserve credit!)
I’ve had successful customers who had great results to share. But as soon as they got into a meeting with decision-makers, they got peppered with questions they couldn’t answer about how their data translates into bottom-line impact.
I believe your first ROI meeting is so vitally important that I want to offer some tips for nailing it:
5 Secrets to a Successful ROI Meeting
- Come with a clear agenda. Invite the right people (everyone from your DARCI chart) and make sure they know ahead of time exactly what the meeting will be about and how long it will last.
- Make the meetings frequent. People are busy, and they quickly forget things. Remind stakeholders at least monthly that your inbound efforts exist (and that they’re getting results).
- Practice crowd control. It’s your meeting; don’t let others hijack your messaging. Be prepared to answer questions, but ask participants to take notes and hold their questions until the end.
- Focus on “so what.” Plan to end your presentation of the data early so you can spend some time discussing outlooks. What comes next? What are the next steps? What do people think? Leave some time for workshopping, so that meeting participants feel engaged.
- Debrief with your champion. You do have an inbound champion, right? (A higher-up within your organization that supports your efforts.) While the meeting is still fresh in your minds, get immediate feedback from your champion. In addition to offering constructive criticism for improvement, your champion may have noticed some subtle signals from the other participants while you were focused on presenting.
(For more advice on reporting ROI, such as how to always be educating on the inbound methodology and the importance of humanizing your contacts, listen to the recording of my complete INBOUND17 presentation. I also highly recommend HubSpot’s “How to Report Inbound ROI,” which is still the gold-standard ebook on the subject.)
5. Partnering Up
Finally, if you want to take your inbound marketing from “just ok” to “really cooking,” you may need to bring in extra help.
There’s no shame in that. HubSpot Solutions Partner agencies like the ones I’ve worked with are inbound innovators. They are the true “boots on the ground” who have the experience and expertise to get almost any business unstuck.
Nevertheless, a lot of people have been burned in the past by outsourced partners. Still others aren’t sure how to hire the right agency, or they don’t have the budget for it.
My recommendation is to build the cost of an inbound partner into your project charter's conditions. Then, start slowly.
Before jumping to a full retainer, give potential partner agencies a test run with one-off workshops, mini-projects, and 90-day trials. If the collaboration still feels right after that, go for the bigger commitment.
And don’t overlook the value of informal partnerships. Inbound junkies like myself are always happy to swap HubSpot tips over coffee or trade blog posts.
The most ironic thing I can think of is a lonely inbound marketer. I started this article saying it, and I’ll finish by repeating it: “You are not alone!”
We’ve all been through the struggle of turning a HubSpot investment into maximum value, and from our numbers and experience comes great wisdom.
So reach out! (You can reach out to me right here.)