Inbound Marketing: How Long Does it Take to Work?

Posted by Rich McElaney

thinking about inbound marketing strategy

I attended a local Chamber networking event recently with just under two hundred people – it was the typical “speed networking” event where you rotate among tables of six to eight people and you get ninety seconds to deliver your compelling elevator speech.  You can usually tell how compelling your elevator statement was by the number of people who engage you in conversation either in the transition periods between moving to a new table or after the event.  (Note to self: I need more work on my elevator speech!)  I had several of these sidebar discussions and other than the typical “How much does this stuff cost?” I was just as frequently asked “How long does it take for Inbound Marketing to work?”

After I answered this question for the third or fourth time I thought it would be beneficial to use this blog and take a deeper dive on the underlying components that affect the answer. With so many variables affecting performance, it’s not a question easily answered – at least not without a lot of two-way dialog between the client and the Inbound Marketing service provider.  I’m going to tackle them in the sequence that seems most natural for me – you may come at these points differently but the most important thing is to uncover and address these issues.

  1. Setting Expectations. When I heard the word “work”, my first thought was – what does “work” mean? I assume the questioner is talking about performance and usually that’s the case – and if so, exactly what type of performance is expected? Talking about expectations up front can bring some much needed clarity to the planning process and can also start the development of solutions that align with expectations – as long as they are realistic expectations.

  2. Prioritizing Objectives.  This step presumes that the client has already established clear, written business objectives (if not, it would be necessary to get this critical step completed before moving on). Working from clear business objectives makes it a whole lot easier to establish Inbound Marketing objectives that will support and help achieve the bigger business objectives. This step also helps curb the natural desire to play with shiny new toys (the latest platform or app) before achieving success with the foundational pieces that drive success.

  3. Client Commitment/Cultural Commitment.  I recall a conversation I had with a prospective client whose fundamental thought process was: “You’re the expert and you’re going to come in and make things happen and we’ll watch the revenue grow.”  (It wasn’t this obvious but you get the general idea!) The opposite of this stance is true – the leaders of the business or organization must support and be committed to Inbound Marketing in order for it to produce sustained results.  Support from the leaders is the catalyst for the cultural support that’s also critical for success. The organization and all its functional areas – sales, marketing, customer service, R&D – have to support the inbound initiative or it will lose its efficacy in driving change.

  4. Willingness to Experiment. Inbound marketing affords the opportunity to experiment with many things: landing page variations, timing of blog posts, keyword topics, content distribution choices, calls to action, contests – the list is pretty deep. The client should have enough flexibility to experiment with various combinations to see what yields the best results.  It takes time to systematically work through the testing-refining-rollout cycle.

  5. Setting Milestones.  Milestones provide a sense of moving forward, a sense of achievements – even if they unfold in small increments.  It’s important to set and track milestones to keep everyone focused and comforted by the fact that progress is being made. This is critically important in the early stages of an Inbound Marketing strategy where a lot of foundation building is occurring – setting up social media accounts, installing and integrating apps and tools, developing publication calendars etc.

  6. Patience. While setting and prioritizing objectives, eliciting cultural commitment, experimenting and setting milestones are all important contributors to the success of an Inbound Marketing strategy, there has to be an underlying belief that the effort is going to work. It’s a long-term buy-in on the merits of Inbound Marketing. The deeper the belief – the greater the patience to see it through.

Tags: business objectives, inbound marketing milestones, inbound marketing strategy, inbound marketing