hubspot is preparing for an initial public offering and with it, corporate validation of its inbound marketing philosophy. hubspot’s talking heads and their adherents condemn traditional marketing tactics, like advertising, telemarketing, and campaigns built on mailing lists, as “interruption marketing.”
now, however, critics are calling out the marketing automation firm for failing to walk the inbound walk with its own marketing. critics are asking the wrong question when they ask if inbound marketing can be profitable or why hubspot doesn’t rely solely on inbound tactics to build its business.
the real question:
does inbound marketing generate better leads?
headlines about the ROI of this or that marketing effort disguise the reality that marketing is not a question of profitability, but one of efficiency. marketing only gets prospects to the door. I am sure there are product categories where “getting found” is all it takes. I don’t know any offhand, and I know for sure I’ve never worked on one. For most of us, especially in the business-to-business arena, there’s a courtship dance of varying duration and complexity. that dance determines profitability.
want to evaluate inbound marketing?
ask these questions:
- do inbound tactics attract more leads than traditional methods
- do more of those leads close
- do they make the sales process easier
- do they result in an easier sale and/or higher price point
inbound is wall street-bound
mild annoyance with the company’s endless putdowns of outbound marketing (i.e., most traditional tactics) has given way to tougher questions about hubspot’s seeming reliance on outbound in its own marketing. tom webster claimed his post on convince and convert was not an indictment of inbound marketing, but statements like
…we also do not know the differential ROI between Inbound and Outbound efforts for HubSpot, though the necessity for the latter surely speaks to the limits of the former….
certainly make the piece an indictment of hubspot. the post comments make a fascinating read, with insights from all over the place, including copyblogger founder brian clark, who took a very different path to growth for his $10mm company. fellow commenters heap praise on clark for not taking outside investment for copyblogger, but he defends hubspot management’s choices as appropriate to the goal of becoming a billion dollar company.
although several commenters point out that inbound marketing is not the best route to rapid growth. there remains a sense throughout that hubspot is somehow hypocritical for not being purely inbound.
don’t look behind the curtain
I remember a friday afternoon in 2009. karen and mike were doing the hubspot.tv thing, preaching the gospel of inbound marketing. off to the side was a softly murmuring cube farm. “inbound consultants,” glowing blue in the light of the monitors, headsets perched jauntily on heads. we avoided looking at them too much, because watching the effort of converting leads who don’t necessarily know they’re in a funnel isn’t nearly as fun as watching the creation of buzz around a vision of effortless business development.
the theory makes sense. it is easier to sell something to someone who has expressed an interest in or a need related to a category that includes whatever it is you have for sale. inbound marketing is the process of getting those someones to express that interest or need to you. creating content that appears when a prospective customer searches for any term or phrase relating to your business. filling the gaps in search queries as they appear with new content or content adapted to the query.
and those stubbornly high marketing and sales costs?
the convince and convert piece, and a number of commenters, cite hubspot’s continued failure to contain marketing and sales costs as tacit admission that inbound marketing cannot attract the number of leads required or yield the promised savings. melissa breau offers another explanation in her blogged response to webster and baer. she points out that inbound marketing works best for niche players – organizations in well-defined verticals.
hubspot, breau continues, is trying to sell to everyone, not just these types of organizations. she identifies this as a strategic error. Remember what brian clark said, however. the rules are different when you are trying to build a billion dollar company. for all mike or brian’s blustery proclamations about the “death of outbound marketing,” they know as well as anyone that an effective marketing mix is just that – a blend of content and communications, optimized for the needs and wants of a target audience. when there are multiple targets with different issues and priorities, generalized outbound communications are an effective complement to inbound elements.
so yeah, paid search. yeah, referral partnerships (aka paid leads). and heck yeah, advertising to get name recognition going. coupon, anyone?