A guide to why, what and how to use inbound

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It's cheap, it drives long term results, and customers love it – can Inbound be the engine that drives you to new heights? By reading below, you'll have a good understanding of what Inbound is, how it helps you and how you can get started. Ultimately you'll attract more prospects and turn more of them into promotors of your business!



What is Inbound?

Many believe Inbound is a set of marketing tools and tactics to attract prospects to your organisation. But it is much more than this.


Inbound is making the shift in mindset to look outside your organisation and to learn 'how it is to be them', to understand the customer deeply and to be highly relevant. - Zooma

As you can see, Inbound does not revolve around a specific strategy or tactic. Put simply; it aims to maximise value for others while minimising friction.

If we consider the above definition, it becomes clear that Inbound focuses the marketing, sales and service departments on working towards the common goal of attracting, engaging and delighting customers.

While the departments work towards the common goals, they will still do this from their expertise, with marketing focusing on driving SQLs, sales concentrating on closing sales and the service department answering customer questions and solving customer problems.

So what does this mean? Let's compare Inbound to Outbound. And let's take Inbound marketing as an example.

Outbound marketing is the classic image people get when you tell them you work in marketing. They'll think of TV ads, billboards, cold calling, online pop-up banners, catalogues and more.

Generally, these forms of marketing interrupt people's experiences and are found quite annoying. While most of these ads are not measurable, online banners show this sentiment clearly. The average engagement rate is around 0.1%. That means 99.9% of people are needlessly interrupted.

Does this mean that Inbound marketing does not involve advertising? No. Advertising has its place in the Inbound methodology, but Inbound marketers use advertising quite differently.

Why should you use Inbound?

One of the main reasons is that the sales process has changed.

In the old days, sales reps had the power of information, and they were one of the few channels that customers could use to get expert advice.

In the current digital world, sales reps are just one of the many channels that customers can use to learn about their problem, find potential solutions and compare potential suppliers.

With the Inbound methodology, you serve the channels where the customer naturally goes to find information.

Besides this there are a host of other reasons to start with Inbound, namely:

  • Authority: Accurate content convinces visitors that they will do business with an expert.
  • New needs: With compelling content, you will be able to spark new demands within your target group.
  • Low cost: Inbound leads cost less and give better results than cold sales calls.
  • Convert prospects: Inbound makes it easy to identify and acquaint leads. The more you know, the easier it gets to create the right offers.
  • Ambassadors through content: Valuable content results in customers that promote your brand and products.
  • Global growth potential: Inbound marketing lets you reach a global audience.
  • Improvement through reports: Inbound is built on data and analytics, which are the basis for calculating ROI and improving communications.
  • Sales team efficiency: Thorough information about the leads enables your sales team to cross-sell and up-sell. 
  • Service team efficiency: Thorough customer information allows support automation and reduces inefficient communication.
  • Drive traffic through content: Blogs and offsite communication help you to get found organically.
  • Long term lead nurturing: Detailed lead information enables you to understand what your leads need to become a customer.

How does Inbound work?

Classic marketing principles use the marketing funnel, where the marketing and sales departments narrow down on a relatively small group of customers from a large group of prospects.

For the Inbound methodology, the flywheel was introduced.


The reason for the flywheel in relation to Inbound is that it takes quite some energy to get the flywheel moving, but once it is turning it is effortless to keep going and will keep running for a long time.

The same is true for Inbound, it takes some effort to produce results, but once it does, it will require less energy to keep going, and it will produce results for a long time.

So why is it then that some companies fail with Inbound? Read in this article, the main reasons why companies fail with Inbound.

How do you do Inbound marketing?

In short; you help your prospects overcome their challenges by guiding them through their buyer's journey and providing them with answers along the way. 

Practically, this means that when you start with inbound, you need to create a lot of valuable content and make this content easy to find in the places where your prospects would naturally look.

Valuable content, in this case, is content that answers questions that people might have at any stage of the buyer's journey.

Start of the buyer's journey

For people at the start of their buyer's journey, this would be content that helps them define what their actual challenge is.

Middle of the buyer's journey

For people in the middle of the buyer's journey, this would be content that helps them understand which options are out there that can help them overcome their challenge. And to help them make a pick.

End of the buyer's journey

Lastly, for people at the end of the buyer's journey, this is content that helps them decide which supplier is best suited to help them overcome their challenge.

As you can see, it will require some time and effort to set up this knowledge content and to make sure your prospective customers can easily find it. For this reason, it takes some effort to get the flywheel moving.

Learn more on how to create inbound marketing campaigns.

How do you do Inbound sales?

Inbound sales is focussed on the lead's unique situation and again providing value and removing friction.

In this case, you can provide them with the option on your website to book a meeting directly in your calendar. 

During the meeting, the goal is to understand the lead's unique situation. Therefore it is vital to ask lots of relevant questions. 

Here are some examples:

  • What challenges are you seeking to overcome with this product/service?
  • Why has it become essential to solve this challenge at this time?
  • What has prevented you from addressing this issue before now?
  • What happens if you ignore the problem?

When you deeply understand the lead, the natural next step is to use your expertise to provide the best solution. 

While it is essential to drive sales, occasionally your product will not be the best solution, and in this case, you should consider not pushing the sale. This way, you prove that you're trustworthy and likely gain a promoter and future referral traffic. 

The other option is that you make a sale now. Still, the customer might discover better choices down the road and either question your expertise and stop doing business with you, or worse, become disgruntled and actively discourage others from doing business with you.

How do you do Inbound service?

Simply said; by being there for your customers.

Make it easy for them to get answers when they have questions related to your product or service. You could do this by providing FAQs, videos and infographics to answer common questions. But also, knowledge articles are an excellent way for people to learn more about your product or service.

For customers that might have more complicated issues, you want to make sure that you offer them expert help through multiple channels, in real-time.

This might sound daunting at first, but through the data you have gathered, your service reps will easily be able to see what the customer has been looking at on your website and what prior contact they might have had. This way, a frictionless solution can be offered.

One additional important thing to consider at this stage is to collect feedback and reviews either in person or through an NPS survey. This information can be used as evidence for prospects and allows you to acknowledge potential points of improvement.

How do you get started with Inbound?

Learn about Inbound

Having read this far, you will already have a good understanding of the basics of Inbound. 

However, I can highly recommend you to head over to HubSpot Academy and follow the Inbound marketing certification course

The Inbound certification course is a two-hour course that runs you through the ins and outs of Inbound and allows you to do a one-hour exam at the end where you can test your new knowledge. 

If you get 70% of the questions right, you will be awarded a certificate from the HubSpot academy that you can showcase on your LinkedIn.

You can learn more about the Inbound certification and other courses in our article How to become inbound certified.

Build your team

To do Inbound well, you need a team that has the Inbound best practices in mind. Their goal needs to be to solve your customer's challenges and to remove friction along the way.

Ideally, you would have at least a strategist, designer, web developer, content creator, campaign manager, sales representative and service representative. But, this is merely a guideline. Realistically it will depend on the resources that you have available, the clients that you're serving, the availability of talent and how far you are into the transformation to Inbound.

If you're looking specifically how to build the Inbound marketing team, you'll be looking at hiring DARC talent (digital, analytical, reach, content). 

Assess your current situation

Before you can move forward, you need to know what resources and strengths you currently have and how you can leverage those.

To get an overview, answer the following questions: 

  • What are your current budgets? (People, tools, campaigns, etc.) 
  • What assets do you have? (Website, content, brand, teams, tools, etc.)  
  • How are they performing? 
  • What activities are you performing now?

Define your goals

What are your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals and business objectives? Generally speaking, this can be your vision and mission, but it is essential also to have more specific and measurable goals. 

You can use SMART goals for this: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely.

Clearly define the buyer persona and buyer journey

Learn who your customers are and what drives them. You can do this by researching their demographics, but more importantly, their psychographics. 

  • Personality characteristics
  • Lifestyle
  • Social class
  • Attitudes
  • Principles & beliefs 
  • Activities & Interests

The more you know about your ideal buyer, the easier it is to understand how they find products or services like yours. How they compare and consider solutions and how they decide which one to pick.

Build the Inbound plan

To come up with a good plan, you need to ask yourself many questions. Here are some examples: 

  • Why will customers buy from you? 
  • What tools will you use? 
  • What is your content plan? 
  • How often will you blog? 
  • Where can prospects find you? 
  • How can customers reach you? 
  • How will you generate leads? 
  • How will you reach out to leads? 

Build or adapt your website

Your website is the core of your Inbound efforts. Therefore it deserves a lot of love and attention before you proceed any further.

It should be well designed, easy to navigate, responsive, and SEO optimised, and ready for lots of content.

Publish content

It's time to get the flywheel spinning. The first few months will require a steady output of high-quality content to get some momentum going. We generally advise starting with a broad topic related to your product or service and creating a pillar page (like this one) and content cluster around it. This way, you will have a clear idea of what you can write about and provide your customers with all the answers surrounding the topic.

Promote your content

Great content that can not be found by anyone is useless. Most people write great content and then publish it to social media and wait for the leads to roll in. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Promotion requires a significant time investment, and some say you should spend the same amount of time on promoting your content as you have spent on creating the content.

For a well-rounded promotion plan, you can consider the following channels: Promoting and engaging on social media and relevant forums, reach out to and mention influencers, start email marketing and PPC ads.

Evaluate, test and report

You'll never do something perfectly in the first try. For this reason, it is crucial to have a look at it again at a later time and with new learnings to see how it can be improved. By testing, you'll quickly find out what works well and what doesn't. Usually, you can do at least two rounds of iterations with significant potential for improvement.

Is inbound perfect?

No, because:

  • Campaigns require a constant time investment to produce high-quality content. 

You mitigate this time investment by streamlining the content creation process. Work with a proven structure and use templates where possible. This way, you don't have to reinvent the wheel constantly.

  • Results may be difficult to measure, and effectiveness might only be apparent after many months.

Results will become considerably easier to measure if you use a fully integrated platform with closed-loop reporting, like HubSpot. 

  • Inbound requires an experienced and diverse team to handle design, content creation, SEO and social media management.

Fortunately, this does not mean you need a huge team, with the right training we have seen small teams achieve great results.

  • New Inbound campaigns usually focus too heavily on top of funnel activities.

While the top of the funnel is essential, consider that if these visitors don't convert you still end up without customers. This challenge is easily avoidable by making sure the bottom is set up right before you start pouring in traffic at the top.

  • The created content might not match well with the buyer journey, significantly losing effectiveness.

This challenge is overcome by writing content specifically with the buyer's persona in mind and at which step in the buyer's journey they currently are. Besides that this will make your content much more effective it also makes writing the content much easier, a double win!

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