We’re a multi-talented bunch, uFs content marketers. We create valuable, relevant content that hits just the right note with our target audience.
We devise strategies that smooth the customer journey, boost conversions and give the brands we work for the competitive edge. But ask any marketer what their biggest pain point is and they are likely to say it is proving their inbound marketing strategy is working to the powers that be.
One of the main reasons why inbound programs fail to take off is they take so long to show a concrete return on investment. But inbound marketing is a long game, there’s no way around it. Content marketers understand this, but we need to be able to help our bosses, and their bosses' bosses understand that too.
This article will explore the full process of how to deal with slow ROI on your inbound marketing activities. We’ll look at ways to audit and measure your performance and ROI so you know that your inbound strategy is really working.
We’ll look at the reports and metrics that can prove that your strategy is heading in the right direction. We’ll then reveal some of the best ways to keep senior leaders on board with your inbound strategy while it’s still taking shape and finding its rhythm.
We won’t necessarily be able to help you speed up your inbound marketing ROI. In fact, that approach could actually be detrimental in the long run.
However, we will give you the tips and guidance you need to effectively share important milestones in your journey and we’ll help you identify the best benchmarks to use as you grow your inbound marketing program.
It’s all about connecting your ROI with your wider customer journey and being able to make sense of your results so you can improve your performance and maintain that competitive edge.
Let’s get started.
How do I know that my inbound marketing strategy is working?
Patience isn’t always an achievable virtue in today’s marketing world. It’s normal to feel under pressure to get quick results that will validate your strategy and tactics.
But just because a lead doesn’t convert immediately or doesn’t follow the carefully-planned buyer journey you laid down for them, doesn’t necessarily mean your content isn’t resonating or that you are barking up the wrong tree.
Instead of focusing on quick wins from your inbound content marketing campaigns try to view each activity as part of your long-term brand and business development strategy.
Speedy conversions are wonderful but if you don’t give customers good reasons to stick around, that glorious finish line you got them over will start to look a bit droopy.
B2B marketing is all about building long-lasting relationships where you continue to add value and you work hard to understand your customer’s needs as they evolve. That’s where real customer satisfaction, retention, and advocacy lies.
To understand if your inbound strategy is working, you need to look at the long-term impact of all your activities combined. Identifying and monitoring KPIs is one of the most effective ways of gauging your campaign’s success. And it just so happens we have a handy blog that can put you on the right track.
When you have finished this article, grab yourself a caffeine/sugar fix and take a look at our guide on how to determine and measure inbound marketing KPIs for the complete lowdown.
What are the best ways to measure long-term ROI in inbound marketing?
While inbound marketing is one of the more challenging programs to measure, many marketers struggle to report on ROI across the full gamut of their marketing plan. In fact, according to HubSpot 40% of marketers said their biggest marketing challenge is proving ROI.
However, there are a number of useful metrics to use to calculate ROI. Even from the early days of your inbound marketing program, these will help you ensure you continue to optimize your campaigns, understand your audience, and plan your budget and resources.
Here are some factors to take into account when measuring inbound marketing ROI:
Focus on the long game
Try not to get too distracted with short-term metrics like conversions and downloads. While these are important, they are just one element in your sales and marketing strategy.
They will only reveal how your business is performing right now. Far better to focus on metrics and benchmarks that will help you develop your brand and show you have a firm understanding of your audience and how best to serve them.
Break down ROI for different inbound marketing activities
Some content formats such as blogs take longer to percolate through your marketing channels. Others take more time to produce and/or require additional technical support (video, for example) so the investment or cost will be higher. Reporting on inbound marketing ROI under one umbrella, or even for each campaign could make it difficult to really understand what is working, and what isn’t.
Segment performance for each marketing channel
Keep an eye on how each channel is performing in relation to KPIs. Do you need more landing pages to generate social media engagement? Are your SEO tactics driving the right kind of traffic?
Remember ROI doesn’t always relate to sales
We’ve all seen the stats about how much it costs to acquire a new customer compared to retaining one, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating.
The lifetime value, advocacy, business referrals, and ongoing partnerships with long-term customers are the backbone of your business and should be considered an integral part of your inbound marketing ROI.
Set inbound marketing benchmarks
Establishing benchmarks for the different stages of the sales funnel is a great way of monitoring your performance. It also helps you to map your content to customer journeys and identify areas for improvement or successes to capitalize on.
Try not to let yourself get frustrated if you don’t see the results you want or if your campaigns don’t wind up resonating in the way you hoped. Check out our blog on how to set realistic inbound marketing expectations.
What are the best ways to report on inbound marketing ROI?
By now, hopefully, you’ll have some ideas on what aspects of your inbound marketing ROI to report on. Now we would like to offer some advice on how to share these milestones and results with management in a way that paints the right picture.
This is your chance to explain the broader goals of your inbound program and what your analytics are really saying about your performance.
So, how do you demonstrate that you’re on track? And if you’re off-track, how do you communicate that effectively and get back where you want to be?
Remember that even though you know the ins and outs of inbound marketing, your bosses may not have the first idea. Or they may not understand the nuances of this particular approach.
Therefore, when you are reporting on inbound marketing ROI it is important that you educate your bosses on the value of gently coaxing leads through the buyer journey rather than slam-dunking them with H2-handed content that might alienate them.
If they need convincing, ask them what kind of sales calls they appreciate. No doubt they aren’t fans of the pushy hard sell and prefer a more consultative, value-driven approach.
You could also reinforce your standpoint by showing them that a recent study from Invesp found that 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus advertisements.
The figures your leadership team is most likely interested in are outgoing costs and incoming sales. It’s your job to bridge the gap with the other metrics that make inbound marketing valuable.
Arm yourself with the metrics that tell your inbound marketing story, and take the time to explain the need for patience with some of the campaigns that will take longer to mature.
Reports from your analytics dashboards should play a key role in your management updates, especially those showing performance over time. Website visits, social media referrals, downloads, and time on site are all great metrics. Head back over to our KPI blog for a reminder on what to include.
Always give context to your findings and check these reports that management wants to see. If not, what would they find more useful and why? The more you communicate your inbound strategy, the more they will understand the challenges of delivering concrete ROI, especially early in the program.
Optimizing your inbound marketing as your campaigns mature
We’ve already mentioned the importance of being patient when it comes to inbound marketing ROI. Think customer lifetime value rather than simply chalking up another sale. Remember, you can be doing plenty to optimize your inbound marketing campaigns while they bed-in and you wait for ROI to pick up.
Gather your team and look at how you can increase the contribution of your current inbound assets to your demand gen strategy. We’re willing to bet there are plenty that could be repurposed or reused.
Perhaps there are low to medium-performing blogs that you could adapt into a more compelling format. Or perhaps you could capitalize on the success of some of the articles that got great engagement with some targeted advertising. Seize this opportunity to experiment and try out new approaches.
As long as you listen to your audience, monitor engagement, and adapt your strategy accordingly, you shouldn’t go far wrong.
Make sure you continually evaluate and re-evaluate the customer journey and link through to your lead gen materials. It should all connect, and in that way, inbound is just one part of the whole journey.
The aforementioned report by Invesp revealed properly executed inbound marketing is 10x more effective for lead conversion than outbound. Your inbound marketing program may have its challenges, but there is no denying the opportunities it presents, too.