5 Reasons Why Your Team Gets Stuck With Inbound Marketing


You can find more of our stories on the P9 Capital Medium Channel.


Some months ago I shared a graphic showing what an Inbound Journey for a SaaS startup might look like.

The most questions I received were about the reasons why you get stuck in some stages and how to solve that. So I’m answering them now and here is the list of the 5 most common problems I’ve seen among teams and some hints on how to solve them.

[I’m sharing these but in any case I pretend that it’s easy to get unstuck and I myself continue to fall in these traps. It’s not because you’ve managed to stop smoking that you won’t ever smoke again :-)]

1 — You didn’t find your marketing “North Star” yet

Stage

Very common during the “stagnation” stage. The majority of startups experiences it.

Symptoms

  • Your are mostly copying (or following the footsteps of) what the competition or other “thought leaders” already do
  • You quickly run out of ideas / topics on which to write. You need to think a lot about what to write.
  • 50 other startups out there already have the same approach / type of brand you’re building
  • your content is focused on “yourself” (your “tool”)

Problem and solutions

The problem here is that you didn’t find your “North Star” yet. The content narrative around your brand and product.

As I’ve explained in the post, finding your own original ‘content narrative’ is one of the hardest part in your inbound journey because it has to be aligned with your product philosophy, your customers’ profile and your company culture.

The major takeaway is that it’s the responsibility of the whole company to find and agree on a narrative and not solely the marketing team. Keeping the inbound marketing decisions in a “silo” is probably the reason #1 why you can get stuck there.

Either the founders have a strong opinion on what the narrative of the startup should be and it permeates the whole company (product, sales, marketing, support) or, if it’s not the case, the whole company should work on this aspect.

Many companies have actually no company culture and, in that case, it’s extremely hard to come up with an exciting narrative that will echo not only with the customers but also with the company mission and the team.

2- You don’t adapt your distribution playbook fast enough

Stage

Can be at any stage.

Symptoms

  • You’ve followed step by step the advice of articles explaining “How we got X visits from Product Hunt” or “How we reached pos #1 on Hacker News” and it doesn’t seem to work.
  • The tactics you’ve used to be successful on some distribution channels quickly don’t work anymore (sharing circles, click-bait titles, specific types of posts etc…)

Problem and solutions

The problem is that the inbound marketing landscape is becoming hyper competitive:

  • more and more content is shared by thousands of startups / brands every day
  • more and more knowledge is available to anyone, so the successful tactics are quickly adopted by many startups and hence become less effective
  • readers get quickly tired of “content fads”

Just take an article explaining how to be successful on Product Hunt which dates back to last year. In one year PH has updated its voting algorithm, is not showing every submitted startup on the homepage anymore, some members have now more power etc. etc. So many of these articles are now irrelevant.

Same thing for “click-bait” style titles on Twitter. It works well until the next generation of “click-bait” titles comes to replace it.

The solutions:

  • always be ahead of the pack and find new creative ways to leverage these channels (and write an article explaining how you did it, but be the first).
  • detect new promising distribution channels and leverage them before they get crowded. Or use more “niche” channels.
  • be patient and develop a “real strong” following / community around your brand so you don’t depend 100% on external channels.

3- You focus too much on the “direct conversion” metric

Stage

Can be at any stage.

Symptoms

  • “Clément, I don’t understand why we don’t have more people signing up directly from our articles. Is inbound marketing really worth it? It doesn’t convert so much.”

Problem and solutions

Just look at the numbers from Buffer’s blog for april 2014:

  • 729,832 unique visitors
  • 1,604 conversions (= signups)

Yes, you read it right. Out of 700k visitors Buffer directly converted 1.6k people to signing up on their product.

Does it prevent Buffer from writing content? Certainly not:

  • direct conversion only tells part of the story. It doesn’t track all the people that got to know Buffer through their articles and then signed up month laters (= my case) / or on different devices.
  • in a startup everything is about “learning” and doing inbound marketing also forces you to think a lot about your customers (what they want, the values they are sensible to, the problems they have etc…), about your product (how to speak about it, how to sell it…) and more. So it’s not only about “direct signups”.
  • it’s good for “brand building” and in a more and more competitive landscape the “brand” asset becomes more and more important.

4- You don’t put enough resources in it

Stage

Generally happens during the strategy reboot. The majority of startups experiences it.

Symptoms

  • You’ve been successful with content marketing but suddenly you notice a content production drop from your content team.

Problem and solutions

Very often, at early stage, startups manage to be successful at content marketing with one or two marketers because they are focus like hell on several channels / tactics only.

But as a startup grows (it finds product-market fit, acquires more customers, builds a better brand etc.) its ‘needs’ also evolve and get thicker: content for white papers, for customer success, for landing pages, for its newsletter but also for tasks evolving around content like seo audit, better distribution, optimisation etc.

What was feasible by a small team by only focusing on a kick-ass blog / or by focusing on specific distribution channels is suddenly not possible anymore. Your “focused” content writer needs to fulfil more different tasks, to manage and follow “real” campaigns and as a consequence cannot be as productive as before.

It’s time for you to hire more people.

5- Inbound marketing is not for you

Inbound marketing is not a silver bullet. It’s not the solution to all your problems. Embrace it and do it because you really believe in it and have something special to communicate to an audience through that.

Otherwise focus on other stuff, there’s plenty of other things your marketing team can do and plenty of startups are performing very well without inbound.