There are two things I’ve learned being a practitioner of inbound marketing for the last five years. First, it makes a big difference whether your marketing message is focused on satisfying a transactional need, or whether you are tending to the latent needs of your end customer through education. Second, inbound marketing – unlike traditional outbound marketing – introduces the unique ability to employ what I call an “agile marketing” strategy.
This requires actively listening to the data you can draw from your leads, creating a message that differentiates you from your competition, and making sure your products and services match their needs. The more latent your customer’s needs, the more you can benefit from agile marketing.
Shifting from a traditional outbound to an inbound marketing strategy requires you to accept the high likelihood that the market will “talk” to you with data whether you like it or not. In fact, there’s a good chance that it will tell you that what you think your potential customers need and how your product’s features can easily meet those needs is wrong. However, that’s a good thing!
The software industry has gone through many dramatic shifts that we can learn from and draw some analogy. In the “old days” when industries took a long time to change and software was not ubiquitous as it is today, software developers told us all what features were good for us. New software development would start with “requirements” that had to be nailed down in fine detail before development began. Then, engineers would build code that when assembled, would meet the documented “functional specifications”. Change after the specifications were “signed off on” was bad.
Well, we know the real world doesn’t work that way today. Over the past decade, software developers have embraced the dramatic shift to “agile development” and its cousins “scrum” and other dramatically different methods of developing software. What’s different? The first time users of new software try it, they almost often want changes. Today, that’s a good thing – not bad – when it comes to software development practices. End customers are brought in early and frequently thereafter during development.
They’re shown the software working at various stages. Their input is welcomed, not viewed as setback. By the time the software is completed, it’s hitting the bull’s eye in terms of usability and satisfaction, and achieving the results it was designed to achieve for its users. Additionally, the increased adoption rates of cloud-based SaaS solutions have led to highly collaborative relationships between end-users and developers. Technology platforms are no longer seen as systems that quickly gather dust on their way to obsolescence but rather as dynamic solutions that can – and should - evolve as quickly as the market demands.
What does this have to do with inbound marketing? It dawned on me recently that there is a strong analogy between what the software industry has learned and what anyone who has adopted an inbound marketing strategy will eventually learn like I did. Like in the old days of software development, we who have products to sell oftentimes think we’re confident we know what the market needs. Many times we do, but unfortunately that was yesterday’s market – not today’s fast paced global marketplace.
Inbound marketing techniques today give marketers and their firms the ability to employ what I call “agile marketing” strategies and tactics. At LogicBay, we learned that future buyers of our software want much different features in our product than our installed base – some of whom have been valued customers for over a decade. We are constantly evaluating and improving our software to meet the well-defined needs of our long-term customers. Being smart as we are, however, we assumed that “there must be many more customers like them out there we can sell to!” So, we did what we all do in the old days – develop marketing strategies to attract our assumed future customer, which coincidentally happens to mirror our current customers.
Taking a closer look at the lead data from our inbound systems told us a much different story. Real, serious potential buyers who were consuming our content and raising their hands to interact with us and explore our product had collectively much different needs than what software product could satisfy. Over time – and it took some time to collect the data – we realized we had a mismatch. We had a square-peg product for a round-hole problem. This is not to say we had a bad product, but rather we had done a poor job of making sure it was sufficiently aligned with the needs of our future customers.
The good news is that I’m writing about it because I’m proud of the fact that we figured it out. Today, our product is much more aligned with meeting the needs of our potential customers. It took a lot of interaction with leads during our inbound journey to give us enough data to figure it out and make the necessary adjustments to our product roadmap.
The bad news for inbound marketers is that you can expect that in many cases you too will have some humble pie to eat yourself. You too will read the data once you have enough of it and figure out that your view of the market may be off a bit – or a lot. However – here’s the good news – inbound marketing can and will illuminate what your future customer needs with great data. Guess who wins eventually? Your customers do because they can finally solve their business problems. You do because your product helped solved them.
So, like agile software development, consider inbound marketing your ticket to “agile marketing”. Inbound techniques and the data that you can mine over time provide you with valuable insight on the market and its collective customer needs that have not yet been met. Embrace it, don’t get frustrated by it! Build it into your expectations for what you get out of a solid inbound marketing strategy.