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By  John Hodge 

If you work with clients who are curious about inbound marketing you’ve probably heard them ask how long it takes. You might tell them that it takes a number of months before you actually start seeing a return. And, you might feel a little uneasy about giving them an exact date when they’ll start seeing some action because you don’t want to make promises you can’t keep.

So, maybe you tell them that the speed of the return is tied to the aggressiveness of the strategy. Understandably, you might feel like this is a little vague. Well, you’re not alone. Chances are the prospect feels the same way.

The good news is it’s vague for a reason. So, let’s pick this question apart and talk about a good way to answer it.

How long does inbound marketing take?

The Thing is, This Question is Vague, How Long Does Inbound Take to do What?

If a prospect starts talking about how long something’s going to take before that something has been determined, then we’re not off to a great start.

Remember this tweet?

To the prospects asking how long inbound marketing takes: Inbound Marketing isn’t the thing that “takes” any amount of time. It’s the goals that take time.

So the question should actually be “How long does it take to achieve X goal?”

If we at least know how to ask that question, we’re in pretty good shape. The next step will be figuring out how that goal will play with the current state of our website, lead generation, social media following, or whatever else is relevant to it.

Understandably, if we want to generate 100 leads per month and we’ve historically been generating 0, it could take a long, long time.

Alternatively, if the goal is to increase leads by 20% and we have clearly defined initiatives that have been generating them in the past, then we can accurately gauge how much of an increase in marketing velocity will be needed to support that goal. Consequently, nailing down a timeline will be much easier than in the first example.

Speaking of Nailing Down a Timeline, Here’s a Timeline of Marketing

Inbound marketing isn’t a practice that is ever completed. It’s not like you’re going to implement inbound marketing in a few days and think:

“Hey, we did it, we’re done. Nice work everyone. Let’s pack it in and go home.”

If this all sounds pretty basic, let’s look at some issues to avoid in goal setting. With that established, we can get on with setting goals, implementing a strategy that supports them, and launch and adjust to drive success.

Common Issues I See Early On with Goal Setting for Inbound Marketing

Here are a few of the biggest issues I see when setting goals with clients.

  • We don’t have a starting point to base future growth because we don’t have conversion or customer data broken up by default channel group or campaign
  • Filters aren’t in place to ensure the data we’re observing is relevant website traffic
  • We simply don’t have any tag management processes set up at all

With issues like the ones above, our first set of goals will be to set up our website and backend tools to capture information that we can use for setting realistic goals in the future.

How Long does it Take to Be Ready to Set Up Goals?

This depends on how much needs to be done. For instance, if you need to rework your website conversion paths to support goals in Google Analytics, this could take a pretty long time to get spun up.

For most other projects, about a couple of weeks will be spent sharing access to tools and auditing them. Then, another few days will be spent configuring them and integrating them together. Lastly, we’ll need to generate data to base future goals upon. In this case, it will take at least one year to have rock solid data.

That said, you can start setting goals after a quarter, just be aware that if your industry is seasonal these goals will be somewhat anecdotal.

Bringing it All Together

From here, it’s a matter of adjusting our marketing to meet our goals. Quarterly goal setting should get better, quarter over quarter. We’ll uncover issues, align sales and marketing, push more leads, or push fewer but more qualified leads. We’ll stop doing certain marketing initiatives that aren’t paying off and have strong data to guide our strategy.

And our inbound marketing strategies will get stronger and stronger the longer we work on them.

So, to answer the question “how long does inbound marketing take?”, the answer is “it depends on how strong you want your strategies to be.

By John Hodge 

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