Updated: Dec 15, 2020
In this step-by-step inbound marketing guide, you will learn how inbound marketing methodology works and how you can use it to grow your business online by crafting high converting sales and lead generation funnels.
I’ll show you bulletproof inbound marketing examples to increase traffic and convert visitors into high qualified leads.
You will be able to craft a successful multichannel digital marketing strategy to attract customers on a consistent basis and smash the competition by moving their audience onto your platforms.
In addition, I’ll teach you how to shift your funnel-based marketing model to the modern flywheel-based marketing model.
Table of contents
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INBOUND AND OUTBOUND MARKETING
Who invented inbound marketing?
The term “inbound marketing” was first mentioned in 2005 by the co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan.
In a 2007 interview, Brian Halligan revealed what inbound marketing means and why it represents the reason why HubSpot came to life: a full-stack inbound marketing software for marketing, sales and customer service, with a completely free CRM (Customer Relationship Management) at its core.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a process enabling businesses to attract customers on a consistent basis by pulling the demand through relevant content and meaningful experiences.
The Inbound Methodology builds tailored connections with potential buyers and provides solutions to problems that they already have.
Inbound marketing is founded on all those activities meant to attract and retain consumers like:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization);
Personalized UX (User Experience);
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing is represented by interruptive marketing activities meant to reach potential buyers.
While inbound marketing is customer-centric, outbound marketing is marketer-centric and it starts from the company towards its audience. It includes traditional and digital forms of marketing, like:
Print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine ads, flyers, brochures, catalogs...);
Cold-calling (outbound sales calls);
Cold emails (spam);
Online intrusive and interruptive advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads, video ads and so on).
Is outbound marketing dead?
Outbound marketing is not dead and it can still be effective when done correctly. The best strategy starts with an inbound marketing approach and supports it with outbound marketing activities.
Keep reading and discover how to do it right.
HOW TO CRAFT AN INBOUND MARKETING STRATEGY
Your objective is to create a marketing system that automatically generates profit over time. It means you need to put in place an ecosystem that attracts visitors and locks them in.
It’s not a stealing if consumers want to stay in your ecosystem by their own will, right?
We can modernize and substitute the traditional Inbound Methodology with a flywheel and divide an inbound marketing strategy into a loop composed of three phases:
Determine your target audience
An inbound marketing strategy consists of creating a system to attract visitors, but you don’t want to attract just anyone.
You want to focus your budget and assets only on potential buyers. In other words, you want to tailor this strategy for the people who are more inclined to buy your product or service.
In technical jargon, these people are called prospects or, according to HubSpot, buyer personas.
A useful resource I give you to cover this topic is my full guide on market segmentation which you can use to identify the most profitable niche for your business.
With this clear, the only way to attract prospects is to feed them with valuable and relevant content.
Download my free buyer persona worksheet and craft the perfect elevator pitch in 4 easy steps!
Determine if the prospect has a problem you can solve
According to Internet Live Stats, 5.5 billion searches are done on Google every day in 2020. In other words, Google processes over 63,000 search queries per second.
Users are constantly seeking content, whatever it is: entertainment, services, products, reviews, knowledge (e-learning, information...), videos, comparisons, tutorials and so on.
They do it, because they constantly have problems to solve.
Can your company solve their problems?
If you can’t solve their problems, you shouldn’t waste time and money trying to communicate with them. You should attract and engage with prospects who have a problem synced with what your company offers or who may need help for the foreseeable future.
How can you create the right content for the right audience?
Understand the role of consumers in the purchasing process
Let’s say you are The Electric Toy Company and want to monetize Doug dug. The majority of people who play this video game are children (users), but they are not the actual buyers.
Children don’t have access to money and they need their parents to make a purchase.
In this example, The Electric Toy Company wants to target children with its marketing efforts and leverage them into squeezing money out of their parents (buyers).
Understanding the role of consumers during the purchasing process is fundamental to craft the best inbound marketing strategy.
Even if buyers are the ones who actually pay for your products or services, it doesn’t mean you should always target them with your inbound marketing strategy.
Understand where your prospect is in the decision making process
Another fundamental aspect of an inbound marketing strategy is personalization. There are many ways to personalize content and the higher the degree, the higher the costs.
What’s the bare minimum degree of personalization for your content?
The answer is strictly related to the buyer's readiness or, in other words, where the prospect is in the decision making process. The image below represents the different stages of buyer’s readiness according to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller:
Willing to buy;
Some people are unaware of your product or service, some are aware, some are informed, some are interested, some desire it and some intend to buy.
It’s very difficult to produce a piece of content where you raise awareness, desire and willingness to buy, all together!
This process doesn’t work if you sell commodities, though. In this case, consumers will make their decision just based on price.
You must tailor the communication and channel of your content strategy according to each stage of the buyer journey.
For example, to raise awareness you can start a marketing campaign with social influencers. You can partner with them to create a valuable piece of content where they promote your product or service in a non-disruptive or interruptive way.
Their followers will discover your brand and become aware of your product/service.
A call to action in a blog post can move users from the informed stage to the interested stage. You want to create blog posts to attract visitors from search engines, like Google.
Users search for keywords to find out possible solutions to their problem. If your blog post is relevant and matches their intent, it will show up in the search results and users will click on it.
Then, if they understand you are capable of solving their problem, you can use call to actions to move them to the next stage.
For instance, if you are reading this blog post because you want to learn how to craft a bulletproof inbound marketing strategy, well then guess what? I’m a digital marketer who sells consultancy services.
So, here you have the choice to learn and build the strategy by yourself or schedule a 1-hour consultancy with me and solve the problem in a blink.
Recapping this step, you need to personalize your content distribution channels and communication according to the buyer’s readiness:
If your prospect is in the awareness stage, it means they have a problem they want to solve, but haven't decided upon a solution or searched for a possible vendor. The marketing team should keep nurturing these prospects till they move forward in the buyer journey. Sales reps shouldn’t pitch them, but if they do, salespeople must have an extremely light touch;
If your prospect is in the consideration stage, it means they are aware of the problem and are willing to spend time and effort to find a possible solution. They are actively seeking content that helps them understand what it takes (in terms of commitment) to achieve a resolution;
If your prospect is in the decision stage, it means they have thoroughly researched their problem and potential solutions. They are selecting vendors, so this is the time for the sales rep to step in.
EXAMPLES OF ATTRACTING INBOUND MARKETING STRATEGIES
When and why you should start a blog… or shouldn’t
One of the most popular inbound marketing strategies is to start a blog and leverage SEO to funnel users from search engines.
Entrepreneurs usually get excited about this topic, because they think if they publish a ton of content about their product or service, visitors will start flowing!
But they have no idea what it takes to succeed!
In fact, the majority of them don’t know blogging best practices and waste loads of money on content that no one will ever see.
In this article, I will not explain how to write and optimize a blog post, but I will teach you what types of blogging strategy your business needs.
Do you really need a blog?
You run a business and its ultimate goal is to make money.
Are you able to make money with a blog?
According to Worldometers, about 7.5 million blog posts are published every day in 2020. It means that you must be ready to compete with fists and fangs to appear in the search results.
Consider that only 7% of users visit the second page of the search results (Google Survey by Moz, 2019) and only 0.78% of them click on something from the second page (Google CTR Statistics by Backlinko, 2019).
It means you only win when your blog post appears in the first SERP (Search Engine Results Pages).
If you don’t receive enough traffic, it’s impossible to monetize your blogging efforts and drive ROI (Return On Investment).
In addition, when you do content marketing (in this case, blogging), you literally compete with anyone who publishes content on the web.
While in the pre-Internet era the most important factor was space (just think of an advertorial on a magazine for example), now the most valuable element is the attention of your users.
You don’t compete to get more real estate, because you can publish whatever you want online. You are competing to get users’ attention: this is the most precious asset for a content marketer.
People are continuously consuming content, but they only have a limited amount of time in their days.
Another important factor to consider before you start a blog is the long term results.
According to a study conducted by Ahrefs in 2020, it takes at least 650 days to rank in the top 10 of the SERP.
How long it takes to get actual SEO results depends on many different factors, one of them being the degree of content competition in your industry.
In the same study, Ahrefs shows that it is actually possible to rank in the top ten of the SERP in less than a year, but the percentage of success is low.
Here is a list of factors to consider before you start a blog:
Pick a niche with low competition, but high traffic potential. If your blog doesn’t get traffic, it is impossible to monetize in the future. In this phase, use these free tools: Google Trends (to compare trends between keywords), Exploding Topics (to see trends between topics) and Ubersuggest (to see the competition and traffic potential of each keyword);
Prepare to invest a lot of money in good content creators (copywriters, designers and so on) capable of publishing something unique, extensive (at least 3,000 words) and optimized for search engines;
Prepare to invest in web design to get a high performing UX (User Experience). If your content is good, but the user experience sucks, visitors bounce back and your blogging efforts are useless. To optimize your user experience, use this freemium tool, HotJar: with heatmaps, recordings and many other features, it allows you to improve the efficiency of your design;
Prepare to invest in on-page and off-page SEO activities;
It is useless to use intrusive advertising campaigns to promote your blog posts (e.g. with Google Ads, Facebook Ads...). Focus on SEO and user intent, instead;
Expect results after 6 or 12 months.
Do you have an alternative to in-house blogging?
The truth is that you can exploit other already established blogs to attract visitors to your website.
When your industry is already packed with content, you shouldn’t start your own blog. You should search for partnership with other blogs that already have a relevant and consistent flow of traffic.
You can create win-win relationships by guest blogging or guest posting. This strategy consists of creating amazing content by a third party blog.
In this way, you invest money in the creation of the content, but all the other expenses are on your partner.
You get publicity and they get precious content to publish.
The second alternative is to pay for an advertorial or a mention in an online article. Popular sites like Forbes, Weird and Business Inside can ask for thousands of dollars for a publication.
Is this approach more expensive?
It depends. If you want to achieve results fast, it is more convenient to pay for publications or establish guest blogging agreements.
If you start your own blog, you should also seek these kinds of partnership for off-page SEO purposes. So, at the end, in-house blogging is really really expensive to me.
Just to be clear: if you are the kind of entrepreneur who thinks that paying a couple of dollars for a 500-word blog post written by some cheap professional on Fiverr can make a difference, this inbound marketing guide is not for you.
Social Media Strategy: what it takes to do it well
The second example of inbound marketing strategy to attract your potential buyers is social media management (SMM).
This is something I'm pretty charged up about.
There is a lot of confusion on how to do proper social media marketing and, in my professional experience, many entrepreneurs end up wasting money by publishing irrelevant and low quality content.
Social media marketing is not only about publishing content.
In this section, I will teach you what it really takes to set up a social media strategy correctly.
74% of global marketers continue to invest in social media marketing (source: HubSpot research: global survey 2019 and published on Not another state of marketing report in 2020).
It means that companies see an actual value in doing so, otherwise investments would have dropped.
So, how can a company decide on which social media platform to invest in first?
If you are a small business, you can’t spread the budget among multiple platforms, because you risk running out of cash without achieving results.
If you have a limited budget, you should focus on the platforms (even just one) where your target audience is.
In other words, if you target Millennials, you should think of Facebook and Instagram. Instead, if you target Generation Z, Facebook is not relevant anymore and you might want to focus on Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok.
But keep in mind that focus is the key. As I always say (and I quote myself):
It’s better to be Batman in one platform rather than Captain Underpants in all of them.
In all likelihood, if I look at your website, I will find the link to your four or five social media profiles. If you don’t have thousands of engaged followers in all of them, it is useless that you show them.
A social media marketing strategy aims at engaging with a community of potential buyers and establishing a two way communication.
It’s not about promoting the company. It’s about how your company can help your prospects, in terms of customer service, knowledge, entertainment or whatever your company is all about.
Instead of promoting 4, 5 or 6 social media platforms on your website, funnel your visitors into just one or two. You will get results faster. Besides, your brand equity will benefit too: no one likes to visit your platforms and see zero engagement.
Let’s see on what social media platforms other marketers are having results.
In the same 2019 global survey mentioned before, HubSpot interviewed over 3,400 marketers worldwide and found the top three social media platforms per investment were Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The same undisputed top three also won the survey on which social media channel drives more ROI. But let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
Laymen would think that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are always the most powerful channels to drive ROI. But I would say otherwise.
This survey interviewed approximately 3,400 global marketers who work for companies in different industries. If you check the demographics, HubSpot considered:
33.37% B2B companies;
54.76% B2C companies;
7.4% non-profit or governative organizations.
Now that you have this data in the picture, everything is clear.
LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are typically effective for B2B companies, but they represent only 33% of the respondents.
Yet in 2015, Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs surveyed 1,521 North American B2B marketers and found out that 66% of them consider LinkedIn the most effective social media channel (followed by Twitter, 55%, and YouTube, 51%).
The bottom line is that you need to test and find out by yourself the social media channels that best fit your company.
After choosing your social media platforms, what kind of content will you produce and how many times per day will you publish?
Entrepreneurs often ask me how many times per week they should publish and I always reply that it depends.
Do you have something relevant and useful to say?
Customers must be the subject and center of your marketing efforts, you should publish content that is only relevant for them.
So, forget about your offers, the features of your product and how nice and good your company is. Focus on your buyer personas, their needs and wants.
For this reason, there is no perfect timing or quantity of content that you should publish.
If you have the resources to produce content that matches prospects’ intent, you can publish every single minute of the day.
If your audience loves your content, loves what you do, engages in conversations on a consistent basis: the sky’s the limit.
The secret is being consistent. Social media management is a long-term marketing strategy. Expect substantial results after 12 months or more.
I shouldn’t mention it, because everyone knows it, but social media is paid media.
Social media is paid media if you want to do business. So, prepare to sponsor your posts too, because you won’t be able to achieve any results with only organic reach.
In 2018, Facebook organic reach of a business page was about 6.4% of the page’s total likes (source: 2018 Q3 Global digital statshot by We Are Social and Hootsuite). This number is decreasing year after year.
Diego Santos Sicardo, campaign and social media strategist at HubSpot, in Not another state of marketing report published by HubSpot in 2020, stated that:
Brands will need to develop their own personality and set of values in order to be able to have meaningful one-on-one interactions. That’s how they will stand out in a world of noise and limited attention. Small and authentic will win over big and generic every time. Want more specifics? Pay attention to private groups, micro-influencers and social movements that are relevant to your brand.
Here is a step by step mini-guide on how to streamline your social media content production:
Craft the editorial plan and share it with your social media team by using Google Sheets. I always suggest creating a 2 or 3 month plan;
Produce your content: images, videos, texts, links…;
Use Hootsuite to schedule your content and distribute it across your social media channels;
Sponsor the most relevant content with paid ads (you may want to attain more engagement, generate leads, drive traffic to your website and much more);
Keep track of your performance and analyze deeply the results of your efforts at the end of every editorial plan cycle. Usually, each social media platform has its own analytics. I recommend Google Data Studio to create a dashboard with relevant KPIs from all the different platforms used. You will have all of your data gathered together in a single dashboard that updates in real-time. You will never need to create annoying reports or switch from one analytics to another;
Do the math, improve or pivot your content strategy and repeat this list from number one.
Social media marketing is not only useful to attract new potential customers, but you can also use it to convert prospects from one stage to another during their entire journey.
Download my free content mapping template and craft stunning content according to the buyer’s readiness!
MARKETING FUNNEL VS INBOUND MARKETING FLYWHEEL
From 2018, a deep crisis in trust shook our world and shifted the way consumers interact with brands.
The same CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan, explained this shift during the Inbound 2018 Keynote at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
He demonstrated how businesses grow better by moving from the funnel to the flywheel.
Flywheel is a term borrowed from the industrial revolution of the 18th century to indicate a mechanism able to produce, store, and release rotational energy efficiently. The Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, James Watt, improved and used the flywheel as a key element in his steam engine which symbolized the whole industrial revolution.
Halligan showed how trust in marketers and salespeople had dramatically dropped and how consumers trusted their peers to make purchase decisions.
In 2019, Ipsos surveyed online 19,587 people across 23 countries and found that marketers and sales reps are only followed by politicians. In other words, consumers don’t trust businesses anymore.
The reality is that people trust peers. People got so used to sales and marketing tactics that, subconsciously, they have developed an aversion.
Purchase decisions are made based on word of mouth
According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, the third most credible category of people is represented by our peers (friends, colleagues, relatives, partners and so on).
Back in the ‘90s, sales reps had more information than consumers and they leveraged this gap to create a lot of trust. Consumers were more inclined to rely on sales reps to make their purchase decisions. The engagement phase of the Inbound Methodology was the most relevant, because it represents the stage when salespeople enter the field.
In 2005, thanks to the prevalence of the Internet, consumers started having the same information as sales reps. Due to this shift, marketing departments had to release as much information as possible to pull prospects in. The attraction phase of the Inbound Methodology acquired a relevance never seen before.
In 2018 this paradigm shifted again. All the attention is at the delighting phase of the Inbound Methodology, because it represents the step where companies can convert customers into promoters. It’s where the word of mouth starts.
There is so much noise out there (advertising, offers, marketing, information, content, spam…) and enough products/services to cover any single niche.
So, it’s not about creating better products or services. It’s about creating better customer experiences.
So, how can you transform the way your company does business? How can you move from a marketing funnel to the flywheel?
What a marketing funnel is
Marketing funnels are still an effective way to do business. Even if consumers’ behavior has shifted, there’s still a great window of opportunities.
The image below represents the six stages of the marketing and sales funnel.
The main objective of this strategic tool is to create a marketing system to funnel prospects, nurture and convert them into customers.
The most criticized part is that customers are seen as an outcome. Instead, with the new inbound marketing flywheel, they represent the main reason why other people come and buy.
The top of the funnel is marketing’s responsibility. Marketers must attract prospects or visitors and convert them into leads.
I like to define leads as prospects that clearly and explicitly express their interest in a certain product or service.
For example, to generate leads:
Create a landing page where you show the benefits of a product or service;
Invite people to download a whitepaper with case studies of businesses that have benefited from your offering;
Exchange the whitepaper with visitors contact information.
When visitors download the document and give you their contacts, you can call them leads.
The marketing department keeps nurturing these leads with content and useful information. They mark leads as Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) when they increase the interactions with the company.
Once the marketing team thinks MQLs are more willing to buy, they pass their information to the sales team that starts screening and evaluating them.
If the sales team considers leads ready to buy, they mark them as Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) and start getting in touch with them.
MQLs and SQLs represent the contact point between marketing and sales. Marketing and sales share the responsibility of the middle of the funnel and must coordinate together to succeed.
For example, if the marketing team marks leads as SQLs, but they don’t respond positively to the sales team impulses, salespeople send back the leads to the marketing team. The latter will have to nurture them more till they are really ready to be pitched.
The most relevant task of marketing is to prepare prospects for salesmen.
According to the HubSpot sales perception survey in 2016, 60% of buyers want to interact with a sales person in the consideration stage.
During Philly Tech Week in 2017, I interviewed Daniel Tyre, sales director at HubSpot, about this interaction between the sales and marketing department:
You want a salesperson to magically appear when the customer raises their hands. For instance, you want to educate them on your website and social media, but sooner or later they are moved to a decision point where it becomes more apparent that a salesperson can help them in the decision.
A sales rep has to be smart enough to understand when a buyer is in the consideration stage and engage with them as soon as they raise their hands.
Daniel Tyre called this interaction and coordination between sales and marketing: Smarketing.
The bottom of the funnel is sales’ responsibility. They have to convert leads into customers and generate revenues.
How to craft a digital marketing funnel
In digital marketing, funnels are very effective and are usually based on automated tools which allow you to scale the outreach and sales process.
The image below summarizes the main steps in a digital marketing funnel.
A digital marketing funnel starts with a squeeze page which can be a web page or a lead generation form (e.g. in a lead generation campaign with Facebook Ads). The only objective of a squeeze page is to offer value to exchange with prospects’ information (e.g. preferences, contact details...).
Once prospects have become leads by submitting their data through the squeeze page, they are nurtured and educated on a certain product or service.
You should use automated workflows according to the prospect’s preferred communication channel:
Chat BOTs (e.g. Messenger, WhatsApp...);
When prospects are ready to make a purchase decision, you funnel them into a sales page.
There is no limit of iteration before sending them to a sales page. You have to test different strategies and select the one which best fits your organization.
Jeff Walker, Internet millionaire and author of the Product Launch Formula, shows how to convert a lead into a customer in a 5-step iteration process.
When leads click the CTA (Call To Action) on the sales page, they land on the checkout page.
When the payment is processed, they land on a final page called “thank you page”. You can use this final page for cross-selling, up-selling or encouraging buyers to subscribe to a different workflow.
Do you want a professional to craft your online marketing funnel? Schedule a digital marketing consultancy with me!
How to use the flywheel as a growth tool
In this section, I’ll teach you how to redesign your company processes to focus on the customer experience and delight phase.
While in the marketing funnel customers are just an outcome, in the flywheel, they feed your business growth.
Like James Watt’s flywheel, friction kills it.
The big three points of friction in a flywheel are at:
The entry point: offer a free trial or product/service demonstration and activate a delightful onboarding process. People have to trust your ability to solve their problems. In other words, you have to provide value, before you extract value;
The engagement stage: help your customers connect with you faster through different communication channels. You can use BOTs and conversational marketing to create scalable one-to-one conversations. In other words, make it easy to shop and buy;
The sales point: keep educating your customers with actionable resources and content. Offer them amazing customer service, perks and guarantees. Customer success is your success.
You should decrease friction in every single stage of the buyer journey. For instance, if you have an e-commerce store, allow free shipping and free returns.
Decrease human interactions and increase self-services. Your employees should intervene just to solve complex situations.
Use a service blueprint to identify potential bottlenecks and the contact points between your employees and prospects. Re-align the points of friction that affect customer experience and serve your audience better through automation and shared goals.
How to craft an inbound marketing strategy with a Flywheel (actionable)
If you want to flywheel-ize your marketing funnels, follow this step by step actionable guide by HubSpot.
Grab a piece of paper, draw the flywheel and follow the next instructions.
1. Measuring the flywheel.
Draw your inbound marketing wheel by adding your core activities that provide value to prospects, facilitate the purchasing process and make them successful.
Add relevant metrics to the flywheel. How do you measure the performance of your core activities?
2. Maximizing delight.
List the forces that move your customers through the flywheel and describe whether they are designed to serve your customers’ needs or your own process/convenience.
List your current marketing, sales and service forces by the stage of the flywheel they’re currently optimized for. Then, update each force so it maximizes customer delight.
3. Reducing friction.
Think of internal and external factors that drag your organization and decrease customer experience:
Identify your points of friction;
Automate all the possible processes and activities;
Re-align your teams and address non-automated activities with shared goals. For example, don’t hire over-specialized people: you want employees with T-shaped skills (they must be able to collaborate across departments and apply knowledge in more than one area of expertise). Bring together employees who work on the same projects, but they sit in different departments. And so on.
Use inbound marketing strategies to earn the attention of your audience. Attract visitors with relevant content and remove friction as they try to learn about your company.
Focus on helping people and encourage open relationships. Allow prospects to engage with you according to their preferred timeline and channels.
Incentivize your sales team with bonuses based on customer success, not just close rate. Your success is strictly tied to your customers’. So, equilibrate the distribution of your assets to improve the customer experience throughout the buyer journey.
Tell me in the comments below how you think to implement the inbound marketing flywheel in your digital strategy!