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It’s that time of year again, and this year HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2015 report has marketers around the world doing the happy dance over the fact that what we have always believed, we now know for sure to be true: inbound marketing works!

Why This is Good News

One of the key pieces of data highlighted in the report is that across a wide range of business types and sizes, and a wider array of marketing budgets, companies are three times more likely to see a positive ROI on their inbound marketing campaigns than traditional outbound campaigns. This is exciting news for our industry, for a number of reasons:

Smaller Companies Choose Inbound More Frequently

One of the most interesting items in this year’s report is that smaller companies are more than four times more likely to allocate most of their budget to inbound versus outbound strategies. In fact, among the thousands of businesses polled to create the report, those who spent $25,000 or less per annum spend 83% of that budget on inbound. At the other end of the spectrum, companies spending $5 million or more are typically spending 45% of their budget on inbound.

Regardless of the size of the budget or the allocation of assets, however, between 42 and 52 percent of respondents confirmed that they were getting a higher ROI from inbound marketing. This is compared with an average of 8% to 18% who saw better results with outbound. In other words, regardless of the dollar value spent, companies of all sizes saw at least three times more return on their investment with inbound marketing tactics.

ROI is a Key Driver for SMEs

Another interesting fact revealed by this year’s report is that while large companies with big budgets maintain a traditional outbound marketing program alongside their inbound efforts, smaller companies like Atlanta-based Spend Management Experts tend to opt for inbound-heavy or exclusive strategies, with only 13% stating that outbound remained their dominant strategy.

The reason for this is simple: when companies have limited budgets, they choose strategies that offer a better return on their marketing investment.

Not Limited by Customer Type

Another interesting fact revealed by this year’s report is that the type of customer (B2C, B2B, nonprofit) has no discernable impact on the perceived efficacy of inbound marketing strategies. In fact, companies who focused on each of these three customer types universally reported a positive perception of inbound of between 76% and 78%.

Since nearly 4,000 individuals were polled, and since those perceptions are largely based on past ROI and tracking of results-based data, that’s more proof that inbound marketing works.

Companies Can Increase ROI

According to the 2015 report, companies who are seeing the best results from their inbound marketing campaigns are taking actionable steps to increase their ROI. Any company can take these actions, and they have a marked impact on results:

  • Companies who use marketing automation software or methods are 11% more likely to see greater ROI year on year.
  • Marketers who use marketing automation software are 9% more likely to secure a larger marketing budget than the previous year, based purely on results. Inbound marketing works, and companies are allocating more of their budget to this type of marketing each year.
  • Each of those metrics increases by 2% when the marketers using the automation software were involved in its selection. Engaging the people who actually use marketing automation tools in the process delivers better results.
  • Marketers who saw a marked increase in ROI check key marketing metrics on average 11% more than their less successful counterparts do.
  • Companies who saw the best results from their inbound marketing efforts, on average, were the ones who limited their budget and kept their spending as lean as possible.

Marketers Embrace Inbound

Since inbound marketing provides proven results regardless of company size or marketing budget, it is increasingly becoming the marketing strategy of choice for small- to medium-sized businesses. In fact, of the 3,957 companies surveyed around the world, more than half have a self-reported annual revenue under $1 million dollars.

That means that inbound marketing is the go-to marketing solution for companies who have smaller teams, (84% of companies with fewer than 25 employees choose inbound first), and they’re using innovative ways to make inbound work for them.

  • 41% still rely on in-house staff to write marketing content. That’s a 5% decrease from 2014.
  • 18% delegate content creation to executives.
  • 8% allow guest posting.
  • 13% use freelance skills, which is a 1% increase from 2014.
  • 10% use agencies to manage their inbound marketing, which is 2% more than 2014.
  • Only 6% use curated content, which is 1% up from 2014.

Based on these figures, it’s clear that as companies (particularly smaller ones) embrace inbound marketing, they are also embracing the concept of outsourcing some—or all—of that marketing. This allows them to free up crucial team members to focus on core functions, which translates into productivity being either maintained or improved.

Marketing Winners (and Losers)

When integrating various marketing tactics into their overall marketing plans, companies of all sizes use ROI data from previous years. That data was then compiled into a list of the most overrated tactics, and traditional outbound strategies collectively (including paid advertising, print, outdoor and broadcast) were unanimously voted as the most overrated. In fact, these types of advertising were on average seen as overrated by 1 in 3 respondents, or nearly 32%.

Social media, which was voted the next most overrated, came in at an average of just 14%, with all of the remaining marketing tactics averaging 12% of the vote or less. I’m not sure what Neil Patel would have to say about that, given that he’s still standing firm behind social media as being the holy grail. The full list of tactics, ranging from most overrated to least overrated, are:

  1. Paid advertising: traditional outbound, print, outdoor and broadcast.
  2. Social media marketing.
  3. Paid advertising: online, social media, online ads, PPC etc.
  4. Public analyst relations.
  5. Email marketing.
  6. Blogging
  7. SEO
  8. Collateral development.
  9. Sales enablement.

So, aside from your actual sales force, inbound marketing strategies are winning the marketing ROI race year-on-year, and are generally seen as some of the most valuable marketing strategies.

Inbound Marketing and Sales

In spite of the exponential growth in the use of inbound marketing strategies and the results this is delivering to companies around the world, it’s apparent from this year’s data that while inbound marketing is definitely replacing outbound / traditional advertising and marketing strategies, it’s not having a noticeable effect on the size of sales teams. Hiring and firing of external sales reps remains relatively stable.

What is changing, however, are the results sales representatives are getting by using inbound tactics of their own. Research shows that sales people who use inbound methods to brand themselves as industry experts and to connect and build relationships with customers online are outperforming their compatriots.

Sales teams that combine those strategies with CRM platforms to store and collect data, and that use the inbound funnel to gather information on their prospects before approaching them are proven to be more likely to succeed. Successful teams were only 17% likely to answer any question about a prospect with “I don’t know”, while unsuccessful teams were 83% likely.

In other words, using the information gained from inbound marketing activities to empower sales people before first contact with a customer is more likely to result in a sale.

Why Is Inbound Marketing So Valuable?

It is abundantly clear based on global facts, figures and statistics that inbound marketing is consistently outperforming old-fashioned, outbound tactics for companies around the world, regardless of budget, industry or customer type. The data also provides clues as to why that is, and when you examine those clues, the reasons for the value of inbound becomes clear:

  • Old-fashioned, “outbound” marketing strategies focus on interruption and volume. They rely on reaching masses of people with a one-size fits all message.
  • Inbound marketing focuses on knowing your customer / buyer personas, and their pain points and needs, and on creating useful, interesting content and information that they find on their own.
  • Because inbound marketing relies on the customers finding you by themselves, and because their searches are likely to be for products and services they already want and need, the prospects that find you are already further along in the sales cycle.
  • Unlike traditional marketing, which is usually a one-time ‘event’, inbound marketing strategies tend to be cumulative, which means that results will improve over time, with consistent efforts, regardless of budget size or time allocated. Even one blog post a week will add up to 52 pieces of content in your inbound marketing arsenal over the course of a year.
  • Inbound marketing builds on the concepts of relationship-building and establishing a reputation as an expert.

All these factors contributed to the reason why 75% of all marketers around the world today choose inbound marketing as their primary marketing strategy, and why that figure has risen exponentially over the past decade. Inbound marketing works. It works for any budget, and it works anywhere in the world.

As the reach, scope and technical abilities of the internet and mobile internet continue to grow and evolve, inbound marketing will too, and that’s very good news for your bottom line.