My favourite business book from last year was Inbound Marketing by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan. I thought that they did an outstanding job of explaining in the most clear and practical way how to harness the potential of Social Media to create a flow of inbound enquiries.
For any business, the idea of customers coming knocking on their door is an attractive one. There are many really great stories out there of companies that excel at selling millions of dollars of product via inbound marketing strategies. This is particularly the case in the software industry. Companies like Hub Spot, Atlassian, 37 Signals Red Gate and Fog Creek have all become the poster boys for Inbound Marketing.

Any entrepreneur who is serious about building a strong business, one that can generate real sales revenues quickly, should have an inbound marketing strategy.

But I am going to sound one word of warning.

I have clients and colleagues who have become very adept inbound marketeers, but many have become overly reliant on their marketing to deliver sales. They watch their bookings rise and fall with each campaign, and they adjust their marketing to ensure that they learn from their mistakes and put a great deal of effort into ensuring that their customers are happy. This means customer surveys, exclusive offers, free upgrades, invitations to join user groups etc. All well and good, and when things are going well for a business and everyone is making money there is no good reason to do much else.

However, customers who are attracted to your product, who trial it and who buy it straight away are only one small part of the potential market and in some ways they are the least interesting segment. Customers who are naturally attracted to you don’t teach you much. While they may suggest ideas for improving the user experience or alert you to bugs, they basically love you, love your product and have proven their devotion by parting with their cash. They are the low hanging fruit!

Much more interesting, in my view, are the clients who were attracted to your company and your product and who didn’t buy. They made a decision that something else was better (that something else may be another product or simply the status quo) and they kept their credit card firmly in their pocket. A couple of years ago I was discussing just this issue with a client who has developed a document management system for use on major oil and gas projects. He had produced a video explaining the benefits of the product and had generated a fair number of leads. He was in discussion with some of them and looked close to doing a deal with two or three. The people who were close to buying were all very similar, they were all working on a similar type of project (albeit for different organisations) and all the projects were at a similar stage. I asked him what he was going to do with the 60 plus leads who had seen the video but who had not asked for a meeting. He shook his head and muttered something about sending them a questionnaire.

These leads, who were interested enough to download a trial product but not committed enough to buy, are where a sales person really earns their money. Talk to these people and you will find that the reason that they lost interest is sometimes banal – “oh I like the product, I just never got round to it” (an immediate sales opportunity), sometimes a matter of timing, – “I liked the product but the project we are working on has been put back until January” (a future sales opportunity), and sometimes a problem that needs solving – “I like the product but I need to keep all our data within our firewall, it can’t be on external servers” (an opportunity for further dialogue or even product development).

These are all direct quotes from the 60 people I called on my client’s behalf. From those 60, people we created another 8 meetings. Also, some of the feedback we got helped us to develop our understanding of how the market perceived the product which in turn led to us rewriting a couple of the key messages on the website, and creating additional content for the video. We would never have learned any of this without a call.

So you should (if you haven’t already), buy the book and build an inbound marketing strategy. But don’t forget to talk to the people who like the idea of your product but who have not yet committed, they often have much more to teach you than those who buy immediately.