I just published a post about the two different types of inbound networking groups. I am forming one that is like the second type: Businesses that sell the same thing, but don't really compete.
I plan to launch a group that only inbound marketing agencies can join. The goal will be to create an international organization of inbound marketing agencies that work together to promote the concept of inbound marketing and inbound networking by helping each other generate more visibility for each other's content.
As HubSpot has built the inbound marketing movement together with our agency partners, I've been amazed at how collaborative our partners have been; how willing they are to share advice; how often they share each other's content with their own audiences; how often they outsource business to each other. They occasionally compete to win clients, as many of them work beyond their geographic territory and have a fairly broad service offering. But, they still work closely together to help each other. For example, PR 20/20 wrote a book about how they built their agency. I just got a sneak peak of Kuno Creative's secrets to success, which they'll share at Inbound 2012. The agencies that help their peers, find that they gain much more when they give.
I will personally lead this inbound networking group. There will be a small fee of $100/mo. I will use the fee to hire an editor, a chief content officer of sorts. The editor will coordinate the editorial calendar, manage submissions, edit articles and coordinate social media promotion of the content by the members. I will probably invite HubSpot's Gold and Silver partners as the first members. I will also invite anyone who gets an inbound networking group going and gets several members to join their group.
The most common question I get when I share the 'inbound networking vision' with people is, "Who will be the members of groups?"
Inbound Marketing group leaders are pulling together two different types of groups.
Type 1: Complimentary Businesses who Target the Same Persona.
For example, a group who targets HR professionals as clients could include an HR consultant, payroll company, health benefits provider, business insurance and an executive business coach. A company who targets home owners could include a general contractor, plumber, roofer, mortgage broker, home appraiser, home inspector, landscaper, heating oil delivery company and appliance retail store.
Type 2: Businesses Who Sell the Same Thing, But Don't Really Compete.
These are business who might often be competitive if they were in the same town. For example, a group of general contractors who are based in different towns, might decide to create a group website with a group blog. Instead of buying leads from ServiceMagic that are also sold to 4 competitive firms, they could build marketing assets together that help them reach a national footprint and attract high quality leads. Since they don't compete for business in each other's backyard, they would benefit from each other's effort.
Marketing agencies would be another example. While many agencies have clients beyond their geographic area, most agencies can only grow as fast as cash flow allows them and as fast as they can hire talent. So, usually the pie is bigger than any one agency can devour. Usually, it makes sense for them to collaborate on the marketing, sales and services delivery side. Other high touch services businesses often fall into this situation.
Today, I held a session with 12 agency owners to discuss how they can form 'Inbound Networking
' Groups. Everyone shared their background and what excites them about the Inbound Networking concept. I presented my ideas about how to make this a win-win-win for agencies, their clients and HubSpot.
At the end, I asked "Who wanted to start a group?" 3 people raised their hand and committed. With 2 other leaders committed (who weren't on the call), that brings us to 5. I look forward to starting to flesh out the concept more with our 5 inaugural group leaders. I shared with the group that my goal is to launch 20 groups in the next 2 months. So, I'll be continuing the Friday sessions for those who are still interested. Leave a comment if you didn't receive an invite and are considering starting a group.
Douglas Burdett pointed me to a great article with data about why ad agency employees quit.
In a survey conducted by the 4As and Deutsch, the data "revealed 25 percent of the respondents confessed that they don’t love advertising."
This video - very entertainingly - shows how ad agency people are frustrated that they don't get to be creative anymore. Ad agency employees are frustrated that there are too many layers of decision making and too many people with opinions about their creative ideas.
The article goes on to suggest some things that agencies could do to retain employees:
- Adopt a start-up culture
- Put money into R&D
- Work in smaller teams
- Teach employees new things
- Support side projects
What do you think? Will these things save ad agencies? If agencies adopted these things, do you think employees would continue to focus on traditional interruptive advertising? Or would they adapt their service offerings based on what consumers actually want? Would they deliver permission based inbound marketing? Would they help clients create educational content? Would they sell value first and creative second? Would they figure out how to get companies to collaborate via inbound networking?
I posted earlier that Inbound Networking groups will need to be lead by leaders with strong networking and inbound marketing skills. I detailed what steps are involved with inbound networking earlier too. (Read those articles if you want the rest of this to make sense.)
Many people are asking me, "What should members get?" and "What does the leader do?"
Based on my experience helping businesses successfully grow traffic leads and sales through inbound marketing + my experience networking - online and off - here's what I suggest.
Inbound Networking Membership should include:
- A profile page on the group's site for each member. This page should include a "consult request" form or a similar bottom of the funnel offer.
- Ability to publish 1 blog post per month written by the small business.
- After 5 blog posts are written, a top of the funnel offer should be created, like an ebook. The ebook could contain content from the blog posts or other content written by the member.
- Promotion of their offers and blog posts via social media and email.
- Weekly training sessions - in person or virtually - so members can all learn inbound marketing, get to know each other, and can learn how they can best help each other attract traffic and leads.
Inbound Networking Group leaders should:
- Run weekly meetings including:
- Planning editorial calendars for the blog and offers.
- Training the group on inbound marketing, networking and inbound networking.
- Presenting results to the group on a monthly basis.
- Creation of profile page for each member on the group's site.
- Light editing, approval, scheduling of blog posts to ensure quality content is published.
- Compilation of blog posts into ebooks for each member.
- Creation of weekly email to promote new blog and offer content published by the group.
- Scheduling social media promotion
Should there be multiple levels of membership for Inbound Networking Groups?
I think there is a tendency for agencies to make this more complicated than it should be. Based on our data at HubSpot, all of the activities above will be most likely to drive traffic, leads and sales. If businesses want faster or better results, they should simply increase the frequency of bloging, offer creation for lead generation, email marketing and ongoing improvement based on analytics. What we call: the four core services of inbound marketing. The pricing system that PR 20/20 and Kuno Creative have pioneered can probably be applied here; where the major difference in the packages are activity frequency. Group leaders could also just start with one level of membership and charge for more help. When starting a new group, I'd recommend keeping it simple. There's plenty of time to make pricing more complicated.
What should membership cost?
I don't want to set membership fees for group leaders. Eventually, I think some leaders will be able to charge significantly more if they build a large audience, or if they reach a difficult-to-reach-market, or if they are really great at leading groups. In the beginning, I'd like to see 100s of groups form who keep their membership fee low. I'd like to see something in the $100/mo range. That will provide a low entry fee for businesses and enough of a fee to justify the work required by the leader.
How should leaders sell this?
I'd still recommend the same process that agencies should use to sell retainers. Very few of these small busineses have set proper sales and marketing goals or understand how inbound marketing can help them achieve those goals, and how to network effectively. So, education is required. Prospective members also need to understand that they are committing to creating content, helping their fellow members, and actively participating in training and group meetings. If leaders want a lower touch way to pull this off, HubSpot partners could register prospective inbound networking group members as leads and then invite them to our group education process for small businesses.
What am I missing? What else needs to be in place to make this successful?
Just 7 days after proposing the inbound networking concept , I've been pleasantly surprised by the interest in Inbound Networking. People are writing blog posts about it, there are 20+ comments on the original post, there are <LOVE IT> retweets, etc.
For the last few weeks, I've been talking to High Mobley about starting a group, Jason Kallio has already recruited members for his, and there are about 20 HubSpot partners waiting for next steps.
My plan is to help marketing agencies form, lead and own these groups. At HubSpot, my team has helped 100s of marketing agencies grow their business. These agencies, in turn, have helped 1,000s of businesses grow theirs, by signing up these customers on retainer. On average, a HubSpot customer who works with a partner spends a few thousand dollars per month on marketing services and generates about 100 leads/month from their website, as a result of the work that the partner does. The ROI is there. However, it can be better. And we can serve more companies better if we:
- Have a way for small businesses to learn inbound marketing and start generating leads without investing $2k/mo+ right away.
- Have a way to help small businesses get their content shared by other small businesses who trust them enough to share it.
But, this will still take a lot of work and a committment of time and money by each member of the inbound networking group. Based on my experience running networking groups, that doesn't happen without a strong leader, who has the trust and respect of their members, and the ability to focus the group to do what they need to do.
In order to lead a group like this, the leader will need to be:
- A strong networker
- A strong inbound marketer
In the next post I write, I'll propose what I think each member should pay and what work the leader of the group should do for each member, in order to justify that fee.
I was speaking with my cousin last night. He's an award winning investigative journalist in a major metro. I was asking about some of his stories. They include a piece on how a mattress company dumpster dives for used mattresses, wraps them in new fabric and sells them as new, as well as a registered sex offender who pretends to be a plumber, therapist and private investigator. I started telling him a bit about the search engine optimization (seo) industry for small businesses and how I think there's a story in it. My points:
- The industry continues to sell SEO the easy way. They try to tell SMBs that SEO is easy and they can just do it for them. Fact is, that it can't be fully outsourced and hands off for a small business owner.
- Many high volume seo resellers find things that are easy to do and make them seem like a big deal. For example, they'll work with a business owner to come up with search terms that have very very little search volume which are very easy to rank for, do a bit of work and then pretend to "maintain ranking" for those keywords. Even though they're not doing any ongoing work, they continue to charge a monthly fee.
- Many of these companies have extremely high cancellation rates. Some of them lose 30-50% of their customers every year!
- I have first hand knowledge of some of these companies. The saddest part is that they know the right way to do seo, but they don't do anything to change their service offerings. Some are. I have hope. But, it's a slow change for the big players in the industry. Fortunately, there's lots of smaller agencies who are offering the right seo service.
This morning, Kuno Creative wrote an article about how there are two ways to do SEO:
- Approach #1 is the approach that the companies above use. They pick a handful of keywords and do aggressive link building in order to rank for those competitive keyowrds. Or if they take the really easy way, they do a little bit of link building to rank for keywords that they pretend are competitive.
- The approach that HubSpot advocates and Kuno Creative excels with - is to just create lots of content and not worry too much about what keywords you're ranking for, knowing that you'll receive lots of traffic from lots and lots of relevant long tail keywords.
Kuno shared some compelling data from internet marketing expert, Douglas Karr, that supports #2 as well. Douglas produces a high volume of high quality content and most of his search traffic comes from keywords that he's not even ranking on the first page of google for.
I like to use the "college application" process when talking about SEO and keyword selection. When applying to college, most people apply to reach, target and safety schools. Don't expect to get into your reach school, but make sure you put some effort into it. Then, make sure you choose your target schools wisely and apply to some safety schools to make sure you're not sleeping in your parent's house next year. For example, reach schools might be ivy league; safety schools might be community colleges. With keywords, targeting long tail keywords with relatively low search volume and low difficulty is like applying to safety schools. Trying to rank for short tail competitive keywords with high search volume and high difficulty is like trying to get into MIT or Harvard. The HubSpot keyword app makes this process really easy because you can categorize your keywords by "safety" and "reach" and quickly see your progress towards getting traffic and leads from both groups of keywords.
You can even extend the 'college application' metaphor a bit and talk about how people who work hard for years and get great grades are likely to get into ivy league schools. Similarly, with SEO, if you work hard at creating great content and an audience over years, it becomes easier and easier to rank for short tail, competitive keywords. In other words, sites with lots of quality content tend to have higher authority, so it's easier to rank for competitive terms on these sites. At HubSpot, we've found that link building when a site already has high authority has very quick results with relatively few inbound links. While link building to non-authoritative sites requires tremendous link building effort for competitive terms. Further, with Google's continuing semantic algorithm updates, I'd be willing to wager that link building for lower authority sites will become less and less effective, rendering content creation the only viable SEO strategy. This is what Google has been telling us to do for years. They're finally getting around to making it non-optional.
So, what's a small business to do? Launching a blog and publishing daily is an extremely difficult chore for most businesses. The businesses who do it and start asap will be winners in the long run. Companies like Douglass's, Kuno, HubSpot and others have a tremendous head start. It'll be hard for others to catch up or surpass. So, for most businesses, I'd recommend they should collaboratively create and share great content with other small businesses, in order to catch up. I'd recommend they get involved with the Inbound Networking movement. Whatever you do, don't invest in an SEO program that gets you ranked for a handful of keywords. There is very little long term gain in that approach without a content creation strategy.
PS. Here's a great free step by step guide for SEO.
On Monday, I wrote my first blog post in 3 years. It took me 3 paragraphs to get to the point of the post. The point: I'm launching a new concept called, "Inbound Networking".
So, what is Inbound Networking? It is a cross between referral networking and inbound marketing. "What the hell is that?", you say?
First, you need to understand what these two things are:
- Referral Networking is a concept pioneered by Business Networking International (BNI) and it's founder, Ivan Misner. Years ago, I was a member of a chapter of BNI, the Golden Triangle. My fellow members grew to trust me and they identified prospects who I could help. Then, they made the introductions. I acquired new clients as a direct result of the referrals I received from my fellow members. I helped my fellow members in the same way they helped me. You can read more about my experiences with business networking on my old about me page.
- Inbound marketing is a concept that we've pioneered at HubSpot. It's the process of attracting traffic to your website, converting traffic to leads, converting leads to sales and continuously analyzing results from each step in order to improve results. Here's a great primer on Inbound Marketing and you can pick up the best selling Inbound Marketing book at Amazon. Here are a bunch of case studies about how inbound marketing helps businesses grow.
For small businesses, both of these ways of growing a business require a significant amount of effort. With inbound marketing, you must create lots of remarkable content. With business networking, you must develop trusting relationships with lots of people who may or may not ever refer you qualfiied business. Both are hard. Both require committment. Both take time to make an impact on a business's topline.
Here's how Inbound Networking will work:
- Members will first establish trusted referral sources in their industry or geography by joining an established 'inbound networking group'.
- They'll create and publish educational content and offers that demonstrates their expertise and invite prospects to engage with them.
- They'll tap their network of businesses to share their content with their followers, fans, subscribers and customers. This 'content sharing' will drive traffic to their content and capture leads in the process. Members will work together to build an ever-growing audience of followers, fans and customers by reciprocating.
- In the process, groups and members will build authority and traffic from search engines, a bigger following on social media, a larger blog subscribership and a bigger opt-in email list.
- Members and groups will improve results over time by continuously analyzing and learning what content, offers and marketing techniques work for each member.
This looks like more work, right? So, why should someone combine them? While creating content and building trusted relationships with referral sources will still require hard work, commitment and time, combining the two will do a few things. Inbound Networking will:
- Reduce the time it takes to generate qualified leads compared to doing business networking and inbound marketing alone.
- Instantly create a larger audience for each member's content.
- Lead generation and client acquisition results will accelerate over time as inbound networking groups grow and build an online audience and online marketing assets.
- Effort creating content and building trusted relationships will produce ongoing results well into the future.
What do you think? Anyone already doing something like this?
Yesterday, I was re-writing an email template that a salesperson wrote to invite leads to a webinar. I also overhear salespeople all day on the phone and receive lots of bad sales emails from people trying to sell me something.
Way too many salespeople start their conversation with "I just wanted to..."
As soon as someone says, "I just wanted to", I tune them out. If they say, "I just wanted to call you because", I hang up. Many other people do too. Even people who are much nicer than me.
- Buyers don't care what you want. If you're just starting a conversation with a prospect, the last thing they care about is what you want.
- Buyers want to talk to experts, not salespeople. Experts aren't afraid to position how they help people or ask a straightforward concise question... right away. Or maybe build rapport and break the ice like a human should.
- "I just wanted to" are wasted words. When you're calling someone, they were probably doing something else. You're interrupting them. (I am not saying that you should not call people. In fact, if you hope to sell something, you need to call people.) But, get to the point. Don't put words in between your point (or question) and the beginning of the call.
- You sound weak. Your time as an expert is valuable. You shouldn't be starting off your sentence by justifying what you're doing. You're calling them. That's obvious. You wanted to. That's obvious. Don't restate the obvious just to justify. No need to justify it. You're doing it.
So, strike "I just wanted to" from your vocabulary. Here's a few examples of how you can do it.
- If you say, "I just wanted to call you to follow up to your recent download of our free ebook on pinterest. What were you looking for help with?", change it to, "You recently downloaded our free ebook on lead generation. What were you looking for help with?"
- If you say, "I was just calling to tell you about how other companies use our service to do xyz,", then say, "We help xyz companies like yours who are struggling with abc. Is that something you've ever struggled with?"
One of my best friends, Amy Breton, used to call my house when were in high school. When my parents answered or if it went to our answering machine, she would always start with "Hi. It's Just Amy.". My parents started calling her "Just Amy". Amy is still one of my closest friends today and she is an extremely intelligent, hard working, successful person. She's NOT "Just Amy". She's not my wife, Amy. But, she's very very important to me and she makes extremely positive improvements in the lives of the people she touches. You can be important to your prospects, like Amy is. Some of the people I called and interrupted will tell you that I've had as much impact on their lives as their best friends have. Be important. Don't just Be "Just <insert your name>".
I haven't updated this blog since July 2009. That's almost 3 years. Wow! Talk about an unintended hiatus.
As of June 1st, I've officially been promoted to Sales Director at HubSpot. I've pretended I've had that job for a few years now and sorta had the title for more than a year. The promotion was actually officially announced 6 months or so ago at an internal meeting. But, in the last 6 months, I've juggled quite a few responsibilities: channel program director, sales director and sales manager. My managers and I have grown our team from 6 to 26 salespeople in 14 months (plus 12 others in post-sale roles), all while exceeding quota for 17 months in a row and achieving the highest retention rate among our sales teams. Currently, we account for about 40% of HubSpot's new sales every month. In hypergrowth at any company, it's common for people to juggle lots of different responsibilities. But as of June 1, I have one less job. I no longer manage sales people directly. While I loved my sales team and they are the reason I have been successful at HubSpot, (thanks Johnson, Heidi, Buck, Alexis, Frank, Jeetu, Dannie, David, Kevin, Jennifer, Mark) doing all of those jobs at once was extremely difficult. I never really felt like I did any of them well.
So, now I get to completely focus on being a sales director. So, what do I do as a sales director? My high level responsibility is to manage my part of the business's growth and profitability. But, frankly, I'm still figuring out 'what being a sales director' means, with some guidance, of course... Mark Roberge, HubSpot's SVP Sales & Service (my boss) told me a few months back that, "If I failed to delegate something, I've failed as a leader". My managers joke that I should now teach a course on delegation. I have amazing sales managers in place, as well as a bunch of great managers who support our partners and customers: a great marketing manager, a great consulting manager for onboarding our new partners and customers, and a great manager for supporting our partners for non-sales-support activities. Many of them have even stepped up to take on key strategic projects above and beyond their regular responsibilities. I'm extremely blessed with an awesome group of people who work their asses off to hit our numbers, prepare for the future... all while helping lots of companies improve their marketing. While I certainly feel like I get a "lot less done" because I don't do much myself these days, the impact we're having is greater than ever.
Which brings me to my next project and where I'll get to focus a bit of my time... In the time since I wrote this "[very outdate] about me page", we've helped several hundred marketing agencies help 1,000s of companies grow their traffic, leads and sales. While most people find this impressive, I feel like we're only scratching the surface of the potential of this new and better way of marketing, that we call inbound marketing. I feel there is a huge opportunity to expand the mission of inbound marketing even faster and more convincingly...
To fuel inbound marketing's growth, my time will increasingly be spent on a handful of strategic projects. I'll be using this site and this blog to develop one of these strategic projects. The site and the project is called the Collaborative Growth Network. I started this project - to a certain degree - 5 years ago. But, it's been on ice as I've built out HubSpot's agency channel. I'll be taking what I've learned about networking and partnerships (before and after joining HubSpot) and applying it to the development of this concept. Specifically, I'll be developing systems that help companies partner with each other to do their inbound marketing more effectively. My theory is that a group of like-minded companies who trust each other and who target the same markets can work together to market all of their businesses online much more effectively than working at it alone. The system will be a combination of referral networking and inbound marketing which will make both much more effective. I'll probably be calling it "Inbound Networking".
Update: I've written up a few more articles fleshing out the "Inbound Networking" concept inlcluding.