Back in early 2008, there were 7 of us meeting in our only conference room. It was HubSpot's entire sales and marketing team having our weekly meeting, later termed our SMarketing meeting. Like we've continued to ask ourselves every day since, we were trying to answer the question, "How can we turn more of our inbound leads into customers?"
During this meeting in 2007, I told Mike Volpe, "It'd be great if they just told us what their challenges were on the forms." To which, Volpe sarcastically said, "Do you want me to sell for you too?". We convinced him to try it out by the end of the meeting. It's hard to say no to Dan Tyre, Chris Johnson and Mark Roberge. The question, "What's your biggest marketing challenge?" is on every one of our forms to this day. It's helped our sales team more effectively and more quickly connect, qualify and close new businesss 1,000s of times now. Last year, when correlating lead characteristics to close rate, our marketing team proved that when certain answers included keywords like "leads", they were more likely to buy our marketing software.
4 years, 350 people and 7500 customers later, we've made a lot of progress in figuring out how to turn leads into sales. We've bottled up 'lessons like this one' and have baked them into our software and training programs so that our customers and partners can turn more of their leads into sales too.
Yesterday, one of our customers shared a story about adding a similar question to their landing pages. Their company is Goodbye Crutches, which makes products that replace the need for crutches.
To test the idea, we devised a simple A/B test on some of our most commonly accessed offers and landing pages. Using the Advanced Landing Pages feature in HubSpot Enterprise, we were able to show our visitors one of two versions of these pages. The only difference we tested was the optional open-ended question “What is your biggest struggle?”
You can read about their stellar results at the article, "Proof that It Never Hurts to Ask".
SMarketing Take-Away: Most sales professionals know that people are more likely to buy when they have a challenge they need to overcome, a problem they need to fix, they're frustrated by the status quo, or in the case of Goodbye crutches, they have 'pain' that's impacting their comfort and happiness. As a marketer or marketing agency, if you want to deliver more and higher quality sales-ready leads to your [client's] sales team, ask the open ended question on your forms, "What's your biggest xyz challenge?".
There's too much Competition.
I know that "the web design business is dead" is a pretty dramatic statement. For the record, I don't think it's dead. I think it's going through a major transformation that most web design companies won't survive.
I did a search a little while ago on a yellow pages site and there are 28,402 companies categorized under "web site design" and 41,498 companies categorized under "web sites". This, of course, doesn't include the many small 1-5 person web design businesses who are too cheap to list themselves in the directory or smart enough not to waste their money on it. Then, there are the marketing and ad agencies that have gotten into website design, but still call themselves agencies.
There's a ridiculous amount of companies doing website design. Further, if the number of web designers that download HubSpot's free internet marketing resources are any indication, there are probably 100s of thousands of people or companies that call themselves web designers in the US. A full 15% of our leads are some kind of web or marketing agency.
The industry is completely saturated.
Most of them won't admit it in public (many have admitted it to me in private), but websites that used to get built for $100k are going for $50k, $50k for $25k and the standard $5k small business website is now getting built for $2,500 by someone's nephew, someone in India or a low cost high volume web site shop. And many are not that much different. The high cost providers are not always the high quality providers anymore. There's too much competition.
Website Design, alone, does NOT Provide an ROI.
The only thing that differentiates the average web designer right now is their design skills, which is highly subjective. And it's hard to correlate the effect of good design to the bottomline.
Unfortunately, graphic designers are a dime a dozen and attractive web design doesn't necessarily translate to online lead generation success and ultimately: dollars. Does a $10k graphical website design generate more leads than a $5k one? Not usually.
Hosting isn't a Business Web Designers Should Rely On.
Many web designers, historically, also provide hosting. Some of them manage their own servers. Many of them just have a reseller plan with a big hosting company. This provided a nice recurring revenue stream for web designers for a little while. More importantly, it set them up to charge their clients for site edits when new content needed to be published or existing content needed to be revised. However, any web designer that is relying on web hosting to generate revenue is fighting a losing battle. In fact, I think it's already lost. They're more like Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole resisting the inevitable. Website hosting is a commodity business if there ever was one. And low cost virtual assistants can edit websites now that most people have basic html skills. Long gone are the days when someone should be paying $50/hour to add a new press release to a website.
Web Content Management Systems Will Not Save the Web Design Business
Most web design companies have had to get a lot smarter about how they build websites too. There are still way too many web designers that build websites from the ground up, instead of on a content management system (CMS). (They're also still the ones still charging clients for hosting and site edits, who are afraid to give up that revenue stream.)
But, the good ones use a CMS.
However, even CMS implementation is not a strong differentiation source anymore. When a web design company is proficient with a more advanced CMS like Joomla, Ektron, Sitecore or Drupal, they're able to command higher dollars.
But, open source software like wordpress has made launching a website on a CMS easier, faster and much cheaper to launch for most small and mid-sized businesses. There's no software to buy and there's plenty of really smart low cost hep who are geniuses at configuring and customizing a design on top of the open source CMSs.
Just like design, CMS implementation skills alone are NOT a really big differentiator anymore either.
But, the biggest problem with web designers, is that they are busy building websites instead of delivering ROI to their clients.
Most web developers, once a site is launched, are done. They made their $5k, $50k or $100k. They need to get their next job started to make payroll. The average web site designer knows how to lay out graphics, write html and has someone on their team who can hack php and install server side software like the CMSs listed above. That's it. These companies rarely have internet marketing skills and experience. Or they say they do, but they're learning on their client's dimes.
Even worse, by putting the cart before the horse and building websites before an internet marketing strategy is established, they are making mistakes that they are going to have to charge their clients to fix.
"But, I'm a web designer and I'm learning internet marketing as fast as I can get clients to pay for it." Sorry! That's not fast enough.
Have you read the Innovator's Dilemma? How about the Innovator's Solution? If you haven't and you're in the web design business, and want to stay in business in the next few years, I recommend you go to amazon right now and order both.
The premise of the books is that to really win in business, you must destroy a convention. If you are already winning in business, you might have to destroy your own conventions.
As you can imagine, that's really hard. And doing it seems really stupid, I am sure, when people embark on it. But, history demonstrates that the ones who do it, succeed amazingly. For example, the NYT is now one of the top news destinations on the web because so many people link to them as stories break, which drives a lot of direct traffic and helps them increase search engine traffic. Do you remember when you had to pay to access their site? They walked away even though it was a $10M business. The most successful companies in the world followed the same disruptive technology path, atleast when they started. The Innovator's Solution is why Microsoft beat IBM with an easier to use OS; why DELL revolutionized the PC business; why Google beat Yahoo and Microsoft on the web with a more targeted advertising system selling clicks at a time for pennies each; why Salesforce.com is growing faster than SAP.
How many guys do you know that used to build and sell PCs? How many of them are Dell resellers now? Who do you think is doing better... Salesforce.com implementation consultants or ACT! consultants? How many web design companies built their own email marketing system, only to shut it down and transition their clients to Constant Contact, AWeber or Exact Target two years later?
Web designers are now competing against software as a service. All websites are is software. There's something about Software as a Service that is hard to compete against.
Most web designers and developers are designers first. Some are great software configurators. But, very few are great software developers.
Just like agencies tried to build their own email tools, only to move to reselling SaaS solutions, agencies will need to choose a marketing platform. There is no open source alternative, nor can there be given the complexity and integration requirements for modern marketing.
They can't provide powerful SEO tools, analytics, lead capture, lead intelligence, blogging, marketing automation, marketing contact databases and social media publishing tools that are integrated with each other, that companies like HubSpot provides. Not to mention all of the 3rd-party marketing apps that instantly integrate with the software like HubSpot for call tracking, chat and content sourcing, to name a few.
Previously, most small businesses would have to pay $50-10k up front for just a website on a cms. Now, small businesses pay that for a full inbound marketing system with ongoing support and training. Larger companies who usually pay a few $50k to get a custom web site developed are shifting those dollars to more sophisticated marketing software too, like HubSpot professional and HubSpot Enterprise.
Sorry to rain on web designers parade. That's not HubSpot's intention. Remember that thing about destroying conventions? Business is about creative destruction. It certainly doesn't make sense to have 100,000 people manufacturing cars in their garages. Websites aren't as complex as cars. But, the brains behind business websites are getting much more complex. Should we really have 100,000 people in small offices around the country creating websites?
Software as a service and streamlined processes enable HubSpot and our partners to provide a full inbound marketing platform to businesses at a lower cost than website and CMS development alone.
Websites are no longer brochures. Websites are platforms that are increasingly connected to the distributed computing power, structured information and rapidly expanding social networking community of the web. Standards will arise. Platforms will win.
Just like Amazon and eBay won in ecommerce. Like Zoho and Salesforce are winning in project management, crm and other business productivity solutions. Just like Google has won in search and ad targeting and delivery. There will be web marketing platforms that provide an ROI to small businesses who want to do measurable marketing. These platforms will provide more value for a lower investment than Bob & JoJo's web design business in Albequerque, NM ever could or will be able to do.
It's not all doomsday, though. The platform needs operators. Business is still about relationships. People will still want to work with people - face to face. HubSpot will never have a maningful physical presence in New Mexico. Social media, SEO, blogging, PPC, content creation... none of these things are easy to fake. It takes skill, creativity and refined proven processes to implement an internet marketing strategy that supports a business's growth strategy. There are very few people that are excellent at these things.
And that's the opportunity. I think very few web designers will make this transition. The ones that do will be rewarded. The agencies who already made the decision are growing rapidly. But, I think in the next few years we'll see a massive shakeout...
The web design companies that transition themselves to online marketing services companies will win. The ones that still exclusively generate revenue $5k or $50k at a time by building websites from scratch won't. Web design companies must transition to charging retainers based on a demonstrable ROI for their clients.
Here's the rub. As web designers transition, so do PR agencies, marketing agencies, ad agencies, copywriters, seo consultants etc. Anyone who wants to be relevant needs to transition, or atleast broaden, their offering to include ongoing internet marketing services.
Paul Roetzer declared the Dawn of the Inbound Marketing Agency a few years ago. Today, inbound marketing agencies are thriving. At HubSpot, we're working with hundreds of agencies who have transitioned to providing inbound marketing retainers. They're doing very well. Meanwhile, most web design firms are die-ing.
Do you run a web design or creative firm? How are you transitioning? Or are you still in denial?
When people fail at inbound marketing, it's usually because they didn't do what the experts told them to do for some reason. Maybe they weren't capable, they didn't listen, they didn't prioritize it or they didn't believe it would work for them. But, tactically speaking, there are also many things that inbound marketing failures don't do, don't do right or don't do frequently enough.
Below are the most important things that unsuccessful inbound marketers should have done. I could have included, "they didn't use twitter properly". But nobody fails at inbound marketing because they didn't grow their twitter follower count fast enough.
Companies fail at inbound marketing because of the following bulleted list of things. I've put these in a specific sequence. I don't think I could tell you which failures happen more often than others. But, the things at the top of the list are the first hurdles that companies run into. And if they don't get over these first few hurdles, they don't usually have enough success to hit the roadblocks later in this list:
- They don't blog frequently enough. You can't grow traffic without blogging consistently, as in multiple times per week. You can't grow search traffic and social traffic withouth blogging consistently.
- They don't create enough educational, top-of-the-funnel offers. They don't create ebooks and webinars that entice anonymous website visitors to share their contact information in exchange for these free educational materials.
- They don't put [at least some of their] educational offers behind landing pages. They just give them away. People download them, and never come back. And since the company didn't collect their information, they have no way to market or sell to them.
- They don't drive traffic to their landing pages using calls-to-action (CTA) buttons and text. They don't place CTAs in blog posts, in email campaigns or on their home page. They don't promote landing pages on social media and don't optimize them for search. Some fools don't even point their pay-per-click traffic to landing pages using compelling calls to action in their ad copy.
- They don't nurture their leads using email marketing frequently enough. Once they capture the lead, they don't send any more educational content to the lead. They don't effectively establish themselves as a credible resource that provides ongoing value.
- They don't call their leads. Way too many companies either wait for their leads to call them by phone or to fill out a form that says "call me please". Before the days of inbound marketing, salespeople didn't wait for people to call them. Buyers are less receptive to being interrupted these days, but they haven't suddenly decided to buy more things more proactively on blind faith only after reading someone's content. If someone shares their contact information on a form on your website, and they fit your ideal persona, you should be trying to connect with them.
- They give up trying to connect with leads after 1 or 2 attempts. Companies who successfully leverage inbound marketing to grow sales call their leads 5-8 times over several weeks. And then again if they revisit their website. Really good salespeople won't let that good lead get away without connecting with them. They'll try for a long, long time to initiate a conversation. They'll use social media, email, voicemails and introductions from mutual contacts as ways to get in contact.
- They don't know how to engage a lead who isn't ready to talk about their company's product or services yet. They get frustrated because leads aren't ready to talk about doing business right away, like a qualified referral often is. Most inbound leads aren't as warm as referrals, unfortunately. Salespeople who cold call are excellent at building rapport, establishing relevance via positioning statements and credibility through asking the right questions. These prospecting skills are absolutely critical for turning inbound leads into sales.
- They don't have a consultative sales process that identifies a prospect's goals and challenges and then relates those goals and challenges to the right solution using the products and services that their company provides. Salespeople must be able to co-create a plan with the prospect that will help them. They must have the sales skills for this job and a process that demonstrates their ability to deliver value successfully post-sale.
These are the main reasons why companies fail to grow their traffic, leads and sales using inbound marketing. Yes, you can get away with not doing some of these things. But, companies who do all of these things will be the most successful.
Which mistakes do you see company's making? How have you helped them overcome these challenges? Which mistakes are you making? How have you overcome these challenges?
People hire experts because experts can help them overcome challenges more efficiently and effectively, usually at lower overall cost. Experts have figured things out before and are good at applying their expertise in similar situations. Yet, every day, people decide to try and figure things out themselves. How much money and time are you losing by trying to figure things out yourself?
The Difference Between "Doing it Yourself" and "Figuring it Out Yourself"
At HubSpot, we started by selling a "do it yourself" approach to internet marketing, where we taught small business owners and in-house marketers how to do inbound marketing themselves. We packaged training on our inbound marketing methodology with our software, so customers didn't have to figure out internet marketing on their own and could benefit from all of our experience and data packaged up into a simple step-by-step process. A popular phrase amongst sales people at HubSpot is "You can do it! We can help!", which we obviously borrowed from someone else you've undoubtedly used to try and figure out how to do a home improvement project yourself. We still offer this approach. It's the approach that most of our direct sales team pitches, even though they've referred $6M+ worth of marketing services business to our agency partners. Since our marketing team publishes loads of educational material on "how to do internet marketing", we tend to attract an audience that wants tihs approach. As you can see from our internet marketing case studies, it works.
Our partners, who tend to get much of their new business through a combination of networking, previous clients and their own inbound marketing, tend to sell to companies who are a bit less educated about internet marketing and a lot less eager to "do it themselves". They typically secure new clients who want the "do it for me" approach; they typically sell marketing services retainers.
A Story of a Small Business Owner Who Chose to Try and Figure it Out Himself
A few months back, I joined a call with an agency partner and their prospect. As a relatively new company, the prospect had balked at the agency's retainer price. I suggested that we identify whether a hybrid approach would work for the prospect where a) the client did a lot of the work and b) the agency did the heavy lifting and coaching. Many of our partners take this hybrid approach when their clients have in-house staff who can create content, man social media and learn how to use parts of our software to do things like building landing pages and sending email campaigns.
On the call, I asked the prospect, "What does your day look like now? What do you do every day?" He proceeded to tell us that he spends 2 hours per day reading blogs about internet marketing. I asked him, "How that's working for you?" He didn't appreciate me challenging him and that's when I started to think that he wasn't going to buy anything. I then asked him, "Do you think that hiring an expert to advise you on what to do 1st, 2nd and 100th would be more effective for you vs trying to read lots of blogs and figure it out yourself?" He said that he had considered it and that's why he was talking to us. I then asked him if he understood that the more quality blog content he produces, the more qualified traffic he'll get to his website. He said he would run out of things to write about. I informed him that our partner has ways of helping him come up with content and that if he wanted us to, we could do some searches right now to come up with ideas that he hadn't considered. I then said that "Our partner has done this for many clients. I can assure that you coming up with content ideas will not be a problem after doing some basic keyword and market research." He then pushed back and said he wouldn't have time to write more articles and that he'd be worried about the quality of the content. I addressed this partially, but not to his satisfaction. He wasn't really open to the conversation. To fully disqualify him, I then switched to budget qualification and asked him, "If we could define a program where you do more of the work and our partner does some of the work and guides you, what could you invest?" He didn't give me a straight answer. I left the conversation with, "I don't think this is a fit for you. There's certain things that we know must be done in order to be successful. And if you can't invest atleast $1,000 per month, our partner can't help you." He didn't like hearing that either, but at this point it was safe to say that he wasn't ready to get any help.
In this case, he wanted to not only 'do it himself', he also wanted to figure it out himself. He wasn't really open to hearing how to do inbound marketing effectively from an expert. I checked out his site today and he hasn't done any of the stuff our partner suggested during the sales process. He hasn't created more content, has no calls to action, no educational offers behind landing pages, and he doesn't have any marketing analytics tracking code installed. He's probably still spending 2 hours a day reading about internet marketing, instead of doing it. He's trying to figure out how to do it himself, but in reality, he's not doing anything much. In my experience, most people who try to figure it out themselves, end up making very little progress towards their goals. They end up just researching and thinking about it. Even if they do something, they're often doing the wrong things in the wrong order.
How Much is "Figuring it Out on Your Own" Costing You?
There's a lot of small business owners and executives with this same problem as the guy above. The problem isn't unique to selling internet marketing services or to small business owners. Every day, people decide to try and figure stuff out themselves, instead of relying on an expert who has done it 1,000s of times before. Usually that costs them lost time and lost money.
Do you run into prospects like this? What is it costing them? Are you like this? How much time and money are you losing trying to figure stuff out yourself?