Inbound Marketing & Marketing Automation

The Marketing Automation industry is evolving continuously. Many digital marketers are using marketing automation tools to automate lead nurturing. But if you want to expand your business, you also need to continuously add new leads to your database. Traditional lead sources are tradeshows or lead programs with magazines. Those are definitely useful, but the number of leads is low and the cost per lead is high. It may be attractive to shift more budget to generating leads via your company’s website. And that’s where Inbound Marketing comes in.

“Isn’t that Search Marketing?”

Yes, I feel that Inbound Marketing is sort-of a rebranding of Search Marketing. But Inbound Marketing focuses primarily on organic search, not pay-per-click (like AdWords). I’ve personally often used Google AdWords to drive traffic to websites: it’s instantanious and you can fine-tune campaigns to target a specific audience. But it can quickly get expensive.  Search Engine Optimization may be a more cost-effective alternative.

Search Engine Optimization focuses on getting your site in the natural search results. That takes a lot of work upfront, but will result in ‘free’ traffic in the future. SEO has not exactly been a science: you have to optimize your site’s structure and content, and you ask other sites to link to you. Both activities have traditionally either been done manually in-house, or outsourced to an agency.

Inbound Marketing is more than just SEO. It also includes Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), blogging, creation of high-quality content, and website conversion optimization. In short: everything to make sure that prospects find you, rather than you trying to find your prospects with ‘outbound’ marketing.

Inbound Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation vendors have done very little to automate Inbound Marketing activities. Their main focus has been on nurturing and scoring your existing leads. Lately, most vendors have added features to monitor anonymous traffic your site (the most recent announcements: Pardot, Marketo, Eloqua). But that doesn’t help with getting more visitors to your site.

There are software vendors that focus only on Inbound Marketing or SEO automation. Hubspot – an early Inbound Marketing evangelist – is one of them, and so are Enquisite, Raven and SEOMoz (probably I’m forgetting at least a dozen vendors, so feel free to leave a comment). Those tools are promising, but not mainstream yet.

What Does it Do for You?

The Inbound Marketing Automation tools have a lot of useful features, such as:

  • Keyword research: find out which keywords to optimize for
  • Rank tracking (or SERP tracking): monitor your site’s rank for those keywords
  • Competitor rank tracking: monitor competitor’s rank for those keywords
  • Link building: get high-quality links back to your site
  • Website quality checking: structure your website properly (title, description, URL & headings)
  • Social Media monitoring: see who writes about your company or your areas of expertise
  • Project management: work together with a team of people
  • ROI reporting: see which activities result in new leads

There are many tools that do one particular thing, such as rank tracking. But there are also integrated tool suites, like Hubspot and Raven. Those include extensive project management and reporting features. Actually, I’ve found they are a real time-saver when you do Inbound Marketing: before using these tools, I found myself copying data in and out of spreadsheets. That took at least 25% of my time. Now I’ve virtually eliminated the use of spreadsheets.

Message for Marketing Automation Vendors

The current Marketing Automation vendors are solving only part of the online marketing problem: lead management. Few offer Inbound Marketing features. In my opinion, they will have to offer at least some Inbound Marketing features before the end of the year. This will differentiate them, and will allow them to increase the revenue per customer. The company that is furthest along with this, is not a Marketing Automation company. It is Hubspot: they’re quietly adding Lead Management features to their Inbound Marketing suite. So Marketing Automation vendors: you’d better hurry!


If you want get cheaper leads by improving your Inbound Marketing, don’t expect a Marketing Automation system to take care of that. Either work with an SEO agency, or read a book on SEO and use one of the integrated Inbound Marketing tools. Marketing Automation systems have many benefits, but they are especially useful if you already have a decent amount of leads in your database.

Request: I could write many more posts about Inbound Marketing, so please let me know what you want me to write about! Leave a comment or email me.

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9 thoughts on “Inbound Marketing & Marketing Automation

  1. Dharmesh Shah

    Great high-level overview of inbound marketing.

    Generally, we define inbound marketing to include search, social media and blogs — any marketing activity that allows you to pull customers in.

    I’m co-authoring a book called (appropriately enough), “inbound marketing”. Wiley will publish it in October.

  2. Jon Henshaw

    I think your conclusion is spot on. Automated inbound marketing tools will only get you so far. It’s still necessary to bring your own skills, relationships and leads to the table in order to harness the full power of those tools.

  3. Adam Needles

    Hi, Jep.

    A great check-in on this space and a great follow-up to my past Propelling Brands post on inbound marketing:

    I think your commentary points to an ultimate reality for marketers, and that’s that B2B marketers’ needs for building, nurturing and converting leads into customers — and then managing that customer lifecycle — are holistic, are inherently multi-channel and today transcend individual platforms. I think your piece also speaks to the rapid evolution occurring in B2B marketing that must contend with a fundamental shift in power in the buyer-seller dynamic, a permanant move to Internet-based buyer education and a proliferation of buyer-seller communication channels.

    I think this explains many of the platform ecosystems and integrations we see in the marketplace today and is a good reminder that we, as providers of marketing platforms (which is the new hat I’m now wearing at Silverpop), must keep the marketer’s core needs and expanding set of challenges — especially for improving customer engagement cross-channel and for managing ROI throughout — in mind as we develop and evolve our platforms.

    As you indicate, we should see quite a bit of innovation in this space over the next year — especially as it relates to inbound marketing — an exciting time for B2B marketers.

    Great piece.

  4. Maria Pergolino

    Hey Jep,

    I do not think that marketing automation providers need to rush into the inbound marketing space.

    To understand why, I think we need to break the funnel into three categories: Pre-click, Post-click, and Post-Conversion. Marketing automation with CRM covers the latter two. Inbound marketing tools covers the first. It is okay that they are different systems. They key is selecting the best systems that focus on their core competency and proper integration of these systems together.

    Those using sophisticated marketing automation are best suited to use a web analytics product and social media monitoring tool plus CRM to cover all three areas appropriately. A great example (though not the only possible combination) of this is using WebTrends, Radian 6, Marketo, and together. The benefit of these tools is that they can all be integrated with Salesforce bringing data together for complete campaign analysis and the ability to move data between the different systems for true sales and marketing reporting.

    Small businesses with little budget are likely to make due with a combination of free tools, blogging software, and an email provider to try to cover the entire funnel. The problem with this path is that it takes more time for the marketer to compile information and the true understanding of Marketing ROI can never be achieved. I talk about that in this blog post- The Cost to SMBs of Not Implementing a Marketing Automation System, which can be found here:

    I also think that inbound marketing is not the new word for search marketing. Instead, I see segments of search marketing as a part of inbound marketing. Other parts of search marketing are outbound marketing. In Jon’s Secret Sauce on-demand webinar ( ) you can see how Marketo breaks these out for campaign evaluation and reporting purposes. This is a critical exercise for those in demand generation as it is important to see your CPL by category so you can create an optimal mix for lead generation.

    Note: while I mention blog posts from Marketo’s blog, the articles I mention will be relevant to anyone using or considering marketing automation or anyone who is interested in how to integrate inbound marketing.

  5. Jep Castelein Post author

    @dharmesh looking forward to read your book

    @jon yes, agree. No matter how smart the system, it will only facilitate, not do the thinking for you.

    @adam your article on inbound marketing is a great resource, and I should have linked to it in the first place!

    @maria Those are some excellent points you are making, and I can highly recommend the ‘secret sauce’ webinar: especially the ROI reports across lead sources are insightful. I agree that you need to strike the right balance between ‘best-of-breed’ systems and integrations. Personally I find that Salesforce is not the best platform to consolidate the results of other systems, but I may be wrong there. I’d love to hear your opinion on that. In the mean time, I’m writing a new blog post with more details why I think Inbound Marketing should be part of Marketing Automation: should be published in a couple of days.

  6. Kristin Hambelton (@Neolane)

    Jep – Good perspectives on inbound marketing and marketing automation. It seems that every day marketers have to expand the scope of their efforts to ensure they are fishing where the fish are, which is hard given that new watering holes pop up every day. But, as we all know, getting the fish to actually bite – or converting a prospect to a paying customer – is where the real challenge is. Not only do marketers need to be in the channels where their prospects are (whatever the channel du jour is), but they also need to ensure that they are serving up relevant content and personalized offers in those channels to drive conversions. Reflecting on all the inbound/outbound channels marketers have at their disposal today and the unrelenting pressures on measurement and ROI, it strikes me that the tried and true marketing principle of “list and offer” still holds true: LIST (where your customers are) and the OFFER (relevant and personalized offers). Like many industries going through rapid transformations, in marketing, perhaps what’s old really is new again.

  7. Pingback: Inbound Marketing Automation | LeadSloth on Demand Generation

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