With the mass of data and insight available to digital marketers and sales teams, finding the useful information in all that noise can be a job all of its own.
Luckily for us, the annual HubSpot State of Inbound report provides a helpful guide to the present and the future. With data and views collected from 4,500 digital marketers in businesses of various sizes and sectors across 132 countries, this report gives us some great insight into the general direction of sales and marketing online.
We picked out some of the trends and challenges from the report that seemed most significant and likely to have a big impact.
Of the nine inbound marketing priorities ranked by survey respondents this year, five are explicitly about content creation. The other four all also have some connection to content. This is actually quite consistent with the previous two years, showing the growing importance of content in recent times.
One change is that marketing automation has made it onto the board at number four, where previously it was not on the list. Also, long form and visual content are now classed as separate categories at number 6 and 7, respectively.
A big focus remains from last year on blog content creation at number two. Blogs are, of course, still tremendously popular, but keep in mind that only 29% of consumers say they want to see more blog content in the future. Creating blog content of real value whilst experimenting with other channels is paramount.
More people are finding content through social. For example, in May a report from Pew Research Center indicated that 62% of US adults got their news from social channels and, according to HubSpot, 2 billion people search for content via Facebook every day.
We already know that social media networks have huge audiences, and respondents to the HubSpot survey indicated that they will be trying to engage people on more of these in future by decentralising and publishing content across various channels.
Many respondents signalled their intention to make more use of video, specifically through YouTube and Facebook. It’s not clear how impacted this might be by recent news that Facebook accidentally overestimated video viewing figures for the past two years. There’s also the question of what really counts as a view. Some reports state that Facebook counts a video as 'viewed' after only 3 seconds and YouTube after 30 seconds. Video certainly remains popular but, as with all strategies that are new to you, approach it with caution and test, test, test.
It’s Sales and Marketing, but not as we know it…
The nature of selling is changing and sales and marketing teams are likely to be more effective if closely aligned. The report found that:
- Of the 22% of respondents who have an SLA between sales and marketing, 82% feel their strategy is effective.
- Of the 11% who felt the two teams were misaligned, only 20% feel their strategy is effective.
- Marketers feel the best leads come from inbound practices, whereas salespeople feel they source the best leads directly.
Clearly these points demonstrate a lack of communication. As change becomes ever more rapid, both sales and marketing need to be ever more flexible and adaptable. The more aligned and even integrated they are, the easier this is likely to be.
For instance, sales reps reported that the hardest aspect of conversion is at the beginning of the process. Prospecting was said to be much more difficult when potential customers are less knowledgeable about the company and its products and services. Marketers need to make sure that their content allows this education to happen more quickly, but it would be easier for them to do this if they were more closely aligned with sales.
Marketing challenges bound together
The main challenge reported by the survey was, unsurprisingly, “generating traffic and leads”. This is always key for any sales and marketing team and the other challenges being reported illustrate what is preventing increases and conversions.
The second biggest challenge identified here, with 43% of respondents highlighting it, is “proving the ROI of our marketing activities”.
The next three ranked challenges:
- Securing enough budget
- Managing our website
- Identifying the right technologies for our needs.
All of these challenges are wrapped up together. The report also states that those who are able to calculate the ROI of marketing have more confidence in their strategy and put more budget into these activities. Equally, with a higher budget the team then has the opportunity to do more and be more effective.
Without the ability to prove ROI, securing the budget required to manage the website, and identify and implement the required tools is very difficult. However, without the right tools proving the ROI is nearly impossible.
The fact that so many are reporting these as their biggest obstacles demonstrates that many businesses just don’t feel they have an adequate digital platform with the tools they need to grow. Make sure you have the expertise and technology in place to prove that ROI and allow your teams to be competitive.
Chatbots, Messaging and Artificial Intelligence
One thing missing from this report is a look at chat interfaces, messaging apps and artificial intelligence. These related trends are set to influence sales and marketing in interesting ways, yet they do not feature much here. Only 20% of respondents indicated that they would be trying out messaging apps as a distribution channel. Yet this area should not be ignored.
Back in April, Business Insider reported that messaging apps had overtaken social media networks in terms of monthly active users. Apps like WeChat and LINE have been successful in engaging users and monetising. AI and chatbots remain imperfect but companies are working on new applications and improvements all the time.
Some studies indicate that private channels such as messaging, chat and email account for almost 70% of social shares. As messaging apps in particular become both more popular and more valued as a way to reach consumers, we can expect to see more companies using them to sell to and track users.
Chatbots and marketing automation driven by AI is starting to be used to manage this, among other functions. On top of that you have Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google increasing their focus on machine learning and with many of their key services driven by algorithms. It’s going to be important to at least have an understanding of all this in order to be as effective as you can be.
Sell to people where they are
The key takeaway from the report is to be prepared to sell to people where they are. Rapid changes in digital mean new tools, strategies and channels are available all the time. For your teams to be effective they need the platform, budget and training to be able to keep up, try new strategies and track and prove the ROI of their efforts.
The full report can be downloaded here and is full of interesting insights.