Last week, I suggested to some contention that you could Do More Business with Fewer Sales People. One clear path to doing this is through inbound marketing.

Since HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan wrote the book on inbound marketing, it's no surprise they have a stake in seeing companies use it to its full potential. (Using HubSpot software of course.) So it was interesting this week to see them release results from an in-depth survey of 3,339 companies and agencies, two thirds of which were not HubSpot users.

The about to be released 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report, (here's an exclusive sneak peak), shows that 58 percent of respondents are using inbound marketing. More important, 48 percent will increase their spending on inbound marketing this year. So it's likely that if you're not using inbound marketing techniques, you'll be competing against those who are.

The report also showed that companies struggle with measurement, and a clear definition of what inbound marketing is and isn't. Many have tried to classify some tools like blogs and SEO as inbound versus ads and direct mail as traditional. However I maintain that blogs, e-mail, TV ads, and any other marketing tool can be used as traditional or inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is not about the tools you use; it's about how you use the tools.

Inbound marketing strategically integrates data, technology, content and intimacy to efficiently attract customers predisposed to buy, and often at a premium price. The survey results also confirm that inbound marketing helps consolidate and target fragmented audiences and generate resource efficient leads.

In case you haven't yet fully adopted an inbound marketing approach, I consulted with several inbound marketing experts to provide some best-practice tips so you can compete with the inevitable onslaught of inbound marketers:

1. Give Before You Get

Michael Brito, senior vice president of social business strategy at Edelman Digital notes that most ads don't take into account where a customer is in their buying process. If you just read a blog entry, getting an aggressive call from a sales rep is unwarranted. Instead, he recommends "giving valued content" so customers feel a benefit from your brand, and are more inclined to come to you when it's time to buy.

2. Build Your Own Audience Instead of Renting One

Jason Falls, vice president of digital strategy at Cafe Press, notes that traditional paid advertising involves essentially renting eyeballs or clicks. "With inbound, you're building the audience you need so you don't have to pay someone to go find them. At CafePress, we provide sharable, inspirational and humorous designs, images and quotes on our Facebook page. The people who enjoy those are people who generally enjoy the types of unique products and gifts we offer. So when we're ready to run an offer or promotion on $5 silly t-shirts or a low-price art canvas, we've gathered over 430,000 people interested in our type of products to present that offer to."

3. Replace Campaigns with Continuity

"Marketing used to be isolated events involving large-scale advertising and media campaigns, but your customers don't live on a campaign schedule," suggests David Carpenter of Connection Model. Continuous engagement is the new campaign. Successful inbound marketing can follow a customer through their entire lifecycle, from their first site visit, to the point they become a lead, through the sales process, and even after for repeat and referral business. Don't just go for one and done.

4. Go Above and Beyond Content

Kipp Bodnar, HubSpot's director of marketing and author of The B2B Social Media Book, says, "Content marketing is a critical component of inbound marketing, but it goes well beyond that to include an integrated system to optimize every interaction in your funnel." Use compelling content as fuel to stoke your inbound marketing fire.

5. Measure, Experiment, Remeasure 

Data is readily available in electronic marketing so use it a lot. Measure everything you can and find ways to capitalize. For example, a study by Marketing Sherpa notes that lead scoring increases conversion rates by 79 percent. And HubSpot data based on their users indicates that lately most e-mail unsubscribes come on Tuesdays, while the highest click through rates occur at 6 a.m. Little numbers can have big impact so measure everything and adjust constantly.

6. Know Who You Are, Know Who They Are

Consumers want to interact with brands in a highly relational way. They want to believe there is a distinct YOU, know who YOU are, and that there is mutual respect and understanding between YOU and THEM. Develop buyer personas based on your customers' habits, buying behavior, and lifestyle. Then instead of searching for customers, help them find you. Put yourself in places they want to be, and invite them to come to you. Julia Roy, co-founder of WorkHacks suggests if you are clear on who you serve, you can serve them better. She points out: "It's counterintuitive at first, but you really don't want to reach everyone. Focus on the dreams and desires of your top customers and pay them special attention."

7. Practice Smarketing

HubSpot's Senior Vice President of Sales and Services, Mark Roberge notes that the benefits of inbound marketing extend beyond your marketing department. "The best companies win with inbound marketing by deeply engaging and aligning with their sales department so both parts of the business are more measurable, scalable, and effective."

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