A few years ago, I went ahead and got myself a nice liberal arts education. You know, the kind that’s supposed to “prepare you for the real world” by affording you the opportunity to take courses in communications, science, budgeting, psychology, etc. I must say that it’s a good thing too, considering I landed in the profession that I did. I was recently working on something and feeling a bit “stretched” out of my comfort zone when I realized just how many hats inbound marketers are called to wear throughout the daily trappings of their careers.
The truth is, like many other professions, it’s not easy to be (or to find) a good inbound marketer. It requires more skills than you or I are likely to imagine when we give it a passing thought. While each inbound marketer definitely has his or her own strengths and weaknesses for each required role, below are some of the proverbial hats that I have been called upon to wear over the years. I’m sure I’m leaving some out, so this list can be fluid. I’d love to hear some others that you have to share.
When you combine the fact that we have to be ultra-flexible, keep pace with inbound marketing changes, deal with the (diminishing) skepticism over whether we’re worth the investment and likely work out of a garage, you get a sense of what a real challenge it is to rise to the top of this profession.
Now I don’t write this to claim that I’ve personally ascended to any specific level, but to bring an awareness and appreciation for those that have and a fresh perspective for those whose marketing team may include an inbound specialist.
Here are some of my “true professions of an inbound marketer.”
As any good marketer knows, improving the bottom line is not about opinion, but results. Inbound marketers have to know how to identify questions and problems, hypothesize solutions, perform tests, analyze results and draw conclusions. By wearing the scientist hat, you allow the customer to communicate what they want so that you can deliver it for them.
Inbound marketing is a pull medium. You have to be able to incorporate techniques into your web presence that satisfy customers rather than annoy them. You have to know what makes them tick, what’s going on in their lives, what messages will drive them to take action and what techniques encourage more of them to do so.
At any point in time, an inbound marketer can be called to the scene of an accident. Whether it be organic rankings that totally disappear for a whole site, PPC ads that abruptly stop because they can’t be entered into auctions or conversion rates mysteriously plummet on a site (all things I’ve experienced by the way), we have to be ready to drop what we’re doing to come to the rescue. Since the problems aren’t usually immediately obvious, we have to incorporate good investigat-orial (that’s for you, Jen) skills, such as knowing how to prioritize the most likely and simple scenarios (is it unplugged?!?!) and how to attack them.
Part of any client relationship for an inbound marketer is being available to answer any questions that may be asked of you. In order to be effective at this, you have to take the posture that there are no stupid questions. After all, this is why they hired you. They don’t know how to do what you do. So, being patient, tolerant and having the skill to answer questions in ways that are simple and make sense while, at the same time, suggesting there’s a master-guru-mogul-genius on the team is important to inbound marketing success.
Not only have I been called upon to research billing issues, but also to decide how budgets are going to be allocated, what kind of ROI campaigns are getting, what kind of return-on-ad (ROA) spend budgets are accruing, the optimal Target Cost Per Conversion, and many other financial metrics. While this certainly doesn’t involve math that is too complex, as most of us know, finding a person that can do simple math consistently well can be quite complex!
Keyword research, link relationship research, competitive intelligence research, buyer persona research, etc. To set clients apart from their competition, a great inbound marketer has to know which tools will give them valuable information and then have the skill to extrapolate the insights that can be incorporated into their digital presence.
In an industry where there are very few official credentials (i.e., Ph.D. or law degree, etc.), there has to be a way that you can set yourself apart from the rest of the inbound marketers that all say the same thing about what they can do. On the surface, it seems that anyone and everyone can get you top rankings, make your Facebook presence explode and make your business grow by leaps and bounds. Yet, the inbound marketing industry still carries a weight of skepticism from many. So, in order to stay in business, there has to be outlets from which trust is built with potentials customers. Writing is one of them. Teaching through writing has been our biggest lead generator by far.
Along with writing, speaking gives a personal touch and has the potential to captivate an audience that you can more heavily impact with inbound marketing greatness. Given that public speaking is one of the biggest fears of the human race (even more than death!), this skill can be hard to find, especially in people that sit behind computers all day. But, if you can find one that’s great behind a computer and in front of an audience, then you may have found a great inbound marketer.
Clients typically have marketing budgets that fall wa-a-ay short of their potential. Communicating that every dollar spent is making them more money, presenting the opportunities that can be implemented for growth and convincing them that increasing their budgets will grow their businesses can be a challenge, even after you’ve gotten them 800% ROI with their current budget! A good inbound marketer can present a client’s options for growth in a way that makes sense and is hard to turn down. When you come to them with new ideas, get their buy-in and then deliver, they’ll be with you for a very long time.
Many clients don’t know how to find, analyze or draw insights from what happens with their marketing campaigns. They need someone to communicate data collected by filtering down to what’s important to their business at any point in time in a way that is easily understood. A good inbound marketer delivers pointed, insightful reports with clear recommendations for moving forward with the client’s growth.
Customer Service Representative
Yes, I know this one applies to almost all professions. But, as I mentioned before, this industry can be quite sensitive. Many clients sign up with a hint of skepticism in the first place. Then, they come at you with, “why aren’t our rankings higher?”, and you want to come back with, “you haven’t done anything we’ve recommended yet!” How you handle this and other situations can make the difference between keeping and losing a client. A great inbound marketer can both empathize with a client’s position and communicate truth clearly in a way that makes the client feel like they’re getting more than what they’re paying for.
While the ability to work remotely has its advantages, it also comes with a few challenges. For instance, in the midst of writing this post, one of my co-workers was telling me about how she was working at home AND taking care of her daughter who was home sick from school.
Again, this list certainly isn’t meant to toot my own horn, but I thought it was quite interesting how flexible I’ve been called upon to be.
That’s all I have for now, but I’m going to keep this list fluid and add to it as time goes by. Again, I’d love to hear others that can be added to the list.