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I’m getting tired of battling marketing departments over their irrational devotion to Inbound (and Content) Marketing.

It seems that marketing folks can’t help but fall violently in love with these concepts, rendering them useless to the rest of the organization.

Here’s my beef.

I know, from personal experience, that the content marketing thing works, in certain environments. (And, I’m enormously grateful that my business happens to be one of those environments.)

But, I also know from experience with our clients that content marketing does not work at scale in most environments.

I heard a presentation from a marketing person the other day who was supposed to be generating sales opportunities to feed a team of five inside salespeople. He was excited to report that his content marketing efforts had resulted in him generating 65 high-scoring sales opportunities from a list of 11,000 email addresses.

Here’s the problem. Those 5 inside salespeople consume 12 opportunities, on average, each day.

So, if our content-marketing buddy wants to feed those five salespeople, he needs to repeat this feat every day. And if, to avoid email fatigue, he decides to mail his list only weekly, he needs to rapidly increase his house list from 11,000 to 55,000 contacts.

Now, you could argue that the fault here is with sales for building a team that’s larger than the opportunity flow. But, here’s the thing. This organization knows that there are hundreds of selling conversations occurring every day in its marketplace. Problem is, those conversations are occurring between potential customers and their competitors’ salespeople.

This organization simply cannot afford to wait for marketing to slowly scale up their opportunity-generation efforts, hamstrung by their ideological devotion to Inbound Marketing.

Where Inbound Marketing is concerned, the problem this organization has is, like most other organizations, it does not have a massive point of difference and it’s products are not high-involvement for their customers.

So the notion of building a ‘thought-leadership platform’ or whatever the content-marketing folks call it, is untenable.

To return to our story.

I pointed out to the marketing guy that his model could not scale and had to be revised if he we were to keep the inside sales team fully loaded with opportunities. I explained how we could devise offers that were targeted to micro-segments and then compile lists, send pre-approach campaigns and push opportunities (at scale) to inside salespeople’s opportunity queues.

He reacted as if I’d suggested he sell his soul to the devil. It was clear to the rest of the organization that he could not get behind this idea. It was also clear to the rest of the organization that it made no sense to retard the firm’s growth out of deference to this marketing ideology de jour.

Ironically, the whole notion of inbound marketing is a distinction without much of a difference. The idea of prospects following a breadcrumb trail to your door is an alluring one. But the fact is that, at some point, the marketer has to alert them to the existence of that trail. Like it or not, there must be some kind of disturbance to the natural order (or interruption, as they call it) or those breadcrumbs will go unnoticed.

I think it’s time that people started questioning this ideology. It’s not as generally applicable nor as scalable as the software vendors who perpetuate it would have us think (sorry, Hubspot).

And, in my experience, the all too common mindless devotion to this ideology is retarding the growth of organizations and turning marketing people into zombies: out of touch and of limited use for the rest of their organizations.

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Home Forums Inbound Marketing: Retards Growth and Turns Marketing Folks into Zombies

This topic contains 11 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Justin Roff-Marsh 2 years, 3 months ago.

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
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  • #26598 Reply


    I am from HubSpot. No offense taken (personally at least). Moreover, I appreciate that you started this conversation. We’ve been tweaking how to execute inbound marketing at scale for almost 10 years now and don’t consider it done.

    Is sales involved in the marketing? Do they help create the content or at least recommend the content that should be created? Do they share it? Do they send it to their prospects? Do they leverage it during their sales process? Are the salespeople helping to conduct market research? Why was the marketing person averse to targeting the content to niches? Was he/she averse to having salespeople do research and send content? Have you tried reaching out to prosects to ask them to contribute to content?

    I agree with you that companies should not wait for visitors to find them via search and social or targeted ads. They should start conversations and build a community. That is not very well captured in the inbound methodology that we teach as most companies don’t have the basics of search, lead capture and nurturing done yet. But, our most successful customers know how to leverage thier sales team to build a bigger top of the funnel.

    Let me know if I can help. I’m interested in solving this problem.

    PS. I just read a bunch of your stuff. I’m impressed with your perspective as well as your writing.

    #26600 Reply

    Hi Peter

    Thanks for responding (and for not taking umbrage).

    A typical scenario for us is where a client is selling a commodity product that’s low involvement for their customers.

    Now, we’ll typically encourage our clients to devise differentiated service offerings (e.g. Vendor Managed Inventory) — but there’s still a requirement to have lots of conversations and drive sales.

    If our clients’ sales team don’t have the conversations, their competitors’ teams will.

    In a scenario like this it’s rarely practical to generate anywhere close to 100% of sales opportunities via inbound (but marketing managers have been conditioned to believe that anything other than inbound is sacrilege).

    The simple solution is a time-honored one.

    Identify market segments, come up with interesting applications and appealing propositions for these segments, send a pre-approach email (preempting the salesperson’s approach) and then push a sales opportunity to the salesperson — so they can initiate contact.

    Done badly, you convert salespeople into telemarketers. But if you do a great job of the targeting and offer formulation, then the prospects are warm enough for salespeople to be comfortable making these calls (and for the calls to be productive).

    This offends the sensibilities of the new marketing order, but I’m afraid my job is not to avoid offending sensitive marketers — it’s to make our clients money!

    Interestingly, we also encounter a similar problem approaching enterprise buyers in very large companies (e.g. Coke, Revlon, etc). There are simply too few of them to make inbound cost-effective. In these situations, we’ll use a similar outbound approach, except we might substitute a preapproach email for a package that’s fedexed to the target’s desk.

    We do involve salespeople in the conceptualization of campaigns (to the extent they want to be — which tends to be limited) but we do NOT have them engage in marketing activities (blogging, tweeting, etc).

    In the environments we build salespeople perform 20-30 meaningful selling interactions a day. They have no time to play at being marketers. And this would generate a shocking return on their (very) expensive (and very limited) capacity.

    We don’t want salespeople to learn how to be marketers. We want marketers to learn how to be marketers!

    #26605 Reply

    Bruce Rasmussen

    Justin – I would suggest the problem is more the “irrational/mindless devotion”, rather than inbound/content marketing itself.

    Any approach applied in the wrong way – or in the wrong situation – will fail.

    #26606 Reply

    Exactly my point, Bruce!

    #26607 Reply

    Marlon Marescia

    Great article Justin.

    Your thoughts are similar to my experience. I think inbound marketing can be very effective but should be part of a larger marketing strategy which almost always has to include outbound strategies, paid advertising or older lead generation strategies to supplement the leads to keep sales people busy.

    A great example is the book Predicable Revenue which tells the story of how Salesforce.com grew their business using outbound email and follow up phone calls to grow their business.

    #26608 Reply

    Paul D Hauck

    Isn’t it just a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the direction of the latest new thing, and it will swing back soon enough?

    We’ve found that inbound marketing is very efficient for low-value high-volume products sold online, but not very good for higher-value ‘considered purchases’ like most significant B2B sales, particularly where you have a small market. If your target market is small, all the effort spent talking to everyone outside of it is wasted, and you need to find a way to target your messaging much more efficiently.

    Generally, that’s direct outbound messaging, unless your market has a natural gathering place online, though which you can communicate with them directly.

    We’ve also found that for higher-value purchases, you’re generally talking to people that don’t spend nearly as much time reading things online, which limits the effectiveness of inbound directly. Again, direct outbound in one form or another, while it’s a lot harder, is much better for opening those doors.

    We’re really interested in account-based marketing now, where more traditional target-account selling is beginning to drive the marketing process as well. This seems to hold a lot of promise for our ‘considered purchase’ B2B customers, in particular.

    Love the book, BTW – and keep up the good work!

    #26609 Reply

    Gavin Pooley from Liquidline UK asks (offline) for me to expand on the following:

    I pointed out to the marketing guy that his model could not scale and had to be revised if he we were to keep the inside sales team fully loaded with opportunities. I explained how we could devise offers that were targeted to micro-segments and then compile lists, send pre-approach campaigns and push opportunities (at scale) to inside salespeople’s opportunity queues.​

    What I mean, is that, where outbound campaigns are concerned, the success of inside salespeople is a function of the appeal of the offer (and associated propositions).

    The key to having a compelling offer is to zero in on a small market segment whose needs are not adequately served by legacy suppliers.

    This requires:

      The identification of such a segment
      Careful research to hunt down the individuals in said segment
      The creation of a compelling offer (and proposition)

    If you do a great job of all this, the pre approach campaigns are more likely to be read and the salesperson is more likely to receive a good reception when they pick up the phone.

    #26615 Reply

    Tom Gavic


    We are a comprehensive consulting firm serving independent colleges and universities, and are blessed to have presidents and their leadership teams as our client partners and prospects. Higher education is clearly a market niche that respects knowledge leadership and we are beginning the early development of a content marketing strategy. I was intrigued with you comment early in your post…”I know, from personal experience, that the content marketing thing works, in certain environments. (And, I’m enormously grateful that my business happens to be one of those environments.)”

    Could you share a little more why you think content marketing is working for your firm?


    #26616 Reply


    For 20 years, we have generated ALL our sales opportunities via inbound.

    We have built our list by giving away content and speaking at other people’s events. Initially the content was special reports. In more recent times, the content has been a mini-book, consisting of the first 3 chapters of The Machine. We’ve been using online advertising (PPC) to give away between 50 and 100 copies of this mini-book for years now, so we have a decent house list.

    To further stimulate opportunity flow (when necessary) we run webinars for our house list. These will typically draw upwards of 100 attendees and will often generate 10-20 good-quality (late-stage) opportunities.

    Now, with the release of the book, we’ve eased off the PPC advertising and we’re focusing, instead, on promoting the book. We’ve seen a recent lift in both the volume and quality of opportunities so the book appears to be doing its job.

    This is why I think content marketing is working.

    But I’m also aware that what we have here is almost impossible for many organizations to replicate (for reasons I explain in the post above). You should trust me on that. I spent many years and many millions of patient clients’ money trying!


    #26653 Reply

    David Shaw

    Interesting read Justin, I have this post and the comments a few times over. I think it was the headline of the post that A got my attention and B made me question your thought process. Hence reading it over. As previously mentioned in the comments it’s not inbound that is the problem. Horses for courses is what I am taking away from this post. The right sales and marketing mix for each individual company and industry. I have previously said on many a stage that sales people need to think like marketers and marketers need to think like sales people and your book is now making me question that. Is there any place for a sales person to have any kind of brand in order to build trust and demonstrate expertise?

    #26654 Reply


    If you mean ‘brand’ in a formal sense — something that transcends the good reputation that comes naturally from being wise, honest and resourceful — then I would say No. It makes very little sense for an organization to expect their salespeople to build personal brands.

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