Inbound Marketing: The Guiding Light for Community Building

Author Margaret Fuller once said that “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” An illuminating annual marketing conference, HubSpot’s INBOUND14, is guiding business leaders towards an exciting new movement I call the community economy.Inbound Marketing Lightbulb Graphic

While attending the conference in Boston last month, I witnessed how inbound marketing—a non-intrusive, educational approach to attract more leads and convert more leads to customers—has reached a new level of sophistication and contribution to building sustainable, customer-centric companies (full disclosure: HubSpot gave me an all access pass).

HubSpot & the Pioneering of Inbound Marketing

HubSpot, Inc., a fast-growth, Cambridge, MA based technology success story with over 700 employees, pioneered the concept of inbound marketing back in 2006. In August, they filed a $100 million public offering. When they first introduced the concept, which I call Level 1 inbound, co-founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan spent most of their time playing evangelists. They touted the merits of blogging and publishing.

By 2008, hundreds of small and mid-sized companies (including me) were willing to invest a modest monthly fee to use HubSpot’s publishing and digital SEO platform. We took a calculated risk because we wanted to shine amidst a panoply of competitors. We believed in the HubSpot promise.

For many, these early marketing automation companies delivered on their promise. Inbound marketers started noticing higher web traffic and new leads flowing through their sales funnel. Over time, we witnessed higher conversion rates from their initiatives. If we remained consistent with our efforts, others in their company began chanting the inbound marketing mantra. Suddenly, the skeptics and small business owners who complained that they were too busy to build good content took blogging and content creation seriously.

The Community Economy: Inbound Marketing at a Whole New Level

Inbound Marketing GraphicFast forward to 2014. Now we are witnessing the convergence of sales and marketing automation. During my discussion with CEO Brian Halligan, he told me that “something new is happening: there is a new, big industry forming around apps for sales reps. InsideSales.com, Clearslide, and others are getting serious scale.”

HubSpot’s relatively new product, Sidekick (formerly known as Signals), fits in that space. This product incorporates many of the “top of the funnel” functions in marketing software. Over 100,000 people have downloaded the tool. It dramatically reduces the drudgery of conducting exhaustive account research for B2B salespeople.

These tools are taking inbound marketing to a new level, and are fueling something I call the community economy. Thanks to the democratization of data and round-the-clock access to information, your community now calls the shots. Top-down management, which focuses on consistency and stability to drive revenues, is in decline. Customers want to be more engaged in product development and problem-solving. Research proves that they are already in charge of an increasing percentage of the buying process. And they are downright fearless when it comes to sharing their feedback on what it’s like to do business with your company. Glassdoor, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and Yelp unabashedly prove that point.

In the community economy, you either become highly adept at communicating with customers and colleagues at all levels, or you lose market relevance. Fueled by a passion to continuously innovate and improve, HubSpot, its customers and partners fuse the best qualities of customer engagement, collaboration, rapid project prototyping (such as agile marketing), and transparency.

When I asked CEO Halligan what surprised him about INBOUND14, he unabashedly said “this is the best week of my entire career. The partners are the highlight. A lot of people told me that ‘this conference has changed my life!’ We need to keep investing in our community of over 11,000 customers and partners to keep the movement going.”

Can you say the same about your external communities?

Seasoned community managers such as HubSpot are innovators and change agents. Some clients I feature in my book revere the community manager as the company’s “spiritual guide.” Part storyteller, trend spotter, analyst, editor, and therapist, they are the alchemists who hold the magic skills needed to engage and inspire.

Inbound marketing works hand in hand with the community economy. This outreach strategy represents a resplendent beacon in our global economy that many marketers have not yet ignited. Those who choose to fully embrace the strategy will convert their valuable business knowledge into priceless, actionable wisdom for their customers.

What has your experience been with inbound marketing and/or HubSpot? Share your story in the comments below!

Copyright 2014, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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