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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Jun 17, 2015 14 min read

How Long Does It Take To Get Leads From Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing ExpectationsFans of the blog know that I like to answer inbound marketing-related questions from prospects and clients.

My feeling has always been that if people are asking the same question or expressing the same concern over and over again, using the blog to answer it might appeal to an even wider variety of individuals.

Today, we’re talking about the speed at which inbound marketing helps businesses get leads, as well as the challenges that this pace presents to you, the business owner, CEO, CMO or Marketing Director. Along with helping to set expectations based on hundreds of client experiences, I also wanted to provide you with some direction on actions you should take to fast-forward the delivery of significant lead flow.

First, what should you expect from your inbound engagement?

It Depends On You

You may not want to hear this, but after working with hundreds of clients over the past 12 years, I know that success depends largely on you. Clients who allow us to do what we do almost always receive unbelievable results in a reasonable time frame – typically about six months from the start of the program.

Clients who are heavily involved in directing us often stunt their own progress, and some never realize their own expectations for the program. Since we execute the same methodology for every single business, the difference between mediocre results and amazing results is actually the client.

How Solid Is Your Plan?

Another variable that impacts the success of the program and the speed at which leads are delivered is the strategic inbound plan created before you even start executing inbound tactics. I’ve seen some of the marketing plans that other agencies are creating, and they’re more technical documents with a section on personas. This might seem like enough, and it might even get you into the tactics sooner. But, it's going to hold back progress when you’re six months into the program and your agency is asking you what to write about.

Instead, slow down and invest the appropriate amount of time up front to create a complete marketing strategy and plan – one that includes personas, messaging, differentiation, stories, search and content strategy. Make sure that your plan has goals and metrics that measure success. Make sure it's dynamic enough to pivot accordingly as your team gets into it. They're going to learn important lessons during implementation and optimization, so while the upfront plan is essential, your team’s ability to be agile during the engagement is equally critical.

The better they are at planning and then adjusting based on performance, the faster you’ll realize leads and revenue from your new inbound program.

Does Your Team Have Experience?

This is vital. Today, there are so many inbound agencies that it’s hard to see who’s good and who’s not. One excellent way to measure this is not by the size of the agency, but rather the sheer number of engagements the agency has executed. Most agencies are still learning inbound, so they only have 10 to 20 experiences in planning, implementing and optimizing an inbound program. You should be looking for people who have over 100 implementations.

Successful or not, it's the experience that matters. Remember, the business owner might have sabotaged their own engagement without even knowing it. So, don’t hold the agency responsible. You’re going to have to look under the covers for the agency that has set systems, processes, methodologies, teams and the experience to deliver.

How Much Are You Investing?

You might be underinvesting in your own inbound program. If you invest $10,000 a month, you’re going to get results faster than if you invest $5,000 a month. How do I know that? It's simple: We used to sell $5,000/month engagements, so we saw firsthand that it takes twice as long as those engagements that are more aggressively funded.

You need to make sure that you’re investing the right amount to match your own performance expectations. It’s not your agency’s fault if you underfund your own program. What’s it worth to your company to have a predictable, repeatable, scalable, lead-generating marketing machine? No, really, what’s it worth? One million dollars? Two million?

At Square 2 Marketing, we know we’re going to get 300 leads a month and 30 sales-qualified leads. No guessing, no hoping, no praying. We also know that we’re going to turn those 30 leads into three to four new clients per month. This is what happens after four years of inbound program optimization. You can have this for your company, too.

Reasonable Expectations

We wish we could get you 100 leads tomorrow too. But, we can’t. Our team is working as hard as physically possible to get you leads as fast as possible, but when it comes to inbound, a certain amount of patience is a requirement. While we’re going to do our best to predict lead flow and then work to hit lead-gen goals, numbers on a piece of paper don’t always come true. Inbound is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes time.

Once it starts working, it works every month. It improves every month, and over time, those improvements are dramatic. Ten times the website visitors and five times the lead generation is not uncommon for clients that stick it out and let their program blossom. Every program is different, just like every client is different. As much as we try to predict performance, it’s still just a guess based on our experience, not on your actual business. Don’t expect any inbound marketing agency to be perfect, but expect them to be able to drive improvements month over month in both website traffic and leads generated. That is very reasonable.

Now that you have a better understanding of what impacts the timing associated with program performance, here are ways to ensure that your program performs sooner rather than later.

Trust Your Partner

If you’re doing inbound on your own, just ignore this section. If you’re working with a partner (and I recommend it based solely on the experience guidance from above), trust them to do what they do. Don’t start telling them what to do, don’t second-guess them, don’t edit what they send you. Give them the chance to be successful based on their own experience and methodology. Once you start dictating terms, you run the risk of sabotaging your own program and delaying your own results.

Stick To Your Business Strategy

We know that business is a dynamic, ever-changing effort. But when you change your entire go-to-market strategy, that’s going to delay your marketing’s ability to generate leads. When you change your messages, differentiation, product offering or personas, you have to understand that this change impacts the ability of ANY marketing to drive results.

Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes changing your course mid-execution is the right move. Being able to pivot quickly might actually be a strategic advantage. However, there’s definitely an impact on your marketing when you make this change. In essence, we have to start all over again. New keywords, new messages, new content, new conversion strategy, new offers  and this work requires the same time it took to create it at the beginning. So, if you do have to make a dramatic shift like this, be realistic about its impact on your marketing, your partners and your results.

Give Solid, Direct And Timely Direction

Great partnerships work when both parties have something to bring to the table. The best client partnerships form when clients let us do inbound, helping us understand their business and their industry. We’ve never going to be the expert when it comes to your business, and you’ll never be the expert when it comes to inbound, so this is where a true partnership has to grow over time.

Help us understand your industry, your business and your products. Over time, we’ll get it. Don’t edit our writing. Instead, make sure it’s technically accurate. We’re not going to write it like you would, but we’re going to write it so that your prospect loves it. It doesn’t really matter if you like the landing page we create. What matters is whether your prospects click on it and turn from visitors into leads.

The direction you give your inbound team is very important. Make sure it’s focused and constructive. If you’re working with an inbound agency, follow their lead. The good ones help you know what direction is helpful. We’re all on the same team, and we all want to generate leads for your business. Keep that in mind as you work through any initial challenges.

Make Sure You're ALL IN On Inbound

This might be one of the biggest challenges we see when it comes to inbound. You can’t be "kinda," partially or only a little bit in on inbound. You have to be all in. You have to devote the time, resources, money and human assets required to move your company from old-school, outdated tactics to inbound tactics. If you’re not prepared to do this, don’t start an inbound initiative. If you think you’ll try it for a few months, don’t begin at all. If you think you’ll go back to what you were doing when this doesn’t work, don’t even think about it.

In 1519 A.D., during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Hernan Cortes, commander of the Spanish fleet, ordered his ships burned so that his men would have no option but to move forward. There are no other options for your marketing. Unless you think cold calling, direct mail, print advertising and networking are the answers to your lead-flow challenges, leave all of these interruptive and wasteful marketing efforts behind and go all in on inbound.

I know that inbound is complex. It’s scary, and most people don’t really understand all of the nuances and intricacies required to make it work. But, there are people who do understand all of that and are willing to teach it to you and your team. Find those people, work closely with them, treat them respectfully and be patient with them. Do this, and watch your marketing become a scalable, predictable, constant source of leads for your business.  

Start Today Tip – Can you do this yourself, or do you need help? Are your expectations clear and reasonable? There are no silver bullets or easy buttons. Inbound takes hard work, patience and commitment. If you’re not prepared to invest both financially and personally, continue doing what you’ve always done. But, if you’re willing to move out of your comfort zone and work to match your marketing and sales approaches with the way that today’s buyers want to be marketed and sold to, you have a very bright future. Either go all in on your own or go all in with an inbound marketing agency partner. The results will amaze you.

Free Guide: The Inbound Marketing Metrics You Need And How To Track Them  

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.