You feel good about your inbound marketing planning for next year. You’ve been reading, thinking, strategizing. And now you’re excited to start executing in January.
But one piece of the puzzle is bothering you. You’ve made some commitments to the sales team regarding the number of leads, and you’re feeling uncomfortable.
Since the beginning of time, marketing people haven’t wanted to be accountable for delivering leads, so your lack of comfort might be genetic. Today, the more progressive inbound marketing professionals are happy to be accountable, using a blend of industry and company-specific metrics to do their projections.
The rest of this article is going to assume that you have an inbound program with all of the necessary components, including the critical strategy and planning elements. It’s also going to assume that you did the baseline benchmarking required to establish today’s performance numbers.
Here’s how we do inbound marketing performance projections for both website visitors and leads.
Start with a baseline month.
This means creating a month that represents an average of the past few months’ actual performance. Most of the clients we work with don’t have years and years of performance data. If they did, we might take more of a year-over-year perspective. But without it, we’ve found that the best results are delivered by creating an "average month" and working from that.
Build based on actual program elements.
Now that you have your baseline month, start building month over month based on the actual inbound program you’re planning to execute. Typically, you don’t start an inbound program with everything firing on all cylinders. For instance, you might start blogging aggressively in January, but you're still working on improving your website. You might add some fresh content to the top-of-the-funnel pages, but the middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel offers are scheduled for February.
This has to be taken into consideration when you do your projections. Typically, during the early months of your program, the projected results are fairly modest: perhaps a 5% improvement in website traffic and little or no improvement in lead generation. You’re not going to see a dramatic improvement in sitewide conversion rate until you have a collection of compelling offers, and you’re not going to see a dramatic improvement in site visitors until you have a nice inventory of ranked blog articles.
Adjust your numbers upward over time.
The way you want to illustrate the deployment of your inbound marketing program is by making modest adjustments upward to your two key metrics: website visitors and conversion rates. Here’s an example to illustrate this concept. If your baseline month includes 1,000 visitors, a 1% conversion rate and 10 leads, you should increase your site visitors modestly – say 1,050 in the second month, 1,150 in the third month and 1,300 in the fourth.
Keep your conversion rate the same until you actually plan on deploying more offers. Once you have two, three, four or even five offers on your site, start increasing the conversion rates month over month. In the second month, keep it at 1%. In the third month, move it up to 1.2%. And in the fourth, make it 1.5%.
Your lead goal projections are going to follow. By month four, you should be looking at almost 20 leads a month, a 2x improvement from the current baseline.
Now, take this same methodology and continue it for the rest of the year. Keep it realistic. You shouldn’t expect to go from 1,000 visitors a month to 100,000 visitors a month by the end of the year, no matter what you do. If you’re very aggressive, very effective and excellent at optimizing your program, you may see 10,000 visitors by the end of the year. This 10x improvement is common in first-year inbound programs.
With regard to the conversion rate, the same applies. Don’t project to deliver a 5% conversion rate. Even the best sitewide conversion rates top out at around 3% or so. If this is what you’re projecting, make sure you’re planning to do a lot of conversion optimization work on a weekly basis. In the illustration we’ve been looking at, you shouldn’t expect to go from 10 leads a month to 100 leads a month. Typically, lead generation improvement rates come in at around five times the baseline. So, to go from 10 in the first month to 50 in month 12 is a dramatic and highly successful inbound effort.
Remember, this lead number is directly related to the visitor and conversion rate numbers. Drive them up, and the leads will follow.
Start Today Tip – It takes some practice to get comfortable with the projection exercise described above. You really need to build out your own spreadsheet with your own numbers in order to get a handle on what feels right, what calculates out and what you have to manage for your program to deliver. The good news is that it’s a very simple spreadsheet with very simple calculations. Build the lead goal projection model, play around with the key numbers and settle on something that you feel your marketing team can deliver. Then, manage your program based on the numbers and make adjustments mid-month to ensure that no more than a month goes by without hitting your goals.
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