The data checks out, the social proof is compelling, and you've fallen in love with the "Always Be Helping" attitude. You're sold on the inbound marketing ethos, and itching to start growing your SaaS business. You just need to find an inbound marketing agency to work with.
Great idea, right?
Well, maybe. Trouble is, the growth problems faced by most SaaS businesses extend beyond marketing alone - and not all inbound agencies are created equal.
Before you can benefit from inbound marketing, there are a handful of crucial challenges your SaaS business needs to overcome. Today, I'm looking at the six biggest challenges you'll encounter when hiring an inbound marketing agency.
1) They Think Inbound is a Panacea
Agencies can be pretty evangelical about the inbound ethos (tell them you need to generate more revenue in the next three months, and they say “Let’s write more blog posts!”)
Belief in the inbound ethos is great, but sometimes, it can come at the expense of your own success. Inbound is a long-term strategy, and to achieve your short-term goals, it needs to be balanced with complementary strategies.
When you partner with an inbound agency that’s too dogmatic, you lose out on these strategies. You’ll find yourself unable to experiment with PPC, or outbound lead gen, simply because they aren’t strictly ‘inbound’.
And why? As the growth hacking creed goes, if it generates an ROI, and doesn’t annoy anyone in the process, it should be fair game.
2) Your Inbound Agency isn’t an Inbound Agency
Conversely, some agencies treat inbound marketing as an added-extra, tacked-on to a laundry list of existing services.
They promote the inbound name, but beneath the surface, they offer the same project-based, hourly-billed work you’d find in any old school marketing, SEO or advertising agency.
Inbound was designed to disrupt these kinds of agencies, in the same way SaaS businesses are disrupting the inefficient behemoths of the software world.
By partnering with them, you’re risking a serious cultural misalignment. Best case scenario, you’ll find yourself with an inbound strategy that’s delivered in an inefficient and costly way. Worst case, you’ll find yourself paying an agency you don’t like to perform marketing tactics that no longer work.
3) They All Sound the Same
It’s been a decade since HubSpot was founded, and there are now thousands of HubSpot partners promoting the inbound marketing methodology.
Whilst some of those partners have taken inbound and made it their own, the vast majority (over)rely on the guidance of HubSpot – sharing the same blog posts, eGuides, resources and message, ad nauseam.
They sound the same, think the same, and unfortunately for you, create the same indistinct cookie-cutter strategies.
4) Design is an Afterthought
Congratulations! Your inbound marketing agency just delivered a profound and exciting blog post.
To read it, your visitors simply need to scroll to the navigation bar, click the link called Insight, scroll through the drop-down menu and find the Blog link. On that page, they just need to hover over the blog image to watch the title scroll past, and voila!
Copywriting and content are hugely valuable tools, but they need to be considered in the context of your website. Your web design plays a critical role in encouraging people to engage with your content, and learn about your products. Whilst many inbound agencies claim to specialise in content creation, you’ll find few that pair that with UX and UI expertise.
5) Inbound Experts =/= SaaS Experts
Some of the bigger inbound agencies have taken tentative forays into the software-as-a-service world, but they’re just that: tentative.
They’ve added a couple of keywords to the same old content, and repurposed a handful of guides to include a thin veneer of software-specialism. After all, true specialisation is risky, and few agencies are willing to risk alienating potential customers to commit to a single niche.
Unfortunately, that’s self-serving behaviour. Your business needs a specialist, somebody who knows the ins-and-outs of your unique industry, business model and specialisation. You need an expert in inbound, sure; but you also need an expert in software-as-a-service.
6) You Need More Than an Inbound Agency
Most SaaS businesses could stand to improve their marketing. Crucially though, they could also stand to improve their sales process, their product design and their customer success.
Chances are, marketing isn’t the only issue limiting your growth. Even if you manage to transform your lead generation, you won’t see any direct benefit if you’re still bottlenecked by another part of your funnel:
- What if you haven’t found Product/Market Fit?
- What if your sales team aren’t nurturing leads properly?
- What if your churn rate is decimating your growth?
An inbound marketing agency may be the perfect solution to your marketing problems, but they won’t help solve your sales problems, onboarding woes or customer retention issues.
In truth, most fledgling SaaS businesses have more pressing problems - whether that's setting the right pricing structure, or finding Product/Market Fit - and you need a partner that does more than marketing alone.