We review HubSpot’s annual State of Inbound report to see how sales and marketing are evolving and explore what may change in future.
HubSpot State of Inbound 2017 Highlights
Every year, the HubSpot State of Inbound summarises the global marketing and sales landscape, benchmarking the key trends, priorities, challenges and goals for inbound professionals, and identifying key areas for future change and strategising.
2017’s report is the most comprehensive yet - exploring data from 6,399 respondents (up from 4,500 in 2016) across 141 countries. Responses came from professionals across both B2B and B2C and interestingly, 88% of those surveyed were not HubSpot customers or partners. Plus, with 37% of respondents classed as either a Director, C-Level Exec or VP, clearly inbound awareness is expanding.
Inbound continues to evolve, and this year we’re seeing two major shifts take place: Marketers are making the leap into visual content creation while salespeople are slowly shifting from the hard-seller stereotype to a more trusted advisor. - Brian Halligan
Inbound Marketing & Sales in 2017
Inbound continues to evolve and expand as an effective strategy to attract, convert and close relevant leads and customers. Increasing numbers - 71% of global organisations - now prioritise and primarily conduct inbound; recognising that the way we do business has changed.
Below are the findings from 2017’s report, exploring the state of inbound marketing and sales, and reviewing how future marketing strategies may be influenced by today’s challenges and priorities.
71% of global organisations now primarily conduct inbound marketing.
2017 Inbound Marketing Trends
For 70% of marketers, their overarching marketing priority for the next 12 months is to convert contracts/leads to customers.
When it come to wider marketing goals, over the next 12 months, 70% of marketers plan to prioritise converting contracts/leads to customers. This is the number one priority globally in 2017, followed by ‘growing traffic to website’.
For marketers conducting specific inbound projects, 61% say their priority is to grow SEO/organic presence.
Regarding inbound marketing projects specifically, top priorities are to 'grow SEO/organic presence', followed by 'blog content creation' and 'content distribution'. Content distribution and creation in a range of formats is a clear overall priority here, which is not surprising given that content is core to inbound; helping to compound traffic, grow awareness, increase visibility and boost search presence.
63% of marketers see ‘generating traffic and leads' as their company’s top marketing challenge.
The desire for marketing teams to enhance their search presence and traffic over the coming year, is reflected in their 2017 challenges; 'generating traffic and leads' currently sits as the greatest challenge for all global regions, followed by 'proving ROI of marketing activities'. These are the same three challenges, in the same order, as were reported in the 2016 State of Inbound.
2017 Inbound Sales Trends
In 2016’s State of Inbound, we began to see a recognition of the importance of inbound sales. Sales and marketing alignment, social selling, reductions in cold calling, CRM investment and sales training were all activities predicted to continue as inbound selling takes off.
Looking at 2017’s sales priorities, this is ringing true:
29% of sales teams are prioritising social selling vs. 28% in 2016 and 22% in 2015.
27% of sales teams are prioritising sales training vs 24% in 2015
With 71% or sales professionals aiming to close more deals over the next year, and 44% aiming to improve the efficiency of the sales funnel, recognising the value of modern sales strategies such as social selling and sales enablement will be crucial to see success.
Clearly sales teams are starting to adapt their strategies to meet new buying habits, and are working prioritise activities that will position them as advisors; to develop better, more relevant relationships with buyers.
Of course with so much technology available today, and so much competitive noise - it can be hard for sales professionals to be on the right channels, with the right content, at the right time for the right buyer.
As this year’s challenges show, getting a response from busy prospects, engaging the right members of the decision making unit, and even identifying good-fit leads, remain hard; and are considered harder to do than they were 2-3 years ago.
38% of sales professionals think getting a response from prospects is more difficult than it was 2-3 years ago.
Prospecting remains the most challenging stage of the sales process, and though sales and marketing alignment is core to both inbound and account-based marketing (66% of respondents now say sales and marketing teams are either tightly or generally aligned), many teams are still struggling to correctly qualify the leads they have.
66% of respondents now say sales and marketing teams are either tightly or generally aligned.
The Future of Marketing and Sales
So how are these findings impacting marketing and sales?
61% of organisations now see their marketing strategies as ‘effective’. Yet while 69% of C-Level Execs, and 68% of Directors view marketing as effective, these figures drop for marketing managers and individual contributors, highlighting a need to clarify organisational marketing effectiveness, goals and performance across businesses as a whole.
46% of marketers see inbound as the most effective strategy for ROI. Only 12% still see outbound marketing as the route to higher ROI.
59%of respondents say inbound practices provide the highest quality leads for the sales team. Only 16% said outbound practices led to high quality leads.
22% of respondents would class their marketing and sales teams as tightly aligned (with an SLA). Another 44% would class the relationship as ‘generally aligned; meaning sales and marketing teams are co-operating more.
81% of organisations with a tightly aligned sales/marketing relationship (SLA) view their marketing strategy as effective. 70% of those with a close relationship are also planning to increase sales team size. In contrast, 73% of those with misaligned sales and marketing teams view their strategies as ‘not effective. 13% of misaligned organisations plan to decrease the size of their sales team.
46% of respondents are adding Facebook Video to their content distribution channels in the next year (vs. 29% in 2016). 24% will add messaging apps (20% in 2016). Many respondents see video content and messenger/chat apps as the next key channels to build relationships with prospects. Following this, AI and VR are anticipated to be the next major disruptors.
Video content and messenger/chat apps are seen as the next key channels to build relationships with prospects.
Interestingly, 27% of sales professionals listed ‘engaging multiple decision makers at a company’ as being more difficult to do than it was 2-3 years ago. However, as account-based marketing (ABM) starts to gain traction as a strategy to identify, engage and develop relationships with key members of the DMU, this may be a statistic that drops in coming years for those adopters of ABM.
Clearly, while the way we buy has changed, marketing and sales teams are working hard to catch up and adapt. Now that inbound is truly taking off at a global scale for marketing and sales, creating more personalised, relevant strategies (such as account-based marketing) will be the next step toward being active on the right channels, with the right message for the right buyer at the right time.