Lessons from HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2017

Across the globe, companies have just one goal for the coming year – sealing more deals. They just aren’t planning on using traditional advertising as a way to snag those potential prospects, according to HubSpot’s annual State of Inbound report.

Print, television and outdoor advertising are considered past their prime by today’s savvy marketers. Marketers at the top of their game know that more prospects are found by using marketing intelligence like our InsightBASE platform, which sets an industry benchmark for gathering valuable data about potential purchasers. Unlike traditional advertising, which is impersonal and scattershot, using tech to monitor intent signals allows marketers to specifically target a prospect, zeroing in on their specific wants and needs. That personal touch makes traditional advertising almost obsolete for those buyers.

And while some marketers believe that artificial intelligence is poised to take the place of traditional advertising sooner than later, other disagree, and say that the two can happily coexist, at least for another few years.

Still, AI has clearly changed how marketing execs view traditional advertising.

The value of TV, print and outdoor ads are “overrated,” say marketers, the majority of which worldwide are using inbound marketing as their tool of choice.

Not only do the latest stats from HubSpot show that inbound marketing is growing, they also show that inbound is steadily evolving as marketers take advantage of new approaches including video, podcasts and other media to introduce their product or service to sought-after clients.

But even as the options grow, the same challenges that faced respondents in last year’s report continue to be issues in 2017.


As was also reflected in last year’s State of Inbound report, today’s companies and their marketing departments face three tough challenges:

  • Generating traffic and leads
  • Proving the ROI of marketing activities
  • Securing enough budget for marketing strategies

While marketers are tasked with the goal of driving traffic, many are faced with not only budgetary restrictions, but also tech challenges, as companies struggle to determine which marketing technology is best suited to meet their needs.

Even deciding to use marketing intelligence – 80 percent of all businesses do, but 20 percent are still not on board – is an issue for some industries.

“Moving into a modern marketing strategy” is one major challenge, said one of the 6,399 respondents to HubSpot’s State of Inbound survey, up from 4,500 from last year. “Our industry is wicked old school.”

Some of the key takeaways we’ve gleaned from the report reflect that dated way of thinking, although many approach marketing challenges with a contemporary twist.

Here’s what we thought was the most telling information from State of Inbound 2017:

  1. Phone calls are still the most frequent method of reaching out to a prospect, but email is second-best.

Old school may be seen as passé for those looking to use martech to better find potential prospects, but classic marketing techniques are still seen as effective. According to respondents, most businesses are more likely to pick up the phone to contact prospects than use any other method of communication.

And while it may seem old-school, the personal connection generated by a phone call emphasizes the focus on personalized, intimate marketing, which establishes a sense of trust between a business and clients that is vital in today’s tech-focused world.

Still, tech does have its role. Email came in second as the most effective and commonly used method of contact, while social – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks – earned the bronze and came in third.


While executives – CEOs and CMOs, VPs and managers – all reported that phone calls were the most successful way to make contact with prospects, they overplayed the value of social media, based on the responses from the sales reps actually doing the prospecting. Of those on the ground, only 20 percent believed that social media was a more successful strategy (compared to 44 percent for CMOs). Twice as many sales reps, 40 percent, said that phone calls were most effective.

Still, technology is a pretty important piece of the puzzle, because the right marketing intelligence platform can help determine exactly who to contact based on online activity, so those phone calls, email messages or social media connections are more likely to be successful.

  1. Inbound marketing is perceived to bring a higher ROI.

One thing most companies can agree on is that inbound marketing delivers a higher return on investment than outbound.

Too many – 41 percent – had no idea how to effectively calculate ROI, which could be why there is not a lot of confidence in marketing overall.

No matter what strategies they use, only 61 percent of respondents actually believe that their company’s marketing works.

While inbound did receive a higher approval rating – 68 percent of inbound marketers viewed their marketing strategies as effective, while just 48 percent of outbound marketers felt the same – the numbers are much lower than last year, when 81 percent of inbound marketers and 18 percent of outbound marketers viewed their campaigns as successful.

Again, there was a sizeable disconnect between CMOs and those in sales.

CMOs were the most confident in company marketing success (69 percent of those surveyed believe that their marketing strategies are working) while sales reps were the least confident (only 55 percent agreed that their company’s marketing was successful).


The biggest roadblocks to establishing a successful contemporary marketing strategy seem to be twofold – mistakes in developing a marketing strategy that resonates with potential prospects and the failure of those with purchasing power to select the right marketing technology to help zero in on prospects.

“The most disruptive force to affect my job in the next three to five years is the lack of research my company does when it comes to marketing strategies,” said one respondent.

Salespeople overwhelmingly said that prospecting (along with getting prospects to respond to outreach) was the toughest part of their jobs, despite an increased use in technology in 2017 compared to 2016.

When marketing strategies fail and salespeople struggle with finding prospects, it all falls back on the marketing department, and failures make it tricky for the department to get the funding it needs to successfully do its job.


Without the ability to offer concrete proof that their strategies are effective, marketing departments will have a tough time justifying requests for higher budgets, the report’s authors concluded.

Even worse, those budgets are notoriously small. According to those surveyed, most companies have allocated just $25,000 or less for marketing, making ROI critical.

Luckily for marketers, a push toward the more successful inbound marketing makes it somewhat easier to show success.

With a shift away from traditional advertising, marketers are increasingly turning toward digital marketing, so much so that “online is the new mainstream,” one marketer said. “I think we will see less of ‘digital marketers’ and more just ‘marketers.’ Competition from peers will also increase as more people become trained in digital marketing.”


Digital is more popular, but is it also more expensive, and is triggering a metamorphosis in marketing overall.

“We’re moving towards more live videos and video content on social media and adapting our approach to be less ‘in-your-face’ and more subtle to acquire conversions,” said one respondent.

Despite being an effective way to introduce businesses to prospects, video is considered one of the top disruptors in marketing, in part because many marketers worry that video, like AI, has the potential to make their jobs obsolete.

Most of those surveyed said that more marketing focus will be invested in video, while outbound emails – once a cornerstone of marketing – are considered less essential or effective.

“Video means that we’re taking even more time to foster lasting customer relationships in a way that’s really difficult to score (but super important),” said one marketer.

Failing to take advantage of changes in marketing strategies – including the steady rise in popularity of social media engagement – could signal a death knell for business that aren’t on the fall, marketers said.

“If a company is slow to capture a new mode of communication, it might as well stop the business,” said one respondent.

The future is not as clear when it comes to artificial intelligence, however.

“I think virtual reality will further disrupt the digital marketing industry and represents huge opportunity for sales and marketing leaders,” said one respondent.

Still, AI is not available to everyone and is still in its infancy.

Microsoft researchers began teaching AI to create content this time last year, but a recent AI algorithm designed to name Sherwin-Williams paint colors resulted in Turdly, Stanky Bean and Stoner Blue, suggests that the tech won’t take over any time soon.

Because of those things, AI is seen as less disruptive than video, and is yet to have a significant impact on ROI.

  1. Leads from Marketing are on the rise

While the two sides have been notoriously misaligned in the past, marketing departments may soon be getting the respect they deserve from the folks in sales as marketing departments play a bigger role in finding potential prospects.

Whiles sales departments still dominate and remain the leaders at generating leads, marketing departments have boosted their figures from last year and are not far behind. That suggests that with marketing and sales alignment – a cornerstone of marketing success – marketing departments are earning more recognition for the role marketing plays in securing leads.

As more companies turn to account-based marketing to land new clients, sales and marketing teams must be on the same page, working together toward the same goal.

While most respondents said their marketing and sales teams were “generally aligned” (44 percent), a lower percentage saw their teams as “tightly aligned,” with an official SLA in in place.  (22 percent).

The numbers are unchanged from last year.

Department union is becoming much better, however, with only 25 percent of respondents seeing their departments as rarely aligned (14 percent) or misaligned (11 percent). (Ten percent of respondents said they didn’t know if sales and marketing were in sync.)

“[We’re] getting better aligned. [We] know that when someone fills out a ‘request for quote’ form, our Sales team is following up,” said one respondent.

That teamwork mentality plays a big role in marketing success, and when both departments work in tandem, the approval rating for marketing strategies rises exponentially.

According to the State of Inbound report, of those reporting a tightly aligned sales and marketing department, 87 percent viewed their marketing strategy as successful.


While its value can’t be overstated – some believe that as more tech-savvy B2B buyers do the legwork themselves, salespeople may also become somewhat obsolete – that “us” versus “them” mentality is a difficult transition for companies to make.

“Retraining the sales team in the Sales and Marketing alignment and processes is a constant challenge,” said one respondent.

“Our industry is going through a seismic shift,” said another. “Gone are the days of the salesperson being the gatekeeper for information. Our website has now become our primary mode of marketing where it used to be our brick-and-mortar locations. I think in the next three to five years we will see a shift to brand selling and concierge-like service.”

That trend means marketing departments will have to be consistently evolving, using new tools to track prospects and new methods of communication to reach them, even as the ultimate goal – turning leads to clients – remains the same.

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