Whenever I see a headline proclaiming the ROI of inbound marketing I am more often than not disappointed to discover that associated content is nothing more than a water downed breakdown of valid, but otherwise meaningless statistics related to factors contributing to ROI. Sure these facts have their place, but for a guy with real-world P&L experience at a Fortune 500 company they don’t necessarily close the gap between conceptual and the bottom line.
One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that some marketers aren’t quite sure what to look at exactly. Cost per lead? Cost per customer acquisition? Sales cycle? HubSpot, in fact, found in their 2013 State of Inbound report that 34% of business cannot or do not calculate ROI from their marketing. To be fair, tracking the ROI of inbound marketing is a difficult proposition that requires both time and consistency, two commodities marketers often have to bargain with upper management to get. Even so, employing an inbound marketing strategy is still better than the alternate ROI of not doing inbound. What’s key is knowing where to plug in the right numbers.
To begin, let’s use some statistics based on research by the Aberdeen Group, HubSpot, Sirius Decisions, and others along with industry averages. Using this information in conjunction with hypothetical numbers of a fictional business we can make some baseline assumptions concerning closings and revenue per customer. For example:
16% of your marketing inquiries are ready for sales
10% of your sales accepted leads close
Your average value per sale is $9,000
After your initial sale, customers buy an additional $1,000 in services in their lifetime
Lifetime value per customer, then, is $10,000
Your margin per customer is 20%
Net profit per customer is $8,000
Again, applying study data we can say that, assuming that a lead-nurturing program is in place:
Marketing converts 25% of qualified leads into sales-qualified leads in a 12-month fiscal period
Sales closes 30% of that 25% because nurtured leads convert at a rate 3x higher than un-nurtured leads
Revenue per deal increases by 10%
We can’t forget to factor in the direct costs associated with an inbound marketing program which may include marketing automation software as a service, content creation, and campaign planning and consulting. The total cost of $101,600 would breakdown something like this:
Annual Consultant costs to include planning, content mapping, landing page, editorial calendar, content creation, social media, CRM implementation: $72,000
For comparison purposes, we’ll shift gears and line out a basic traditional outbound marketing budget totaling $300,000 at a fictional company not using inbound marketing.
Traditional ads: $100,000
Digital advertising: $60,000
Public relations & Social Media: $25,000
Trade shows: $20,000
Direct Marketing: $60,000
Outside media vendor/consultant costs: $35,000
Applying this budget to the earlier assumptions related to revenue and revenue per customer we can then determine our marketing ROI after plugging in fictional performance data.
Annual number of sales-qualified leads (SQLs) from marketing: 1,500
Sales based on 10% conversion rate: 150
Lifetime revenue per deal: $10,000
Lifetime revenue generated: $1,500,000
Marketing costs: $300,000
Marketing Net profit: $1,200,000
Marketing Cost-per-sale $2,000
Marketing ROI: 300%
A 300% ROI is not too shabby, but what if we take it to a new level. Keeping the same total budget of $300,000 let’s reconfigure the line items to include the direct costs associated with the inbound marketing component.
Traditional ads: $60,000
Digital advertising: $80,000
Public relations: $20,000
Trade shows: $20,000
Direct Marketing: $10,000
Outside media vendor costs: $8,400
Inbound marketing costs: $101,600
As we determine the ROI associated with inbound marketing, new factors come into play, namely those related to lead nurturing. More specifically the number of qualified and non-qualified leads need to be accounted for using industry norms outlined in the earlier mentioned studies. Nurturing campaigns are meant to retain leads until they are sales ready, which means more closings and, therefore, more revenue. In this scenario the ROI would look something like this.
Annual SQL’s marketing sends to sales based on a 50% increase due to inbound marketing: 2,250
Sales based on 10% close rate: 225
Lifetime Revenue generated: $2,250,000
Leads NOT ready immediately: 2,025
Unqualified leads based on industry average of 20%: 405
Remainder of leads for further nurturing: 1,620
Nurtured leads sales ready within the fiscal year based on 15% industry average: 243
Historical close rate of inbound nurtured leads at 30%: 73
Lifetime revenue per deal (+10%): $11,000
Additional revenue generated from lead nurturing: $803,000
Marketing costs: $300,000 (includes marketing automation and content)
Total revenue generated-sales-ready closes plus nurtured sales: $3,053,000
Marketing net profit: $2,753,000
Marketing Cost-per-sale: $1,007
Marketing ROI: 818%
In this example you can see that the ROI of not doing inbound marketing is a difference of 518%! It might seem astounding that just doing some lead nurturing would have that kind of impact, but keep in mind that the Aberdeen Group found that 79% of marketing qualified leads never make it to closing largely because there is no lead nurturing program in place.
As a final thought, this example did not take into account the shortened sales cycle that HubSpot found occurs with inbound marketing. What’s important about a shortened sales cycle is that it reduces both the cost per lead and cost per acquisition—two more factors that directly contribute to positive ROI which would likely only widen the gap between doing and not doing inbound marketing.
Ron is the Inbound Practice Manager at Aptera in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has held a number of positions in both the public and private sectors. Ron also writes for a number of sites to include The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show, Business2Community, and more. Aside from this, he has no problem being flogged for his love of Coldplay.