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Our Unexpected Top Takeaways from Inbound 18

Posted by Tyler Samani-Sprunk on September 12, 2018
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Want to know the weirdest thing about the Inbound 18 conference in Boston last week?

“Inbound marketing” didn’t even feel like the main focus.

Two people from our team flew to Boston to get the latest pulse on where the marketing industry is today and what’s working for companies around the world. We attended about 30 sessions…and none of the presenters I saw even mentioned the sales funnel or buyer’s journey. What the heck?! Those are two key frameworks for understanding and executing inbound marketing.

So what was Inbound about this year? Customer service. Or, more accurately, customer delight.

But that doesn’t have anything to do with marketing, right? Well, it depends on your definition of marketing. But regardless of whether you include it under the marketing umbrella or not, it is a critical piece of a company’s growth. 

It’s no secret that it’s cheaper to retain a customer than to attract and convert a new one. That’s not a new discovery. But customer delight helps grow companies for more reasons than just this one.


To explain, let’s briefly consider the history of how people buy.

Before we had the internet, salespeople had most of the power and they were trusted far more than they are today. For many of our purchases, we relied on salespeople to inform our decisions and we believed most of what they had to say. So, for many years, the sales department was the department that had the biggest impact on growth for most companies.

Then the internet came along and things shifted. Suddenly we had access to more information than we could ever have dreamed of. Salespeople no longer controlled information. Buyers could learn almost whatever they wanted to know about a product or service before ever talking to a salesperson. At the same time, people started to lose trust in companies and their salespeople.

This shift was what Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah noticed when they founded HubSpot. The idea was simple – if buyers are using online content to help them guide their purchase decisions, companies should be creating that content. Many companies jumped on board and suddenly the marketing department became the department that could have the biggest impact on company growth. 

At Inbound this year, Brian said in his keynote that he feels we’re going through another shift. Can’t you feel it too? With the backlash against Facebook’s handling of user data, new privacy laws like GDPR and the recent California Consumer Privacy Act, increased difficulty in achieving reach on social media and top rankings on Google, and even social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – it’s clear that people (aka buyers) are reclaiming their power in a very big way. And, they’re less trusting of marketers and salespeople than ever before.

trust in marketers and salespeople statistics

So what does this mean for companies? It means that the most powerful source of growth for your company is no longer your sales team or your online content, it’s your customers.

Now, this shift didn’t happen overnight and it’s probably not a huge revelation for most. We already know that online reviews are important, that unhappy customers can create big waves on social media, and that word-of-mouth referrals is an amazing source of new business.

Yet, at most companies, customer service is still about retaining current customers rather than delighting them in a way that truly helps the company grow. It’s often seen as a department that helps sustain a company rather than drive it forward. It’s still about customer service rather than customer delight.

But this isn’t true for all companies. Think about some of the successful brands we celebrate today. Brands like Zappos, Lyft, Dollar Shave Club, Spotify, Warby Parker. What do they have in common?

Making their customers happy is a key component of their business model. They treat customers the way customers truly want to be treated and they reduce as much friction in the buying process as possible. They have things like self-service buying, free shipping, free returns, simple choices, and clear and transparent pricing.

Because of this, these brands have loyal customers who are happy to shout their praises from the rooftop (or at least from their social media accounts). Those customers are the key driver of company growth for these brands. They’re not only retained, they’re active participants in driving new customers to make purchases.

This is what Inbound 18 was all about.

Before we go any further, I want to note that this is not just for B2C companies. B2B purchases are made by people too. If you’re a B2C company, this shift is probably already affecting you and you need to address it now to remain competitive. If you’re a B2B company, it’s coming soon. If you can successfully address it now, you’ll have a huge competitive advantage when everyone else catches up.


So what did we learn?

We learned that HubSpot, once huge advocates of the sales and marketing funnel, now has a new framework it’s focusing on. Brian Halligan calls this new framework the flywheel. It brings the customer service function into the mix with marketing and sales, and it makes customers the focus of the effort rather than just the result of the effort. It’s an interesting concept that deserves its own post, so keep an eye out for that.

hubspot flywheel

We learned that HubSpot is putting their development efforts where their mouth is. HubSpot is serious about its new service hub software offering, and it’s a powerful set of tools. 

We were reminded that the customer experience begins far sooner than the point at which a customer hands over their money. Everything they experience in their buyer’s journey is just as important as what they experience after they buy.

We realized that marketers have a key role to play in this shift. After all, we’ve been creating content that resonates with buyers and helping to enable sales teams to increase performance for years. Who better to create content that resonates with customers and enable our customer service teams?

One more note about the marketing department. This shift we’re discussing doesn’t mean that you should stop your inbound and content marketing efforts. While delighting your customers may be more important for your growth than those marketing efforts, they are still extremely powerful and cannot be ignored.

This brings us to the last lesson I want to share with you from Inbound 18: video. One thing was clear from the discussion about video at this year’s conference: if you’re not already doing video, you’re already behind. And, as you might of guessed based on the rest of this post, video should not just be used for your marketing efforts. It’s a tool that can be extremely effective in your sales and service efforts too. If you have some catching up to do where video is concerned, start here.

I hope you’ll join Simple Strat as we look for ways to delight our customers more than ever before. If you’ve found something that works well for you or if you have thoughts on this shift of focus, let us know in the comments below!

Posted in Marketing Strategy, Inbound Marketing