Two huge revelations and how they shaped our new website

It’s been just over two years since our old website went live. At first I thought we’d nailed it. Inbound marketing was a buzz term and I was sure we were communicating something special. We weren’t. The claims we were making could be found on a thousand other agency websites. We were just part of the noise.

What’s more is that we made it all about us; our service, our knowledge, our technology. So not only were our ‘Unique Selling Points’ completely un-unique, but they were largely meaningless to our audience.

It was probably about a year ago that this realisation dawned on me, at which point I started thinking about what really mattered to our clients. By our December 2013 board meeting I had concluded that there were two things that could truly set us apart; sector expertise and commercialism. My thoughts were confirmed when three months later I met the force of nature that is John Maffioli, owner of Maxop.

What business owners really want

John Maffioli is on a mission to become the UK’s leading authority on business development for professional services. Just before I met John he held they held an event with 50 professionals and 5 mega successful entrepreneurs. They asked the entrepreneurs what they looked for when dealing with an accountant or solicitor, and likewise asked the professionals to guess the answers. The contrast exposed a serious problem.

Those within the professional services sector believed the order was:

  1. Trust
  2. Personal relationships
  3. Sector expertise
  4. Commercial insight
  5. Price
  6. Partner led service

As far as the professionals were concerned, great business development was about building rapport and establishing trust based on your integrity and expertise. The entrepreneurs disagreed:

  1. Commercial insight
  2. Sector expertise
  3. Personal relationships
  4. Trust
  5. Price
  6. Partner led service

“We’re not looking for a friend”, they argued. Sure, if they don’t like you then you’re not going to get a foot in the door, but that’s certainly not a reason for them to give you their business. And as for trust in your expertise, they take that as a given.

For a professional to set themselves apart they had to prove that they:

  • Knew the client’s world and could talk their language
  • Had the business acumen to make the client more profitable

That was it. If you couldn’t demonstrate the above then you were just another suit.


Why commercialism matters to our clients

Clients don’t come to us for better rankings, beautiful websites or for Facebook fans. They come to us to grow their business.

Why is it then that most agencies pay absolutely no attention to the business? Every Thursday afternoon I conduct mystery shopper calls among our competitors. Sometimes they’re brilliant and engaging, sometimes they’re not. The only consistent them is that they almost never ask me about my commercial (or indeed personal) goals, and the only time financials are discussed is when they’re establishing if I can afford their monthly retainer. They harp on about rankings and links and traffic but barely touch upon the questions that matter; what does our company want to be famous for? What does success look like in two years from now? What will the market look like in five years from now? What metrics will my boss’ boss judge this campaign by?

These are the questions that count. If they don’t understand the business they cannot possibly begin to design a marketing strategy around it. Great SEO does not end with SEO. It doesn’t even end with marketing. Great SEO is complete business consultancy with one eye on the search engines and the other on the bottom line.

This commerciality has always been a strength of mine as, in all honesty, it’s what interests me the most. If the client has a keen passion for the details then fantastic, we’ll talk at length about algorithms, keywords and brand signals, but all the while understanding that it is simply a means to a commercial end.

How we’re demonstrating our commercialism on our new website

Commercialism is not about boosting traffic or increasing conversion rates. It’s about actually understanding business, and the only way someone can truly understand business is to be in business themselves, which is why anyone who leads client strategy at Inbound has a business interest and we call them Inbound Ventures.

Inbound Ventures have been a core part of our philosophy since day one. Nick and James spent most of their teens running their businesses online, and when we started Inbound we launched our own (highly unsuccessful) dating website before we even launched our agency website. However, it’s only been in the last 18 months that I’ve realised how important these ventures are for our clients. The fact that their consultant actually has first-hand experience of developing a business is what sets them apart and is why we have given Inbound Ventures such prominence on the website.

Why sector expertise matters to our clients

“Discovery sessions” have become all the rage as they enable agencies to get under the skin of their client’s business and market. And I absolutely see why. But tell me this; how much can an outsider with no prior knowledge or passion for your market REALLY learn in a couple of days of prodding about? Will they develop a deep sense of where the market is heading and where the future opportunities lie? No, they will not.

This kind of intuitive understanding is only developed over the course of months and years, and is why we now focus on just a small number of markets. Yes we will occasionally take on exciting projects outside of this focus where we feel we have other synergies, but 90% of what we do is contained to our target markets. This means:

  • We can talk our clients language.
  • We don’t have to speculate about results. We know exactly what can be achieved and within what time frames.
  • Our ventures all fall within our target markets, giving us extraordinary credibility and insight within the market.
  • We have now developed extensive networks of contacts (journalists, bloggers, social influencers, etc) within those market so that we can generate exposure for our clients at the virtual push of a button.


How we’re demonstrating sector expertise on our new website

For each of our target markets we have developed substantial sector reports that detail which websites are nailing each channel (Google, social, email, referral, advertising, content, etc). These reports are valuable IP, so we don’t just give them out willy nilly, but for a serious business that fits our target criteria we will email them as a means to securing an introductory chat. You can see these reports displayed prominently on our home page.

In conclusion…

When I first started making my mystery shopper calls and the agencies showed zero interest in my (fictional) business, I could have been unnerved. Perhaps it was a sign that these things didn’t matter…? No, these two factors matter to our clients more than anything else and I absolutely love the fact they are currently so neglected by the rest of our market. These shouldn’t be USP’s in our sector but somehow they are, and that’s okay with me.



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