What it means to be an inbound agency

Attract, Convert, Close, Delight. Sound familiar? It’s the inbound marketing methodology, which is the framework that we recommend when marketing your product or service to schools. It’s effective, but it’s not the definition of inbound.

Nor is Identify, Connect, Explore, Advise - the four stages of the inbound sales methodology. A proven process for improving outcomes across your sales team. Inbound is more than that.

When we added ‘Inbound’ to our name, it wasn’t because we suddenly started offering inbound marketing services (we did that from day one - we just didn't know it was called that). We didn't label ourselves after a specific go-to-market playbook. It was a far bigger statement than just nailing our colours to a specific strategy. It was a reference to who we are as an agency.

When we refer to ourselves as an inbound marketing agency, it’s because we’re exactly that. A marketing agency that is inbound - not just an agency that offers inbound marketing services.

So, what does that mean?

How ESM defines inbound

Inbound is about giving before you get. It’s a mindset where you make sure that every aspect of what you do is aligned with adding value to the market and helping people. Inbound is values-driven, people-driven and focused on how your customers (and potential customers) want to interact with your business. That includes embracing the fact this won’t always involve money changing hands.

At ESM Inbound, we have a simple definition of inbound that reflects this ‘give before you get’ approach:

Being inbound means that everything ESM does is aligned with giving our entire market the best possible value.

This philosophy is embedded deep in our DNA. While the specific wording is new, the idea behind this approach predates our first day of business. Months before we started trading, before we had worked out our service offering, Lucy and I sat down to plan the type of company we wanted to create. We asked ourselves about the spirit of the business and what we wanted to stand for. We wrote three bullet points:

  • Education, lifelong learning and self-improvement
  • Give before you get
  • Share the positivity

Sounds pretty inbound to me.

That same day, we asked ourselves how we would demonstrate our commitment to these principles. Three more bullet points appeared:

  • Everyone deserves the time to self-improvement
  • What matters to our team, matters to us
  • We value who we are - both the company and the individuals

In an inspired moment, Lucy summed up what ESM should have as our spiritual goal:

Everybody Smile More

Short, simple, sweet... and very inbound.

Putting inbound into action

Our team works hard to make sure that our actions align with our principles.

To encourage self-improvement and lifelong learning, we make sure that our team benefits from a training fund, where they can choose to take any certified course they want (whether it's relevant to our business needs or not). We make sure that our clients have access to the fantastic resources at HubSpot Academy and our regular Insights service provides an opportunity to benefit from low-cost business coaching.

'Give before you get' is the spirit behind our free resources (such as our popular Customer Persona Workbook) and the educational content on our blog. Last year, we took this one stage further with our free Selling to Schools Assessment. Since launch, this service has helped dozens of educational suppliers to improve their lead generation and customer acquisition strategy - with no charge and no expectation that they'll become an ESM client.

Then there's 'sharing the positivity'. When we left the classroom to start our agency, we were conscious that education news stories were predominantly negative. While the teaching profession includes heavy workloads, long hours and high-accountability, it's also full of joy. Helping young people to realise their dreams, laughing with your class, and building a team of inspiring colleagues.

It's a shame that we hear much more about the downsides. We work with our clients to help them solve problems for teachers through free resources, and aligning their go-to-market strategies with the positive outcomes their products and services provide.

Our agency is inbound, not just our services

We certainly offer a range of inbound services. Before we launch a new offering, we check it against our ESM Values and whether or not it truly matches the principles of our agency.

Our clients benefit from:

  • Inbound Marketing (aligning your go-to-market strategy with the way teachers want to research and buy products/services)
  • Inbound Sales Enablement (improving the sales process to focus on helping teachers and school leaders, leading to improved sales and happier customers)
  • Growth-Driven Design (making data-driven decisions to provide your website visitors with a site that's genuinely useful, and generates more leads for your business)
  • Insights (reviewing your business performance metrics to identify opportunities to provide your leads and customers with a more delightful experience, leading to business growth)
  • Selling to Schools Gameplan (a complete review of your systems and processes, leading to a new inbound strategy for your business)

We offer these services to our clients because they achieve two things:

  • a delightful experience for their customers and leads
  • genuine business growth

In our experience, the former enables the latter.

Continuous improvement

To be inbound, you have to accept that things will always be changing. Technology will change the expectations customers have of your business. Changes in the political environment will change people's needs. Absolutely anything could have an impact on your business.

This means that you can't afford to sit still. You can't say 'We've figured out how our customers' buying behaviour has changed. We're all set'. Before long, something will come along and change everything all over again. Continuous analysis and improvement needs to be at the core of every business.

What has ESM Inbound's analysis shown should be our next steps? We need to pull back the curtain on the day-to-day life of our agency. Our potential clients want a better view of what it would be like to work with us, and our existing clients want to communicate with more members of our team - not just their account manager.

We've already started to rise to that challenge and we'll continue to do so. You'll be seeing more video content, a look at specific edu-business challenges that we've overcome for our clients, and more of the strategies and tactics that we employ on our clients' behalf. Our clients are armed with real-time access to their data and campaign status, and we're opening up the lines of communication to enable them to communicate with more of the people working on their projects.

Of course, we'll look at the outcomes from these changes. We'll talk to our clients and prospects. And then we'll improve again. Being inbound never ends.

Are you inbound, or just doing inbound?

Inbound is so much more than Attract, Convert, Close, Delight. It's more than a methodology or a tactic. Inbound is the very spirit of ESM Inbound.

Is your business built on inbound principles or are you just slavishly following one of the methodologies? Stand back and honestly analyse what you stand for and the way you work. It's harder than it sounds, so really invest some time in it. If the answer is 'no' or 'maybe', then how can you reshape your business to focus on adding more value to the market?

How can you demonstrate that you'll give before you get?

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