Getting started with Inbound Marketing Automation

I often meet companies who want to get started with Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation but don't know how. What should they actually do and in which order?

Based on my personal experience of helping over 30 companies implement a comprehensive Inbound Marketing strategy with both HubSpot and SharpSpring, and my team's experience of helping another 100 or so companies, I've decided to write this step-by-step guide. I hope this will help you understand exactly which steps to take and in which order.


The focus will be B2B, but the guide can work for B2C with slight modification. The The goal is to get to actual sales results as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

So read on if you want to get a complete guide to how to get started with both Inbound and Marketing Automation.

The Components: What Does Your Final Marketing Automation Implementation Contain?

I'll start by listing each individual component of your Marketing Automation machine to get a comprehensive overview. After that, I'll make a step-by-step action plan for what to implement and in which order.

Let's start by listing each component:

Your website contains optimized contact forms or buttons that lead to contact forms capturing hot visitors

Surprisingly, many companies still don't have a contact form. This is the lowest hanging fruit, so start with this! If you already it, think about whether you can add more or make them more easily reachable.

Here are some standard recommendations that we've seen work well:

  1. Immediately on the home page, without forcing visitors to scroll down
  2. On the About Us page
  3. At the end of features and knowledge rich pages (so people can ask questions about the topic they just read)

Follow Neil Patel's tips (SharpSpring's forms will help you with a lot of this!)

By doing this, you'll have ensured that you're not missing out on the hottest leads who actually wanted to contact you but didn't find an easy way to do so.

You have "Subscribe" forms on your website capturing passive visitors

If you have a newsletter, this is a no-brainer. But even if you don't, you should have a subscription option.

The reason is that the "Subscribe" form is actually not just for people who want to read your newsletter. It's also for the people who consider your solution interesting and want to keep you top-of-mind, in case they decide to implement a solution later.

So add it to various pages, but especially your About Us page and all of your blog posts or knowledge pages. You should add it to the right side for easy access, in the middle of longer articles, at the bottom of each article, and maybe even as a popup.

Many people are surprised that somebody would actually want to receive newsletters and blog posts from them. But people actually do! This is a great way to capture visitors who are curious about your solutions and want to keep in touch "passively" while waiting for a potential opportunity to engage in the future.

You have a main conversion offer followed by a drip capturing capturing and nurturing interested visitors

The purpose of such conversion points is to capture people who are a bit more actively interested in solving their problem, but not yet ready to request a personal contact.

Create a guide or a white paper that helps the customer get a better understanding of their problem and how you sole that problem. This is fundamental to positioning your solution as the only viable choice, while making competitors irrelevant. If you have a software product, a demo or trial could be good alternatives.

Add your white paper (or equivalent) on a Landing Page behind a form. Provide value in return for their email address. Then, add strong Calls-to-action (links in the form of buttons or images) on various pages that lead to that landing page.

After downloading your white paper (or equivalent), your Marketing Automation software should send a Thank You email with the content they requested, followed by a drip (a sequence of follow up emails) with additional relevant and helpful information and links. When your contact clicks on these emails, you may request a personal contact.

You have a regularly updated blog and social posts driving new visitors

Blogging is an excellent way - perhaps the best way - to attract new traffic.

This takes effort. But it's well worth it. You need to spend time and effort on thinking through and writing articles that shed light on your potential clients' challenges.

Each blog post will increase links from the outside, get keywords out on Google, and strengthen internal SEO due to internal linking.

Each post also gives you the possibility to publish something on social media. Each such post will give you a temporary traffic boost as well as new followers. Some of which will convert to leads. In case you find it too time-consuming to keep up with social media duties, you can always outsource it by hiring a social media agency. Make sure to overview the process in order to get the most out of it!

You have a regular newsletter keeping you top-of-mind with potential buyers

Many companies have hundreds or thousands of contacts in their database that they're never in touch with.

This is bad for several reasons.

First, it's a waste.

Second, it may not be legal with the GDPR rules. Because you should not store contact information unnecessarily. Communicating regularly with your contacts let them know they're in your systems, as well as giving them a chance to opt out.

Many of these contacts are likely potential buyers who will go to a competitor because they forgot about you.

In one of my earlier jobs, where I was responsible for marketing, we had managed to collect new leads during 3 years. But if we hadn't managed to sell to them initially, we had let them stay passively in the system. One day, we decided to call all leads to see what actually happened. Turns out, may of them had purchased competing solutions and we had to conclude that we'd lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in deals because we hadn't kept in touch. A simple newsletter could have remedied this.

This is why it's so important to both keep in touch (to be top-of-mind), and to detect when a contact shows interest. A newsletter software with lead scoring mechanisms can help you do this.

Don't know what to write in your newsletter? Reuse your blog content! Here's a great method: Each month, send a newsletter with a bit of personalized content at the top, followed by a short intro and links to the month's latest blog posts. This process can even be completely automated, with RSS based automated newsletters.

You have Google Ads and sponsored social posts leading landing pages with targeted offers giving you highly qualified leads on an ongoing basis

Many companies spend a lot of money on paid traffic that links to their home page. Big waste!

Instead, send them to landing pages that:

  1. Is custom made for each ad.
  2. Have a clear goal and call to action (for example download a guide related to the ad content).
  3. Is conversion optimized.

Do you have multiple ads, each targeting different keywords and segments? Then you should have multiple landing pages. We call this Situation Based Sales Funnel. Repeating this and building many such funnels, and then optimizing your ad budget towards the ones that convert best will dramatically increase your flow of qualified inbound leads. Consider managing all your ads from a single platform with SharpSpring Ads.

Some solutions that will help you build great landing pages with little effort are LeadPages and Instapage. And of our SharpSpring's Landing Page builder, if you're looking for a complete solution that can do everything in this post. It allows you to build landing pages easily, and we'll even help you custom design them for free. Create one page for each ad.

Let's assume $3 per click (you'll probably get cheaper!). And a 4% click to lead conversion rate (you'll probably get more!). With an ad budget of $300/month, you'd get 100 clicks and 3 leads per month. How many deals would you close if you had 3 people every month downloading your white paper to read about how you'd solve their problems?

(Note that the click cost can vary greatly depending on the type of solution you sell. In the above example, I'm considering an enterprise product with a long sales process. Transactional sales usually result in click cost and more clicks.)

The image below is a screenshot of a marketing report for one of our clients. Using this method, they've got 10x ROI in closed deals, or 30x ROI if we include expected value of deals in their pipeline:

Adwords ROI report in SharpSpring

The image shows a client who spent $14,000 on Google Ads, of which they've closed $140,000 (10x ROI) and expecting $455,000!

You have Facebook Lead Ads giving you leads directly from Facebook

Facebook Lead Ads lets you capture leads directly from Facebook. Your leads go straight into SharpSpring and are followed up appropriately.

This is an easy way for potential customers to sign up without having to leave Facebook. They get a form right inside of Facebook, can fill it in, and continue browsing.

This method should be seen as complementing the above approaches, to get you even more leads.

If you're looking to manage your ads that sync automatically into your marketing automation and CRM system, while being able to follow the life of the lead, see what SharpSpring Ads can do for you in combination with the SharpSpring CRM.

You "prolong" physical meetings with sales meeting sequences

One of the biggest problems sales people have is that sending constant "hey just getting in touch" emails is annoying.

You can solve this by pre-creating valuable content based sequences, which can be triggered after a sales meeting. You can ask your contact: "Is it OK if I add you to our newsletter and send you some material I think you might find interesting?". If the contact is interested in your solutions, they'll often want this.

You can build multiple sequences, or rule-based sequences, that send relevant information based on factors such as:

  • Did they look at certain competitors? Include comparisons.
  • Are they interested in solving certain types of problems? Include guides.
  • Did they show interest in certain sets of features? Include demos.

The longer your sales cycle, the less frequent you should send and the longer your drip should be.

A good method is: A couple of emails during the first few weeks, then monthly followed by bi-monthly, and finally followed by your regular newsletter.

When your contact clicks, you should have a method of being notified and following up.

We have now listed all the components of your marketing machine. Next, we'll look at a step-by-step implementation process below.

Your step-by-step checklist: Getting started with Inbound marketing

I'll assume that you haven't yet started actively doing Inbound Marketing, so we'll start from zero. You have a website, but nothing else. If you have already implemented some of the steps below, just skip them.

With that said, here's the best, fastest and simplest way I've found to get started with Inbound Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation:

1. Start with foundational website fixes

Add contact forms and subscription forms on your website. This is the lowest hanging fruit and a very quick fix.

Consider all the pages where you could have a contact form. Add subscription forms on all of your key blog posts, especially the longer and the more popular ones. If possible, add it on the right side and at the bottom of all blog posts. Also consider a popup form.

Consider adding a "Contact us" button on the right side of all key pages (including the start page - above the fold). Link that button to your contact us page, where you should have a contact form.

Consider using an all-in-one Marketing and CRM system such as SharpSpring so that you start collecting contact details, history, and communication readily available in one place from the get-go.

With this first step in place, you've covered the basics and you won't miss potential deals.

2. Migrate contacts from potential other systems

Having all your contacts in one system vastly simplifies communication and reduces errors. It's also more safe, and easier to comply with GDPR.

You should create lists and segments containing these contacts based on your own categories. For example, you may want to separate clients from prospects, and group them by product category, subscription preferences, and whether they're currently in an active deal. If you already have a system but don't know how to do it in the best way, you should hire a consultant, or if you're considering SharpSpring, this type of help and setup is included in our services.

Once this is done, you can turn off all those other systems, and hopefully save a buck in the process while simplifying your work. Plus, this is the foundation that needs to be in place before you can start  with the next steps.

3. Create your main conversion point and send it to your subscribers

Create a white paper according to the recommendations above. Make it simple to start with, just to get it done! It's far more effective to start with something quick and simple, and improve it once you see that it is being downloaded.

Then, send out your first newsletter to all relevant contacts in your system, and include your new guide! (If you're not fully confident in this, you can start by dividing your list into multipler smaller ones, and start with a small batch to measure results and reactions.)

If you haven't sent out a newsletter before, start with an introduction to explain whey they're getting it and how they can opt out. This is a great way to cleanse your database and stay compliant with privacy rules. And you can reach out personally to the ones who do click. Ask them what they thought about the guide, and use it as a basis for further improvements.

With this, you now have a clean database, and you''ve ensured that there are no old contacts in the system who haven't been contacted. And you're ready to start sending out your newsletter regularly.

4. Create an ad connected to a landing page

Consider the Situation Based Buying Journey model. Based on this, think of a customer situation you'd like to target:

  • What is a situation in which a customer would benefit from your offerings?
  • What problems do they experience in their day-to-day environment when they're in this situation?
  • What do they likely search for when they're in this situation?
  • Which key insights would benefit them when they're in this situation, and how are those insights connected with your offering?

Create an early offer (guide, white paper, trial, free consultation, interactive content, or something else that would be valuable) for customers in that situation, based on your answer to the last question above.

Create a landing page where you present this offer. Make the landing page focused on this particular customer situation and optimized for conversion to your offer.

Then, create ads on Google Ads, and sponsored content on social media, which link to this landing page. Make sure to create variations, so that you can come back and learn which ones work best later on.

Spend as much as you want on these ads, but remember: The more you spend, the faster you'll get answers. (We'd recommend at the very least $200/m, which can give you the opportunity to do basic A/B-testing in one-per-month iterations.)

Using your Marketing Automation system, measure ad-to-expected-revenue from this funnel and from these ads. Over time, learn what works, and optimize your funnel. Discard what doesn't work, keep what works, and create new variations to continue improving.

If your ROI doesn't exceed your ad spend after a few rounds of testing and learning, discard this situation, and start over.

Do this until you're satisfied that you found something that gives you more value than it costs. Then, increase your budget to increase your sales.

Once this is done, this funnel will work for you in the background, generating new leads and sales almost indefinitely while you can move on to the next steps.

5. Create your first two drip automations (one for your conversion point and one sales sequence)

You're now at a point where you're regularly getting new leads. This means, it's time to start automating lead nurturing. And simultaneously, much of your lead nurturing content can be reused for sales meeting sequences.

Create a couple of simple emails that can be sent to any new lead. These emails can be short, and say something like "Hey [First name], you recently downloaded some content on our website, and I thought this might also be interesting for you: [link to an article or other content]".

Here are a couple of good ways to start nurturing emails:

  • Mention previous activity: "You recently... therefore I'd like to..."
  • An insight: "Did you know that... In fact..."
  • A question: "What's the best way to...? Based on our experience..."
  • A story: "One of our clients did... Many in your situation..."
  • Tips: "3 ways to..." or "How to best..."

It's totally fine - sometimes even preferrable - to link to external sources, as long as they fit with the way you see things.

The aim is to be helpful and provide value, while staying top of mind.

Create one automated drip sequence for leads downloading content, and one which you can add people into manually after a sales meeting or a phone call (after asking them!).

With this, you have a "backup" in case you or your team don't have time to follow up new leads. The nurturing will take care of them. And if you have a good CRM system, it will notify you once they click or return ot the site.

BONUS: Connect Facebook Lead Ads to boost number of leads

Once you've got a good lead follow up sequence, why not boost the number of leads you collect significantly?

Using some of the content and insights you've gained in the previous steps, create a Lead Ads campaign (this is easy) and connect it to your Marketing system, so that new leads are constantly collected and nurturing. Once they do something of value, your Lead Scoring mechanism should notify you that it's time to get in touch.

BONUS: Create retargeting ads

Once you're getting new leads regularly, nurturing them, and using the CRM to follow them up, you'll have all you need to understand who your prospects are and what they're interested in. So why not use this information to communicate with your leads on external channels with a relevant message?

Start by creating segments containing different categories of leads that you want to communicate differently with. For example:

  1. Contacts where you're actively working on a deal
  2. Contacts who are clients
  3. Further categorization of the above based on interests (which pages they've visited, what options they've selected in forms, or information manually added in the CRM)

Then, create different ads for each of these categories on Facebook and other channels. Finally, connect your lists with those ads, so that each contact will see relevant ads.

This is a great way to stay top-of-mind, often preferrable rather than sending too many emails. Once they click your ads and return to the site, you can trigger different automations, or send a personal message.

6. Start blogging, publishing on social media, and sending regular newsletters

Now that you've got all the foundations in place, it's time to "do marketing".

Which means, keep producing great content, and communicating with your audience!

With the foundations in place, your efforts will be multiplied. For example, if you publish a blog posts, you'll have ways to capture, nurture and sell to visitors that generates. And increase the size of your database, for the upcoming newsletters. And when you send those newsletter, people who click will be able to opt into offers and get nurtured. It's all a self-reinforcing circle!

So here's what you should do regularly from now on:

  1. Produce blog posts regularly. Each post should have a call to action leading to a releated (or your main) opt-in offer which you build above.
  2. Publish on social media regularly (each post can be a key insight from your blog, linking to that blog). To simplify, use a Marketing system such as SharpSpring which allows you to schedule posts in advance.
  3. Send a regular newsletter. Either comletely automated with an RSS feature, or manually by summarizing and linking to the latest articles, and other news you want to convey.

To do this, it's key to create effective internal content production, approval and publishing processes.

Remember to keep measuring so you can learn what works and what doesn't. We recommend the following basic measurements:

  • Per blog post: Number of unique visitors, number of organic visits, number of organic visitors that became leads, opportunities and clients. This is a great way to motivate your internal organization to produce great content, and to learn what content is both engaging and drives new clients.
  • Per social post: Engagement rate per post, leads and clients per post. Over time, this helps you understand what content is engaging for your audience.
  • Per newsletter: General open and click rate, and click rate per link. Over time, this helps you understand what content engages your audience.

7. Repeat and improve!

Take a look at all the steps above. That is iteration one.

Now, it's time for iteration two, and on from there!

New iterations are all about:

  1. Focusing: Discarding what doesn't work while keeping what works. This goes for your funnels (conversion points followed by drips), as well as your ad dollars. Move money from the mediocre to the great ads and funnels.
  2. Optimizing: Improve and test new ideas within the ads and funnels you decide to keep. For example, add or remove some of the emails in your sequences, optimize your landing pages or website pages for increased conversion, or create new ad variations or keywords for your existing funnels to try to squeeze more clicks out of the same budget and campaigns.
  3. Broadening: Target more customer groups in more situations. Create new situation based sales funnels, as per the methodology above. Create more offers that your leads can opt in via. Test new ways to create opt-in, for example interactive ROI calculators, demo videos, guides, and more. Start blogging about different themes that may attract customers in different situations. In short, cast a wider net.

In addition, if you have a marketing automation system that allows it, you can start using some of the more advanced features to optimize existing assets further, such as:

  • Can you use dynamic content to personalize newsletters and your website?
  • Can you create more dynamic automations, so that your sequences adapt based on how contacts interact with your sequences?
  • Can you change your lead scoring model so that your sales team gets fewer but better qualified leads?

The end result: After starting with Inbound Marketing this is how it looks

Over time, you'll build a highly effective Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation process, that drives and nurtures new and existing contacts, and works in tandem with your sales force to help them close deals.

The end result should look something like this:

  • You have many traffic sources, including organic search, social, ads
  • You have strong calls-to-action on your website
  • You have an inspiring newsletter which ensures you're top of mind, and that you detect when leads become hot
  • You have follow up sequences and automations that offload a lot of the sales work and remove a lot of the worry that something was not followed up
  • All your contacts are in one place, and it's easy to see the history - it's not in some sales person's mind, but readily available as company information
  • You have a well segmented database, a professional, valuable and inspiring communication with your prospects and clients

I hope this guide has been helpful!

We have and are in the process of implementing a lot of the above ourselves. One of our main sequences is an interactive demo of "how it feels to be part of a marketing campaign".

Would you like to try it?

Please sign up below, and see for yourself how an interactive campaign can adapt and adjust itself based on your actions and preferences.

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About the Author

Yusuf Young

Yusuf helps companies use Marketing Automation to grow B2B sales. In his role as a Marketing Automation consultant implementing systems such as HubSpot and Salesforce, he discovered the need for better services at a lower cost. Today, he runs FunnelBud to make the fruits of sales and marketing technology available to businesses worldwide.