Inbound Marketing Case Study for SMB Marketers

Here is a great case study from the Marketing Sherpa archives. Its a classic story of how a brand that had low levels of recognition in its target market, coupled with a modest budget and lean resources were able to achieve significant success with a 200% increase in website traffic and crucially, a tripling of traffic to leads and a doubling of leads that converted. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to imagine what that did to the company's bottom line. Makana solutions achieved sales and marketing alignment, something I have written about in earlier posts.

Makana Solutions did a number of things right:

  • Focusing clearly on their target segment

  • Clearly targeting specific roles within the target firms
  • Understanding what was frustrating and troubling their target audience
  • Developing quality, educational content that demonstrated they understood the challenges and frustrations their prospect's faced
  • Developing content that was tailored to each stage of their buyer's journey the prospect had reached and added real value

  • Using automated marketing tools to qualify prospects BEFORE being passed to sales allowing sales to work on genuinely qualified prospects
  • Building processes that integrating marketing leads with their sales CRM system
  • Using powerful SEO and web analytics tools to understand what was working and what was not. 

Read on...


Arthur Gehring, Director, Marketing, Makana Solutions, faced two hurdles in marketing his company’s subscription-based software that helps organizations perform sales compensation planning. 

  • Their online service was a new category for most prospects, who set sales compensation goals and plan for those expenses using manual processes.
  • Their target market was organizations with 50 or fewer sales reps. Reaching these smaller businesses with traditional outbound marketing, such as email and advertising, was difficult and expensive.

Instead, Gehring wanted a strategy that helped frustrated sales executives find Makana on the Internet. But since few prospects knew the software-as-a-service solution was available, they weren’t actively looking for it.

"What they’re out looking for is best practice information and advice about what to do with sales compensation planning," says Gehring.

Gehring and his team needed a strategy that would attract those Web users looking for sales compensation planning information and enter them into a marketing funnel that pushed them this way: Capture their contact information for qualification; move them into a free software trial for eventual conversion to a paying subscription.


Gehring’s team revamped their website as an online destination for sales compensation planning best practices and practical advice. They created content, such as sample plans and webinars, and used SEO tactics to make sure those resources would be found by prospects searching for advice online. By capturing leads through online registration forms and using targeted email follow-ups, they moved those prospects into free trials that could be monitored by the sales team for possible subscription conversion.

Here are the seven steps they used to create and manage the strategy:

Step #1. Create content for planning best practices To attract traffic, the team created content that helped prospects answer questions about their sales compensation planning challenges. They created several resources that offered valuable information that wasn’t directly promoting the company’s software.

"When we offer best practice content, it’s not a veil to give them a product demonstration," says Gehring. "We offer real content."

Resources included:

- Sample sales compensation plan. This document provided an example of a well-organized plan that clearly laid out goals for a sales team and demonstrated how they would be compensated.

- Educational webinars. These online presentations offered general tips and best practices for sales compensation planning, such as "Common Pitfalls in Sales Compensation Planning." Other programs focused on particular industry verticals with unique sales compensation planning challenges, such as software companies moving from a packaged sale to a software-as-a-service model. The team recruited expert speakers for its webinars, such as consultants whose services might be too expensive for their typical small-business prospect.

- Survey results from a third-party research firm outlining common industry practices in sales compensation plan design and implementation.

- A sales compensation planning glossary.

Step #2. Optimize website around high-value search terms With the content in place, Gehring and his team optimized their website pages around key terms that prospects would be using to search for sales compensation planning advice. - Using keyword research, they identified broad, general terms, such as:

  • Sales compensation planning
  • Sales comp planning o Commission sales agreement - They identified longer-tail key terms that reflected more targeted searches or specific industry verticals, such as:
  • Sample sales compensation plan
  • Sales compensation planning SAAS
  • Auto dealer sales compensation planning

With a list of 600 keywords identified, they began optimizing specific pages of their site around two or three relevant terms per page. The homepage was optimized for broad terms, such as "sales compensation planning." Internal pages, such as the "Best Practices" resource page, were optimized around more specific terms, such as "Sample sales compensation plan," or terms related to the particular industry targeted in a webinar.

Working through their content management tool, which also provided keyword analysis features, Gehring optimized those pages by using key terms in: 

  • File names
  • Page descriptions
  • Keyword metatags
  • Page text

Any time the team created a new page, they first analyzed their existing keyword list to find terms for which the site wasn’t already highly ranked. They could then optimize that page around gaps in their search rankings.

Step #3. Boost inbound links to improve search rankings While optimizing their own site pages, the team looked for opportunities to add inbound links from highly ranked external sites. These additional links would, in turn, boost their own site’s relevance for search engines. First, they used their marketing optimization and content management platform to analyze inbound links to major competitors’ websites. After identifying links to competitors’ sites with a high page rank in Google, they sought out sites from which they could also get a link for their own website. Sites they targeted included:

  • Online directories
  • Information sites about sales compensation planning or sales business best practices
  • News sites to target for their press release distribution list

Step #4. Paid search advertising to supplement SEO efforts SEO tactics often take time to make an impact on search rankings. So, the team employed pay-per-click advertising to drive traffic around specific events or campaigns. For example, they used paid search advertising to promote their monthly webinars. Ads pointed visitors to the appropriate registration page for the event.

Step #5. Follow up on web leads. Visitors who landed on the company’s website had to fill out a registration form to receive a piece of educational material, such as a sample sales compensation plan. Those who filled out a registration form were considered a lead -- which the team could then target for additional marketing to move them into a free software trial.

- All visitors who filled out a registration form received an automatic email that thanked them for their interest in the company’s best practices materials and outlined the ways Makana’s software can help them with their planning process. Those emails included a link to start a free trial of the software.

- Registrants could also be included in outbound promotions for future marketing collateral, such as invitations to webinars.

Step #6. Add lead information to CRM system for sales calls Prospects that filled out registration forms or signed up for free trials were automatically added to the company’s CRM system. From there, sales people examined leads to find the best prospects for follow-up calls. For example, prospects that started a free trial would be monitored by a member of the sales team. Follow-up included:

- Phone calls to free-trial members to encourage them to make use of the system. If a prospect wasn’t using their free trial very often, a sales rep could call to ask how they liked the software, and if they had taken advantage of any of the free, online training tools to help members get acquainted with the system.

- Phone calls at the end of the trial period to attempt to convert trial members to subscribers. The sales team monitored free trials and began calling prospects at the end of the 14-day trial period to ask if they were ready to upgrade to a paid subscription or needed any questions answered. Because it was sometimes difficult to get trial members on the phone immediately, the team did not shut off free trials immediately. Instead, they kept the trial account live until a sales representative had made contact with the prospect to discuss an upgrade to a paid subscription.

Step #7. Continually monitor keyword and outbound campaign results Gehring monitored campaign results weekly so the team could determine which keywords, inbound links or outbound marketing efforts were delivering the most traffic, leads, or free-trial starts. Their goal was to highlight the best performing tactics so they could repeat them.

"Repeatability is the key," says Gehring. "As a young company, we have to keep growing our traffic and leads."

RESULTS: Gehring’s team has succeeded in becoming a top destination for advice about sales compensation planning

"I’m really pleased," says Gehring. "And the thing to keep in mind is, we’re a small team. I don’t spend every day on this stuff."

SEO efforts have been a major reason for the boost, and have helped the team dial back on expensive paid search efforts:

- Paid search has dropped to 30% of traffic from 75%.

- The company’s website ranks on the first page of Google search results for key industry search terms. What’s more, the team’s outbound marketing is now more efficient because they’re working off a qualified list of prospects. For example, a webinar invitation sent in June to a list of visitors who had registered for company information achieved a 14% open rate and a 4% clickthrough rate

"We’re very happy with our success, but I’ll be honest and say we haven’t even touched the potential." Gehring says. "The potential is tremendous to be even more successful with the realm of content we can develop for various verticals. The possibilities just go on and on."

If you are wondering how you might acheive a similar turnaround in your small or medium buiness, feel daunted by undertaking such a task or cannot devote precious resources to such an initiative, you might want to consider a couple of options.

  1. Investigate Hubspot's inbound marketing software. It has a powerful set of integrated tools that gets your organisation found online with excellent SEO and blogging capabilities. Tools such as landing pages, lead tracking and email marketing software that allows you to nurture leads and finally a powerful analytical tools so you can understand what is and is not working.
  2. Investigate g2m Solutions Inbound Marketing bundles that combines Hubspot's software with a monthly retainer to help you plan your strategy, implement Hubspot and develop some killer content.   
Topics: content marketing b2b marketing build awareness strategy lead nurturing marketing automation sales and marketing alignment lead conversion marketing analytics