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Setting Expectations for an Inbound Marketing Strategy to Ensure You Have Happy Clients

When it comes to working with new clients, any inbound marketing agency worth its salt wants to prove the value of their approach. However, this is not always easy, especially when those clients are hungry for instant success and dramatic improvements in their online marketing results. We have had many successes and happy clients, but I’m sure we are not alone in sometimes being faced with a client who, despite our best efforts, still wants more, and more often than not, this comes down to expectations.


Knowing the limits of what can and can’t be done is not just down to the client’s expectations of what an inbound agency can do for them, it also comes down to the agency knowing what they can deliver, when they can deliver it, and what results can realistically be achieved within the service agreement. You probably outlined all the benefits of inbound marketing in your sales pitch, but once the client is on board, it’s time to deliver on your promises. If you promised too much, you may be in trouble.

As seasoned campaigners, we know how well inbound marketing works, but it is important to remember that some clients are completely new to the concept. As we sell the approach to them, we obviously want to highlight the fact that it is by far the most effective way to attract, engage with and convert leads, but we also have to emphasise that it shouldn’t be seen as a sure-fire, guaranteed path to success.

Yes, it absolutely works, but it’s not a matter of simply hitting the ‘on’ switch and sitting back to watch the leads flow in. A client may see all the work you are doing for them, but still find themselves with no new customers, and when this happens, they often (quite reasonably) ask if their investment has been a good one.

It is up to the inbound marketing agency to prove that it is, but that all starts with a clear outline of what can be achieved, so that expectations are realistic on both sides, as HubSpot explain here.

Here’s a few things you need to outline to new or potential clients in order to make sure you are all on the same page when it comes to expectations:

Inbound Marketing Takes Time

Having made an investment and agreeing to take your agency on, a client, understandably, will want to see results, and often as soon as possible, but as this Forbes article explains, you need to emphasise that this methodology takes time, and should never be rushed.


How much time really depends on a lot of elements, from the industry to the client’s input, to the amount of groundwork they have already done. For instance, if a company has a website and blog, but aims to increase traffic and leads through better SEO, they are probably in a better position to get things moving in the right direction than a company starting from scratch, who needs a website build and content creation as a starting point to having an online presence.

What’s important here is to set out a detailed timeline of deliverables, and realistic benchmarks that will show the value of each element of the inbound marketing strategy being undertaken. If it is likely to take time to see the results the client wants, it is worth building a ‘quick win’ or even pre-retainer sales model that provides immediate results that prove value up-front, before you even get into the nitty gritty.

As a basic guide, clients should understand that they are unlikely to see big results before the three to six-month mark, and may not see conversions until after that period. If an impatient board or boss demands results before then, it is best to discuss with them whether inbound marketing is the right fit for them.

Yes, it can pain agencies to point out that they can’t deliver what the client expects, and thus lose business, but in the long run, this can save a lot of time, effort and money that could be wasted on overstretching resources to try make the impossible possible.

Inbound Marketing Involves Work

Often, clients are given the impression that their inbound agency will take care of everything for them, but it needs to be highlighted that in order for any strategy to work, they must partner with that agency to achieve common goals. An agency should work with the client, not simply for them, because results are reflected in the effort put in on both sides.


Companies that show active participation in the inbound process throughout the contract – providing relevant information and content, giving timely feedback, outlining clear goals, etc – and show a willingness to accept expert recommendations, are more likely to see positive results.

The client must also be made aware of the consequences of any delays at their end, so that they can better manage their own team and ensure that you have everything you need to continue. It should be stated that if, for example, there is a significant delay in sign-off on content or designs, that will impact on the overall project.

The Inbound Strategy Must Come First

New clients, excited about the inbound approach, are eager to get things going as soon as possible, and sometimes expect that great blogs, for example, will begin to roll out with a week or two of signing on the dotted line.

It is therefore important to map out for them exactly how long it will take to finalise the onboarding process, and what that will involve. Before your agency even goes near content creation, or any other deliverable, time needs to be spent familiarising yourself with the client’s business, industry and goals.


This will require several meetings or discussions to determine buyer personas and the buyer journey, sales processes, key company information, content research, etc, because these will determine the overall strategy and will become the foundations of that strategy’s success.

The details of the strategy should also clearly outline the reasons behind every aspect of it, and should also show how each element will contribute to the overall process. This will help to explain why, for example, they are not going to be provided with blogs immediately, why they need to have a pillar piece in place before they post related blogs, why an email campaign will kick in when it does, or why they won’t see their website rise up the search engine rankings until SEO work has been completed and has a chance to take effect.

It will also help, obviously, to outline how inbound marketing works, essentially, by detailing how you will help them increase website traffic, generate leads, and then convert them into customers, all as part of the overall strategy.

The Scope Is There for a Reason

Without a detailed outline of the scope of work agreed upon, a new client will not only not know what your agency will do for them, they will also not know what you won’t do for them, so it is imperative to avoid mismatched or unrealistic expectations by detailing every element of your agreement, and making sure they understand it.


A company may well be under the false impression that having agreed to upgrade their website, your agency is now responsible for its redesign, maintenance, continued content creation, etc, and without an agreed upon document stating otherwise, may demand that you deliver on this promise.

They may also figure that having you on board means they can now make endless revisions, all of which have to be addressed, or might be working off the belief that you will do everything possible to deliver the results you promised them, even if that means going well above and beyond the main tasks at hand.

This inevitably leads to project creep, not to mention dwindling profits, as all of your resources are sucked into keeping one client happy, simply because it was not outlined at the very start what you would deliver.

Yes, you want to win the contract, but you also need to consider what it is you can actually provide, and be realistic about it. If the client wants 10 blogs per week, do you have the resources at hand to cope with this workload? If they want to increase the number of leads on their conversion path by 500%, is this realistically possible within their industry and with the products or services they provide? If they want a full website designed in a month, can you realistically achieve this?

Outline exactly what you can do, how you will do it, what will be deemed out of scope, and what the expected, realistic outcomes could be – without buzzwords that only cause confusion - so that the client is left in no doubt about what they will get from their investment in your agency.


Implementing an inbound marketing strategy for a client will help them see an increase in their lead generation and conversion, but they have to know from the start that this is not a magic wand to be waved in order to get instant results, and you have to be open and honest with them about what can be achieved. Otherwise, they are likely to be disappointed, no matter how well you perform, and you are likely to be left overstretched and undervalued.

Remember: If you promise the world, the client is likely to ask for it. If you set realistic expectations, chances are you will exceed them, leaving both you and your client happier in the long run.

Find out how we can help your agency manage client expectations by booking a call with Clodagh, our resident agency training expert, below:

Talk to Clodagh

Clodagh is the co-Director of Get Focused Ltd, the first Irish Platinum HubSpot Partner Agency. She's an accomplished inbound agency sales and marketing coach who has helped hundreds of agencies in the HubSpot Agency Partner Program since 2013, both in APAC and EMEA.


Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam Hyland - Chief Editor

Adam is the most vital link between your message and your audience, ensuring your tone is on brand and optimised for engagement.

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