I recently joined 24,000+ of my closest industry peers for a whirlwind week in Boston at the 2018 edition of INBOUND, an annual conference focused on marketing and sales trends, hosted by HubSpot (full disclosure: Stern Strategy Group is a HubSpot Agency Partner). While one of last year’s highlights was Michelle Obama’s keynote, this year’s inspiring talks – from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Scott Harrison, Deepak Chopra, Beth Comstock and more – didn’t disappoint. Each speaker treated us to stories overflowing with passion, creativity and the will to overcome obstacles.

The most direct value, however, came from the 300+ breakout sessions. These sessions, led by fellow industry professionals, centered on the latest tools, trends and strategies on topics such as content marketing, analytics, social media, sales enablement and automation. Everything wrapped around the central theme of what it means to “Grow Better” and how businesses can do just that in the coming year.

Indeed, today’s marketers are growth obsessed – and rightly so. We have unprecedented access to huge amounts of data that help us make decisions and prove ROI. We’re constantly creating dashboards, producing reports, tracking KPIs and iterating endlessly in the pursuit of growth. It’s also a customer-centric time and trust has never been more paramount. It’s our responsibility as marketers to grow more responsibly and more sustainably, and to do so by putting people first. Essentially, our collective mission is to bring the human element back to our data-driven world. On that note, here are my top five takeaways from INBOUND 2018 to help your business grow better.

5 Marketing and Sales Trends to Grow Your Business Better in 2019

Spin-up your flywheel.

What IS a flywheel? Similar to the concept of Newton’s cradle, a flywheel is a mechanical device designed to conserve momentum and energy. Once it picks up speed it continues spinning with minimal additional input. HubSpot created the flywheel to replace the traditional marketing/sales funnel because it’s customer-centric, unlike the traditional funnel where customers are an afterthought.

Marketing and Sales Funnel vs. Flywheel
Source: HubSpot

Today’s potential buyers care less about what you have to say about yourself and more about what your customers say about you. The flywheel model puts customers at the center and focuses on building self-sustaining momentum to keep it moving.

In 2019, marketers must prioritize the customer experience throughout the entire business, allowing customers to access you when, where and how they choose. Then, reduce friction in your flywheel by identifying and fixing the inefficiencies where your customers are losing momentum.

Build your “growth stack.”

If you’ve seen the Marketing Technology Landscape graphic for 2018 (a.k.a. the Martech 5000), you’ll know the tech landscape for marketers has exploded in the past few years. It now includes 6,829 marketing technology solutions! Part of our job as marketers is to be aware of, test and implement these solutions in the pursuit of growth. But, as the landscape expands, so does the complexity of our technology ecosystems. After all, no one uses a singule tool for all marketing/sales functions.

Growth Stack
Source: HubSpot

Enter the technology stack. It’s a term more common in software development to denote the combination of programming languages, tools and frameworks used to create web and mobile applications. This ensures everything works together so your application functions. The same concept applies to marketing and sales.

The Virtuous Cycle of Growth
Source: HubSpot

It’s smart for marketers working in this complex ecosystem to centralize their strategy and data around a piece of pillar technology that supports marketing, sales and customer service processes. Marketers can then augment their core platform with other tech that supports various needs (e.g., collaboration, project management, analytics, design tools, etc.). Many platforms have native integrations through APIs and more can be created through third-party tools such as Zapier. Don’t forget to document your growth stack. This helps you keep a handle on which platforms serve which needs and where you may be able to optimize further.

Create a sales enablement plan.

Sales Enablement
Source: Highspot

Sales enablement is the combination of process, content and technology that empowers sales teams to sell more efficiently and at a higher velocity. As the lines between marketing and sales become increasingly blurred and new technology replaces old processes, the traditional “handoff” has become more complex.

Don’t be afraid to educate yourself further on sales processes. This helps you ensure leads are closed efficiently and effectively and there aren’t significant gaps in the process. Take time to sit down with your sales team to build a more structured, manageable, scalable and predictable process that will improve close rates and increase ROI.

Tackle the video problem.

This isn’t just another marketing and sales trend. Video is a “must have.” And I mean, you must use video effectively throughout your marketing and sales process, and beyond. According to Cisco, 82 percent of all web traffic will be video by 2021 (that’s only about two years away!).

Video has become more affordable, targeted and measurable than ever before. And you don’t need a professional film crew and a Hollywood budget to produce great content. Apps like Magisto and Soapbox give anyone the tools to create professional quality video much faster (and yes, you can record on your iPhone or with your webcam). The key to reducing costs and labor is a systematic, easily repeatable framework that:

  • Focuses on outcomes
  • Includes measurable goals
  • Identifies and prioritizes opportunities for video
  • Moves away from a one-off approach to a systematic, integrated and scalable video strategy

Experiment with video throughout your sales and marketing process (e.g., lead introduction, prospecting, follow-up, purchased thank you, referrals, nurturing, etc.). Then, evaluate the results and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Say goodbye to the keyword.

Gartner predicts 30 percent of all web browsing will be done without a screen by 2020. Google continues to quietly prepare for this new reality. Its steady stream of algorithm updates is designed to better understand the context of a search query and surface the most relevant and helpful information – often without the user ever leaving the search results page.

This is evident in Google’s “featured snippets” that often match Google Assistant’s verbal answers. Google makes it clear that one of the key factors in determining page quality is the amount of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T). For example, “High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism.”

Google also focuses a lot on better understanding the intent of a search. For example, simply searching “where to eat lunch” instead of “Italian restaurant Boston” now delivers results with the proper context. This is because Google’s algorithm understands intent. This is another signal for marketers that SEO is changing for good and keywords are the way of the past.

Marketers can adapt to the changing search landscape in a few ways:

  1. Focus on topics instead of keywords (optimize for intent): Group similar keywords into subtopics rather than writing to every keyword variation (e.g., “why use a crm” and “benefits of crm”).
  2. Reduce content bloat (content pruning): Only create content aligned with the topics identified in step 1; consider removing/condensing older content that isn’t relevant, doesn’t generate any traffic or have any backlinks.
  3. Improve technical SEO (sorry, this still matters): Focus on quick wins (meta descriptions, title tags, headings, etc.). Then, create a plan to improve other aspects like mobile friendliness, speed, security, etc. This improves your chances of ranking and/or winning more featured snippets.

Let’s “Grow Better” together in 2019.

These are just a few of the marketing and sales trends I observed at INBOUND 2018. I hope you’ll consider exploring some or all with your teams as you head into the new year. The landscape is shifting more quickly than ever. But I’ve never been more excited or inspired to be in marketing and to pursue the mission of growing better.

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Justin is responsible for leading overall direction on all digital programs and projects as well as overseeing and advancing the agency's digital competency and teams. He works alongside our senior management team to provide strategic and tactical client counsel; help set client expectations; and collaborate with account teams on project implementation and competency training. Justin holds a Masters in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Marketing and Management Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, General Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University.