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Company & Culture

The State of Inbound in 2018: A Conversation with Mike Skeehan

Abby Thompson

2017 has been a pretty great year for Salted Stone. We’ve welcomed 14 new team members (so far), moved into our fancy new digs, drank over 140 gallons of beer (again -- so far), and had the most successful months of business in the company’s history. We even presented at HubSpot’s Partner Day, during which our fearless leader Mike Skeehan successfully conflated right-swiping on Tinder with the agency/client relationship lifecycle.*

  *TL;DR: we won Partner Day

We also had the pleasure of attending INBOUND 2017 in BostonDuring the Diamond Partner CEO Panel, Mike said something particularly poignant about the next chapter of digital marketing, and the agencies of the future.

Inbound Conference

He said: “Here in the United States, Inbound Marketing as a methodology is in it’s 7th inning. The concepts behind all Inbound tactics are still 100% true - people want to be helped, to be educated, and always will want that. But, I think about Search Engine Optimization, and how there were agencies back in 2004 or 2005 where that’s all they did, and they were very successful, but you’d have a hard time finding any agencies today that focus exclusively on SEO. They either adapted and evolved or they went out of business. And I feel like the agencies that are only focusing on Inbound will follow that same pattern. We have to look at all stages of the buyers lifecycle."

"If I was a new agency getting started today, I’d start focusing on tomorrow... What is the next thing? How do you keep pace and focus on what comes next?”

After we got home and had time to recover from our legendary client dinner/chowder/craft beer hangovers, I got a chance to speak with him about this in length.  

AT: So, you said Inbound concepts are getting a little tired. Why do you think that is?

MS: Like anything, really, early adopters are always at an advantage. Five years ago, maybe 10 to 15% of small businesses were offering ebooks, webinars, blog posts, etc. Now you see them on the majority of websites. It’s really no different than the heydey of SEO, a period in which you could toss some keywords in a Title tag, and land on the first page of SERPs a week later. Now every website has keywords in their Title tags. So, there’s really an issue of diminishing returns for most Inbound tactics -- eventually every website in an industry looks the same, sounds the same, and offers the same thing. I mean, check out most Inbound agency websites, it’s like they’ve been cloned from the same prototype. I think that’s the direction all industries are going.

Do you think there are any “classic” Inbound tactics that are impervious to market saturation and changes in the industry? Why?

The same way that SEO still technically works, Inbound will always work. Understanding personas, and aligning content to their journeys… this stuff generates results. But there will be increasing headwinds. Eventually, a level of saturation will occur that makes it terribly difficult to trust the content you’re being offered. The innovative organizations will shift their attention towards what comes next.

What offerings have been surprisingly successful for Salted Stone as the landscape has changed?

We’re seeing good traction with our influencer marketing and outreach. We’ve achieved some big wins for our clients in the earned media space, and we’ve done some really cool event activation campaigns in 2017. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that next year.

The Salted Stone bar always has three beers on tap. Pretty cool.
What’s your favorite? Why?

Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils has been my go-to for the past several months. Easy drinking, a very sharp and, I dunno, precise flavor profile, like it gets straight to the point, no frills, no nonsense. You know how people say: “He’s a man’s man”? Well, Prima Pils is “a beer’s beer.” And it has a manageable ABV, which means I can still send emails after a few pints.

Taps at S2 + Beer.jpg

You’ve officially been in “the biz” for about a decade now. Kudos. How do you think consumers have changed in this time?

I don’t think people fundamentally change very much. I think as the buyer demographics shift, generational differences and changes in consumer expectations emerge. But really, I see that buyers today have an air of entitlement related to being empowered along their buying journey. Because most companies are now doing it for them, they expect to have all of their questions answered without having to talk to a human being. There’s a burden on companies to market in a way that is overtly helpful to the consumer, even if it’s detrimental to the bottom line or the business. Ultimately that boils down in most cases to consumers self-educating and simply performing for themselves the sorts of learning activities that used to be handled by a salesperson over the phone.

What’s the coolest thing you saw at HubSpot’s Inbound event this year?

The Smoking Shellfish Tower at Ocean Prime. It's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

Our team has grown quite a lot this year. Tell us about how all the newbies have affected the processes and successes of Salted Stone.

It’s really cool to see the youngsters display their talents in full plume. Digital marketing rewards youth, I think. Success in this field sort of requires a savvy or a “cool factor”, and digital marketers seem to age in dog years. So I get to drop elder wisdom every now and again, but -- truth be told -- I’m sort of uncool and off-the-pulse. So, it’s best if I stay out of everyone’s way and let them do their thing.

I’m just an old dog, I guess. That’s a thing, right?

That’s definitely a thing, old dog. How has all of this growth impacted business?

The growth has certainly impacted processes and day to day operations here, and now I find that I’m able to contribute best on the systems side. Scaling requires disbursement and delegation of responsibility, but this only works if the underlying systems are in place to support it.

Our management style is sort of like building a fence around a playground … I love that the team thrives in that playground, but the fence is super important. Otherwise, folks would probably chase a ball into the street and wind up on someone’s windshield.  

Yeah, that’s fair… we’re windshield magnets. No question. What’s the best piece of advice you received this year? What’s the worst piece of advice you received this year?

Probably the best advice I received (and this is something I hear regularly from an advisor) is to stay focused on the reality that I’m actually capable of accomplishing very little through my own power. My role is kind of like that of an interpreter, or a navigator.

It’s funny, because a lot of folks don’t believe me when I say it, but Salted Stone has and will continue to thrive based on -- sure -- an abundance of effort and collective talent, but more so because of a superabundance of happy accidents.

The worst piece of advice I received actually came from someone who is likely more intelligent than me, so there’s a really good chance that I’m dumber than the advice I’m about to malign. I certainly understand that for some folks it constitutes a valuable exercise, but I’d argue it's more an illusion of value than anything real. He suggested that I write down my vision for the company, and outline where I want us to be in 5 or 10 years.

I mean, I get it, but I also recognize that 99% of basically everything is completely outside of my control. So I just put one foot in front of the other, try to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing, and keep a look out for snakes. Vision, whether we’re talking about the ability to sense what is or prophesy about what may come, ultimately requires confidence that one is seeing things clearly to begin with, and my hindsight isn’t even 20/20.

Got big plans for 2018?

Hope so. We’d like to flow in HubSpot’s slipstream and go global. We’ll see what happens.

We’ll see what happens, indeed. Cheers, Mike!

Office Bar

What are you excited about in 2018? Want to work together to redesign your site? Want to strategize your next big marketing campaign? Rebrand and relaunch? Interested in learning more about joining our team as a designer or account manager? Talk to us!
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