Inbound marketing as a practice is still very much in its infancy – particularly in Ireland. From speaking with people on the marketing ‘circuit’ in Dublin, it is very clear to me that there is still some uncertainty as to what inbound marketing actually is. Some people think that it is the same as content marketing (check out this really good article from the HubSpot blog on the difference between inbound and content marketing); others see it as just another term for SEO and Social Media.  Inbound is so much more than that.

If you want to remain current and competitive (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), you need to both develop and hire for success.

The aim of this blog post is to help you understand what skills you need to work on if you want to become a successful inbound marketer. It can also serve to inform a job spec/criteria if you want to employ someone to head up your inbound marketing.

See…useful post all round!

We identified a number of key inbound marketing practitioners and asked them this question:

“What key skills/characteristics do you think are required to be successful at inbound marketing?”

So here is the juicy stuff:

 1. An ability and willingness to learn quickly and be awesome.

According to Jon Cooper from Point Blank SEO, the only consistency in the inbound marketing industry is change. It’s never unmanageable, but the minute you become complacent and settle in, you put yourself at risk of falling behind. This means that you always need to be learning – and the quicker you can do this when you’re starting out, the better.

Larry Kim from Wordstream told us that when he interviews candidates, he asks behavioural and situational questions because he cares more about their attitude and their willingness to learn than how many facts they already know. He doesn’t ask questions like “What’s PageRank?” or “Tell me what you know about Facebook marketing?”. Those are things they can learn.

Tim Grice from Branded3 believes inbound marketers need to be motivated and adaptable. He agrees that the industry is ever changing, that new challenges and different ways of working are the norm, and states that you won’t last unless you really want to be the best.

2. An ability to get to know your audience and use it to leverage success.

Bryan Adams from Ph. Creative believes that the number one skill a truly effective inbound marketer can have is an insightful ability to understand and appreciate what is most valuable to their audience. Not only that, they must understand how to leverage understanding into success for their business or client. The ability and commitment to thoroughly research your audience and take the time to segment the audience into accurate personas is key.

Tim Grice refers to this as being a “people person”:

Time Grice Inbound Marketing Skills

Lee Odden from Top Rank Blog adds depth to this point:

“Customer research, analysis and segmentation. Being able to map a customer journey and assessing the information needs buyers have as they go through awareness, consideration and purchase phases. Then being able to plan content that will satisfy those information needs.”

3. Creativity

Bryan Adams also believes that creativity is vital to inbound success.

Bryan Adams inbound marketing sklls

John Doherty and Larry Kim agree that creativity is an important skill when it comes to inbound marketing success. For John, it’s a mix of creativity and curiosity; for Larry, it’s creativity and analytical skill.

4. Analytical Skills

This is a biggie.

Larry Kim is not the only one that believes that a mix of creativity and analytical skill is important for inbound marketing success.

One of our favourite bloggers, Neil Patel, has the following views:

Neil Patel Inbound Marketing Skills

John Doherty of Hotpads also believes that being data-driven is immensely important in today’s digital/inbound marketing world:

john doherty inbound marketing skills

Mark Schaefer highlights the most important skill going forward as being an ability to translate analytics into action. He believes that familiarity with statistics is necessary to be in content marketing these days. He states that increasingly, marketing is about math. It’s about understanding data, knowing what questions to ask, and being able to tease wisdom out of numbers that can become an effective action.

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media believes that understanding analytics will immediately make you valuable within an organisation.

Likewise, HubSpot’s CMO, Mike Volpe, believes that a balance of creativity and analytics. He believes that you need to be able to come up with new creative ideas, but at the same time be able to judge each of your marketing efforts based on the metrics, not gut.

5. Excellent Communication & Storytelling Skills

SEO and website expert, Cyrus Shepard believes that being able to communicate – either through writing, speaking, videos, podcasts, emails or whatever your medium – is a must for any inbound marketer. He adds the following, which re-emphasises our previous point regarding the need to be analytical:

“And don’t just communicate – strive to get better. Measure your results with every effort through analytics, chart a path for improvement, and iterate. Your professional development chart works best when it goes up and to the right.”

Dr. Pete Meyers from Moz echoes this – and again, his views highlights the need to be analytical:

“…communication is critical – you don’t have to write at the level of a published author, but you do have to communicate your ideas in a compelling way. You have to have enough skill to know when you’re failing because of lack of skill, lack of relevance, or lack of audience, especially in the beginning. In other words, are you a lousy storyteller, is your story just not interesting to very many people (even told well), or is no one listening? If you either have the skill, a story to tell (even if you’re not great at the telling), or an audience, you’re on your way.”

6. A love creating for digital content

It’s one thing having the ability to communicate, but it’s another thing being excellent at it and LOVING it. Like a puppy, a content strategy is not just for Christmas. It requires dedication.

Yes, pristine writing skills are important. Andy Crestonia states:

andy crestodina inbound marketing skills

Ann Handley, Paul Roetzer and Jay Baer all agree that being a good writer is important. But Jay also makes a great point that content today is not just about words; it’s becoming more visual. If you can “do” images and video, as well as write well, you’ll be top of the pile.

7. Technical Skill

When I started out in marketing, I used to get so frustrated when I could not create simple images, upload something to a website, make small website changes, or navigate through tools like Google Analytics. For me to be efficient at my job, I had to teach myself all sorts of skills (refer to skill number one above!).

Dr. Pete believes that – at least for now – some level of technical skill is important to the success of an inbound marketer.

“You’re going to need to navigate social networks, tag content in various ways, and even create content that requires more than just a text editor or WordPress login. Even within fairly large organisations, inbound marketers often have to do some of their own technical heavy-lifting. If you’re always waiting for someone else to implement your ideas, you’ll fall behind.”

Technical skills are something that I’m always trying to improve and it’s made such a difference to my career progression to far.

8. Being able to Market

It’s one thing being able to write well, but it’s another thing being able to promote your content. In my opinion, that’s the biggest mistake people are making in Ireland at the moment – they start a blog, post it on their social media (which may have a following of less that 500 followers), and they expect people to link to it and share it just like that.

Reality check.

Marketing as a practice hasn’t died. I guess that’s what separates journalists from content marketers. Sure, they can write really well. But they are UNLIKELY to be able to market their content strategically in the way good marketers can.

This point was communicated very well by Andy Crestodina: 

“Now it’s about promotion. Because the best content doesn’t win. The best-promoted content wins. So you need to learn to put the hooks into your content (keywords and mentions) that give you an edge in promotion. You need to understand the overlap between search and social. Then you need to work your fingers to the bone to drive traffic using search, social and email.”

Having worked with lots of freelance journalists, I cam empathise with this. Grammatically, yes they can write well. But few can write for the blog or social media environment.

9. Ability to make a plan and stick to it

Inbound marketing requires a huge amount of planning. Not only that, it requires vision, dedication and patience. Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute puts it very well:

Joe Pulizzi Inbound marketing skills

This opinion was led by recent research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs on the importance of having a documented content marketing strategy. Having an ad hoc content strategy just does not work. It needs to be documented, and someone needs to be made accountable for its success.

Ian Cleary from RazorSocial agrees with the importance of having a vision: 

“Without a clear vision it’s easy to get lost along the way.  Investing in inbound marketing is a long-term initiative so you need to make sure you stay on the right path.”

10. A good personality

This is another golden nugget from Ian Cleary and one I am surprised not more of our experts referred to. From all the conferences I’ve been to, from all the outreach I’ve done, and from all the Twitter conversations I’ve been involved in, I have not come across an inbound marketer who was not a nice, friendly, chatty person. Sure, there are some quiet inbound marketers out there who prefer to work alone, but they are always willing to help. Ahem, these usually tend to be the more SEO-focussed inbound marketers 🙂 

11. DARC

Being a HubSpot employee, lover and advocate, I couldn’t finish with anything but some words from Brian Halligan, CEO at HubSpot. His opinion requires no editing and I think it’s valuable advice for any wannabe inbound marketer or indeed inbound marketing recruiter. Take note.

Brian Halligan Inbound Skills

“At the end of the day, the internet is fundamentally changing how people live, work, shop, and buy, so you need digital natives to help your organisation innovate its way into the future.

Similarly, marketing is no longer about arts and crafts: you need measurable, data-driven programs to grow your company, so you need people who are as good at spreadsheets as they are at writing slogans.

Any company that wants to grow needs to expand its reach, and one of the best ways to do that is hiring people who bring access to new networks and channels–if you want to be a marketer, show up with a built-in audience of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, or LinkedIn connections–doing so is the fastest way to show that your work resonates and that you’re capable of earning people’s attention.

Finally, inbound marketers are publishers at heart–if you’re not a remarkable content creator, it’s really hard to win over prospects and customers for the long haul, so we look for candidates who produce amazing videos, who craft highly shared blog entries, and who bring a portfolio of published works.”

What do you think of these ten skills and characteristics? As an inbound marketer, do you have these traits? How do you go about bettering yourself? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to learn more about inbound marketing? Come along to the next Learn Inbound event in Dublin. Three leading inbound marketing experts will be sharing their knowledge with you. And not only that, our sponsors have kindly provided some awesome swag to give away to each attendee on the evening.


Siobhán McGinty

I am Campaign Marketing Manager (EMEA) at HubSpot, Co-Founder & Digital Marketing Strategist at Learn Inbound, and an experienced (& infinitely enthusiastic!!) inbound marketing specialist.

All articles by Siobhán McGinty »

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