Are you thinking of investing in inbound marketing, but want to know exactly where your money is going?

I don’t blame you; after all, it’s an entirely sensible thing to expect.

Never seeing your hard-earned cash again is actually one of the biggest fears when making the commitment to inbound, as it usually requires a considerable investment – not only in monetary terms, but also in trust.

As an inbound marketer, I get a lot of questions from businesses on a daily basis, and one of the biggest is: “Why can’t I just pay every time I get a lead?”

In an ideal world, I’d love to do this. Unfortunately, right now it’s just not possible (although some agencies may start offering it soon).

Below, I’m going to explain why, as well as what you need to know from an agency before committing.

But first, let’s take a look at how things really work…

How most agencies charge

Right now, if you were to approach an inbound agency (or 3, or 4 – as I recommend), you’ll find that most of them charge in one of two different ways:

  1. On an hourly basis
  2. Using a points system

The problem with charging on an hourly basis is that you don’t know exactly how much time work may take to complete – and especially if the agency runs into problems down the line, you could find yourself paying for their mistakes.

I personally prefer to work using a points system, which means that you as the client are only actually paying for work that’s delivered.

This could be anything from an ebook or a blog post, to an infographic or slideshare – the point being, these are all solid deliverables, that will cost you the same no matter how long they may take to produce.

An agency may also sit down with you and try to work out some S.M.A.R.T goals to achieve over the next six months. S.M.A.R.T stands for:

This is all about setting realistic milestones to build the best possible inbound relationship -which you can read more about in this blog post.

An ideal world…

Going back to what we’d all like in an ideal world for a minute, I would absolutely love for my clients to be able to pay me x amount of money for every lead we get them.

It’d mean that you’d only be paying for the leads that arrive onto your website, so you’d be happy, and we’d of course be happy that we’d gotten you the results you needed.

And I’m not saying this isn’t something that can never happen in future – in fact, I’d like it to, and it could be that that day is getting closer every minute.

However, at the moment, it can’t really work like that…

Why pay per lead isn’t quite there yet

In the end, it all comes back to data and figuring out the logistics of pay per lead – there are simply so many challenges to overcome.

In terms of data, there’s no way to guarantee how many leads or customers you’re going to get until we have all of the information in front of us, first.

You may know you’re getting 60 customers per month, but it’s impossible to tell what the real numbers are until we’ve analysed your website and looked at what’s happening behind the scenes.

In order to get a lead, you have to first come up with quality content, create CTAs, landing pages, emails and more – before spending time analysing and optimising. With so many elements to factor into cost, it’s easy to see why agencies are struggling with a solid formula to work this out.

Then there’s working out the true value of a lead, which is practically impossible to measure. Some may not buy straight away, instead taking weeks to decide, whilst others may be ready to sign up from the first phonecall – and some of that may come down to the quality of your sales team.

Finally, the way inbound works is that quality content could go on generating leads forever – so, you may get around 50 leads in the first month, but six months down the line that number could have turned into 500 or more!

What you need to know before buying

For me personally, I can see that the really clever agencies are looking at their current client base, seeing typical results, and giving a rough estimate of what clients can usually expect.

When looking for an inbound agency, I’d steer clear of any that say they can guarantee results, instead of going for the approach above. Ask to look at case studies and previous clients, before deciding whether their approach makes sense for your business and budget.

When looking at the figures, and you both decide that you can see a good return on your investment, only then should you be happy to sign up with your chosen agency.

TIP: If an agency tells you figures or guarantees results straight away – without even getting a good idea of your business first – I’d run a mile, because they won’t know what they are talking about.

In essence, you need to feel confident the risk you’re taking is worthwhile. For more on that, read my blog ‘How to Be Confident Inbound Marketing Will Succeed’.


If you’re considering investing in an inbound marketing strategy, it only makes sense that you’d want to know where your hard-earned money is being spent. Many businesses ask me why they can’t just pay per lead – which is something I’d love to be able to offer in future.

Unfortunately, the logistics are so simple to work out, with many factors to take into consideration, such as knowing the data before we start, working out the true value of a lead, and determining the quality of the leads you’ll receive as a result of inbound marketing.

All of this, when put together, should help determine a solid formula for determining how pay per lead will work – and unfortunately, no-one seems to have it fully figured out just yet.

When picking an agency to take on your inbound marketing strategy, try to look for companies that can tell you the typical results you can expect to receive, and who listen to you about your business and look over all the figures with you beforehand – WITHOUT offering you any guarantees.

Would you prefer to pay based on deliverables, or for leads you receive at the end of the day? I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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