June 13, 2012
Case Study

Inbound Marketing: How a software company generated 190% more leads with a small budget

SUMMARY: Startup companies face many challenges -- most notably the competition with better-funded and more established organizations, which have substantial budgets for traditional marketing and advertising.

This case study looks at a U.K.-based recruiting software company that devoted its entire marketing spend on an inbound strategy. Read on to learn how it leveraged its content, social media, and even a unique approach to industry trade shows, to drive a 335% increase in website traffic, and 190% lift in leads generated.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter


Traditional marketing and advertising can be expensive, particularly for a startup company facing more established and better-funded competition. The solution is to uncover marketing channels that maximize brand exposure without breaking the budget.

Luckily, marketers today have an entire category of marketing channels that fit the bill -- inbound marketing.

Firefish Software, a U.K.-based online recruitment software company, faced the issue of well-funded international competition that had the ability to outspend the company in traditional marketing channels and in advertising to reach new prospects.

Wendy McDougall, CEO, Firefish, began thinking about putting the product to market at the launch of the business and quickly realized that spending marketing dollars on trade shows and going head-to-head with the competition through advertising would be a losing proposition.

Ailsa Partridge, Online Marketing Executive, Firefish, added the company was founded on private funding, and sought to grow through cash flow in the early stages before seeking more investment.

She said, "We were going to have to find a way to capture the attention of our market with a lower marketing budget than some of the competition."

Read on to learn how Firefish decided to put its entire marketing budget into a comprehensive inbound strategy, and how it coordinated different inbound channels. Then, see how the team leveraged trade shows through virtual social media interaction and avoided the costs of actually attending the events.


Firefish Software launched January 2010, and Partridge was hired in October 2011 to continue fully implementing the inbound marketing strategy already in place.

Firefish’s better-funded competition in the recruitment software industry was engaging in more traditional marketing activities, such as trade shows, outbound lead generation, direct mail and advertising.

Step #1. Decide to execute an inbound strategy

After reviewing what the competition was spending, McDougall realized to match those companies on a budgetary basis would prevent Firefish from earning any revenue at the price point where the software product needed to go to market to be competitive.

Since the business plan was to initially grow the company through cash flow, actual revenue on the balance sheet was important to McDougall.

In doing research, she found an inbound marketing vendor through a blog written by an investor in that company. She quickly realized this was a marketing strategy that offered a much lower cost-per-customer than many traditional marketing efforts.

Six months into the company launch, McDougall made a decision.

She explained, "I looked back and said there is no way that this business is actually going to survive if I don’t do inbound."

McDougall continued, "I have to say, I was looking for something in terms of a business model, and that business model led to what I understood as being inbound marketing."

The team decided to focus its marketing budget one hundred percent on inbound efforts. There was no paid search, and Firefish didn’t even engage in traditional mass mail email campaigns or target cold leads.

Step #2. Focus on multiple inbound channels

The entire inbound strategy was based on the marketing team creating quality content that Firefish’s clients would find valuable, such as blog articles, whitepapers and other online content like webinars and video.

Initially the team tackled several inbound channels with specific goals:

Understanding how to achieve conversions from these inbound channels was the team’s early analytic focus.

When Partridge joined the team, she focused on search engine optimization (SEO), and audited the company’s website content to improve organic search results because of her SEO background.

Strong SEO was a very important element in the inbound strategy because Firefish’s website traffic was only generated by referrals from social media, other sites and direct traffic from organic search. The company did not engage in any paid search efforts.

"We have seen a big increase in traffic from social media because I have been pushing that quite a bit since I came on board," said Partridge. "The next thing I made the move on was more content."

She stated the marketing team created more whitepapers, hosted more webinars with a particular client, and used blog posts for the majority of the additional content.

Partridge added the team did not create these content pieces in a vacuum.

"We tend to try and get the maximum mileage out of any content that we do," she said.

Partridge continued, "If we do a webinar with a client, I will then take my prep notes for that (webinar) and turn that into a blog post. We have to be really smart about our resources right now because we don’t have a really huge team."

The team also found success with video. When Firefish produces a video, it goes up on the company YouTube channel as well as a video channel on the company website. The video is then promoted across different inbound channels, such as the blog and social media platforms.

Partridge said videos create a good response in both hits and engagement within the Firefish online community.

Step #3. Contribute to external online communities

The marketing team actively engaged with its internal online community, but another inbound outreach effort contributed to, and engaged with, external online communities as well.

Part of this effort involved guest blogging for other sites. The company even began offering blog exchanges, where Firefish provides a post for an external site and receives a guest post for the Firefish blog in return.

The team would also post content to online communities focused on recruitment, including LinkedIn groups. The idea was to get involved in conversations at these external communities to both develop some thought leadership and promote the Firefish brand.

Partridge explained the pros and cons of these efforts, "It is something that we want to do more of, but we have to curtail how much we do because it is time consuming. And, it is hit or miss as well because sometimes it produces great results, and then other times you are going to spend quite a while on perhaps an article for somebody else’s site that doesn’t actually get as much attention."

Step #4. Interact with trade shows virtually

Even though Firefish did not put any marketing budget into industry trade shows, McDougall found a way to leverage those events and interact with participants without actually attending the shows.

She said this was "an excellent way of being able to generate interest in leads."

"There are a lot of conferences that are happening all over the place," explained McDougall, "And all these conferences are online, in terms that you don’t need to actually physically go and pay. You can tune in and stay online, so effectively you can be tweeting about it."

McDougall said she would work to uncover the main points of each speaker, and craft a quick blog post to get on the website by lunch or a break at the event. Then, she'd promote that post through social platforms such as Twitter to drive engagement with event attendees.

She said another effective tactic was creating a whitepaper summarizing the conference, putting it online the day after event was completed and driving additional group discussion. She said this type of content was particularly valuable because there was a captive audience from the event, an audience that was actively searching for the information Firefish was publishing.

McDougall said she could no longer see herself attending events in person because she felt she got more out of them attending "virtually," where she could see the conference trends from multiple sources, such as following tweets with event hashtags from many different attendees.

"You actually have kind of a bird’s eye view of what is happening, perhaps even more than some of the people sitting in the chairs," she stated.

Step #5. Focus on Marketing instead of Sales

This didn’t mean to not care about turning prospects into paying customers. For Firefish, the inbound strategy meant focusing on the marketing team and its inbound efforts, rather than have the sales team following cold leads and pursuing non-qualified prospects.

"Our business will be Marketing led, and then Sales will be secondary," said McDougall.

She added she wanted to bring in "brilliant marketers" and spend less of the company budget on the sales team.

Partridge explained this concept works within Firefish’s inbound marketing strategy.

She stated, "The leads that are making it to Sales are qualified, and they are genuinely interested in the product. They have been nurtured, and they have (consumed) material [in the form of Firefish’s content.]"

This process has brought those leads to a stage where they are ready to buy, easing Sales’ burden.


Even though the entire marketing strategy is based on inbound marketing for lead generation, Partridge said she does engage in some email marketing for lead nurturing once the lead has been generated, and only involves prospects who have indicated an interest in Firefish’s product.

Over a one-year period, the outcome of the inbound strategy has been very positive:
  • 335% increase in overall website traffic

  • 190% increase in leads generated

  • Higher quality leads created a stable 1.5:1 demo to customer conversion rate

  • Customer retention was 94%, indicating the marketing efforts were setting realistic expectations

McDougall said one drawback with the inbound strategy was essentially a good problem to have. Currently Firefish is only operating in the U.K., with plans to expand internationally eventually.

But, because inbound reaches across the Internet, the marketing effort generates leads from the United States that Firefish must turn down at the moment. McDougall said she feels more traditional, targeted marketing probably would not reach potential customers in the United States.

Partridge summarized, "The Internet is democratizing the marketplace for many industries. It’s no longer about who has the biggest budget to spend on expensive advertising campaigns. Instead, potential clients are making decisions based on the quality and authenticity of information they are finding online."

She concluded, "We’ve managed to more than double our sales year-on-year while keeping costs low with an inbound marketing strategy."

Creative Samples

  1. Company blog

  2. Twitter

  3. Facebook

  4. LinkedIn discussion

  5. Website


Firefish Software

Related Resources

Research Chart: Inbound lead sources more important to marketers

Marketing: Inbound strategy pulls in 25% more revenue, 70% more leads

Content Marketing: How scrapers impact your content strategy

More YouTube Views: 20% more video plays from one simple change

Inbound Marketing Handbook Excerpt

Content Marketing: How to measure results, find gaps and grab opportunities

Social Spam: Why you should clean out your LinkedIn and Facebook communities

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