Our inbound marketing practice is booming. Why? One reason may be that we eat our own dog food. As we work with each client, we follow our own 7-step disciplined process for planning, implementing, and deriving benefit from inbound marketing. The 7 steps are outlined briefly on our site, but I’m happy to share more about the process here.
Step 1: Plan
Without a plan, you’re groping in the dark, flying blind, or <fill in your favorite cliche>! But seriously, inbound marketing has a lot of moving parts, and in nearly all organizations, it involves at least several people. Planning means setting priorities, making fundamental decisions, and getting everyone on the same page. Please don’t tell me you’re going to do this without a plan. Thank you.
During this planning process, you’ll want to review the steps to come, ensure that everyone understands the basic elements of an inbound marketing program, discuss your company’s specific needs and your inbound objectives, and — very important — develop your target personas. If that term is new to you, just understand that a target persona is a marketing target that is fully fleshed out, one that goes way beyond simple advertising-target terms. We call them personas because we like to know them almost like real people, and we often give them names. Names are especially handy when there is more than one target persona, and there is almost always more than one target persona!
Don’t make this stuff up. Don’t guess. Don’t rely on your gut instinct or your impression of the last three prospects you spoke with. We always recommend target persona research, so you can know exactly what audiences you should be creating content for. If you get the target personas wrong, you have undermined the entire effort.
Step 2: Create
Inbound marketing is based entirely around creating content and making it available (in fact, it’s sometimes called content marketing). The content is intended to be helpful to one or more of your target personas and to establish your company as a thought leader and a preferred supplier in their eyes.
Not only do you have different products and services that appeal to different target personas, but keep in mind too that each real person who fits a particular target persona definition may be at a different place along their buying journey. You have an incredible variety of content subjects, topics, and subtopics, answering questions clients and prospects often ask and offering your insights, experience, wisdom, and advice.
Content takes many forms. The simplest and easiest — and appropriately the most common — is a blog article. But you should produce content in a wide variety of forms, from eBook and white papers to research reports, videos, posters, slide shows, calculators, process templates, and more.
Develop a keyword strategy (this too requires some research) and determine the specific words and phrases your prospects are most likely to use when searching for what you offer. Those terms are your keywords; incorporate them regularly and methodically into your content, especially your easily searchable blog content and titles, so that your content will be found by the very people who need it and want it.
Step 3: Distribute
Your content can’t just sit on your website or blog site. It needs to travel. You and your colleagues need to make that happen, but as your program develops and expands, you’ll also see how your clients, prospects, fans, and friends will gladly help push it along.
Some people will visit your site regularly to see what you’re posting or will subscribe by RSS. But they are very few. Realistically, you need to push your content out there by enabling email subscriptions, sharing it via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, SlideShare, YouTube, Pinterest, and/or whatever social media platforms are relevant to your target persona. Make sharing easy for readers by featuring sharing tools prominently (just like you see on this page!).
Develop and use a calendar to govern which content is being distributed or shared over which channels and when, so you can be deliberately consistent without being annoyingly repetitive.
Keep referring back your keyword strategy. Track them and see which ones are driving the most traffic to your site. Modify your strategy according to what the metrics are telling you. Feed more new content to those target personas who are responding and based on the keywords that are driving most of your traffic.
Step 4: Capture
Keeping in mind that one of your major objectives in inbound marketing is to find out who is interested in what you offer and thinking about making a purchase from you or one of your competitors. As long as they are lurking in the background, all you can do is hope that when that prospects decides to contact a company and speak to a salesperson, that it will be your company.
But hope is not a plan. A good plan is to encourage those prospects to identify themselves, or as we sometimes like to say, to raise their hand. But how? By swapping some premium content for their contact information.
What is premium content? It’s content that is lengthier, meatier, heftier, more comprehensive than the freebie content you distribute to any and all comers. It’s content someone might actually pay for, but the only payment you;re asking for is for them to identify themselves — name and email address (sometimes more, but usually that comes later). A blog article (or other content) will pique their interest in a specific piece of premium content by using an engaging call to action, usually in text or a banner . When the reader clicks to learn more, they come to a landing page where they can exchange their identity for that premium content (often an eBook or white paper).
Once you have their contact info, you can determine (by their actions on your site) what needs they might have, what products or services they may be interested in, and where they are along the buyer’s journey. From there, you decide what actions are appropriate to take next, whether sending them automated, but tailored, messages, or having a salesperson contact them.
Step 5: Analyze
Many decades ago, ad agency executive George Lois famously said, “I know half my advertising is working. I just don’t know which half.” Those days are over!
One of the extraordinary benefits of marketing in the digital space is that you gather a lot of data, and you don’t need to wait for it. It’s almost real-time. It’s a candy store for any marketer who likes to analyze the data, find significant trends, and keep tweaking the inbound marketing effort. The market tells you, via data, exactly what you’re doing well and not so well, where your opportunities are and aren’t, both micro and macro.
It’s digital, so analyze, test, iterate, and keep analyzing. You don’t need to live in the dark like George Lois did.
Step 6: Cultivate
Even long after George Lois’ day, and up until the last 15 years or so, most buyers were pretty dependent on salespeople for information about products and services, their suitability and application. Today, much of that investigation has become self-serve. Buyers know they can find it all online, and sometimes with more candor and honesty. They don’t need a salesperson until later in the process.
This adds greatly to the risk for marketing and sales teams. They called at the last minute — if at all — and have little room and little time left to be of help to the prospect. Anything a company can do to enter earlier in the prospect’s journey will be a huge benefit to it (and perhaps to the buyer as well).
This step is about nurturing the prospects you know, the ones you captured in step 4. Some will have identified themselves fairly early in the process, others not until much later. Some will already have spent a lot of time on your site and exploring your content (regular and premium), having left digital breadcrumbs wherever they go; others much less. Some will exhibit behaviors indicating they may be ready to talk with a salesperson, while others will have sent the opposite message. Some will look like a perfect fit to your ideal customer profile; about others you may not be so certain.
All that information can be aggregate into a scoring system that tells your salespeople which leads are hot enough to contact right now. All the other leads should continue to be nurtured online, whether through automated workflows or the personal attention of your marketing staff. The data in your hands allow you to be very adept at knowing who’s who, knowing what to say to whom, and knowing when to say it.
The nurturing process gives your company an outstanding opportunity to cultivate its image as a thought leader and preferred provider.
Step 7: Convert
Lurkers can become marketing-qualified leads. MQLs, as we call them, can become sales-qualified leads. When they do, they are passed along to the sales department, which now has the sheer joy and utter efficiency of spending the bulk of its time with highly-qualified, sales-ready prospects. Inbound marketing has thus made, not only the marketing staff, but also the sales staff, far more productive.
Inbound marketing has established your company as a thought leader and preferred supplier, given it the opportunity to learn who is a prospect earlier their journey, nurtured their interest very cost-efficiently and in a manner they appreciate, and referred them to a salesperson only when they’re ripe! Pretty amazing, I’d say.
Those are the 7 steps. That’s how inbound marketing is practiced today, the state of the art. But tomorrow it will change — in ways that are hard to predict. Stay tuned to this space. The LeadG2 blog will keep you apace of this constantly changing business.