Inbound marketing promises something that traditional marketing never could: a predictable, repeatable, scalable Marketing Machine that drives leads. Everyone loves the idea, but when it comes to getting started, well, that’s a whole different ball game.
What do I do first? How long should I wait? What are the different stages? Whom should I hire to help? How do I know if it’s working? What if it doesn’t work? These are all great questions, ones our prospects ask us all the time. I know that thinking about doing marketing differently than you ever have in your entire career is scary, intimidating and nerve-wracking.
Good news: There are people who help you get over the nervousness. There are people who walk you through the process, educating you step by step. With this help, you get to learn the ins and outs of inbound marketing while you build a program for your business.
Here are a few items to consider as you’re contemplating how to get started.
Pick Your Partners Wisely
There's a variety of ways to get an inbound program up and running at your business. You can do it yourself (in which case I recommend having an advisor to guide you), you can hire an inbound marketing agency or you can hire an internal team. Regardless of which option you select, you still need to find people with a depth of practical experience in delivering inbound results.
Inbound isn’t something you read about and then execute. You can’t attend a workshop and consider yourself ready to go. You can’t be “inbound certified,” start practicing it and then expect to be an expert out of the gate. The only way to get good at inbound is to do it – not once, twice or three times, but 50 times. The only way you learn how to connect the highly complex and integrated tactics of an inbound campaign is to do it multiple times for multiple businesses and see success.
So, if you hire an advisor to guide you, make sure this person has done it before for a number of different businesses. If you hire an inbound agency, make sure it has 100 implementations under its belt. If you’re hiring an internal team, find people who have planned, implemented, managed and optimized an inbound program for a couple of different businesses. This is the best way to mitigate your risk in this area.
Strategy Before Tactics Is Mandatory
I’ve seen a lot of failed inbound executions, and one of the consistent factors across all of these engagements is a lack of, incomplete or poor marketing strategy and planning. Inbound is very complicated. Without a plan, it gets even more complicated. You need to take your time creating the plan, or you'll find yourself in the middle of an engagement with no road map to get you to your goals.
Start with business strategy. What’s your mission and vision? Why are you even in business? Who are your best prospects, and why? How are you planning on helping them? What are their pains? What do you do to solve those pains? What do you do that’s remarkable when compared to all of your competitors? These are all important questions that need to be answered before anyone starts helping with blogs, landing pages and email marketing.
Next, because inbound is so interconnected, you have to think through each of the inbound tactics. How is search going to impact content and the website? How are you going to go deep with content to drive search, social and referrals from other websites? If you do this right, you’ll quickly see how search engine optimization impacts content creation, blog articles, social media, landing pages, website architecture and content sourcing. If you skip the planning stage, building a foundation for your inbound program becomes almost impossible.
You Have Nothing, So Start With A Solid Foundation
Would you ever build a house without plans and drawings? Would you start with the upstairs bathroom before the foundation was even poured? Of course not. Don’t do that here either. In most cases, you’re starting with nothing.
I know you have a website, maybe some sales collateral, a trade show booth, perhaps an email campaign. But, honestly, you’re probably starting from zero when it comes to inbound. Keep that reality in mind. You'll have to build a lot of foundational pieces before you’re ready to take your new marketing out to your prospects.
Don’t rush this phase. Your new inbound website takes time. It’s not the same as your old, electronic brochure. It requires a page-by-page approach. You need educational content – and a lot of it. You need blog articles to populate your new blog. You need revamped social sites that tell the same story as your new website, and you need a solid lead-nurturing campaign for each of your prospect personas. Once all of this is done, set up, tested and ready to go, then you start talking about leads.
Optimize Performance Monthly
Now the fun starts. You’ve executed all of the important aspects, and you’re starting to see it work. Visitors to your site are up, and you’re getting leads. In the beginning, the lead flow will be light. Your Marketing Machine is sputtering to life. If you have the right team in place, they should be shifting to inbound optimization mode, looking at real-time data from your program and making recommendations on how to adjust the program to turn up the volume on leads.
Each month, your team should be coming to you with recommendations on how to optimize the program. If we tweaked this landing page, we’d see more leads. If we changed this content approach and posted this whitepaper on this site, we’d see more visitors. If we ramp up the conversation on LinkedIn, we should see more visitors and leads from social media. These ideas need to come from data and experiences, not guesses. Once you settle into optimization mode, you should see your program moving up and to the right, month over month.
Above All, Be Patient
Inbound is a marathon, not a sprint. It's unlikely that you'll see 100 leads the first month, although that has happened in some scenarios. Instead, you should see slow and modest improvements month over month.
If this was easy, everyone would have done it already. It’s hard, and it takes time, patience and experience. You’re adding a business asset to your company. You’re changing the way you market to fit the way people want to buy. This is going to take time. You want to see it through, even if it takes 18 months or two years. Clients who stick it out are rewarded handsomely. Those that jump off early are left with nothing.
Start Today Tip – You want this to go smoothly. You want it to be as easy as possible. The best way to ensure that is to work with someone who has done it before, someone who can walk you through it and share their experiences with you so you don’t make the same mistakes. Follow their advice. Take their guidance into consideration. Go into it with realistic expectations. Make sure that they’re motivated to share in your success and that they have your outcomes in mind. Publishing a blog is not the end game; getting people to read the blog and then convert into leads is what you’re going for. Pick your partner or support team based on this single idea, and you’re going to be wildly successful.
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