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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Apr 19, 2017 10 min read

The 3 Phases Of Inbound Marketing: Plan, Build And Grow

Why You Need To Execute Them All To See Inbound Marketing Results

ThinkstockPhotos-472667768.jpgWe’re constantly evaluating what’s producing results for our clients. We’re also constantly tweaking our engagement methodology to produce a more remarkable experience for our clients and to generate even more leads. One practice that has stood up to testing time and time again is the three phases required to create an inbound marketing machine for any business.

Skip any of the phases or shortcut any of the phases and the results are almost always the same — less-than-expected results. Here’s why each of these phases is critical to getting results from your inbound marketing plan.

Why The Plan Phase Of Inbound Marketing Is So Important

Inbound has a lot of moving parts when you get to execution, and everyone is excited to get to the blogging, emailing, website building, content creation and search engine optimization. But if you don’t spend time creating the marketing strategy behind all of that stuff, youre going to be disappointed with the results. We see it time and time again.

Personas? No problem. Everyone knows about personas and everyone has them, but make sure yours are complete and include online behavior and psychographic profiles. You need to know the attitudes, opinions and perspectives for each persona. You also need to know where they’re spending their time, online and offline. This is going to help you create a publication strategy that gets your content in front of them and gets them into your sphere of influence.

What To Expect When You're Expecting Results From Inbound MarketingBut the most common missing part of inbound marketing planning and the plan phase is messaging, differentiation and stories. You must do the heavy lifting in this area. You should come up with compelling, emotional and disruptive messaging to go along with your tactical marketing efforts. You need a plan to test the messages and you need to make sure these new messages resonate with everyone across your company.

Next, if your business isn’t remarkable, its invisible. How you separate your company from all of the other options is critical. This requires heavy lifting. A lot of other agencies are not willing and equipped to do this type of work. By skipping it, they move to tactics faster but don’t arm those tactics to produce results. Worse, your prospects are not capable of remembering all of the features, benefits and technical details associated with your product/service. However, your prospects are very capable of remembering stories, sharing stories and internalizing stories associated with what you do and how you do it.

Creating these stories and then using these stories in all of your marketing tactics dramatically improves the overall performance of inbound marketing on the magnitude of 10 times. This is why we’re never skipping the plan phase.

Why The Build Phase Of Inbound Marketing Is Critical

This is usually the easiest phase to get right. You know your website need an upgrade. You know you have to blog, email your contact database, nurture your leads and create content to convert visitors. What you might be interested to know is that coming up with the tactics is not the key; connecting and orchestrating the tactics is actually the secret to producing results.

The idea of orchestration is highly relevant here. If you think about an orchestra, the flutist, the violinist and the pianist might individually be great. But without proper orchestration, their individual parts will never form the marvelous symphony. Practice and organization are required to create a beautiful musical experience.

The same is true with inbound marketing. To create a website that drives visitors, turns them into leads and then converts leads into new customers, you need to have a locked-down search strategy, a well-thought-out content marketing plan, a conversion approach that can be woven across all your website pages and a lead nurturing program to keep the conversation going after people convert into leads.

If your goal is revenue (and it should be), you also want to look at how prospects move into the sales process. This means having an entire suite of sales improvements to increase the close rate, shorten the sales cycle and improve your ability to drive revenue from marketing-generated leads.

Since this is usually the least challenging aspect of an inbound program (almost everyone knows what the specific marketing tactics should be), I’ll leave the rest of the build phase to you.

Why The Grow Phase Of Inbound Marketing Produces Results

ThinkstockPhotos-471413812.jpgWe also refer to this as the optimization phase. The grow phase of any inbound marketing engagement is equally as important as the plan phase. Because inbound is so iterative, data-driven and results-oriented, you’re going to want to make sure you have the people, processes and methodology to continuously optimize the tactics you’re deploying.

This means any inbound marketing engagement must include setting goals for all of the tactics, measuring performance against these goals and running tests or experiments that attempt to improve specific results from specific tactics. If you’re seeing what we call “random acts of marketing” or you hear “we can try this, how would you feel if we did this, we might want to consider that,” that’s usually a pretty good indicator your team is not able to optimize and grow productively.

Instead, look for well-designed tests with pre-configured test expectations. Consider a process for managing the various tests and get comfortable with a 70% failure rate in your tests. Remember, tests that fail teach you valuable lessons. Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. Make sure your team is cycling quickly around these tests. The faster you cycle, the more you’ll learn and the faster your program will optimize around results.

All three of these phases are non-negotiable if you want to leverage inbound marketing to its full advantage. When we see companies with struggling inbound efforts, one or more of these phases is missing from the program.

These phases are not always consecutive, meaning you don’t always have to wait for the plan phase to be completed before you move into the build phase. We’ve found a way to modularize all the phases to allow deployment in a fully configurable way. For example, we might start planning certain aspects of a client engagement while we build a handful of assets, and if they have some tactics up and running, we’ll start working on optimizing those right out of the gate.

This modular deployment approach results in a much shorter ramp-up to lead generation and improved performance. This type of inbound rollout takes some practice, and a few elements have to be sequenced carefully. For example, search strategy needs to proceed almost every other component of the program since knowing what you want to get found for has a major impact on almost every other aspect of inbound.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.