We have written before in these pages of the importance of Process. See the Process of How to run your Social Media Marketing Campaigns and How to run a B2B Twitter Campaign. So we now turn to the subject nearest and dearest to our hearts to discuss the Process of Inbound Marketing Automation.
It’s easy to forget that it’s a process – there’s so much talk about the tools themselves. But it’s worth taking the time to specify a good process to use in running your Inbound Marketing Automation system. By doing so, you’ll operate it more effectively and get better and better at running your system over time.
To improve, you use the approach suggested by the Continuous Process Improvements philosophy of Think, Plan, Do, Measure and Repeat. We’re going look into this cycle in a moment, but there are a few things which need thinking about once only, so lets deal with these preparations first.
- Decide if you know enough about Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation (what we call Inbound Marketing Automation), to do this without help. While Inbound Marketing Automation is not Rocket Science, it is new and complex (lots of interrelated bits) and it spans several disciplines. Although it smacks of self-promotion, I urge you to consider this question carefully – by hiring an expert you can save yourself months of frustration, gain time to market and get there with more certainty.
- Get the appropriate buy-in from all interested parties. You’re going to change the way your marketing department works significantly and it simply won’t fly if you don’t have the whole team on board. If you’re going to connect the Inbound Marketing Automation system directly to your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), ensure that you also get the Sales Function’s buy-in. Their help in establishing your Best Practices for sales tactics and lead management is essential.
- Find out from each resource how much time they have available for this project. Obviously, you’ll have to schedule the project and give them advance notice of when they need to do something on it.
- Next staff the project with the appropriate resources. The best advice I can offer on this important topic is: well begun is half done. Plan the project well and it’ll be easy to run it on time and budget. No matter how good a project manager is, a badly estimated project runs late.
Once your project is staffed and planned and the team knows what it needs to know to do what has to be done, you can begin implementing the system. As you develop an understanding of what an Inbound Marketing Automation system is and does, Think about the process you will use to run it when its ready to fire up.
The key to success is to know what you will regard as success. Set objectives and decide on metrics (Key Performance Indicators or KPIs) for each one. This must be done in parallel, because there’s no use setting an objective which you can’t measure. The first time through this loop you may pick any target KPIs. When you Repeat, ask yourself in light of what your Measure phase revealed, if you are measuring the right targets and if your goals are set to the right values. If they are, repeat focusing on ways to improve performance towards the objectives. If not, decide what to change and by how much. And if you’re stuck thinking about what to aim for or what to measure, you could do worse than adopt our slogan:
- More Leads – higher volumes of unique visitors is a good metric here.
- Higher Quality – the easiest way to determine the quality is to focus on the Conversion Rate. Obviously, higher quality leads convert more than lower quality ones.
- Lower Costs – client acquisition costs are a good way to determine if you’re spending less in this regard, but you can also measure the cost of servicing clients, or both.
Make sure you have the following before proceeding:
- Marketing Strategy – an up-to-date strategy covering the usual marketing elements and dealing with Inbound Marketing’s Social Media Marketing (SMM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
- An up-to date Keyword Identity.
- Website copy and downloadable content reflecting this keyword identity and marketing strategy accurately.
- A Content Map of your ideal prospect’s and their buying stages, identifying the right pieces of content for each persona’s every buying stage.
- In addition to the tools you will need for SMM, your people will need guidance on what to say (or not), where (with millions of blogs out there, spend time on the right ones), who (in your company does this) and when (frequency, time of day schedules).
Inbound Marketing and Marketing Automation require a Holistic Website: a site in which all of the above aspects work in concert to achieve the stated objective. In other words, it’s an all or nothing approach: if you don’t get all the pieces in place and operating correctly, the resulting gaps are showstoppers. So evaluate your website and be prepared to either redesign it or renovate it appropriately as part of the project to implement your Inbound Marketing Automation system.
Now you can begin planning the next Do cycle.
Each time you repeat this cycle, your list of activities will depend on your results and what they prompt you to do. In general terms, however, it helps to plan your Process by thinking of 4 main activities:
- Attract more visitors to the website through SEO, SMM, and PPC.
- Engage those visitors’ attention with industry leading content (website copy, white papers, videos, podcasts). Match the content to the prospect’s buying cycle to ensure you can nurture them around the cycle.
- Convert these visitors into named prospects by persuading them that your content is valuable enough to register for and then download. Qualify these prospects by grading their profiles and using their digital footprints to rack up a score and hence “know” their quality. And then, nurture them from cold leads to hot prospects with multi-touch email campaigns. Emails which send just the “right” piece of information to the prospect to help move him or her to the next stage of their buying cycle.
- Automatically feed these hot sales ready prospects directly into your CRM and notify the assigned sales rep (based on product or territory or whatever…).
For each of these sub-processes set KPIs and decide on the metrics to use in determining success or failure. Then use your metrics to ensure that your last loop around the cycle was better than the one before it. For example, say your measurements suggest that your traffic volume is higher than it was last time (more unique visitors), but that the quality of leads was lower because fewer people converted. It’s tempting to focus on the Conversion Process, right? But truth is, in this example it would be best to look first at the Bounce Rate of the increased traffic. A higher Bounce Rate would mean that you are attracting more visitors but of the wrong type. So perhaps the answer is to improve the Attract phase and not necessarily try to fix the Convert phase. That may need fixing, too, but until you have the 1st part working well, you can’t easily decipher what’s wrong with the 2nd part.
When you think you understand what the issue is and how to fix it, plan your implementation and record the reasons why you are adopting this approach. It’s best to document everything that went into your decision so when you revisit this on a subsequent repeat phase, you will know why you made the decisions you did.
And in cases where you try something and it produces a turn for the worse, you should reset the values to the way they were before attempting something new.
Do, Measure and Repeat
I’m going to cover these in one short section as if you have done the previous parts properly, these are literally just following the planed course of action.
A few pointers, then…
Do what you have planned to do and nothing else. If you think of something which seems really neat and powerful at this stage of the process, record it under Think for next time and do not do it now. The reason the process is written out formally is to stop precisely this kind of spontaneous behavior. Complex processes have downstream ramifications which can in turn affect upstream results. It’s best to think properly before leaping in to tweak anything.
And now for the Measuring: Google Analytics, your Demand Generator package and your Social Media Marketing tools will all produce a vast set of metrics. It’s easy to get lost in the details, so while the system will track everything and keep it forever, it’s best to concentrate on the metrics you set in the Think and Planning stages. But the most important aspect here is that you actively measure, record and analyze the metrics in question. If the number you’re staring at doesn’t make sense to you, don’t ignore the discomfort. Using a metric improperly is worse than not using one at all as it misleads you into doing the wrong thing while thinking that it’s the right thing. Do some research to gain more understanding, or, dare I say it again, hire an expert to assist. But don’t move on until you know what each metric really means.
And then there’s the Repeat stage. It’s here that you collect all you need to revisit the Think part. So gather all your results, notes and your sheet of objectives and then compare and evaluate your performance.
Following this approach will ensure that you both do the right things at the right time, and also reveal how to get better and better at doing it as you go along. As always, we’re here if you need some help.
Bit-by-Bit # 31 from Eric.