In today's fast-paced business environment, the only constant is change. Helmuth von Moltke said it best, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Regardless of how meticulous your planning process is, reality has a way of throwing a monkey wrench into things. I'm not saying that a rigorous annual planning process is a bad idea. However, if you're not constantly reviewing circumstances and adapting your plan accordingly, you're dooming yourself to failure.
Nowhere is this more true than in the practice of inbound marketing. There are typically three stages in the evolution of a successful inbound marketing program:
- Stage 1 - increase traffic to your website
- Stage 2 - convert website visitors to leads
- Stage 3 - convert leads to customers
Where you are in this process determines which tactics you should apply to get you to your ultimate goal - generating more revenue. Here are some thoughts on how to structure a flexible plan and how to iterate it to maximize results.
A structure for a flexible inbound marketing plan
The big picture: annual planning
Your messaging. We always start with an exercise to define your unique value proposition - the answer to the question, "Why would a prospect buy from me in light of all of the other options available, including doing nothing?" This is something that you should put some thought and effort into. Your unique value proposition should be a constant that only changes as a response to a dramatic change in circumstances.
Your target market. For SMB companies, we highly recommend targeting niches. Focusing on niches allows SMB companies to develop a positive brand reputation quickly where they have an advantage over the competition. Again, choosing a niche (or niches) should be done with much thought and only changed in rare circumstances, such as entering a new market.
Your goals. While these may change due to market circumstances, we recommend setting SMART goals for website traffic, lead generation, customer generation and other KPIs. These goals will rarely change; what changes are the tactics you employ to achieve them.
This annual planning exercise gives you a high-level of what you want to achieve with your inbound marketing program and how you will get there.
Getting granular: 90-day planning
Most of our clients operate on a 90-day planning cycle. A 90-day planning cycle sets tactics into motion that move you towards milestones on the way to achieving your 12-month goals. Here's what a 90-day plan might look like for a company just starting with inbound marketing.
While the company's goal is to generate $1,000,000 in revenue from inbound marketing, there's just not enough traffic coming to the website to produce that amount of revenue. This company's 90-day objective might be to increase website visits from 500 per month to 2,000 per month. Some of the tactics this company might employ to get to their milestone of 2,000 monthly site visits would be:
- Developing a target list of keywords that their buyers use when searching for solutions to the problems that this company solves.
- Creating content (mostly blog posts) that will answer the questions buyers have when they search for solutions to those problems.
- Promoting content aggressively on social media and with email marketing.
- Because the CEO isn't willing to wait for leads and customers to develop organically, the company creates a premium content offer for which leads exchange contact information. The company spurs the lead generation results by using LinkedIn advertising and PPC (pay-per-click) advertising.
Iterating based on market feedback - 30-day analytic review
The idea of a 30-day analytic review is to see what's working and what isn't. Stated quite simply, the 90-day strategy is adjusted to do more of what's working and less of what isn't. Here are some examples of how the 90-day plan described above might be modified based on analytics:
- A review of the performance of blog posts in terms of generating traffic and leads shows that certain topics and keywords are more successful than others. The company decides to produce more content around these topics and keywords in the following 30 days.
- The company reviews the performance of its email marketing compared to benchmarks. It finds that open rates are in line, but clicks on the calls-to-action lag behind benchmarks. The company shortens the length of the email and experiments with different copy on the call-to-action.
- The company evaluates its advertising efforts to see which ads were most effective and focuses on these variations.
- The company sees that website traffic is improving and decides to start focusing more on lead generation tactics.
Blindly following a plan without taking into account marketplace circumstances will put you in the fast lane to failure. Structure a flexible strategic process and review it constantly to optimize your inbound marketing results. After all, that's what the people who pay the bills care about - results! Want to talk about your inbound marketing strategy? Schedule a consultation with us.