Inbound Success Playbook

Align Your Company on Inbound as a Way of Doing Business

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You are about to embark upon the highest priority playbook that will put you and your organization on the pathway toward achieving success with inbound. You need to know, however, that it’s going to be one of the most challenging playbooks you will work through.

But if you stick with it and really commit to this process, you will not become one of those cautionary tale organizations that struggle with inbound and ultimately gives up.

The fact that you’re reading this right now is already a good sign. You understand that buyers have changed and that, as a result, you now need to change. You get the power of what inbound can do for your organization -- you’ve read the case studies and been to the marketing conferences.

That said, you’re probably still straining to get your company to fully adopt inbound.

“I’m too busy to help you with content.”

“Digital marketing doesn’t work for businesses like ours.”

“Yes, inbound worked for them, but we’re different.”

Your people are saying these things to you because they don’t see what you see. They haven’t caught the vision. That is what this playbook is all about -- arming you with the tools, knowledge, and support you need to make them catch that vision.

Step 1: Help Your Company's Leaders Understand Inbound

First, you need to do is empower your leadership, sales team, and others with the knowledge that will help them catch that vision. To help you, we’ve curated the below list of resources you can start sharing with your team right now:

  • SHARE: The Inbound Success Playbook
    Yes, you should share what you’re reading right now, so everyone can be on the same page as you embark on this journey. By putting this playbook in front of your people, you can all own your transformation into an inbound organization together.
  • READ: They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
    This powerful book explains in plain, accessible language how and why buyer behavior has changed so drastically in the digital age, and what exactly companies need to be right doing now to drive sales and growth with inbound across any industry. Marcus also shares case studies and success stories from a wide range of organizations.
  • WATCH: Built to Last, the 7 Essential Steps to Building a True Culture of Inbound
    In the closing keynote of IMPACT Live ‘17, Marcus Sheridan asked the question, “Is it possible to build an inbound culture that lasts?” The answer is yes. But only if you follow the seven steps Marcus shares in this must-watch talk.
  • SCHEDULE: An Inbound Workshop
    Your company can become the most trusted resource in your industry or field, and your people can be excited to participant in the creation of remarkable inbound content to help you achieve that vision. But to help your people catch the vision of the what, the how, and (most of all) the why of inbound, you need to bring everyone together with this workshop. 
  • ATTEND: IMPACT Live
    Over two days, Marcus Sheridan and the IMPACT team, along with invited experts, will teach you the digital marketing and sales playbook that the most successful companies use to drive significant revenue growth and become true “inbound organizations.” You will learn how to embrace an inbound culture of creating industry-leading content and video, making you the most trusted voice in your space.
Step 2: Define Your Content Mission Statement

Before we talk about what a content mission statement is, why you need one, and how you’re going to create one for your company, you first need to change your mindset, and how you think about inbound and, more specifically, the purpose of your content.

If you want to see remarkable results with inbound, you and your team need to come together in the understanding that what you do with content goes far beyond simply marketing your products and services online with blog articles, videos, infographics, or podcasts.

Instead, you stepping into the role of a teacher to your buyers.

But not just any teacher -- the best and most helpful teachers you can possibly be at what you do, both online and off.

The No. 1 mistake companies make with inbound is not understanding and adopting this subtle shift in mindset.

And it’s a costly one, too.

Those companies that fail to catch that vision of becoming those extraordinarily helpful teachers will see fewer members of their team saying, “Yes, I’m all in!” on inbound and creating content and, ultimately, will have fewer clients walk through their doors, as a result of those inbound efforts.

So, if you want your team not only to be bought-in on inbound but also wrap their arms fully around it, they’ve got to understand what it is that you’re doing and why.

And that’s where your content mission statement comes in.  

What Is a Content Mission Statement?

A content marketing statement is a single sentence that provides company-specific context to that idea of being the best teachers in a given area. In a way that is concise and easy to understand, it will tell someone the who, the what, and (often) the where.

Let’s say you’re an accounting firm that generally services the Washington, D.C., metro area. Your content marketing statement, in this case, might be:

We want to be the premier source of accounting information for small business owners throughout the Washington, D.C., area.

In this content mission statement example, you’ve explained the who (small business owners), the where (the Washington, D.C., area), and the what (being the premier source of accounting information).

No matter what someone’s role is within the organization, they should be able to read your content mission statement and, without hesitation or any need for clarification, get what it is that you’re trying to do and be able to recite it from memory.

To review, your content mission statement needs to include:

  • Whom you’re trying to help
  • How you’re going to help them
  • Where you’re helping them

Additionally, your content mission statement should be clear, concise, and easy to remember. Which means it should not include any marketing buzzwords or be too long.

Step 3: Hire a Content Manager

Creating content is a full-time job. To treat it as anything less than is to guarantee other priorities taking precedence over your inbound efforts, slow (if not completely stalled) content production, and a lack of commitment from your team.

“But I’m wearing so many hats already -- there is no way I can make time in my schedule to handle all of this.”

We completely agree, which is why your next step is to hire a full-time content manager.

What Is a Content Manager?

Your content manager is the “owner” of your inbound and content efforts, so they don’t get deprioritized and stuff actually gets done.

They can go by many names -- chief content officer, content marketing manager, content manager, chief storyteller, brand journalist, inbound marketing manager, etc.

You can call them whatever makes sense for your company; the important thing is that you have this dedicated person within your organization.

What Does a Content Manager Do?

Here is an example of what a “successful” week for a content manager might look like:

  • 5 to 15 hours: Creating at least three new pieces of content.
  • 1 to 3 hours: Email marketing for the company.
  • 3 to 5 hours: SEO, analytics, etc.
  • 1 to 2 hours: Social media and community building.
  • 3 to 5 hours: Creating premium content, including pillar content, eBooks, webinars, templates, etc.
  • 2 to 4 hours: Website enhancements, such as new pages or placing calls-to-action.
  • 3 to five hours: Continued education and training, e.g. HubSpot certifications.
  • 2 to 4 hours: Meeting with the sales team for brainstorming, training, and more.

This is by no means a complete list, nor is it reflective of how you might structure this role so it works best for your company.

10 Qualities Your Content Manager Must Possess

The best content managers are those that embody the following qualities:

  • They love to write.
  • They’re a skilled editor.
  • They’re excellent interviewers.
  • They “get” social media and embrace it.
  • They have solid video editing skills.
  • They’re likable.
  • They know what makes people tick.
  • They’re organized and goal-oriented.
  • They’re obsessive about reporting and analytics.
  • They’re an out-of-the-box thinker.

As a note, some of the best content manager hires we’ve seen -- including for ourselves -- are journalism graduates.

How to Hire the Right Content Manager for You

Here are a few activities you consider adding into the hiring process for this role:

  • Give them a poorly written blog draft and ask them to edit it.
  • Give them one outline for a single article and ask them to write two different articles from it.
  • Give them a list of blog titles and have them list all of the interview questions they would ask a subject matter expert for each individual topic.
  • Give them a question that is to serve as the topic for a blog article. Then, have them interview you and return a completed blog (or video) addressing that question within 24 to 48 hours. 

Also, don’t forget to ask about their personal interests. Do they do any writing for fun or professional on the side? Do they love to edit videos in their spare time? Do they have a well-established social media presence?

You want to find that person who not only can excel in a demanding role, but also is a passionate, creative individual who genuinely is excited about what they will be doing.

Step 4: Hold a Workshop

By now, you know your company can be the most trusted resource in your industry or field, and you want your team to be active participants who are excited to create the content you need to make it happen.

But how do you flip that switch?

To help your people catch the vision of the what, the how, and (most of all) the why of inbound, you need to bring everyone together with a workshop that focuses on the eight key principles of inbound.

However, know that all of what follows is completely flexible and can be tailored to the needs of your company. All that matters is that the workshop happens.

Principle #1: Your Buyers’ Expectations Have Changed (a Lot)

In order to understand how your buyers have changed, you are going to shift the thinking of everyone in the room into “consumer mode,” where they think about their own behaviors as a consumer -- not as an employee of your company.

Until your employees can acknowledge and understand their own shifts in purchasing behavior -- specifically, how they rely on internet research for purchasing decisions -- they won’t be able to effectively understand the needs of your buyers and customers.

Principle #2: How Google & Other Search Engines Work

Everyone should understand that, no matter how many times the rules or algorithms change, search engines have a single mission. To give searchers (their customers) the best, most relevant and specific answer to their question at that moment, as quickly as possible.

Principle #3: What Consumers Are Searching for & “The Big 5”

There are five different topic areas that are guaranteed to drive traffic to your website, convert your website visitors into leads, and create more sales for your company. “The Big 5,” as we call them, are:

  • Pricing and cost
  • Problems
  • Comparisons
  • Reviews
  • Best in class

It shouldn’t take long for them to be nodding along in agreement and saying, “Wow, I do use these Big 5 topics all the time as a consumer. Now I see that my prospects and buyers are doing the same thing!”

Principle #4: Content Idea Brainstorm

Now that your team understands how consumer behavior has changed, the critical role search engines play in consumer research, and what your buyers are searching for, now it’s time to have your group answer the following question:

“What do we need to write about?”

To answer this question well, your employees need to:

  • Apply what they’ve already learned about changes in consumer behavior and what topics they’re searching for online.
  • Think about the questions, fears, and concerns they hear every day from prospects and customers.

Often, the folks on your sales team will be the primary contributors to this discussion, since they are probably the employees who have the most contact with prospects and your current customer base.

Principle #5: How Content Will Impact Your Sales Process & Closing Rates

“Why am I being asked to participate in content marketing?”

“What’s in it for me?”

These are the two primary questions you’ll need to answer in this section of your workshop. So, your job here is to show them what’s possible with inbound and content.

Principle #6: Why Everyone Will Be Critical to Your Success

Your marketing team is not the voice of your company.

(We’re a bunch of marketers saying that, too. Crazy, right?)

From this moment in the workshop on, the goal of your marketing team is to help your employees -- either those that talk to customers or are subject matter experts -- earn the trust of your audience by helping them create content.

Principle #7: Your New Editorial Process & Guidelines

Now, it’s time to talk about your new inbound infrastructure and governance. So, you’ll want to explain your new process and expectations by answering the following questions:

  • “Who’s in charge?” (Hint: Your content manager.)
  • “How often will I need to contribute content?”
  • “How often will I need to work with someone in marketing to create content?”
  • “What kind of content can I create?”
  • “What are our editorial guidelines for blog articles?”

Principle #8: Looking Ahead to the Future

To end on a powerful note, we recommend asking your team one question at this point:

“What would prevent this culture of inbound and content creation from working in our organization?”

Step 5: Brainstorm Content Topics

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, your buyers want to answer as many of the questions they have about a product or service as possible before they buy, so they can feel confident they’re making an informed purchasing decision they won’t regret later.

More importantly, your buyers want to be able to find those answers easily online without having to speak to you or someone on your sales team.

#1: Create a "Home Base" Document for Your Brainstorm

Before you start brainstorming or soliciting ideas, the very first thing you need to do is create a document that will be the home for the entire backlog of questions and topics you’re about to collect.

You’re about to gather potentially hundreds of content ideas from your team. By creating this document in advance, you’ll have a complete digital marketing editorial calendar for blog articles, videos, and more by the end of this process.

Helpful Hint

If you’re familiar with “The Big 5” -- the five content topic areas proven to drive traffic, convert leads, and increase sales -- you can use them as category headings in this document to more better organize the topics.

#2: Make Your Own List of Buyer Questions

Think of every question you’ve been asked by a prospect or customer, with a special focus on questions that are rooted in fears, concerns, or potential problems. Then, write them down.

Do not reword, reframe, or paraphrase those questions. Write them down exactly as those prospects or customers would ask them while searching online.

#3: Talk to Your Customer-Facing Employees & Teams

Write an email to your prospect-facing team members (sales, customer service, etc.) and ask them to write down the 20 questions they’re asked by your buyers about your specific products and services.

Your email should:

  • Include a deadline by which they need to respond -- a few days, at most.
  • Make it clear from your messaging that this is a leadership priority.
  • Tell them to write down those questions in the exact words of their buyers. Tell them not to reword or reframe those questions as you (the business) would ask them.
  • Tell them not to include questions that are specific to your company -- hours of operation, contact information, etc.

Helpful Hint

Educating your team (even briefly) on “The Big 5” can help them more easily brainstorm or recall the questions they’re asked by your customers and prospects.

Resource: Content Brainstorm Example

IMPACT is a digital marketing company. So, keeping “The Big 5” in mind, here are examples of the questions you might find in our content brainstorm document:

Cost

  • How much does inbound marketing cost?
  • How much does it cost to work with an inbound marketing agency?

Problems

  • What are the most common problems with inbound marketing?
  • Why am I not seeing the results I want with inbound marketing?

Comparisons

  • In-house marketers vs inbound marketing agency
  • Insourcing your content vs outsourcing your content

Best of Lists

  • Best inbound marketing agencies
  • Best practices for launching an inbound marketing program

Reviews

  • An honest review of HubSpot Video
  • Book review: Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
Step 6: Create Your Content Calendar (& Stick to It!)

Before you create your calendar, you need to commit to the following:

  • You will produce two or three new pieces of content per week (videos, blogs, etc.) at the bare minimum. 
  • In that content, everyone will go out of their way to truly address the most common questions your buyers are asking. 
  • Finally, everyone -- from sales and marketing to leadership -- must know exactly what your content mission statement is and be committed to full participation.

Your editorial content calendar should be owned by your content manager, and what it looks like will be entirely up to you and your team.

The important thing is that you have one, regardless of what it looks like.

Helpful Hint

If your company hasn’t created any content before now, you may be tempted to frontload your editorial calendar with “top of the funnel” content. Instead, we recommend starting at the bottom of the funnel with content that helps facilitate decision-making (cost, comparison, etc.).

Step 7: Using Keyword Research

While you should always create your content for people first, you still then need to optimize your inbound strategy and content for the keywords your people are using to search for the answers to their questions.

We highly recommend SEMrush as a keyword research tool.

For those of you who want an in-depth look at how we craft our keyword strategies, IMPACT Principal Strategist Stacy Willis published this advanced tutorial on how to do keyword research the right way in 2019.