By Scott Anderson Miller

Blair Enns, author of “Win Without Pitching” and a consultant to marketing firms, describes a deceptively simple inbound process. This process is only three steps — although the language has been modified a bit. Here it is:

  1. Diagnose the business problem.

  2. Prescribe strategic marketing solutions.

  3. Apply marketing solutions to solve business problem.

Although this message is designed for marketing firms, it has far greater application because it exemplifies the inbound process. In fact, it’s a great way to approach any problem because it helps frame and define your situation first.

Knowing the problem you’re trying to solve may sound like common sense, but how many times have you begun marketing initiatives before fully understanding the business problem at hand? Statements like “We need to do Social Media” or “Let’s hire an SEO expert” are usually off-base or premature because they assume an incorrect starting point. Beginning campaigns with tactics is why so many marketers never earn the respect of their business peers. Start with your desired end business result — that is, your ideal business outcome.

Diagnosing with a baseline assessment/audit

Imagine this scenario: You walk into your doctor’s office after twisting your ankle, and he says, “Don’t bother sitting down. You look sick. I’m going to get you on chemotherapy right away. Come back and see me next year if you don’t get better.” You’d leave, wouldn’t you? Any sane person would.

Physicians are trained to diagnose before they prescribe. Marketers should do the same. Like a good physician, you should begin by asking questions of your organization:

  • How do you know where you’re trying to go if you don’t know where you are?

  • Do you know your consumer profiles?

  • Have you written target buyer personas?

  • Do you know what motivates your prospective customers?

  • Do you know and measure your website and page visits, conversion rates, and track leads from marketing to sales?

  • Are you able to source those leads?

  • What’s the value of your customers?

  • Can you connect this data, reporting it as meaningful business ratios?

Diagnosing your current marketing situation will help you see where your organization is as opposed to where you want to be. You’ll discover there is a gap. Don’t worry, there’s always a gap. If there wasn’t, you couldn’t grow.

Unless you are a panicked marketer or an irresponsible marketer, or unless you just like to leave you or your clients’ success up to the whims of Lady Luck, performing a marketing diagnostic is the best starting point.

Prescribing business solutions through strategy

Strategy is a written prescription. Effective inbound marketers start with a strategic assessment (diagnosis) and a formal, written strategic document. This strategic document is your inbound strategy prescription. The best inbound strategies

  • Define your current state with highly defined metrics

  • Identify your organization’s desired end business results

  • Define future success, usually in dollars

  • Perform a SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats

  • Include SMART goals — specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timebound

  • Use keyword research to uncover consumer needs

  • Connect your current state to your desired future state with a series of well-planned marketing initiatives

  • Outline a prioritized set of initiatives to most efficiently reach goals and objectives

  • Include a content strategy

  • Assign ownership and accountability

  • Define meaningful metrics by which your success will be gauged

The idea of including a SWOT analysis and articulating SMART goals is not a revolutionary one. It should be standard practice for marketers, but it’s not. It’s time inbound marketers incorporate a common business practice into their actions and language. So, start with strategy based on a solid audit or assessment or don’t start at all. Anything else is just a sophisticated form of gambling.

Applying solutions with inbound initiatives

The third step is to apply solutions. Remember, the inbound marketer is solving customer problems and business problems, not mere marketing problems. The marketing is the connection between product and persona, and there is no singular path to achieving success. With inbound marketing, there is rarely a “right” or “wrong” initiative. The world is too complicated, the competition too sophisticated, and the consumer too dynamic to predict everything. So even though you’re attempting to satisfy a successful desired end result, the path may be twisting with some blind spots along the way. Your end destination is the same, but your method of getting there may change as you uncover new information.

You’re here to solve business problems. This is where the marketing expertise of yourself, your team, and your professional marketing partners converge. Knowing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and knowing when to ask for help is as important as the inbound marketing initiatives themselves.