This is a guest post I wrote for Tolpagorni Product Management, a great product management consulting company whom I helped implement an Inbound Marketing strategy and process. You can read the original version at https://blog.tolpagorni.com/how-to-treat-inbound-marketing-like-product-management-and-get-unbelievable-results. Enjoy!
To be a great product manager, you need to be the child who doesn’t eat the marshmallow (meaning discipline, patience, and vision). Fortunately, a company like Tolpagorni helps you develop your skills and abilities. I’ve seen it firsthand.
As a marketing automation consultant, I’ve helped a lot of companies get more leads and customers. But what I’ve never seen before is a company that treats inbound marketing like product management. And I’ve got to admit, I’m incredibly impressed.
(Plus the results speak for themselves.)
Why great product management principles apply to inbound marketing
Inbound marketing is the art of giving away great content in order to gain trust and customers. It’s also about understanding who your customers are and leading them to a path to becoming a customer in a personalized, but also automated and scalable way.
In essence, the inbound marketing process and system you build for yourself is a product. The only difference is, the users are you and your customers. The greater the product and user experience, the lower your churn rate (unsubscribes, disengagements).
By building this system according to product management best practices, you build a great user experience. Ultimately, this leads to happy customers – which for your inbound marketing machine means visits, conversions and customers.
How to “product manage” your inbound marketing
When I first met the gang at Tolpagorni, me and my partner at Structsales had planned for a meeting that would last roughly two hours. As preparation, I had got a presentation from Tolpagorni about the structure of their planned website remake.
It had struck me as a bit peculiar at first. They used their own terms rather than terms everybody else use, and they had what seemed like a funny way of looking at the whole process. I didn’t think about it too much. My plan was to go through my standard presentation about how to structure your website, discuss how to align sales and marketing into a single coherent process, and talk about some common marketing funnels that I usually help customers implement.
2 hours and 30 minutes later, I had barely scratched the surface. From the moment I got into the room, the staff at Tolpagorni had bombarded me with in-depth questions about processes, structures, databases, and customized my models to the point of making them unrecognizable.
Apologizing for not being able to cover everything, I had to rush off to my next meeting (running, and arrived slightly late). But I had gotten a glimpse of how product managers work. It was more than worth it.
What makes Tolpagorni’s inbound marketing model different
Luckily for us (and, I hope Tolpagorni feels the same way, for them as well) – they decided to continue working with us. At one point early in our co-operation, I asked them why they chose us before the competition. The answer? We were more “process oriented”.
I didn’t quite get it then, but it’s clear today. Looking up the word “process” in the dictionary, I wouldn’t be too surprised if I found Tolpagorni there.
Everything this company does is a process:
- First difference: Take your time. We didn’t actually start working until we had discussed every little detail of how the processes would look and work. Workshops that should have taken half a day took 3 days. Work didn’t actually start until far later than I’m used to. (And I’m usually the one who has to slow down customers and ask them to think about what they want to achieve first.) Oh – and the entire company was part of this. I can’t think of any other company who put so much of management’s (including the CEO’s) time on just talking about a subject before starting work on it.
- Second difference: Document. Everything we discussed had to be documented. Usually, I’m the one insisting on the value of documenting agreements and processes. This time, Tolpagorni insisted on me. (By the way – they still do!) Why? They’re constantly thinking about scalability, repeatability, saving time, and making it easy for potential new employees who might need to take over in the future.
- Third difference: Iterate. Although the inbound marketing playbook we developed before starting work was very detailed, I wouldn’t be able to recognize it if I compared it to our current one. For every process Tolpagorni wanted to implement, they asked me to document it. After trying it out, they asked me to change it. Then they tried it again. And asked me to change it again. The result? The playbook is a document that actually helps them do their work better, easier and more fun. Not some nice looking but forgotten old PDF in someone’s file system.
- Fourth difference: Build a roadmap. We’ve worked with Tolpagorni for almost a year now. But we’re just now at a point where we can say that we have fully implemented and automated one of our three processes (though some sub-processes are still being improved). And just last month, we started talking about the next process. So far, Tolpagorni has treated their inbound marketing process like a minimum lovable product: Implementing the minimum amount of systems possible to accomplish the work, and really focusing on making that fantastic. Once that works, they move on to the next sub-process of their overall marketing system.
What we can learn from Tolpagorni’s Inbound Marketing approach
I’m incredibly impressed by our joint work with Tolpagorni. I’ve done this several times, and I see the same mistakes over and over again. Customers get too eager. They want to have it all, now. They want to start emailing immediately. They want to immediately build a couple of landing pages and see what happens. They want to throw out as much material as possible and hope that something sticks.
What they don’t want to do is spend time to think and discuss the details, or iterate, evaluate and rebuild a single process until it really well.
The progress will be slower initially. But only very initially. Because rather than doing 10 things half-heartedly and ad-hoc, you will have the entire management team behind you, and you will be able to get it somewhat right the first time, and much more right the second time. Perhaps that will be enough to get something that works well. And then you can really start improving that process from there.
The time you will save long-term will be worth it. Rather than spending time re-inventing the wheel, you will automate one process at a time and free up creative energy for the next process.
Ultimately, if we all worked our inbound marketing as product managers do, we would cut our workload by 70% and achieve better results.