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Process First, Software Second [inbound marketing operations 101]

I'd bet you've heard more than a few people say something like "make decisions now, act later."

Sun Tzu had a similar quote he used

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

And Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying,

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

The point they are getting across is clear. Planning is important, if not critical. There is a reason your mom teaches you to think before you speak.

Not only is planning important - as a part of the way we live and work - but also it is a giant market. Quick searches for a planning, daily schedule, or task manager application in the iOS app store provides hundreds of solutions all battling to get a piece of the $40B market.

Modern marketers, digital in nature, are constantly bombarded with new options to further optimize their work. Whether seen through advertising on social media, or through their own content research/discovery, marketers can't get away from it.

The products aren good, they're valuable tools that solve real problems, but they make it easy to blame poor performance on your current software solution - which some accomplish through design alone.

Marketers continuously hop from one software solution to another, in search for the product that will make every challenge easy - newsflash, it doesn't exist. Of course it doesn't. Otherwise there wouldn't be hundreds of options in active development; one option would rule them all.

A new software solution is only as good as the process that guides it. Meaning, process first, software second.

It's important to stay disciplined when selecting new software for you or your team to improve your inbound marketing operations.


Start by picking the right framework

It's a challenging task to pick the right methodology to manage your projects but it doesn't have to be. Because inbound marketing tasks, such as publishing a blog article, can vary in effort, time and resources, they behave differently.

Typically, using waterfall planning and a gantt chart, time is allocated to tasks in a linear fashion. It's assumed that a task is completed within the time frame, and then you move on to the next task.

However, inbound marketing is real-time and complex. It has to be fluid to align with the market and it's audience.

Waterfall planning doesn't allow for the flexibility inbound marketing requires.

Agile planning is becoming the popular marketing management methodology. It compliments an inbound marketing strategy in all the right ways.

An agile methodology is best framework for Inbound Marketing. The most popular methodologies in the agile family are agile planning, kanban and scrum.

Each methodology provides a unique approach to project objectives with the idea that deliverables need to change and adapt.

Regardless of which framework works best for you, collaboration and transparency will be the key to established a strong framework. Due to the iterative nature of agile methodologies, consistent communication is required to move smart and fast.


Design, document and test all your inbound marketing processes

Before you begin to search for a new solution, have a well documented process that's been tested and tweaked to a point you're confident in.

Remember, you want software to optimize the process, to make the routines and habits already established faster, better and easier.

Lets take project management for example.

Solutions like Basecamp and Asana are great tools that are frequently misused due to a lack of process because properly defined processes work wonders where improper processes can devolve and continually to soak up valuable time.

I can directly relate to this with amount of project management tools I've used. I couldn't stick with a project management system was because I didn't have a project management process in place. The newer, more shiny software, always looked like the solution that would solve all my problems.


Automate Processes with software

This is how software should be evaluated. Its hard to remain focused on the process with so many affordable solutions to automate all your time-consuming - mind-numbing - work.

The goal is to free up time and resources through automation.

Even though project management applications require a ton of manual input and provide little output, they still automate hundreds of tasks and math problems that would otherwise require manual labor.


Final Thoughts

I am someone who strongly advocates for software solutions but only if they compliment specific marketing processes. The best tools are the tools that fit you the best - the ones you know the best - and work with your processes.

The education and the knowledge of the software's capabilities will come later, for now focus on how you're going to use it immediately, which parts of your marketing process that can automated without changing what works for you.

A smart operational strategy provides the framework that keeps everyone aligned. Well designed, documented and tested processes will provide insights on where and what to automate.

Follow this process and get more value from your work on daily basis.


Download your free inbound marketing checklist here!


What specific ways have you gone about evaluating software? Have you ever pre-maturely purchased and deployed software without the right processes?