The lack of an effective B2B marketing plan can often result in lost opportunities, a long term decline in business and market changes that catch a business unawares. However, too many marketing plans are poorly constructed and a complete waste of time and money. This post outlines a marketing planning process, some tips on how to maintain focus and some mistakes to avoid.
The strategy and planning process can seem complex and time consuming and therefore often drops to the bottom of the priority list. In a previous post on marketing strategy and return on investment I outlined the steps in a typical marketing planning process. Often, it is the early steps in that process that are the both the most difficult to understand and the most crucial to achieving the required outcome.
Retain Focus During The Marketing Planning Process
B2B Markets are complex and there can be a wealth of data (see below) to analyse and crunch. It is therefore often all too easy to lose focus. Three simple techniques can help retain focus without influencing the outcome of the marketing process.
At a top level briefly answering some key questions and pinning these to a wall or some other place they can be easily referred can often bring a process that is starting to wander back on track. Key questions to ask:
- What basic product / service does the business provide?
- Why are those products / services needed?
- Who needs them and why
- Who else can satisfy that need?
- Why should a potential customer pick me?
- How do raise awareness of the business and its product / service
At the bottom level it is worth drawing out the well known sales funnel on a large sheet of paper (trust me – there needs to be plenty of space for notes and alterations). You can go at the funnel from either end but during the marketing planning process it will need some numbers. What is the growth target, how many leads are required, where are those leads going to come from, conversions, resulting in sales, by segment.
Marketing Plan – The Key Steps
The first step is to analyse the current position understanding where the business is now and how it reached there. The key point to remember is this data collecting process must be completed without bias or any pre conceived ideas. With the analysis complete the results may be summarized and considered in conjunction with the desired future direction of the business over the next 3-5 years set by the business owners or senior management.
Many text books fail to cover the next step in sufficient detail (if at all) but it is important to draft out a number of possible paths (scenarios) to get from where the business is now (based on the analysis) to where it wants to be. These scenarios should include well defined target customer groups or segments.
A step often missed is the sign off by senior management of the chosen path before proceeding into the detail of how the business is going to progress down its chosen path, its objectives and the strategies to achieve those objectives. With the above in place the rest of the process building out the detail of the plan, estimating results (go back to the funnel mentioned above), modifying plans and setting programmes and schedules should be relatively easy for most professional marketers.
Most marketing plans fail because the analysis is performed without sufficient detail or with bias and the scenario developed is incorrect. Incorrect analysis and segmentation of customer groups is also often an issue. If the early part of the process is performed correctly the rest should flow without major problems.
Measurement, Control and Feedback
With the plan in place it is then important to measure actual performance against that stated in the plan and to take appropriate action. A well constructed plan should layout in detail programmes, events, timescales and expected results so it should be a simple process to go back and measure actual against expected.
Too often marketing plans are constructed and then spend the rest of their life on the shelf. This is a wasted opportunity and a significant waste of time and money. The prime reason plans never see the light of day is they are badly constructed and fail to deliver the required detail on programmes, events and outcomes.
Although building an effective marketing plan is a time complex and time consuming activity if focus on the key issues and process is maintained and some common mistakes avoided the activity can pay for itself many times over. Without a plan a business is more likely to drift which in the longer term can be fatal.