You’ve been charged with developing a marketing plan for a technology B2B company from scratch. Daunting? A bit, but a wonderful challenge for a marketing professional. Where to begin? In this series of Blog posts, I’ll offer a few thoughts on strategies that have worked for me and some that have not. You’ll be able to apply some of these to your own planning process.
If you’ve designed a plan before, no doubt you have a template and can plug and play the latest thinking on the company’s direction. But here are a few things to consider:
1. Follow the Business Plan – Wait, is this a trick? Obvious, right? Except many times marketing executives are asked to develop their marketing plan at the same time the business plan is being developed for the next fiscal year. I worked for a company once that was on version 22 of the business plan and I was on version 21 of the marketing plan. Even through it felt like running to keep up with a moving train, I was glad that I made the effort to understand the final, final company strategy. In this case, the CEO had added a new focus on channel sales, which required partner marketing programs (and associated resources), something I would have missed if not completely plugged into the business planning process. Sometimes it’s the questions from marketing that can even help solidify the business plan: Are we planning any new office openings or regional expansion? From which product and market segments do we expect the majority of our revenue? Are there new competitors on the landscape that we need to consider? What is our best go to market approach for our new solution?
2. Include a Big, Big News Item Every Quarter - Many times the “big” item is obvious – a product launch, an acquisition, a significant partnership announcement. Other times, the big news is not so obvious. I was in the middle of a news dearth at a company at one point in my career – product launch dates had been moved to the next quarter, there were no marque clients signed, no big company events – nothing.
Let me be clear - I’m opposed to spitting out news that has no relevance. It creates the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome where no one pays attention when you actually have something to share. Having a steady stream of significant news along with the one big news item in the quarter is essential to build visibility momentum.
In my case we carefully considered what we could leverage to generate some excitement for the company. We happened to have access to information about domain name registrations. Also, it was a presidential election year. A brilliant PR person from our agency put these two seemingly unrelated items together and suggested that we generate a report around how many URLs contained the two candidate names. We went on to analyze and categorize these, reporting on activities on these sites. The result? An exclusive run by the New York Times, a publication that our mid-sized company would never have otherwise attracted. It also raised the conversation with prospects and clients around online brand protection – our sweet spot.
Make sure your plan includes the big, planned splash every quarter and rally your resources and others in the company around that, but stand ready to substitute another idea if need be – and make it a valued and relevant one.
3. Consistent Message, Over Time, Multiple Venues – Creating a well-designed plan that outlines the message platform and articulates how the company will drive that message is worth its weight. It sounds so simple, but in reality many forces will emerge to derail this effort – shifting priorities at various levels within the company will attempt to syphon valuable marketing resources to splinter efforts. When the plan for attracting and messaging B2B prospects with a clear and consistent stream of valuable content over multiple channels is well presented from the start, it’s easier to deflect efforts to disrupt the plan.
At one company we were selling a financial services software solution primarily to credit card departments. A small faction of the organization wished to pursue the capital markets function in these banks. While we did have a limited set of services appropriate for these targets, it would have diminished the primary marketing initiatives that were being used to drive qualified leads and the majority of the sales revenues. This delicate political situation necessitated that we do a quick market assessment and cost analysis for us to enter this market. It became clear that our resources would be better spent focusing on our primary targets with large scale projects for maximum revenue potential.
Now, it would be naive of me to suggest that once the marketing plan is documented, it’s set in stone. Not only naive – laughable really! As a matter of fact, my experience is that a marketing plan is really good for a couple of quarters. Invariably, strategies and situations change and the marketing executive must be agile enough to shift directions appropriately. However, if you don’t start with the goal of a plan that presents a steady cadence of a solid message platform to your key targets, you’re cooked from the start.
The smart marketing executive will know which of the new company initiatives to pursue and when to push back. Further, it pays to having a deft hand at negotiating with all factions within the organization to ensure that everyone understands and supports the priorities of the marketing efforts.
I’d love to hear your top tips for creating an effective B2B marketing plan. Check back here for more ideas in subsequent postings on this topic. After all, planning season is soon upon us!