Why do I need a marketing plan? What is a good marketing plan? Do you have a template I could use? Over the years, those are probably the most common questions asked to me by marketers. Developing a marketing plan is probably one of the most stressful things for a marketer. People do not know where to start and are scared of developing something that won’t hit the target or deliver results at the level expected by the organization. I’ve then decided to write a blog article providing guidance on how to develop an exhaustive B2B marketing plan.
In B2B, after employee salaries, marketing is usually the biggest expense for most organizations. Therefore, as a marketing manager, you want to make sure your dollars are being spent in the most productive way possible. The best way to achieve that is to stay away from “on-the-fly” campaigns and develop a series of well thought out marketing strategies and tactics: a marketing plan. A good plan will not only help you meet your objectives, but will also allow you to scale marketing tactics, goals and strategies to drive consistent business growth. It will maximize a positive ROI generated from your marketing dollars and generate a positive impact at all levels of the organisation.
Sales vs Marketing
It is very important that your marketing strategies and tactics completely align with sales corporate objectives. I mention this because I know for a fact that some people will disagree with me on the way I see marketing within organizations, but this is one of the key factors to have a successful marketing plan. To achieve success, MARKETING MUST WORK HAND-IN-HAND WITH SALES AND SUPPORT THEM.
A good plan should incorporate strategies and tactics supporting the following:
- Sales: the primary focus should always be to generate sales leads (TOP PRIORITY!). Marketing should also be available to support the sales team with any type of marketing assistance on the ground.
- Product management/development: taking to market new products, services, and update releases. Marketing should also serve as a bridge, bringing back market insights from sales or directly from the market that can inform the product roadmap;
- Corporate: Acting as a single source of truth with regards to how products and the organization are described at all levels as well as protecting their perception within the market
1. What is a marketing plan?
Before we jump in the heart of the matter, it’s important to have a good understanding of what exactly a marketing plan is. Typically included as a section of your overall corporate business plan, a marketing plan is just what it sounds like: a document detailing everything you need to know in order to successfully promote your products and services as well as your organization.
The key to success lies in developing a plan in which each activity is based on solid research, specific goals and is implemented and carefully evaluated in a timely manner. The plan serves as a roadmap to help you achieve your marketing objectives. You should also develop KPIs – Key Performance Indicators, which you’ll track ideally on a monthly basis, to help you identify where you stand in regard to your goals.
There’s no exact length for this sort of document, as long as you’ve included all of the necessary information. Sometimes large corporations have marketing plans that are hundreds of pages, whereas a small one-person business might only have a handful. I’m a big fan of the “KIS – Keep It Simple” concept, and therefore, I usually try to keep the plan to a maximum of 25-30 pages, either in PowerPoint and/or Word format. I mention both formats, because it depends on the usage. I prefer PowerPoint, because I like to present it to the sales team, allowing them to see we are well aligned with their sales objectives, and giving them an opportunity to challenge me with any questions they might have. I’ll come back later on the alignment with sales.
Additionally, it’s important to note that your marketing plan should span twelve months. The market is evolving rapidly. Twelve months is enough time to reach those big, long-term objectives, while being short enough to remain flexible when your circumstances and goals change over time.
2. Who should also contribute to the plan?
Developing a marketing plan is not the exclusive preserve of marketing. Since marketing supports different groups, you need to make sure to meet with them to understand their strategies and identify specific needs they might have for the coming year. The marketing plan must primarily be aligned with sales objectives, strategies and tactics. To do this, several working sessions are necessary with sales managers. Without their involvement and agreement on the main orientations and marketing strategies, it will become difficult to obtain their cooperation, which is sometimes necessary in the execution of the plan.
Based on my experience, you need to plan a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks (not full time though!) to develop a comprehensive plan. It takes time to identify the different strategies and tactics, but also to meet with the different stakeholders and make sure you are aligned with their respective strategies.
3. The content of your marketing plan
The content will vary from one organization to the other and from the market in which you operate, but here are the “must have” sections it should contain at minimum.
a. Introduce your team
Enacting the plan is a team effort. Therefore, if you want to create engagement within your team, every marketing employee should have a voice and be involved in its development. Since the plan is usually presented to the sales team, it is also important you introduce marketing staff, along with their respective responsibilities, in order for sales to identify where they need to go if they need help. One of the key elements in the execution of the plan is to make sure communication channels are opened between sales and marketing to nurture that relationship.
b. Conduct a marketing situation analysis
An assessment of the marketing situation can be done in different ways. The section should be high-level, since usually the concerned audience is already well aware of these points.
Some of you might decide to do a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, which details your strengths and weaknesses as a marketing organization, as well as any opportunities for growth, and threats that could hinder that progress. It’s a great way to get a snapshot of your current situation in a way that’s helpful and identifies marketing opportunities for improvement.
You should also have a very good understanding of the market you are operating in. How do you compare to your competitors? Every brand can benefit from regular competitor analysis. By performing a competitor analysis, you’ll be able to:
- Identify your gaps in the market;
- Develop new features, products and services;
- Uncover market trends;
- Market and sell more effectively.
Once you have a good understanding of the market in which you are operating you need to make sure you know who your target audience is. If your organization already has buyer personas, this step might just mean evaluating and refining them. If you don’t have a buyer persona, you should create one/some. To do this, you might have to conduct formal market research or simply interview existing customers. Your buyer persona should include basic demographic information, such as gender and age, as well as psychographic information, such as pain points and goals.
What drives your audience? What problems do they have that your products or services can solve? How do they spend their free time? What outlets do they turn to for information? Gather any intel you can find and include it in this section. Knowing your customer inside and out will be helpful when identifying marketing tactics and strategies.
Finally, and probably the most important part of this section, you need to assess strategies and tactics deployed throughout the previous year. This is where you should present the different Key Performance Indicators – KPIs tracked over the last 12 months. What worked and what didn’t? Why? Can you replicate your success?
The following elements should minimally be covered:
- Traffic evolution on a monthly basis (increase, decrease, trends…);
- New pages you developed that impacted traffic and leads;
- Blog articles that made a difference in the traffic or the number of leads.
- Lead generation
- Results or number of generated leads from different digital campaigns leading to the website or microsites;
- Marketing leads to sales leads conversion ratio;
- Total number of leads from the website? Microsites? Which conversion forms/pages;
- Webinar results;
- Leads generated from public relations activities;
- If you work with a partners/resellers channel, results from the campaigns you developed together.
- Trends of the overall number of leads
Presenting the results of the previous year brings credibility to your presentation. It shows that you’ve looked at the results, and then you’ve learned from your mistakes and successes to develop the new plan.
c. Establish your top 5 marketing priorities
In this section, you highlight your top five marketing priorities for the 12-month period. It is very important that each relates to sales priorities in some way. If we consider that sales priorities should be aligned to the corporate ones, this automatically means that marketing priorities are aligned with the corporate strategy.
Usually these priorities are developed following different meetings with the key stakeholders and the identification of the corporate and sales priorities. When you present to sales, you should directly tie each marketing priority to specific sales ones in order for them to see you are well aligned.
d. Marketing strategies and tactics
That is the main section of your plan, or at least, the one that will interest sales the most. You need to take each of these marketing priorities and expand them into different marketing strategies and tactics. For each strategy, you should identify different tactics (usually campaigns) along with the type of content (written, audio, and video) you will need to develop.
In the end, you get different strategies, tactics and content you integrate in a yearly calendar to come up with monthly deliverables you need to develop to execute all activities. That is what I call the “editorial calendar” of the content strategy. It provides you with a roadmap to consistently create valuable, engaging and helpful content that attracts the right audience, converts them from marketing leads to sales leads, and then hopefully into customers. I usually develop plans for the content following the different verticals the products/services address and as well as the marketing priorities.
The editorial calendar should be more than just an outline of topics and publishing dates. Specifically, it should include:
- The vertical/people you’re targeting with your content;
- What questions your strategy will answer for your audience;
- In which tactic it will be used;
- The formats you’ll use when publishing content (written, audio and video);
- The channels where you’ll promote content;
- How you’ll schedule and manage creation of that specific content;
- Goals, and how you’ll measure the success of your tactics.
As you can see, content is central to the strategy. Everything starts with the content and is then disseminated through the different communication channels.
Here are the five pillars of how to share written, audio and video content in a B2B environment:
- Web properties
- Corporate Website or specific microsites
- Blog articles
- Educational or tutorial videos
- eBooks or whitepapers
- Demo sessions
- Success stories
- Social media
- LinkedIn, the strongest network for marketing to B2B
- Facebook is mainly for Human Resources
- Twitter is best for customer support
- Use YouTube or Vimeo to share your videos
- If you work with partners and resellers, you need to provide them with sales tools, such as brochures, customer testimonials…
- Advocacy marketing
- Products, services and software reviews websites
- Online platforms for mobilizing customers and advocates using content-targeting, gamification, engagement and rewards
- Web lead generation – Online advertising campaigns
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization
- SEM – Search Engine Marketing on Google and Bing
- Native ads, online banners, social media campaigns, etc.)
- Marketing Automation
- Email campaigns, including specific campaign pages
- Lead tracking and nurturing email campaigns
- Media relations
- Paid/sponsored content
- Influencers and industry analysts
- Tradeshows and events
- Partners and resellers channel
- Develop custom campaigns with specific content developed for them
- Corporate Website or specific microsites
The following diagram gives, as an example, a visual representation of what could be the five sharing pillars for an organization.
e. Content for important launches
New product/service or new feature launches require specific content. This should be treated the same way you treat any other content, but with potentially more attention to make sure your launch is a success. You usually invest a lot of dollars in the development of new solutions, so it’s essential that you give them a strong launch to carry them forward into the market. Once you have established your goals for your launch, you will know the particular outcomes you intend to achieve. Meeting these goals usually involves building product awareness and demand in the marketplace which will lead to sales.
At the same time that your organization sets the goals for the product launch, have your marketing team outline the launch marketing strategy they will be using to build sales tools for the new product/service, taking your product’s buyer personas into consideration. The product launch should dovetail with the rest of the overall marketing plan.
For the purpose of your presentation to the sales team, this section needs to stay high-level, otherwise you will end-up with a 60-page presentation! It is not the time or the place to go through each of the tactics associated with the top 5 marketing priorities in detail.
However, apart from the presentation, you will still need to have a complete list of all tactics (content, campaigns) associated with the different strategies and linked to priorities. I usually use Microsoft Excel for this task. This list should detail the type of content needed, details of the campaign, its objectives, the stakeholder, the date of the campaign and its KPI.
f. The end
After that important section, which is the bulk of the plan, I usually have two additional slides. Obviously, a slide for questions and answers, and then a last one where I try to emphasize my key messages:
- Thank the marketing team and stakeholders from other groups who participated in the development of the plan;
- A plan is a plan until you start executing it. Marketing will drive it but might require some support, mainly for validation of key messages from sales and product management/development;
- Plans are made to be changed. If we see disruption in the market or see activities we planned are not working;
- Communication with sales is key to the success of the plan.
Time to present
I usually count on taking a good 90-120 minutes to present the plan to sales. To make sure I don’t get any “bad” surprise reactions during my presentation, I “leak” it to 2-3 key sales people, including the VP of sales, a week in advance to make sure I get their feedback and some sort of “ implicit endorsement” before I present it.
4. Track your results, and adapt to what you see
There you have it! These are the elements required to create a marketing plan for your business, you just need to put them all together. Marketing plans will vary from one organization to the other. And remember, as with everything else, it really depends on what’s best suited for your own business.
The value of a marketing plan is in its effectiveness, which requires timely execution AND monitoring and evaluation of results. It’s important to measure your results against the strategies/tactical objectives you set in establishing your goals. Look at your KPIs on a monthly basis, then review your plan on a quarterly basis by comparing your progress with your editorial calendar. There are several ways you can measure the results of your progress: website traffic, number of marketing and sales leads, marketing to sales conversion ratio, effectiveness of each campaign, revenue increase, etc.
If at any time you find your progress does not meet your expectations, you need to identify why. Perhaps that online ad about a specific topic has not attracted new prospects. If the ad campaign has been carried out as directed without results, review or dump it and try other actions. Perhaps you’ll want to try giving a series of webinars specifically targeted to the audience you want to attract or developing a microsite that describes the benefits of the new service.
In other words, the actions – and even the strategies and goals – in your marketing plan are not written in stone. By regularly monitoring and evaluating each action, you can always change and try new approaches. Marketing works when both planning and execution are there.
This article was written by Stéphane Vidal, Marketing Executive and Consultant.