There are few who would challenge that 2020 has been an Annus Horriblis, but it would be unwise to think that 2021 will be smooth sailing! Anticipating a few bumps in the road next year and giving ourselves the ability to respond accordingly should be a key feature of the 2021 planning process.
Speaking to business leaders who successfully rode the wave this year, even in sectors such as property and food/beverage, there is one thing I’ve found they had in common. They had a plan and a vision for where they wanted to get to, even before the pandemic struck. That helped them to stay focused, the vision hadn’t evaporated, but it needed adapting or in some cases simply accelerating. These leaders spoke about making better decisions that their competitors who were in crisis-mode, with knee-jerk reactions, while they remained calm, committed to their plan and ultimately delivered a better solution for their customers as a result.
So, what parallels can we draw when it comes to building a great marketing plan? Here are three tips that I have followed myself and implemented in companies I’ve been employed by and in clients with whom I now work.
1. Know the market and your position within it
This is not a set-and-forget activity. Your customers, competitors, and external market forces don’t stay still, and understanding your current place in the market alongside your desired state helps you to identify the right priorities.
For example, a leader in a highly saturated market is not going to see exponential new customer growth, but they do need to retain and expand the relationship with their customers — who the challenger brands will be aggressively targeting. As well as continuing to invest in their brand, maintaining brand loyalty and value.
Quantifying the addressable market, size, saturation, value and CAGR will support the viability of your lead forecasting. Gathering quantitative insight into how customer needs and behaviours might have changed will highlight the heroes and gaps in your proposition roadmap.
When gathering this insight, don’t just talk to the sales team, even just a few hours spent talking to actual customers will give you a much deeper insight than you’ve had before. Ask about their business, what their priorities are, what if anything is changing for them, and understand their expectations from the product they buy from you.
"When gathering this insight don’t just talk to the sales team, even just a few hours spent talking to actual customers will give you a much deeper insight than you’ve had before."
2. Discuss your priorities with your stakeholders
Marketing plans should not only live within the Marketing team, but should be shared and aligned firstly with the overall business priorities and secondly with your key stakeholder groups – sales, commercial and services teams in particular.
Your plan should include a demand generation forecast if you’re running programmatic, and target account lists for ABM. Laying out the product/proposition and tactical offer roadmap highlights spikes in activity and increased market interest. But does all of that align with the sales and financial targets for the year?
For example, if you have a monthly subscription-based model, the more customers you acquire and retain in Q1 has a greater impact on your in-year revenue performance than a spike in Q4 sales. Similarly, if you know there is a lag between sale and delivery, how is that factored into your demand gen planning and forecasting?
Developing and agreeing your plans and budgets as early as possible this year lets you move onto planning for Q1 and gives you the best possible head start into your new financial year. You will heap pressure onto yourself and your team if actioning your plan only starts in mid-January. Drafting briefs, raising purchase orders, creating campaigns and activating in market always takes longer that is suggested in a project plan. And a slow start in Q1 can leave you playing catch up for the remainder of the year.
3. Follow the 80:20 rule
Which leads me to my third tip, even with the very best laid plans we know only too well that things happen which are unforeseen and outside our control. But it’s how we react to these situations that can impact the success of the outcome and the well-being and sanity of your team!
If sales are behind target or a product launch is delayed, everyone has an opinion on what to do to fix the gap. Actions lists are drawn up and people are rapidly pulled in to start doing ‘stuff’, only for the list to change a few weeks later and more ‘stuff’ to get added to the list. It’s the quickest way to a highly unproductive and unhappy team, and no further forward in fixing the problem.
If you’ve agreed your priorities with your stakeholders and the business priorities are unchanged, then don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Review the priorities again with your stakeholders and agree what activities need to remain on track — aim for 80%.
With the remaining 20% of resources or budget identified as agile and adaptive, brainstorm your tactical plan and then start executing. Be clear on the start and end date for these short-term, fire-quenching tactics, as too many of them over a lengthy period can destabilise the rest of your programmes.
"Even with the very best laid plans we know only too well that things happen which are unforeseen and outside our control."
There you have it, three simple and perhaps obvious tips, but when implemented correctly and consistently can have a big impact on the success of your marketing.
Orla Murphy is the co-founder of Seeblue Marketing, a London-based B2B marketing agency helping tech companies to target and find the right buyers for their products and establish consistent and profitable revenue streams. They are a Cyance Referral Partner since August 2020.