As we enter the 2024 planning season, I’m excited to introduce a four-part article series on this strategic topic with a focus on how marketing can be a key driver of growth, especially during these unpredictable times.
Here’s an overview of the four-part series:
- Five Foundational Considerations
- Empowering Marketing as the Primary Driver of Growth
- Making the Case for Experimentation
Now let’s dive into the first part: Five Foundational Considerations.
First things first. I have created marketing plans for over 20 years now and from my experience and what I have learned, keeping the below in mind when crafting your plan will prove to be extremely beneficial.
1. Allow sufficient time to pull back from tactical execution and work on strategic high-level thinking.
It’s easy to get lost in the daily grind—meeting deadlines, managing tasks, and tackling short-term challenges. However, the true key to success often lies in taking a step back and embracing big-picture thinking.
As John C. Maxwell, author, of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” says :
Big-picture thinkers broaden their outlook by striving to learn from every experience. They don’t rest on their successes, they learn from them.
Big Thinking allows you to :
- Prioritize effectively: A big-picture perspective empowers you to prioritize effectively, enabling you to set better goals and manage your time more efficiently.
- Innovate: Many of the groundbreaking innovations we enjoy today are the result of big-picture thinking, which explores possibilities beyond the immediate horizon.
- Embrace Future-Mindedness: Strike a balance between pragmatism and optimism. We can proactively anticipate opportunities and embrace the possibility of positive outcomes. Simultaneously, we can remain open to adaptability, understanding that the future is uncertain. In today’s ever-changing climate, where external factors like global pandemics, market fluctuations, and political unrest can disrupt even the best plan, this agility is crucial.
Supporting Big-Picture Thinking with Data and Intuition
To foster big-picture thinking, you combine insights from data with your gut feeling. I would include both internal and external key data sources:
- Internal Data: Reflect on the past 12-24 months, identify top learnings, and apply the 80-20 rule to prioritize impactful insights.
- External Data: Leverage competitor intelligence, stay informed about industry trends, monitor marketing trends, and be attentive to regional market shifts.
2. Involve the right stakeholders in the planning process and get their buy-in.
As B2B marketing impacts the various areas of a business, effective engagement with stakeholders drives progress and helps you greatly in achieving successful outcomes of your strategy.
Here is how you can optimize engagement for two key stakeholder groups:
Gaining Executive Sponsorship
Securing buy-in among executives, especially for your significant investments is very important. It pays off to take the time to understand the unique needs of each stakeholder. This approach ensures that your proposal can address the specific concerns of each line of business. Examples:
- Sales: How will the project contribute to driving numbers: winning new clients, upselling/crosseling to existing ones, and reducing churn?
- Finance: How will the project’s outcomes be measured, what cost benchmarks are in place, and what’s the expected return on investment (ROI)? What are the potential consequences of not investing?
- Customer Success: How will the project minimize churn and enhance customer satisfaction?
- Executive Team: How does the project align with and support the company’s overarching strategic objectives?
Conducting one-on-one sessions with each stakeholder before the presentation avoids surprises or challenges in the boardroom. Use this opportunity to share your proposal and incorporate valuable feedback to refine and improve it. Plus, document each conclusion in a summary email.
Leveraging Internal Experts
I have worked with presales, consultants, customer success, and senior leadership as internal experts who provided invaluable contributions to my content strategy. However, experts typically have demanding schedules, so your engagement approach should make it as convenient as possible for them to contribute the necessary information.
Simply asking for contributions without a clear purpose won’t cut it. You need to have a brief ready, with goals, objectives, and other important details.
Set up personalized Face-to-Face meetings to stimulate fruitful discussion and lock in their support.
3. Blend Top-Down Strategy with Bottom-Up Approach.
Formulating plans solely from a top-down perspective, and neglecting to seek input from the individuals responsible for executing them can be problematic.
As leaders, getting the buy-in from the actual team members who will execute the plan is very beneficial. Value their input and where possible, incorporate some of their ideas into the plan. This will motivate the team significantly and ensure their commitment to drive results.
The most effective and ultimately successful plans strike a balance by combining a top-down strategy with a bottom-up approach.
For instance, your Executive Leadership Team (ELT) may craft a high-level plan for 30% growth in the pipeline, while the team may devise a more feasible approach targeting a 20% growth rate. Collaboratively, you can create a plan that incorporates an element of stretch while maintaining a solid execution strategy.
Although this approach requires greater effort in the beginning, the outcome—an inclusive plan that considers the various perspectives is going to be extremely worthwhile.
4. Don’t just focus on numbers.
Numbers are of course the cornerstone of a solid plan. (More on that in the next point!)
Having said that, it will serve you to balance numbers with the right values and policies – the overall well-being of your team and business.
This is an opportunity to engage in thoughtful reflection, evaluating the successes and shortcomings of the past year and understanding the underlying reasons. It’s also a chance to consider the adjustments you’ll implement in the coming year, covering the various areas of the business with a comprehensive view, considering your workforce, culture, lessons learned, potential opportunities, ongoing projects, and innovations.
5. Be Outcome-Focused.
A strong B2B marketing plan clearly defines your objectives and desired outcomes. Your business goals should align seamlessly with your investments, ensuring a harmonious connection between your strategy and results. Objectives can include boosting brand awareness and generating leads to nurturing prospects, closing deals, retaining customers, and driving revenue growth.
An important part of this process involves segmentation—identifying where your financial resources are best invested and recognizing the areas of greatest future potential. Integrate these insights into your plan.
To make your goals tangible and attainable, employ the SMART criteria—ensuring your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound—to facilitate effective tracking.
Additionally, always add clear timelines to the forecasted outcomes for each marketing investment. For new initiatives where you cannot rely on past data, provide your best-informed guesses.
The projected outcomes can manifest as various metrics, including responses, engagement, leads, pipeline progression linked to opportunities, and ultimately, successful closed/ won deals.