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It’s planning season again! Time to pull together your strategic marketing plan to make serious growth in your pipeline next year. So what should you put into a good business-to-business (B2B) marketing plan?

It’s not as complicated as you might think. While you can certainly buy a 300-page guidebook or take a course that will identify dozens of different components to include, most experienced marketers and business managers know that keeping it as simple as possible is the best path to success.

I’ve built hundreds of strategic marketing plans for small and mid-sized B2B over the past 15 years. I even used to do it as part of a consulting business that charged a pretty penny and needed three months to get one built. But three years ago I realized there was a simpler, more effective way to do it.

My company applied lean principles to strategic marketing planning. We thought hard about where the bulk of the value was coming from, and what we could eliminate to make the process faster and more effective. What we came up with is our 80/20 planning model: a streamlined approach that gets 80% of the planning done in 20% of the time.

One of the most important elements of a lean marketing plan is that you don’t need to create a 150-page document. In fact, there are just five things you should focus on to build a great plan.

Strategy

When we first say “determine the strategy” to the owners and leaders of B2B businesses, they often grimace or roll their eyes. “How long will that take?” is usually their first question.

But strategy doesn’t have to be complicated or take forever. Really, strategy is just about confirming (not determining) a direction. With our ultra-practical approach, we stick to three quick steps:

1. Define your target market. Who are you selling to, exactly?
2. Figure out your positioning. Are you the premium offering? The low-cost player? The service-oriented company? You can’t be all things to all people—choose your differentiator.
3. Determine your messaging. Why customers should buy from you?

The ‘strategic’ part of a strategic marketing plan is very important, but it doesn’t require a cumbersome process, navel-gazing or reinventing the wheel. It’s about capturing what’s already in the heads of your executives, then doing some research and possibly a little soul searching.

In my experience, most companies that have been in business for a while already know this stuff. They know who they are and what they want to be. It’s just a matter of distilling it into a sharable and actionable format.

Tools and Tactics

Decide on the marketing tools and tactics you’re going to use, and the ones you won’t. There are dozens of options—sales collateral, tradeshows, advertising, AdWords, SEO, websites, webinars, social media, and more.

There are no easy answers in this step. You have to understand your audience, how they can be communicated with, and how you’re going to leverage various tactics to get good mileage from your marketing. Every company has tactics that make sense based on their target market, how much marketing they’ve done in the past and other factors. You can find more guidance on tactics in this post.

Calendar

Most companies overestimate what can be done in a certain amount of time. Base your planning on your annual economic cycle and major industry events, then determine how long it will take to build out the elements based on the resources you have available.

If this is your first year undertaking marketing in a significant way, approach it as your learning-curve year. Use it to see how long things actually take in practice, and you’ll have a template for a better calendar for the following year. To do this well, you must remember to track your marketing hours!

Budget

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a committed marketing budget for the year. If your marketers don’t know where their next dollar is coming from, they can’t plan anything significant. So set a budget and stick to it. Don’t take it away if the going gets tough. And be realistic about how much tactics actually cost.

Committing to your marketing budget is the same as committing to your marketing. It will show your team you support them, which will give them the confidence they need to succeed.

Metrics

Like the calendar, metrics can be tricky in year one. Pick five key marketing metrics to measure regularly. Combine activity metrics (sending out one email a month) with results metrics (leads per email), and you’ll get a clearer picture of the returns you’re getting on your marketing spend.

• • • • •

Address these five areas, and you’ll have a solid strategic marketing plan. The secret to success is to keep it simple. Make sure to check back on the plan regularly, and you’ll see your marketing get better year over year.

Lisa Shepherd is author of the new book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She has been the youngest female CEO on PROFIT’s Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.

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What’s in your strategic marketing plan? Let us know by commenting below.

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