I came out of the technology industry into marketing. One thing that struck me immediately was the lack of planning that goes on in marketing and communications. In software, if we don’t plan everything down to the nth degree we’ll be lost. Not so with marketing plans.
Some directions are set but the smaller the company, the less planning takes place. Several of my clients (most of them mid-sized) have even admitted they hate marketing plans altogether. And yet they still scratch their head when marketing fails to deliver what they need.
The point is that people build marketing plans that don’t work.
Over the years I’ve noticed six reasons why we hate marketing plans. Here some ways to get around those obstacles to create plans that are actionable, organic and will work.
The marketing plans are not actionable. I’ve seen tons of very well-written plans that were the equivalent of being “oblique without being obtrusive.” In other words, they sounded great and didn’t mean anything – there was no way to implement anything. For an actionable plan, you need to create tangible strategies and tactics, as well as timelines. Goals must be defined in a measurable sense with action clearly noted to achieve those goals. Action is the key word here.
You’re afraid of setting goals. For many entrepreneurs and mid-sized companies there’s a fear of setting measurable goals. On one hand, people are afraid they may not meet goals and this could look bad for a marketer. On the other, usually the entrepreneur, there is fear that you might set the goal too low and miss some great revenue because your sales team feels they don’t need to do anything more. If you’re not sure, set quarterly goals and adjust as you go, rather than annual goals. Or place some kind of incentive for percentage over goal. You’ll get better at it as you do it.
The marketing plan is written too early. I’m a big fan of writing marketing plans in January. This is because so many deals get put on hold until after the holidays. If you know the base of business from which you’re starting in the new year, you’ll create a much better plan all around. There’s just too much in the air typically in December, or November for that matter, to write a good plan.
Writing the plan is an agony. Marcomm plans for my clients are usually about two pages long. They don’t take long to create because they identify the goals, strategies, tactics and measurements. If you’re still defining your product or your audience, it’s not time to develop a plan. By the way, defining your audience and target customers is an excellent activity to accomplish in the fall.
Nobody looks at the plan after it’s complete. Let me tell you about a sales team I managed once. They were the top performing team in the US, out of about 20 other branches. We did plans at the beginning of every year to direct their work. (A marketing plan for a sales territory, if you will. Pretty much what ABM is now.) Even if they didn’t look at their plan more than a couple times a year – or never – they were always shocked at how close to the plan they came when they ended the year. That’s the weird thing about writing plans. The very process of writing an actionable plansets you into action. It creates a set of subconscious planning activities just by the very nature of writing it. I used to think this was magic but apparently there’s some brain guy out there that has proven this. I couldn’t find the link for this purpose though so you’ll have to trust me on it.
One last reason we hate marketing plans is a hard one to swallow for many marketers. Sometimesmarketers don’t have a clue about what’s happening in the front lines of the business. This is very frequent in B2B companies, where salespeople are often face to face with clients, yet their feedback is ignored. Marketing people should spend considerable time with clients or with those closest to clients, understanding what’s really happening with the business. Spend time in a retail store. Spend time with the digital marketers. Whatever it takes, know what’s happening in sales. If you haven’t done that you simply can’t write a good plan.