This is the third article in a series that outlines a proven and detailed process to help create and execute better business plans.
Here we’ll focus specifically on marketing. The first section provided an overview of the model. The second described the essential key inputs to use as contextual guideposts. This section will focus on making sure the marketing plan is created in alignment with the overall business strategy. This helps ensure that marketing activities scheduled for a particular period will impact the “big picture” as much as possible.
Why Alignment Matters
Making sure marketing activities align with business goals seems obvious enough. But, overarching strategy and departmental plans for many companies end up getting made independently. A bit of a flaw in the planning process it seems. If your CEO asks the question “so what’s marketing doing this coming quarter?” then this likely describes your situation.
There is an excellent strategic planning and governance program I’ve used in the past called Gazelles. It’s basic premises focus on simplified, top-down strategic planning and corporate alignment. Companies perform best when all the cogs in the machine fit precisely together and operate in concert with each other.
It is critical marketers are involved in the business planning process from the beginning. How can they impact the right things if not? The simple fact is, operating in a vacuum is inefficient and will inhibit growth.
The Timing and Impact
With virtually all companies, an on-going target is to achieve a revenue number in a given period. Along with sales, marketing clearly owns a share of this. But, the reality is that campaigns and initiatives executed this quarter, will likely not create engagement, leads, or opportunities until next quarter, or even later. This “time lag” depends on your “pipeline build” time and sales cycle velocities and it can be quite long in some industries – particularly in B2B segments. Marketing is a cumulative process and dependent on many factors including the prospect’s timing. Therefore, when you align your activity to revenue recognition, you better be sure to explain and account for a reasonably accurate timeline.
A good option here is to make sure a corporate objective is “building a healthy funnel” now to impact revenue later. This is a more rational approach – it better reflects what marketing truly does, and it will help grow revenue in time. Hopefully, you have enough history and analytics to predict when. The second challenge marketers always face is clearly understanding and proving the fruit of its labor. It’s easy to see how many people buy online if you set up a fantastic promotion that’s been well-packaged. But what about longer cycle B2B sales?
Obviously, the sales team plays a direct and easily measured role. But how do you assess and acknowledge marketing’s contribution? Was it an initial impression from a website visit, a slick webinar, a great direct mail piece, valuable social media content, or a brilliant resource developed for sale people to use? It’s often complex, but you need to try and get a handle on how marketing-generated activities impact revenue and how your work creates ROI.
Properly Aligning Marketing Goals
To align marketing goals closer to your company’s high-level business strategy, consider the following tips.
- Make sure marketing is involved in the operational planning process from the beginning. The first reason is a no-brainer – you can’t align with anything if you’re not in the loop. Also, marketing tends to get involved in communication and other programs across other departments, so you need to know how all these pieces fit together.
- Put substantial thought into the activities you choose and continually challenge yourself. If they don’t tie into the overarching strategy, should you be doing them at all? Sure, a certain amount of foundational work needs to get done that may not immediately appear to be aligned – but if implementing a new CRM is a must, make sure you can explain how it’s going to help improve marketing effectiveness and bring in new business in the future.
- Pick meaningful metrics and continually track progress. A CEO ultimately thinks about marketing in terms of how much revenue it helps influence. Make sure your metrics are simple, relevant, and can show results through the evolution of awareness, engagement, qualified opportunities and eventually closed deals. Another important exercise involves “back-tracking.” If you know you have the lag time to deal with (and most marketers do), you better be able to show the ways yours actions influenced buyers when they do sign. This means you must have robust systems and processes in place to look back in time and do the analysis.
- Account for the time lag. As pointed out earlier, depending on your industry and type of sale, there is a rolling horizon when it comes to marketing impact. The results are not immediate unless they are project-based and achievable in a specific timeframe. So, you need to make it clear to everyone that your impact on sales this quarter started in the past and what you have planned now will take time for the results you project to materialize.
- Be realistic about what you can deliver. One of the common mistakes made when building a marketing plan is not accounting for the actual capacity available on the team to complete it. If you are being too optimistic about doing the impossible, you set yourself up for failure. It’s important to understand and map out your capacities based on the work required before finalizing your priorities. You need a clear view of the people, budget, time and resources needed to execute and achieve your goals.
Alignment isn’t always a perfect science, and it poses some unique challenges for B2B marketers with long sales cycles. That said, the closer you can align marketing goals to the overall business strategy – the better it will be for you, your department and the company!