During the last 8 years or so as my career has taking me to the forefront of building brand equity, marketing strategy, and defining marketing activities which bring results. At the core of this experience has been the ongoing need I have to connect a marketing plan to the business plan. But wait, I had to first learn about strategic planning.
This article provides an overview of strategic planning and then provides 5 ways I integrated the marketing plans I and my team have developed into the over all business plan.
Strategic planning involves many parts; however, the most important is the clear definition of direction. Many companies I’ve worked for try to address this through a vision or mission statement and a set of core values. Often times what is lacking is the direction. I like to ask, what is the aim or main goal? What job do we deliver better than anyone else? Why are we needed? By defining our purpose and getting close to the jobs our product or service performs, I’ve witnessed a true connect to the actions that need to be taken (strategy) to deliver the responses to these questions.
1. Earn a Seat at the Decision Table
When I got my first real chance in marketing leadership, I thought that a seat at the table was a given. Well, not so much. I had to work hard at providing insightful research, lead generation results, and managing people and processes. It was through long-hours and dedication that I eventually earned the respect from the other executives within the organization. While I’d like to claim the doctoral studies in marketing helped, the fact is they didn’t.
What opened the door to the meeting was my hard work and my dedication to the company and my ability to understand our unique value proposition better than anyone else in the company. That understanding became valuable as part of the decision making process. It was my connection and passion to our brand that earned my seat.
2. Deliver Relevant Value to the Stakeholders
Once I earned a seat at the decision table, I realized that I was only as valuable as the relevancy I brought to every meeting. Therefore, I immersed myself in understanding the needs of our CEO, CFO, CTO, COO, and department directors. Overtime of delivering information that supported their needs I found myself becoming an liaison between the departments. It was at this point that my team and I became what I like to call Brand Evangelists. My relevant value to the C-suite team was to unite the company to drive our vision, mission, and core values. It was my job to ensure our brand culture was being built to match the vision of our senior executives. This was a continuous task; however, this was relevant value that propelled my career.
3. Build Internal Partnerships/Allies
The natural progression, as you might imagine, was to integrate my marketing plan into the overall business plan of the organization. Through the experience delivering relevant value to stakeholders as previously mentioned, I started building trusted partners and allies within the difference departments. I could engage them as part of defining my marketing plan. What I learned from this experience was that they, while not marketing professionals, had valuable insight on the history of the company, it’s products, and our clients. Over the next 90 days they helped me build a vertical market strategy and clearly defined our current product market position. We also worked together to define the ideal customer and two key buyer personas within each vertical market. This gave me success indicators of my marketing plan and prepared the plan to fit as part of the company’s pre-established business plan.
4. Deliver Your Peer Vetted Plan
As I delivered the marketing pan in a presentation to the C-suite team, what I found was the plan was familiar to them yet drastically different. The end result of the meeting we held was to present the plan to the department directors for feedback and input, guess what…they already had seen the plan. They were part of the building process and I was confident their feedback was in line with what our minds collectively thought was the best strategy. While putting the customer at the center of the marketing strategy is powerful, it can also be scary and limiting. By vetting the plan with my peers, the general acceptance of the plan became painless. Sure, we tweaked a few things and made it better in areas; however, the customer-centric strategy was solidified.
5. Consistently Report on Plan Progress
I learned early as a young adult that if you can’t measure something, it doesn’t exist. The company integrated my strategic marketing plan into the business plan and we defined the connection to pieces of the strategy to specific revenue growth objectives. I knew that if I could impact inbound and outbound lead quality, I could impact new business revenue the fastest. It wasn’t about getting more leads in this case, but increasing quality of what was coming in. By narrowing the vertical markets, we only generated leads in those 4 markets. By implementing stronger relevant content specific to buyer personas, the leads identified our company as a thought leader in their industry. By placing double opt-in lead forms, we eliminated leads who really didn’t fit as a potential client. We measured and reported on lead gen, lead quality conversion, and close rates seeking to lead our industry as a benchmark of excellence. We reported weekly to consistently have new business at the front of our minds. The impact? Business growth and significant increase in revenue as well as increased resources in funding for the following year’s marketing plan.
For me, integrating my marketing plan into the business plan was hard work coupled with a lot of strategic planning with others. However, sometimes outside help is needed to connect the marketing plan with the business plan which I have also experienced. If that is the case, don’t ignore the need and get help! I’ve learned that synergy only happens when a company’s strategic plan encompasses ALL of the business needs. While some companies can get by ok with missing needs, those that thrive CHOOSE not to.