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Category Archive: Strategy

5 Questions: Building a strategy that is practical to implement

Thanks to the crew at 5by5 Design for featuring my advice on practical marketing planning in this month’s guest blog.

Read more as I answer 5 questions on how to build a marketing strategy that’s also practical to implement.

  1. What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?
  2. What’s the best way to keep strategy on track as you implement ideas?
  3. What are some of the common reasons companies have a hard time connecting a strategy to practical implementation?
  4. How do you keep a team engaged throughout the process?
  5. What trends have you seen in developing and implementing marketing plans?

Read the full article.

Five steps to fast-track your B2B marketing plan

CalendarHelp! The first quarter’s here and we need a plan now. If this cry for help sounds familiar, don’t panic. There’s no time like the present to set your course.

Follow these five steps to expedite your marketing roadmap:

1. Start small

There’s no minimum timeframe for planning. What’s important is defining activities that will help the organization achieve its objectives. Tackle the next six weeks or 90 days and work your way up to a six- or 12-month plan.

2. Prioritize

The marketing wish list will always exceed available resources, so be realistic. Focus your plan on your top three channels, products or organizational objectives and how to support them. Sort potential activities into categories: Required, Desired and Nice. Execute programs in the same order.

3. Delegate

It’s marketing’s job to support organizational goals—not to create them. Ask leadership to share their objectives. Use sales targets, revenue plans and product business plans for guidance. This information gathering will speed your timeline and engage the team.

4. Dedicate time

Like oil and water, strategic thinking and day-to-day marketing tasks don’t mix. Schedule 60-minute blocks of uninterrupted time to draft your plan: no email, no phones, no meetings. If you’re in a high-traffic area, work in a conference room. Make a checklist of items you need to complete, and set a reasonable goal for each work session.

5. Expect revisions

Every plan is a working document, one you will likely adapt as market conditions or business priorities change. When this happens, be flexible, involve others and use the plan as a communications tool. Add or change activities with the same Required-Desired-Nice categories used to develop the plan.

As with any skill, the more you plan, the more proficient you’ll become. And, even a small plan beats a reactive, ad hoc approach.

Fear factor: Top five scariest B2B marketing moves

Jack-o'-lantern on whiteThis Halloween, I don’t need zombies, ghosts or the current presidential campaign to induce a good scare. These five preventable marketing behaviors are enough to keep me awake at night—and to derail the most promising marketing efforts.

Read on, if you dare…

(5) Reactive decision-making. Market leaders do just that—lead. They proactively listen to their customers (internal and external), recommend the right approach and then stay on plan with marketing activities. Constantly rethinking campaigns or introducing new directions at the eleventh hour only serves to frustrate team members and reduce marketing’s capacity to execute activities.

(4) Brand mismanagement. Your company and product brands represent the single most valuable marketing asset, and one that requires constant stewardship. From online reputation management to simply policing how the logo is used, it’s critical to mind the details to maintain your investment.

(3) Ignoring the data. In the “olden days” of marketing (the early 1990s), we wished for more convenient access to measurements to back up our decisions. Now that data points abound, why are we still relying on our gut feelings to chart our course? Regular monitoring of metrics like audience behaviors, conversion rates, and cost per inquiry, lead and sale are a must.

(2) Failure to follow up. With all our methods for communication—and the personalized approach of marketing automation platforms—there’s no excuse for leads that linger untouched or unmonitored. Period. Unlike consumer marketing, in B2B our universe of potential buyers is a finite community. Even the coolest inquiries will buy at some point; if you’re not nurturing those relationships, your competitors will.

(1) Working without a plan. Flexibility is one thing; marketing without a roadmap is a surefire way to increase risk, drive up costs and miss opportunities. I am constantly astounded at the companies I encounter, large and small, who operate marketing “on the fly.” Few organizations can sustain long-term results without a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Have a terrifying example of your own? Post your comment here or Tweet me @ThinkSpringMktg.

No time to plan?

Fast-track stakeholder support with the 30-minute B2B marketing strategy

iStock_000015900242XSmall_OverwhelmedStrategy matters, but squeezing time for big thinking in between meetings, email and day-to-day project management can be a challenge for even the most dedicated B2B marketer. Fortunately, your plan doesn’t need to be arduous or time-consuming to be effective.

In fact, producing numerous strategy briefs throughout the year, one for each significant initiative, can be more impactful and easier to accomplish than toiling over an all-inclusive annual plan.

Drafting your 30-minute plan

For each initiative, set aside a half-hour window to address these four essentials of marketing strategy. If any one is difficult to complete, review your roadblocks and consider whether the program needs to be reworked or eliminated altogether.

(1) Define your approach. Start by describing what you want to do. Limit yourself to two or three paragraphs and focus on specifics such as recommended media for the campaign, timing and target audience.

(2) Make it relevant. Show leadership you understand the big picture by demonstrating the need for your project. Frame your recommendations against a current issue or trend in the market, in the context of other marketing and sales activities or by illustrating the consequences of inactivity.

(3) Link it to a goal. Always show how your initiative ties back to an organizational objective. The stronger the link, the more likely you are to garner support. Be wary of any programs where it’s difficult to connect to company goals.

(4) Anticipate results. This critical step illustrates to leadership that marketing is a discipline—not a guessing game—and that you are the expert in your field. Close your proposal with the potential benefits of the program. Wherever possible, use industry benchmarks or results of past campaigns to establish a range of possible outcomes.

Forget length—concentrate on the four essentials

Remember, the length of your strategy matters less than simply having a marketing strategy. After all, the point is simply to communicate the need for a specific organizational investment in marketing and gain support from your stakeholders—not draft the next best-selling novel.

Every time you share your ideas and request input upfront, you build trust for the marketing team and reduce surprises during project execution.

Six ways to sink your next product launch

Part II: Avoid these common marketing pitfalls

Avoid these marketing pitfallsLaunching a new product or service can bring out the best—or the worst—in an organization. From cost overruns to development delays, the process of innovation is ripe with obstacles.

Make sure your marketing efforts stay on track by watching out for these issues.

Marketing Don’ts:

(1)    Overpromise. A launch means pressure to build a sales pipeline long before the product debuts, but don’t paint yourself into a corner with pre-launch sales tools and marketing messages. Be cautious about including feature names, screen shots, pricing and other details too early in published materials. Instead, sell your vision for the product and leave the specifics for verbal discussions.

(2)    Underestimate your needs. New products and new market entries are two of the most taxing projects for marketing. Do your due diligence and set appropriate expectations; your first year efforts will require substantially more resources than a typical project.

(3)    Skimp on naming. A name is like a tattoo. You’re going to have it for a long time, and it’s complicated, expensive and painful to change. Don’t leave something this important to an employee contest. Hire a professional and find a moniker that has staying power and panache.

(4)    Guess what the market needs. Don’t rely on developers, documentation or third-hand stories to figure out your marketing approach. Get to the source by visiting your audience and hearing firsthand about their needs. Build time into your launch planning for site visits and testing your product positioning.

(5)    Get too technical too early. Yes, features matter. But how your product works only becomes important once your audience knows it can solve their problems. Tell your story so the big picture benefits always get top billing—no matter how much the engineers push to feature the functionality.

(6)    Forget the influencers. From IT to analysts, bloggers to past employees, social media gives everyone a platform. Identify and reach out to those who can champion your solution, with messages that speak to their role and area of expertise.

Ready to move forward? Read the companion post, “Six marketing essentials for a successful product launch.”

Six marketing essentials for a successful product launch

Part I: What to do—and why

Marketing product launchHere are six must-haves as you plan for your next release. These are tailored to a technology solution, but can apply to other goods or services as well.

Marketing Dos:

(1)    Start early. There’s no such thing as too much time to plan; getting ready to market a major initiative can take 12-18 months. Don’t wait until your solution is ready to sell—invite marketing to the table as soon as possible, so positioning, naming, strategy and research can evolve side-by-side with development of the product itself.

(2)    Sell the vision. With new products, we’re especially prone to talking about features and functionality—the “how it works” part. This can be dangerous when building pre-launch buzz, because functionality is still in flux. Instead, generate early momentum by establishing the ideal scenario your prospect can expect, thanks to working with your new solution.

(3)    Find the “wow.” When it comes to promotion, one fantastic feature will create more impact than a dozen ordinary ones. Take time to test messages about functionality until you can articulate a differentiated, relevant positioning. And if you don’t have it—keep looking until you find it, even it if means adding a feature midstream.

 (4)    Map the sales and support process. One meeting with sales, marketing and customer service can avoid countless headaches. Together, diagram how a buyer will move from lead to demo to sale to implementation. Agree on who will be accountable for each stage, how quickly they must respond and where to track pertinent details.

 (5)    Educate everyone. B2B means selling with people—and not just your dedicated sales team. Employees across the company will talk to customers and prospects, so make sure they’re on message and armed with the facts, no matter what their role. Issue regular internal communications, including the correct product name and a consistent “why this product rocks” elevator speech. You’ll minimize misinformation and energize the organization.

 (6)    Build out from a soft launch. Even the best laid plans seldom come to fruition without a hiccup. Minimize your risk—and be kind to your budget—by launching with a beta test or a pilot program. Even 30 days of trial in a small market will give you valuable knowledge to refine your full launch plans.

Up next:  You’ve seen the Dos. Now explore the Don’ts with “Six ways to sink your next product launch.”

B2B marketing tip #157: Look for the green

B2B Marketing Tip of the WeekTake an Earth Day pause this week and evaluate any environmental opportunities that exist within your business.

Investigate ways to make your processes less resource-intensive, such as converting from paper to electronic communications, or switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs in the tradeshow booth.

Then consider whether to share news of these improvements with your customers. Evaluate whether your audience will find shared values of environmental stewardship relevant, and make sure you have an enduring “green” program in place before promoting your accomplishments externally.

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B2B marketing tip #153: Get professional about strategy

B2B Marketing Tip of the WeekEven the most experienced marketers can benefit from an outside perspective. Consider hiring a professional facilitator to run your next strategy session.

An outside consultant can provide an objective viewpoint, keep discussions focused, and give internal leadership a chance to fully participate.

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B2B marketing tip #149: The right framework for strategy

B2B Marketing Tip of the WeekBefore you begin your next strategy session, make sure you’re prepared to solve the right problem. How you frame up the situation at hand directly impacts the plans and solutions your team will develop.

For example, the question “In what ways can we transform our product to surprise and delight our customers?” will result in a vastly different strategy than the question “How can we develop a unique product?”

Check out one of my favorite resources for developing the right business questions:  ThinkerToys: A Handbook of Business Creativity.

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B2B marketing tip #147: Bringing marketing and IT together

One of the hottest organizational trends is restructuring marketing and IT to a single reporting relationship—signifying how technical the 21st century marketer’s job has become.

Even if this isn’t yet the case for your company, be proactive and schedule a recurring meeting with your IT leadership. Work together to forge a constructive relationship and clear understanding of what each team needs to do, in order to power your marketing infrastructure. Consider everything from the website and social media, to CRM and email marketing, to opportunities for deeper data analysis, security and automation.

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