The b2b marketing plan
A good marketing plan is essential, even in the business-to-business sector. It helps clients to focus on their objectives and it is crucial for communication agencies, which use it as a starting point to suggest strategies and projects that are coherent and in line with the clients’ real demands.
The marketing plan describes activities that need to be carried out during a set time period in order to reach certain objectives. Should marketing managers decide to carry out these activities casually, without any planning, they would soon regret their hapless choice. Time and energy wasted at the end, with duplicated activities, missing synergies, mishaps that would need to be hurriedly fixed (to say nothing of the likely overspending) would soon clarify that skipping this phase is a blatant mistake, with consequences that may have a high price.
Preparing a correct marketing plan is therefore not as difficult as coping with its absence: to simplify this activity it may help to subdivide it into seven steps.
First of all it is necessary to define the starting point from which to set off in order to reach the objectives: the market, its size, trends, clients, the present and desired share, of course fixing a coherent objective, compatible with the company’s real possibilities and resources.
The immediately successive step is the analysis of competitors: identifying benchmarks, that is, competitors to use as reference points, defining strengths and weaknesses that characterize the company’s offer, is important to foresee the challenges that may arise and the opportunities that may be seized.
At this stage it is necessary to define realistic and if possible measurable marketing objectives: some indicators may be difficult to measure (such as, the improvement in brand awareness and brand reputation) and for this reason it may be helpful to identify a few variables (so-called key performance indicators or KPI) that can be easily measured, such as the growth in the number of active clients, registrations to our newsletter, followers on social media… as a confirmation of the validity of the strategies being enacted.
The preparation of the plan carries on with the creation of a marketing strategy, where action to be taken will be defined, along with other aspects: it is mandatory to reflect upon how these actions will be carried out and the reason why they will be enacted (in a dynamic market, the conditions which led to define some objectives as priorities may be overtaken by events, and therefore require further questioning before the corresponding part of the strategy is enacted: detailing the reasons behind every action allows to re-evaluate its advisability before carrying on with it).
The amount of instruments available is very large and may leave puzzled: is it worth to use the typical outbound communication (advertisements, e-mail marketing, direct marketing) or should we aim to create useful contents for our clients so as to attract them towards our website (inbound marketing is a very useful instrument for lead generation)? In order to reach our target is it more sensible to use online or offline media?
A good communication agency may help in choosing and using the most appropriate tools.
Just like making bricks without straw, preparing a marketing plan without defining a budget is tricky – and in this case the process is circular: having defined the objectives, it is possible to calculate the margins that will be generated when these objectives are reached and therefore what type of expenditure will be possible, ideally while keeping a certain flexibility so as to be able to fine-tune budget and strategies based upon deviations with respect to forecasts.
It is of course necessary to foresee a regular monitoring of these activities: are the initially defined objectives and KPIs being reached as planned? Knowing and being updated allows to gauge actions and fine-tune budget allocations on time to correct any deviations form the original plan.
Finally, it is necessary to determine the timing: it is customary to consider one year as the timeframe of a marketing plan, but it is very important to evaluate whether the use of such a period as a reference point is coherent with objectives and budgets. The objectives we set ourselves may actually be unreachable with one year’s budget, but they could become a realistic challenge if we aim to reach them in several years. Even for this reason, flexibility is one of the keys to success.
Following these phases may seem complex; however, even driving licence tests are complex, but driving a car without knowing road signs would create much greater difficulties. Actually, ever since the first approach to the creation of a marketing plan, it will become evident that time devoted to preparing it and updating it regularly is well spent, because it will prove to be an instrument that enables to tackle single activities with greater consciousness, determination and assuredness.
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