How to Make a Smart Marketing Plan – Inc.com

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The first quarter of the year is traditionally when companies update their marketing plans. Here are the key questions marketers should ask before making major changes:

1. Can our sales team close leads that we generate?

This is where the rubber meets the proverbial road. Branding theory and the “four P’s” are all good and well, but what really matters is whether the people who are selling your product can close business.

If the sales group can’t close the sales leads that marketing provides, you have two choices:

  1. Hire a different sales team (or retrain the one you’ve got)
  2. Retarget your lead generation so it creates better leads

Frankly, if you get this part of your marketing plan right, you can probably ignore everything else, other than making the lead-generation process less costly.

2. How well do our metrics drive the right behaviors?

Many marketing groups are goaled on activities rather than measurable results, under the assumption that those activities are “strategic” and therefore too important to be measured.

For example, a marketing group might be goaled to “create a brochure” or “build a website” simply because companies are supposed to have brochures and websites.

Measurement by “check the boxes” leads to wasteful spending and the kind of marketing that looks good in a portfolio but doesn’t help your company become more successful.

3. Can we effectively block competitors during the sales process?

In my experience, most marketing groups only understand the competition in terms of feature or function comparison. Unfortunately, such comparisons aren’t very useful because:

  1. Most customers don’t care, unless they’ve been sold on the idea that a specific feature is an absolute necessity.
  2. Feature lists provide diminishing returns. Example: Your product has 100 features while your competitor’s has 99. Shrug.
  3. They hide the forest for the trees. Most customers care about how your product can help them rather than the working details.

Ideally, your marketing plan should describe how salespeople can position your company as the best potential partner for whatever your customers want to accomplish.

4. What are we doing that isn’t generating good sales leads?

When I meet with marketing groups, I’m often amazed to find programs that are difficult to initiate and maintain but which are having very little impact on the company’s sales.

For example, many marketing groups weirdly believe that they “must” participate in social media even when participating in social media isn’t creating any sales leads.

Similarly, many companies keep attending the same trade shows even when they don’t emerge from those shows with enough sales leads to justify the effort and expense.

5. Have we ruthlessly eliminated biz-blab from our marketing?

Biz-blab (a.k.a. “corporate-speak”) is a manifestation of laziness, fuzzy thinking, and lack of creativity.

For example, a marketing goal to create “state of the art” products is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, directs attention away from figuring out what customers want to buy.

With marketing plans, as with all marketing materials, the amount of biz-blab is inversely proportional to success in the marketplace.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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