Many startups aren’t executing against a documented marketing plan. I’ve heard loads of excuses for why a plan doesn’t exist. The 2 most common ones are that things are changing too rapidly to plan or the marketing plan is so simple everyone can track it in their heads.
I’m not a fan of overly complex, long-term (i.e. more than 3 months) plans for anything in a startup. I am however a big fan of having the assumptions and inputs to a marketing plan written down and an rolling monthly operational plan that the team (even if it’s just me) is working against.
There are a bunch of good reasons to create a marketing plan, work against it and maintain it. Here are three:
- Documenting assumptions/expectations– There are a set of inputs to any marketing plan: known information about the segment/buyers, how the buyers see the value of your offering versus alternatives, and the steps in the buying process. There are assumptions around each of those inputs based on things that are very likely to change over time such as the competitive landscape, the current capabilities of the product, and buyer behavior. You, and the other members of the team may not be in agreement on those (or even conscious of them). Getting those documented will both reduce the risk of incorrect or mis-aligned assumptions and will allow the team to recognize and react to changes that impact the assumptionHere’s an example: A few years back I inherited a marketing plan for an enterprise software application that was sold through a direct sales force. Until that time that type of software was purchased by IT departments with only minor input from the department that would ultimately be the end users of the product so the marketing had always been aimed squarely at IT buyers. What I was hearing from customers however was that budgets were shifting and business users were getting more of a say in the purchase process. I added a “target buyers” section to the plan that sparked a discussion around whom we should be marketing to that started with the head of sales saying “What the *&% – I assumed we were already marketing to business buyers!!” Clearly, there were assumptions in the plan the team weren’t in alignment on.
- Keeping folks focused – Some people are naturally organized and very good at working through a plan kept only in their heads. The rest of us however, are easily distracted by the daily crises that form the regular pattern of how most startups operate. Responding quickly to opportunities and threats is strength of smaller companies but some things in marketing take time to produce results and if you aren’t working against a schedule they won’t get done. Inbound and Content Marketing programs are often the first things to go out the window. It’s easy to skip a blog post, delay an article, not get around to responding to folks on Twitter, etc. when there are events to run and sales folks to respond to and a folks pounding the table asking why are there fewer leads this week than there were last week and FIXTHATRIGHTNOOOOWWWWW! This is the reason you see so many company blogs with only a handful of posts. Working against a schedule with regular checkpoints not only lets you assign tasks and hold people (including yourself) to deadlines, it also helps keep everyone focused on the longer-term (meaning this month rather than this minute) goals.
- Visibility into what you aren’t doing – One of the most important inputs to a marketing plan is documenting the customer buying process. Getting your arms around that helps you understand where prospects are getting stuck and what you can do to take the friction out of the funnel. It’s easy to be working on a set of tactics that are all focused on getting buyers from one particular point to another in the path when the sticky point in the process could be up or down stream and requires a different set of tactics to move folks along.
I usually end up having a set of short documents – a customer worksheet, an offering worksheet, a buying process chart, a leadgen spreadsheet, a media relations and speaking calendar, and a content calendar (depending on the tactics of course). Then there’s a spreadsheet and some dashboard tracking metrics.
What are you doing to track your marketing plan? I’d love to hear it in the comments.