A good marketing plan is based on deep customer understanding – who they are, how they view solutions and how they buy. That said, I’ve never built a marketing plan that wasn’t based on at least a dozen different things that I didn’t know and simply had to assume were true. Early in my career I didn’t worry too much about those assumptions as long as I had marketing tactics that seemed to be working. Until they stopped working. Then I worried about them a lot. Now I find I spend a lot more time exploring what my key assumptions are up front and then looking at what clues my metrics give me about how those assumptions might be refined or shifted.

Here are some examples:

Target buyer assumptions – You might have assumptions about who your target buyers are. For example, I’ve built programs aimed at business buyers where we made an assumption that IT would be largely in charge of the purchase and would be the budget holder, while line of business folks were merely influencing the purchase. One of my campaigns – a combination email and inside sales call-out campaign showed that business buyers were increasingly becoming the budget holders and we needed to shift our list building efforts, programs and tactics. At another company we assumed that buyer persona’s in one vertical were similar to those in another. After a couple of fairly unsuccessful campaigns was discovered that smaller companies in the new vertical used completely different job titles and we were often targeting the wrong person in the organization.

Messaging/Offering assumptions – You will often have assumptions about what customers think are the most important features of your offering and how they describe the value of those features. These are likely to shift over time as not only your product evolves but also your competitive landscape evolves. For example I was once marketing a graphing tool for developers where our biggest advantage was the large number of different types of charts we supported. However at one point our largest competitor got close to us in terms of the number of charts they supported and what we assumed was our key differentiator didn’t seem all that different any more. Going back to our customers however revealed that our assumption wasn’t exactly correct and that they were interested in having many different kinds of charts but the flexibility in being able to customize them was really where the value was.

Buying cycle assumptions – you might assume that a purchase goes through a certain process and then later your sales data might indicate something else is happening. For example at one B2B startup I worked at we mapped a sales process that included approval by purchasing as the final step to a deal. Legal teams might be involved but we assumed that they were largely driven by purchasing and weren’t a significant step in the buying process on their own. This was true – but only for smaller companies. As we pushed into larger companies we were seeing increasing legal involvement and started creating materials to address the common concerns that came up when our contract when to a prospect’s legal group.