Breakthrough B2B Marketing Plans
By Ian Gordon and Mark Borkowski
Marketing plans have been in use for many years, of course, but great plans remain rare. This article highlights 11 suggestions to achieve more from B2B marketing plans.
Marketing plans anticipate risks and guide and manage marketplace change. They help align the organization and allocate resources, provide signposts to progress and aid business control. Faster industry change, supplier proliferation, shrinking margins and declining differentiation are not sufficient reasons to spend less time on planning – they are reasons to spend more.
Marketing plans should not be sterile documents developed once a year and then shelved. They should be living documents, touchstones that are refreshed periodically to ensure that changed circumstances are incorporated.
A comprehensive marketing plan comprises the following elements:
The Business Review – analyzes the current state and relevant trends occurring in the market, buyer behaviour, distribution channels, industry/supply, the environment of the firm and financial performance. The Business Review is based on facts that come from primary and secondary data. It concludes with a list of issues and opportunities for the firm to consider in the marketing plan.
The Marketing Plan itself – describes a future state, sets and describes measurable objectives, and describes strategies to achieve these objectives and tactics that action the strategies. The plan notes target market, positioning, and strategies and tactics for customer relationships, product, pricing, promotion/communications and distribution.
Financial Projections – forecast results to be achieved in the forthcoming year with a comparison to the prior year.
The Implementation Plan – details tasks to be performed to transition from the current to future states, along with responsibilities, timing and costs.
The Contingency Plan – identifies major risks and plans associated actions in response to threats over the plan’s horizon.
Marketing plans should not have any discontinuities. Many plans have logic breaks between the Business Review and the Marketing Plan. There may also be gaps within the plan, the most common of which are aligning strategies to objectives, and tactics to strategies.
A marketing plan should be so distinctive that it applies uniquely to the enterprise. Distinctive plans are most likely to occur if they see the enterprise from the outside in rather than the reverse.
6. Customer relationships
Marketing plans should pay attention to customer relationships, collaboration, and customer-specific interaction and value creation, including mass customization.
It is unfair to customers and limiting to the company if all customers receive equal value. Doing so discriminates against the best customers while over-rewarding the worst ones. Companies ought to triage customers into best, average and worst and then plan the value each individual customer should receive.
Marketing plans should define what “product” means at each of a number of levels, including the core benefits customer receive, elements that comprise the product, augmented value such as delivery, installation, warranty and after-sales support. Ancillary value such as environmental causes and energy conservation could also be identified. Finally, the product may have adjunctive benefits like rewards programs commonplace for consumer products but not often found in B2B spaces.
Marketing plans always pay close attention to price but, because pricing offers important opportunities to win new customers and keep existing ones, even more focus may be warranted here. Companies with low variable costs in relation to fixed costs can often win business with low prices and then evolve price over time as customers gain appreciation of the firm’s value.
9. Marketing Communications
Three areas may merit more attention for communications in the promotion section of B2B marketing plans: social media, word-of-mouth, and communications that address customers’ behaviours directly rather than via their perceptions and attitudes.
Competitors can be a controllable aspect of marketing planning if the company has explored how to understand competitors and their possible actions. Some firms use shadow marketing teams to develop competitors’ marketing plans so that the company can predict and plan for moves competitors might make.
Marketplace feedback guides change so the firm ought to sense what customers think, say and do – ideally in real time. Customer satisfaction measurement can provide some of this feedback but this isn’t enough when satisfied customers still defect because they are even more satisfied with competitors. Accordingly, the company might consider additional metrics to assess its performance, including customers’ satisfaction with the firm and competitors, the Net Promoter Score and customer share metrics.
There is an adage, “you get what you plan”. Weak marketing plans can make the company vulnerable, provide insufficient focus, impede efforts to cut costs and manage change strategically, and affect market and financial performance. Great plans provide an opportunity to break through, penetrate existing markets and customers and develop new ones, and create innovative revenue streams. Either way – whether plans are weak or strong, companies will indeed get what they plan.
Ian Gordon is President of Convergence Management Consultants Ltd. (www.converge.ca) where he helps B2B clients to develop winning marketing plans, accelerate their revenues and create marketplace change. He can be reached at [email protected]
Mark Borkowski is President of Mercantile Mergers and Acquisitions Corporation Mercantile is mid market mergers & acquisitions brokerage. You can contact Mark or his staff at