8 steps to a more effective B2B marketing plan

23rd September 2018

In my last post, I explored the fundamental difference between marketing strategy and plans, and the essential questions we must ask as we develop our B2B marketing strategy. In this post, I delve deeper into the development of our marketing plans and introduce an 8-step framework that will help you with your planning efforts.

 Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

We all know that marketing strategy and planning are irrevocably intertwined. The most brilliant strategy is worthless without the ability to execute. And without strategy, tactics are just a whole lot of noise.  At best, plans without strategy will likely realise at least some short-term targets.  But at worst, they consume valuable time, budget and energy in the wrong directions, in pursuit of misaligned objectives.

I suspect that many of us are actually not very good at developing our marketing plans.


The B2B marketing planning challenge

As we come under mounting pressure to ‘prove’ marketing value within our B2B organisations, the marketing planning process has become increasingly and overly complicated. It’s too often regarded as a chore, imposed upon us from above. And we go through the motions because it’s required of us in order to secure our annual budgets. In fact, time and again I see marketers start the planning process with budget – this is how much I’m going to ask for, based on what I had last year – and then back-filling with the tactics that uses up this budget.

Or, many of us take last year’s plan, and simply update it for the coming year, because there’s a tendency to keep doing the activity that’s already worked well enough for us in the past. That’s ok – to a point. We don’t need to continually reinvent marketing. But unless we’ve done our due diligence and fundamentally understand what we need to achieve for the coming year, last year’s activities – even the most successful ones – may not actually be effective for what may well be completely different objectives and desired outcomes.

Another challenge is the complex and changing nature of the B2B commercial landscape.  Many of the marketers I speak with tell me that they need to be more ‘agile’ and any planning quickly becomes superfluous. But this is simply an excuse for not doing proper marketing planning. Because the reality for most B2B organisations is that things simply don’t change that quickly. And then, without a plan, marketing ends up constantly reacting to the demands of the business, instead of proactively driving the desired outcomes.


How to develop a B2B marketing plan

The marketing plan is an essential tool of our trade. By its very nature, it’s meant to be fluid, not a by-product to the ‘real work’ of marketing. Most importantly, developing the marketing plan is an opportunity to deeply engage with the business, so that it’s done with the business, not to the business.

In my last post I introduced the 6 essential questions that separate marketing strategy and plans – Why, Where, How, Who, What and When – with Why, Where and How the focus for developing marketing strategy.

Therefore, the Plan asks and answers the Who, the What and the When

  • Who are we targeting? Do we know and understand our customers?
  • What are we going to do and what does success look like? What tactics through which channels, and what are our measures of success?
  • When are we going to do it? Over what period of time? And at what point in time do we become accountable for the execution of the plan?

These are the high-level questions and answers that frame our planning process.


An 8-step marketing plan framework

For the bulk of my career I’ve used an 8-step planning model to co-create what is, in effect, marketing’s contract with and accountability to the business:

These 8 steps involve asking and answering 8 further questions with business stakeholders:

  1. Purpose & Objectives: Purpose is all about the end result, ie the outcome. Why are we doing this and what do we want to achieve? Are we aligned to both the overall business and marketing strategy?
  2. Business & Market Context: We must understand the environment in which our activity will happen, both internal and external. What is the environment in which we’re doing business? Are there specific external or internal factors that are influencing our market(s) or our ability to sell our products/services.
  3. Target audience(s): It’s all about the customer. Who will we engage with? Which segment(s) or subset(s) will we focus on? Do we grasp their issues and challenges? Which campaigns or programmes will be relevant for these audiences?
  4. Channels & Deliverables: These are the tactical and implementation aspects of the marketing plan. What will we actually do? With what tactics and through which channels will we engage with our audience(s)?
  5. Timeline: Consistency and on-going relevance are critical for both the short and long term. Which programmes and campaigns over what period of time? Are we telling a single story or one that develops over time? Are we consistent with our messages and positioning?
  6.  Budget: Budgeting happens in the final stages, not at the beginning of the planning process. What resources do we need to deliver the Plan? Beyond the cash budget, do we have the right marketing people and structure?
  7. Measure & Evaluate: Measure what matters. What does success look like and how will we measure it? Are our metrics meaningful to and agreed with the business so that marketing has clear accountability for the agreed outcome(s)?
  8. Think Different, Do Different: We don’t have to be ‘innovative’ but we should strive for excellence. Is this memorable? Does it matter to our customers?

It’s not complicated, though it’s not easy! The best plans are usually elegant in their simplicity and I’m a big believer in making it simple.  I see way too many marketing plans that are dozens and dozens of pages long, filled with excruciating detail that is more fluff than content, as if the sheer number of pages will testify to the strength of the plan. Following my 8-step framework above, the marketing plan can be rendered clearly and concisely on 8 slides or pages that everyone can quickly understand and align to.


B2B marketing that makes a difference

But more importantly, this model and these questions act as a catalyst for different kinds of conversations with the business. Because it’s only once we come out from our silos and engage meaningful across our organisations that we’re able to become more effective marketers, developing and executing marketing plans that actually make a difference.


This post has been updated from a previous one published in May 2016

I’m giving a ‘Masterclass in Marketing’ in my keynote at the PM Forum Conference on Thursday 27th September. Stay tuned for the video and highlights of my presentation.


If you don’t have yours yet, check out my book B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement on my book page, and then buy it from Kogan Page publishers or Amazon everywhere.

B2B Marketing Strategy

Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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