Planning can be a dirty word in any aspect of business, especially marketing. Planning is difficult. It takes time and resources to be done right. It takes skills, tools and a solid process to execute. And it takes data, data that must be cleaned and aggregated into consumable insights for it to be usable for the planners.
Whenever we mention planning to marketers, they run for cover. Why is that? We think it’s because they know it’s difficult and they lack confidence that their plans will produce the desired and, in some cases, committed results because they are based on a foundation of poor processes, tools, skills and data.
In a recent SiriusDecisions study on planning maturity, respondents stated that even when they had access to data, too often, almost 70% of the time, it was either difficult to access or not consumable.
It doesn’t have to be this way! That last sentence should be shouted outloud for the fully intended effect. We can take simple steps in the right direction to create plans that instill confidence, are executable and realistic and have the potential to deliver real impact. CEOs want to see the attribution that marketing brings to the table. CFOs don’t like surprises. Ultimately, the CEO expects the CMO to commit to and deliver specific tangible results. Without a good plan to manage the performance, the CMO doesn’t stand a chance. It is no secret that CMO job tenure hovers around 18 months (and has for decades).
We need to understand the three principles of marketing planning in order to change this paradigm:
Principle 1: Plan to Align
Alignment is a popular buzzword that can take us in many directions, which is precisely why I chose it. Our plans must be aligned across many dimensions. They must be aligned with the plans of the overall business in terms of their focus and resources as applied to markets, offerings, buyers and productivity. They must be aligned with sales so that both organizations fully understand what is expected of them. They must be aligned to the product side of the organization in terms of new releases, upgrades and new product launches. Finally, they must be aligned with finance and be properly budgeted and resourced to meet the goals of the plan.
Another observation from the SiriusDecisions 2019 Marketing Planning Maturity Study: There is very little participation, let alone alignment, with departments outside of marketing, sales and leadership.
The primary reason to create a plan is to be able to communicate it to others, driving the alignment discussed above. In this case, everyone who executes on a plan, or who measures the results, or who relies on the results, needs to understand the plan. The plan must be communicated and reinforced throughout the year, along with any changes or adaptations that need to be made.
Plans can be communicated in parts or in whole. Most people will only need to see parts of plans, often in the form of filtered calendars around events, digital campaigns, sales enablement and product launches. The failure to communicate a plan is as egregious an error as not planning in the first place.
Principle 2: Plan to Improve
Obviously, at some point, plans become actions. When plans are properly communicated to the resources that will execute them, productivity and performance both improve. When changes to plans reach the execution teams in a timely manner, wasted resources and efforts are minimized, and productivity again improves. Accurately communicated and updated plans reduce errors across the board, making the organization more efficient. When changes or delays are communicated back to the planners, adaptations and adjustments can be made to accommodate.
One of our customers, Thomson-Reuters, exemplifies this concept. They saved almost 400 hours per month in reconciliation and aggregation work while simultaneously improving the accuracy of their monthly reports and the valuable insights held within by implementing the Hive9 platform.
Tobias M. Lee, former CMO at Thomson-Reuters, said, “We really needed to understand where our marketing dollars were being spent and what return that spend was delivering. Hive9 has the best platform for making that goal a reality.”
Principle 3: Plan to Perform
Performance is very popular to talk about. Attribution is critical. Conversion rates, impressions, responses, demand units, buying organizations, leads and opportunities all must be measured, aggregated, sliced and pivoted, but in context to what? It is the plan that sets out the expected performance. It is the plan that provides the context so that we can define “what good looks like." Performance without context is misleading at best and can be disastrous at worst.
I once sat in the audience (as a guest) at a company’s annual kickoff. The CFO got up and congratulated the sales organization for helping to reduce the company’s days sales outstanding (how long it takes to collect money from customers) from 90 days to 60 days, which is substantial, representing millions of dollars of cash flow. What the CFO did not know, was that the average company in his industry saw their days sales outstanding drop from 85 to 45 days. The competition was in a better place to start and had a greater reduction. So, why was he congratulating anyone for achieving slightly less than an industry trend? He lacked context. Context is critical to performance and that context starts with a plan.
Sidebar: Planning and ABM
Account-based marketing (ABM), when you get down to it, is simply another segmentation of your budget that will require alignment. It really is that simple. ABM, whether it be for large named accounts or specialized industry segments, represents a conscious decision to allocate a portion of the overall programs budget to a subset or subsets of your total addressable market. Subsequently, the expectation is that, because of this focus, the accounts within your ABM population will perform better than those that are not. In order to prove the viability of our ABM programs, we must be able to measure their impact, which means we need to isolate the cohort (segment) and measure the return (performance) in relation to the spend (budget). Proper planning, therefore, is essential and complementary to a solid ABM program.
Your plan is so critical to your success that you need to address its flaws and deficiencies now. It can’t wait. You can have a significant impact on your business and your growth with improved planning. Acquire or learn the skills, acquire the tools, clean the data and follow a proven process, and the only thing you will need is the will to succeed. Getting planning right is not easy, but it is necessary.
At Hive9, we can help you get this right. We understand the process, and we can enable you with the tools and our guidance. Reach out today.