This is a 3 part series that gives you the fundamentals of a sound, workable and effective business marketing plan. Part 1 covers the essentials of your plan and the necessary steps to get started.?Part 2 is where we get into the meat of your plan and break down each element. Part 3 brings it all together and discusses how to implement the plan for maximum success.
Whether you’re starting a new venture or have an existing business, these are the essential steps you must take to achieve your sales goals.
The Physical Plan
Creating your marketing plan involves a lot of research so get ready to do some digging. This will be the most tedious part of creating your plan, but the good news is that most of the information you need can be found on the Internet.
Include a brief description of your business model. Don’t get too elaborate. Just remind yourself of why you are in business and what it is your company does. What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? In other words, what differentiates your business from others? What is so special about you? What do you do differently or better? What can you provide that consumers can’t get elsewhere? Most importantly, why would they buy from you?
Everyone says you must have goals. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you’ve gotten there? Indeed, goals are important and need to be in your plan, but I think we often put too much emphasis on them. Again, goals are for dreaming and planning. You need to start doing. Regardless, goals are a big part of your marketing strategy so sit down, right them out and move on.
Create short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Review them frequently to make sure you are still on track, but don’t get too wrapped up in them. They aren’t set in stone either. If you need to make adjustments, go ahead, but if you are finding yourself changing your objectives too often, it could be a sign that you lack focus. It’s time to go back to the starting point and review why you are in business and what you hope to achieve out of all this.
Examples of goals can be:
- Increase revenue by 15% over the next 12 months.
- Increase the number of high-end clients by 5% and decrease the number of low-end clients by 8% over the next 6 months.
- Increase sales volume to 1.7 million by year end.
- Increase referred customers by 5% over the next 90 days.
- Increase repeat business by 50% by year end.
The Players – Personnel
Briefly identify the people on your team and what their roles are. Who are your sales people? Who are your marketing managers? Who is in charge of your online marketing?
I’m a big believer in having my team members participate in the planning process. Get them to come up with some of the ideas and they’ll take ownership in the process and the outcome. So instead of you dishing out orders, they’ll already know what needs to be done. Involving them in the strategy session is also a good way to motivate your team.
Be sure to get input from everyone and incorporate as many of their ideas as you can. Keep them focused and on topic, but if some of them come up with ideas that are beyond the scope of the plan, don’t discourage them by shooting down their suggestions. Table any ideas that do not fit the plan for other projects. Keep things moving forward.
Consumer Demographics – Customers
Who are your customers? Are they mostly men or women? What age group do you sell to? Where do they live? Do they come to you or do you serve them at their home or place of business? Why do they buy your product or service? What are their buying habits? Where do they go to research products and what are the steps they take when they are ready to purchase? Do you sell to the public or to other businesses? Entrepreneur Magazine suggests describing your customer as narrowly as you can. I agree.
You will most likely include a search marketing element to your business so you will want to know what keywords and phrases your customers search in Google, Yahoo and Bing in order to find you or services like yours, online.
The search engines, particularly Google, have gotten really good at allowing you to target the very consumers who are both likely and ready to buy from you. You should get to know the Google Keyword Planner?and Google Analytics to help you locate more consumers who want to buy from you today. I use them all the time for my clients. The best part is that both tools are free, though you must have an Adwords account set up to use the Keyword Planner, but you are not required to spend money. There are plenty of tutorials and instructions online that show you how to use them. You should either assign someone in your company to learn these tools or hire an outside agency to do it for you.
What is the market like? Is there a need in your area for what you sell? Can you sell outside your local area? Have you explored using the Internet to drive consumers to your business? Google has a Market Trends tool that can be very useful in evaluating your market. It’s free and will help you spot trends that you may have overlooked.
Who are the big players in the market? Will you be competing with them directly? What are their strengths? Why do consumers buy from them? What are their weaknesses? Are there areas you can exploit? Can you carve out a niche that perhaps the competition is ignoring? What can you provide that they do not? These are extremely important questions because their answers will help you find your competitive advantage in the market.
Another thing I like about Google is that they have made it very easy for the start up or small business owner to compete on the same level as the big guys. Know how to get visibility in search results so when consumers search for a product or service like yours, you come up more often than any of your competitors.
Tactics are the specific actions you take that help you meet your marketing goals. There is no shortage of ideas for specific tactics you can use. I brainstorm with my team often and we come up with some fantastic ideas for getting new business. Some of the ideas we have come up with in the past include both broad and specific marketing approaches.
Here are a few ideas that have helped us to get new business: You can promote to your friends in social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Google Plus; optimize your website so it is visible in Google, Yahoo, and Bing; host a radio show to help consumers with a certain problem; convince the local media that you are an expert and available to comment on stories that involve your industry; get your customers to write good reviews about you in Yelp, Angie’s List, City Search, the Online Yellow Pages and Kudzu; create an email list and send a newsletter and special offers to current customers; join online forums and offer yourself as an expert in your niche; have a website that is optimized for mobile search; set up an Adwords or other Pay-Per-Click campaign; place a banner on websites that your customers visit often; join a networking group; or, you can combine several of the above ideas.
I especially like the last one because I often combine many of these ideas for extra marketing juice. For example, you can use your social media platforms like Facebook and Linked In with a networking group. Many of you already belong to a networking group with other professionals like BNI or Le Tip. You can ask the others in the group to promote your business to all their friends in their social media news feeds.
Say there are twenty other professionals in your group and each one has an average of two hundred friends in Facebook for example. If each one shares your business in their newsfeed, you’ll be getting your name out to 4000 people – all will be receiving your promotion from someone they know. I’m sure you will be glad to return the favor to others in the group as well.
Again, marketing tactics must be consistent with your overall strategy. For example, if your strategy is to build your business through deeper customer relationships, then it makes sense to use your budget for social media campaigns, online reviews, networking fees and perhaps search engine optimization. All these tactics help to promote relationship building. Promoting discounts in the city newspaper, on the other hand, may not be such a good idea because it doesn’t do much to develop relationships. It focuses primarily on consumers who are interested in price and could probably care less about service or a trustful relationship.
It is a good idea to get your team together and brain storm the best tactics to use, especially the sales people. They are the ones on the front line and have an intimate knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. See which tactics can work together to create synergy. Then create a procedure to implement the tactics.
Don’t forget to add any necessary deadlines. I always work backward from a deadline. I begin with the due date and determine what needs to be accomplished by specific dates to meet that deadline. Some tactics will need to be tested and replaced if ineffective. This is fine. Keep testing. All this should go into your written plan.
Be sure you do not confuse strategy with tactics. Simply put, your strategy is the big picture—your overall plan to market your business. Tactics can also be considered actions or tasks. They are the specific steps you develop and implement that help to achieve your goals and generate revenue. Tactics need to be consistent with your marketing strategy. Below are a few examples of what I mean.
If you are an HVAC contractor, your strategy may involve building your business through increased web visibility. Your tactics then, may include hiring a search engine optimization specialist, adding money to your budget for an Adwords campaign and asking happy clients to give you good reviews in Yelp, kudzu and Angie’s List.
As an HVAC contractor, you want to make sure your strategy focuses on home owners. Your marketing tactics would not include distributing fliers to a rental complex, for example. Renters are unlikely to have the need to call someone about their heating or AC. They usually call the manager of the building and the manager usually knows who to call.
If you are a plumber, perhaps you’ve learned during your research that most of your clients are both male and female, but are between the ages of 35 and 65, own a home and come from a particular suburban neighborhood. In this case would it make sense to place an advertisement in a trendy community magazine? Probably not since most of those readers are young adults, live downtown and probably rent instead of own. It may make more sense to purchase an Adwords campaign that allows you to target a certain age group in that suburban neighborhood. Your ad may mention home owners specifically.
If you determine that emergency plumbing services are the most profitable jobs for your business, then your tactics would include anything that helps capture consumer traffic with emergency plumbing issues. You’ll want to promote the advantages of your quick response times and experience handling emergency situations.
You need to make sure you set a budget for your marketing strategy. This should be a portion of your overall budget that is included in your business plan.
For many of you, some marketing tactics are just going to be out of your price range. Most start-ups cannot afford television advertising, for example. The good news is that some of the best marketing can be done with small budgets, thanks to the Internet.
Create a budget so your spending doesn’t get out of control. It’s very easy to overspend on sales and marketing. That’s why you have to nail down your specific sales tactics and stick to them as best you can. Implementing tactics that are not consistent with your overall strategy will cause you to go over budget.
Can your marketing expense exceed revenue? Oddly, it can, at first. When beginning a new venture it is common to spend more money than you take in during the early stages of your business, as long as you have the start-up capital. Just make sure you can afford the temporary loss and that the negative cash flow is not permanent. You want to reverse that trend as soon as possible; indeed, it should be your primary goal.
Based on the information you were able to uncover from all the previous steps, you should now be in a position to determine your pricing. Realize the danger of underbidding your competition. Don’t automatically advertise the lowest price or you run the risk of categorizing your product or service as a commodity. Price yourself too high and no one will buy from you. If you have a higher price than your competition—which is perfectly acceptable, by the way—make sure you can communicate to your customers the value you offer that your competition does not. Include this message in your branding (more on branding in Part 3).
The synopsis is where you bring it all together. This part should explain your strategic philosophy and should summarize the tactics and how they will help you achieve your goals. This is a place where you step back and look at the big picture. Does it all make sense? Does it flow?
Write it as if you were explaining to a friend how your company is going to grow over the next few years. If you have trouble, then perhaps there is something in your plan that needs to be reviewed. It should come to you naturally and should be easy to articulate. It can be as long as you want, but mine are usually between 3-4 paragraphs.
The Final Step: Bring it All Together