Taking Care of Business: Better B2B marketing plans

by Ian Gordon and Mark Borkowski

There is an adage that states, “you get what you plan.” And that is especially true when it comes to business-to-business (B2B) marketing plans.

Weak marketing plans can make a company vulnerable, provide insufficient focus, impede efforts to cut costs and manage change strategically, and affect market and financial performance. Weak marketing plans are pretty common in business, while great marketing plans are rare.
Great plans provide opportunities to penetrate further into existing markets and break through into new ones. They help businesses deepen relationships with customers and develop new ones. They also create innovative revenue streams.

Below are 11 suggestions we think will help you achieve more from your B2B marketing plans.

1. Recommitting

Good marketing plans should anticipate risks and guide and manage marketplace change. They help align the organization, allocate resources, provide signposts to progress, and aid business control. Rapid industry change, supplier proliferation, shrinking margins and declining differentiation are not sufficient reasons to spend less time on planning—they are actually reasons to spend more.

2. Process

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.

3. Structure

A thorough marketing plan contains 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 describes a future business state, sets and describes measurable objectives, and describes strategies to achieve these goals. The plan notes target market, positioning, and strategies and tactics for customer relationships, products and product development, 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.

4. Flow

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 is aligning strategies to objectives, and tactics to strategies. Where gaps do exist, the company’s marketing plan starts to look more like a firm writing down its hopes rather than providing a factual foundation for achieving a new future that is right for the company, its customers and other stakeholders. If a firm can anchor all the statements it makes in its marketing plan in facts and can be sure that its statements follow logically from section to section and page to page, it will be more likely to develop a plan that is internally consistent, will survive competitive and marketplace challenge and will indeed create the results the firm wants.

5. Distinctiveness

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. Businesses ought to triage customers into best, average and worst and then plan the value each individual customer should receive.

7. Product

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 common for consumer products but not often found in B2B spaces.

8. Price

Marketing plans always pay close attention to price but 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 the prices 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 direct communication that address customers’ behaviours specifically rather than via their perceptions and attitudes.

10. Competition

Competitors can be a controllable aspect of a marketing plan if the company has learned to understand its competitors and their possible actions. Some firms use shadow marketing teams to extrapolate their competitors’ marketing plans, and use that information when predicting and planning counter-moves for their competitors’ likely actions.

11. Metrics

Marketplace feedback must guide change. Firms 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 using additional metrics to assess its performance, including customers’ satisfaction with the firm and competitors, the Net Promoter Score and customer share metrics.
Remember, whether plans are weak or strong, companies will indeed get what they plan.

Ian Gordon is president of Convergence Management Consultants Ltd. and author of four books: Managing the New Customer Relationship, Relationship Marketing, Beat the Competition, and Competitor Targeting.
Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers and Acquisitions Corp., a mid-market mergers and acquisitions brokerage.

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