Last week I talked about what strategic marketing was all about- this week I review my perspective on how to create a great strategic marketing plSo is Strategic Marketing just for start- ups? Absolutely not!  Every business should have a strategic marketing plan, for each product line, with a comprehensive go to market plan for each individual product in the portfolio. The strategic plan drives product marketing requirements, which in turn drive development implementation. The strategic plan also drives all company/product branding and positioning, product messaging, channel strategy and finally the tactical go to market plan (that Mar-com gets to deliver).

Developing the Strategic Marketing Plan is the responsibility of the CMO or VP of Marketing however it is by no means developed in a vacuum. There should always be multiple disciplines represented during the planning phase including the CEO, CFO, and the heads of marketing, business development, sales and product development. (In larger companies the CEO/CFO roles may be taken by other executive management such as business unit heads and the corresponding finance personnel, and plans may be done on a geographic basis with sales management).

Why have all these people involved in creating a marketing plan? Because the strategic marketing plan needs to support the financial goals of the business, and therefore those need to be understood and agreed upon. It has to take into account what the product team can and cannot deliver, and the timeframes for various product releases (and of course has to account for delays). The plan needs to be created with a realistic budget in mind.  The sales organization has to be capable of selling what is being delivered. Business Development must be able to engage the appropriate partners if needed.  And of course everyone needs to understand the true market and competitive landscape.

The best way to get to a great Strategic Marketing Plan is to start with a deep look at the business objectives. This is best accomplished in face to face meetings with the heads of each organizational discipline. Review the company/business unit revenue goals over the next 3 to 5 years. Determine the goals for revenue mix (product, maintenance, services etc) and channel contribution. Review market and competitive landscapes and determine core target markets.

Take a hard look at the strengths and weaknesses of the business in a holistic manner (product value, development capabilities, messaging, channel, sales execution) to determine if there are operational gaps preventing success (yes this is done for a strategic marketing plan, if a company does not have the development resources to compete against the 800 pound gorilla then rethink the target market and product requirements. Remember, the Strategic Business Plan and Strategic Marketing plan go hand in hand or are one in the same, there is no effective go to market plan without operational alignment).

Once the business “fundamentals” and goals are understood and agreed upon, a brainstorming session is a great way to get multiple people in the organization together to come up with the actions required to reach those goals. Bringing in a third party to moderate the session can make these meetings more successful, the team will be more open than if their manager is asking for suggestions as no one wants to imply the manager isn’t doing the right things already.

The end result of these two exercises is a clear set of organizational goals, a set of requirements from each operational organization (product marketing, development, Marketing, sales) and an outline of actions required to meet those goals. The core value propositions and general messaging also fall out of these meetings. The actual wording will be left to marketing, but the reason to have everyone in the room coming up with these ideas and messages is so everyone across the organization is aligned and working toward the same goals.

Once all this is done THEN a strategic marketing plan can be created. 

I have been in sales and marketing my entire career, and while I was the CEO of a VC funded software company for the last 5 years I feel my primary expertise is in strategic marketing.

Having been in both sales and marketing, I can attest to the fact that marketing teams very often get dismissed by sales as not providing much value, particularly in larger organizations. The problem is, most sales people generally interact with the marketing communications (Mar-com) teams, who are really just the messengers. Mar-com teams rarely create the messages and collateral being delivered, and definitely do not contribute to the product requirements documents (PRDs) that determine what products come to market.  So it’s unfair to blame Mar-com if the message doesn’t connect with the customer or if the product doesn’t deliver what the data sheet promises.

Often the core problem lies way up the chain, with an executive management team that doesn’t take the time to create an effective Strategic Marketing Plan.

Well before trade shows are attended, or collateral is created, or the development team starts to code or design, there must be a Strategic Marketing Plan in place that all parties must execute against.  The plan has to align with the needs of the business while ensuring what is built and sold connects with customer needs. “If you build it they will come” is a nice theme for a baseball movie, but it generally does not work in business.

Think about a start-up company. Before an investor will fund the start-up they want to know the strategic business plan. Some key questions they ask:  What is the target market? What is the competitive landscape? How much revenue can the company generate in 1, 3, 5, 10 years?  How will the product be taken to market?  What is the channel (direct, VAR, OEM)? What are the risks?

But the most important question is: Why will customers want to buy your product over other solutions on the market- or asked in another way- What is the unique value proposition?

Rarely will a company get funded unless they know all of the answers to those questions and they can prove they have a unique value proposition. And the only way they can answer all those questions, is if they have done market research, competitive analysis, go to market analysis, SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis and most of all, message a compelling value proposition that connects to the audience.

This requires Strategic Marketing Analysis & Planning. One can also call it business planning, but there is so much “marketing” in the plan that it is impossible to separate a business analysis from a market analysis and that is the point. Strategic Marketing is absolutely critical to the success of the business.