FREE MEMBERSHIP Includes » ABL Advisor eNews + iData Blasts | JOIN NOW ABLAdvisor Gray ABLAdvisor Blue
Skip Navigation LinksHome / Blogs / Read Blog


Improved Bottom Line Starts With Strategy

April 02, 2013, 07:00 AM
Related: Marketing

The first quarter has just come to a close: do you know where your marketing plan is?

For many companies, the answer is “sitting on a shelf gathering dust.” Or, “what marketing plan?” The good news is it’s never too late to start planning and measuring when it comes to marketing. So let’s get started.

Developing a Data-Driven Marketing Strategy

In order to set realistic and achievable goals you need to clearly understand your situation. This may seem overly simplistic, but my experience is that most management teams don’t take the time to review the landscape on a periodic basis. That includes discussing the characteristics, trends and drivers of the markets and sub-markets in which they compete, how their service or product meets customer need, and the competitive landscape. Or, they base their assumptions on internal tribal knowledge instead of asking customers or referral sources about their needs and how their firms are responding to those needs. Institutionalizing an ongoing survey process of lost prospects, customers, lost customers and referral sources can provide rich data about your brand, your company’s performance against competitors, the competitive landscape, and threats and opportunities facing your business. It requires only a minimal investment of time and dollars and enables you to make decisions with your customers in mind.

Part of understanding your situation is performing a SWOT analysis. This identifies the key internal (strengths, weaknesses) and external factors (opportunities, threats) that are important to achieving your marketing plan goals. However, it is not enough to just list items in the four boxes of the SWOT analysis on a flip chart. You need to make it actionable. For example, when discussing weaknesses, create a nine box grid with the likelihood of overcoming weaknesses (ranked Low, Medium, High) on the Y axis and the impact of overcoming the weakness (ranked High, Medium, Low) on the X axis. Then plot the weaknesses on the grid. The items with the highest likelihood of being overcome with the largest positive impact on your business should be prioritized, and an action plan should be created to tackle the weaknesses. Then assign individuals to the action plan – along with a timeline – to ensure accountability. This process ensures that the highest target weaknesses are addressed and that management teams are aligned on what the real weaknesses are. The same process should be followed for threats and opportunities.

Next, document what is known about your competitive landscape. Involve customer-facing employees and your sales team in this exercise.  Identify the main sources of competition (direct competitors, indirect competitors, substitutes, potential entrants), the factors that give power to competitors, and the market strategies they employ. It does not need to be overly complex and it is okay to not know all the information on the first attempt. What I can assure you is that over time, through engaging the right employees in this process, your competitor knowledge base will be strengthened and your marketing planning process will be stronger.

Assess the financial and client portfolio fact base as well as the historical pipeline conversion rates for your business. Review deal flow over the last 12 or 24 month period. This includes how many times your company was considered or contacted for initial dialogue, how many proposals you issued and how many of those proposals made it to closing. Institutionalizing a post-mortem process for lost opportunities and capturing the stage and reason for the loss is a great tool for understanding where leakage is occurring in the sales pipeline and where marketing dollars may need to be spent to improve the process. For instance, if you are receiving a lot of inbound referrals which are not a fit for your company and bogging down your sales resources, you have an opportunity to better educate referral sources and/or improve the up-front filtering process for a quicker no.

The value of situational analysis lies in bringing all this information together, helping your Company evaluate and prioritize critical issues. Armed with all the required data, you are ready to establish short- and long-term goals.

Objective and Goal Setting

Marketing objectives and projected outcomes should answer these questions: What do you plan to accomplish? When will your plan be implemented? When do you expect to see results?

State your marketing objectives in a format that is measurable. Establish specific and measurable goals that express desired levels of sales, profitability, market share, brand variables, customer satisfaction, customer retention, sales pipeline conversion rates, ROI on social media efforts, and cost per lead over a specific timeframe, geographic market or segment. Focus on the top three to five metrics that are critical to your business or department.

Take the time to identify the financial and human resources required to reach these objectives as part of your strategic marketing planning. This enables you to concentrate resources on the greatest opportunities to increase sales and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Marketing and Sales Tactics

Selecting the right tactics is often the most challenging part of the marketing planning process. It is not uncommon for everyone at the table to have different ideas on which tactics have worked best in the past or that they believe will work in the future. A great exercise is to write all the goals and objectives on flip chart sheets. Participants then write their tactic on a Post-it® note and place it on the appropriate flip chart. Following this exercise, have a conversation about which tactics make the most sense in reaching the goal. The ones that do not have significant impact are removed. Make sure your tactics include the right balance of both awareness and conversion activities for prospects, plus retention tactics for customers. If you cannot assign a measurement to a marketing tactic, then remove it from your plan.

In today’s economy, marketing resources are limited and must deliver the largest ROI. Look for opportunities to leverage an investment over all communication mediums. For instance, for a single deal announcement, you should: create a press release, an email blast, post it to social media accounts, add it as a case study to your website and add it to your newsroom. This maximizes your marketing investment.

When it comes to implementing, individual sales plans should tie into the marketing plan you just created. Referral sources and prospects should be ranked and sales plans developed for top referral sources. It should include how many face-to-face visits and other sales activities will occur in the upcoming year. For top referral sources, there should be an approximation of annual spend on the relationship and what the expected deal flow will be from these sources. For prospects, there should be an approximation of annual spend to develop the relationship and when the deal will come on the books. Having worked alongside hundreds of sales professionals over my career, I have observed that the highest performing sales professionals have clearly defined A, B and C ranked referral sources or prospects, have a defined sales strategy for each, and have clear expectations on the deal flow expected from each or when a prospect will convert to a client.


Do not measure for measurement sake. Concentrate on the metrics that are the real drivers for your business and discuss them on a periodic basis. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) system that can help with automated dashboard reporting that makes the process efficient. If tactics are not working within an agreed-upon time frame, change your tactics. Develop alternative strategies that you can pursue if the adopted one fails or does not yield desired results.

The Bottom Line

Marketing strategy, execution and measurement is an ongoing process. High performing companies understand that they need a defined strategy that management rallies behind, is clearly communicated throughout the organization, and that produces the expected results. Then next year, you’ll have the right answer when someone asks: “What’s your marketing plan?”

Linda McDonough
Managing Director | 50 Words
Linda McDonough is a managing director of 50 Words, a leading marketing consulting, public relations and crisis communications firm.

She possesses a proven track record of helping clients with strategy, marketing and communications challenges. McDonough has particular depth working with clients across the financial services and professional services industries, but draws upon a variety of cross-industry experience as well. She has assisted clients in all areas of corporate strategy development, market segmentation, marketing planning and implementation, new product development, sales force effectiveness, branding and business growth strategies.

She is a trusted advisor who has guided messaging and communications programs for clients in crisis situations that helped to strengthen stakeholder confidence and preserve brand value.

Prior to founding 50 Words, Linda was vice president of marketing for the Revolving Credit Group of Textron Financial, a Fortune 200 company.

McDonough is president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Turnaround Management Association. In addition, she serves on the board of the Philadelphia Network of the International Womens Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation and is a member of the International Factoring Association, New York Institute of Credit and American Bankruptcy Institute.

McDonough received an MBA and a bachelors degree in finance from St. Josephs University.
Comments From Our Members

You must be an ABL Advisor member to post comments. Login or Join Now.