A marketing plan is not anything more than a hypothesis. It is the ability to learn from them and build on each conversation is what makes a plan plausible.
The digital age has changed the way we deliver marketing, the way we execute. Marketing is no longer driven by the creative, it is driven by the process. Learning becomes paramount and is driven by the way you interact and structure your customer engagement. Marketing is no longer just about getting the message out. It is just as important to get the message in. Creating a plan in isolation from customers says that you know everything you need to know starting at the beginning. It indicates that you are smarter than the market. Marketing must evolve through our actions and tactics.
In the past, we looked at marketing to the masses and in the hope that we will find a likely candidate and narrow them down through discovering how much pain they are in relative to our product offering. Our attempt to create effectiveness is to manage and segment the top of the funnel. But why? It is our least known area and by and large the least receptive to our message.
The Funnel of Opportunity is a 12-step process working from the known to the unknown. We iterate looking first at key customers, then similar customers, and again to identify market segments. It is through this practice that we develop the necessary understanding of our customers and the markets we participate in.
Many companies are affected by what might be called the China Syndrome. There are “x” amount of people; I will get x amount of market share. If there are a billion people in China, I certainly should be able to get a handful for my product/service. All I need is a little marketing. Since I don’t believe that; I think finding your beachhead market is the most important thing you can do. It is just as important if not more than a minimum viable product. It is always easy to sell food, even bad food, to a hungry crowd. I would rather adjust because of too much focus versus adjusting because of too little focus.
We start with internal interviews asking questions; What have people historically bought from us? What do we provide that they care about? We then call past and present prospects/customers to validate our internal assumptions and extend the conversation using Tony Ulwick’s Job to be Done methodology. Questions like; What jobs are you trying to get done by hiring our products/services? What are the eventual outcomes you want by doing these jobs? From their point of view, how happy/unhappy are you with the outcomes they are achieving in getting their jobs done?
The JTBD questions need to be tailored to your exact situation, but it gives you an idea of what we are after. I believe getting prospects/customers involved in developing our foundation is imperative. Prospecting should not be done as a last resource it should be the first resource we utilize and work from there. This leads to developing a strong Business Promise which I use instead of a value proposition.
We then will use the JTBD information to create relevant marketing collateral. Most people think about the features and benefits. The problem is that customers think about the job they hired you to do and that is where the conversations need to take place. What we are creating is a conversation that speaks to a need that someone has and are unhappy with their present solution. If you are only offering an alternative to their current solution, it can be very difficult no matter how much better it is. If you have to convince them to innovate and think differently, it still can be a difficult proposition. If they do not have anything to compare, they will create something. So, the alternative is to find a sweet spot that makes a viable offering.
Below are activities we will consider and prioritize based on our initial work. These channels are the front end of our business spear, heavily shaping the target customer, price point and more.
- PR: Public Relations (PR) and Unconventional PR
- Referral: Viral Marketing, Affiliate Programs, Existing Platforms (Amazon, Google, etc.)
- Advertising: Social and Display Ads, Search Engine Marketing (SEM – PPC) and Offline Ads
- Social Media: Content Marketing, Email Marketing, Engineering as Marketing, Target Market Blogs and Community Building
- Web: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Optimization, and Website
- In-Person: Sales, Trade Shows, Offline Events, and Speaking Engagements
- Business Development: Partnering, Integrations, Wholesale Distribution, Regional and National Representatives, Retail, Service Centers, Trade Centers, and Brokers,
An important note is that many companies in dire situations have gotten there by not adapting to new business models, platforms, service offerings and pricing. In the short term, repackaging of services may be needed and/or cost-cutting. This is also often required entering new markets where entrenched competition is already in place. However, the goal isn’t simple to cut cost but to reposition the business model to increase long-term competitiveness. After that and only after that can the idea of channels be addressed and pricing for that matter. Most people develop pricing before ever figuring what channels they are going to use and determine what the cost of acquiring a customer is.
This may not be a linear exercise. And it does not take long as you may think. What takes time is to stop thinking of “What I am good at?” to the idea of “What do customers need and want?” It is just as important for sales and marketing to get the message in as it to get the message out.
Most plans start out with what you should do? How you should “attack” the market. Some will suggest Blue Ocean or Disruptive Innovation strategies. Most will spend little time if any on developing the current state. My idea is not marketing to the masses. My idea is geared around:
- Who do we call on Monday morning?
- How important and unsolved is the problem we are addressing?
- Do they have a present solution in place? Are they unhappy with it?
- Is our “how” believable without any miracles?
- Who resonates with this message and provides a path to
- Who do we call on Tuesday morning?
I believe that marketing must evolve. If it was so simple that I could look at a website and just create a plan, I think most would have already done that. It is not about the tools you use; it is about the conversations you create. Creating an adaptive plan is simple. Note: I have stayed purposely away from Lean Terminology and used the outline for adaptive planning developed by Jim Highsmith. In Lean, it would be CAP-Do transitioning into SDCA, PDCA, EDCA.
- Create a Current State
- Evaluate what is working and what is not.
- Envision a realistic future state for 90 days from now. (Determine Objectives, Constraints & Assumptions)
- Speculate – (Develop a capability and Iteration plan)
- Determine activities to continue doing, what to stop, improve on and to start new.
- Assign resources, time and money to activities.
- Explore – (Run small iterations seeking to reduce risk and uncertainty)
- Adapt (review results)
- Determine to iterate again (explore) or loop to speculate or close and automate.
The reason for starting with the current state is to document what you know as opposed to what you are assuming. Also organizing and documenting your existing marketing collateral, even if it just a typical sales conversation or email, will allow us the quickest path to improvement and new engagement. It provides clarity to an ongoing sales and marketing program.
In the digital world of today, most will concentrate on building linear step by step plans. They think of gathering a large group of prospects and narrowing them down through some funnel and toward a prospective customer. I call that thinking a funnel of depletion. Sales evolve and seldom accelerate through a funnel of depletion. Measuring success through a pipeline says that you know everything you need to know starting at the beginning. It indicates that you are smarter than the market.
The development of the current state leads to developing a future state or what others might call a sales and marketing plan. It will include an action plan, schedule, and budget for implementation. Not knowing exact expectations and budget, we adjust things appropriately after the initial effort. This is not a passive exercise. This is a way of engagement, and typically within a week, we are talking to customers and prospects.
I manage all this on a project board of your choice; I prefer a Trello Board or Smartsheet so that participants have complete visibility of the project. I work in a very iterative fashion building upon knowledge that we learn from our customer base. However, I prefer not working and creating some marketing funnel that we capture and exclude prospects till we find buyers. That is a very expensive proposition. My idea is to create a funnel where we market towards opportunity discovered through our discussions and existing customers. An excerpt of the 12-step process above: