Marchand--Coherence - Putting The Pieces Together
I used to provide advice about how to develop marketing programs in the fall, when most printers were developing their plans for programs to be launched in January. Today, there is no longer a single time of the year when marketing and sales executives write their plans.
New programs are likely to be launched in almost any month. In companies with fiscal years that vary from the calendar, annual budgets may kick in on July 1 or September 1. Newly acquired companies and additional capabilities also frequently lead to the development of new marketing programs in the middle of the fiscal year. So February is as good a time as any to write about the pieces of the puzzle that make up a coherent program.
Note the italicized word in the preceding sentence; it's emphasized for an important reason. Coherence, or its absence, may not always be apparent in a marketing plan, yet its presence is often the key to success—its absence the bane of many a program.
What is this quality we call coherence? Certainly it's not an ingredient of a marketing plan, nor is it an activity or a series of elements. Instead, it's the relationship among the elements—how they mutually support, reinforce and direct the whole toward a larger goal via specified objectives. (What a mouthful!)
Let's start at the tail-end of that wordy sentence: goal and objectives.
The goal is easy to describe: increased sales and greater profits defined by departments, regions and products. Making the goal specific—dollars and percentages—involves hard, sweaty work. Without the specificity and the information that backs up or justifies the numbers, a goal is arbitrary. It may be a motivator; but, to the extent that it is arrived at via inspiration without perspiration, it is unlikely to be achieved. (After a few years, numbers picked out of thin air will be forgotten, as hard reality sinks in and destroys the motivational value.) If the sales projections are real—that is, if they are specific and supported by solid data—they belong in the plan as its first component.
The objectives constitute a second element of the plan. These are the intermediate steps that must be accomplished to make possible the realization of the goal. These may vary widely, but here are a few examples:
- Branding the company—making its identity clearer and better understood in selected markets;
- Developing and selling a new capability, product or service;
- Opening a new sales territory;
- Redefining territories or reassigning accounts;
- Hiring and targeting new reps;
- Improving job-related customer communications, such as CSRs, e-mail and Website.
Research, the eyes and ears of our plan, is the third element. It provides the information needed to justify and establish the goals and objectives. Research about demand, about customers and prospects, about competitors.
Each of these components seems obvious and, arguably, the content of some are outside the purview of marketing—setting sales goals and hiring sales reps, for example. True, this may seem obvious but, unless the goals and objectives are specified in the marketing plan, dollars spent on communications are unfocused and vague.
I never cease to be amazed by the many plans I see that include entirely worthwhile activities—publicity, lead generation, advertising, direct mail—with no clearly defined objectives and no links to the goal to be achieved. Programs based on such plans can't be evaluated and, therefore, are not subject to improvement.
If it's not clear what a program is to accomplish, how can you know when it's successful . . . or not? How can you measure return on investment?
This suggests the fourth necessary element in any plan: a formal review, an evaluation process that measures the activities against objectives and goals.
And one last point: Resist the temptation to create a plan by going directly to a list of activities, the budget to conduct the work and a superficial justification for the expenditure. Start with the elements that provide coherence. This approach will also win a much more sympathetic hearing from the CFO and CEO, who review plans and authorize expenditures.
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, research, market planning, segmentation, lead generation, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Website, www.marchand.com.
Don't have the budget, the spreadsheet skills or the research capabilities to provide the data?
Those are the reasons I hear more often than any others to explain why the goals are arbitrary or missing all together and, worse yet, why objectives are not specified. Both can be provided without any hard-cash expenditure.
Draw on what is already known. Educated guesses are vastly better than flying blind. Approximate and extrapolate.
Convene a planning committee that includes the sales manager, two sales reps and the chief financial officer. Much of the needed information resides in their heads.
Put the goals and objectives in front of the CEO before the rest of the plan is drawn. Revise and refine. Develop the activities and include a line item for review and evaluation.
And don't forget to include the dollars to support next year's planning process in this year's budget.
Remember, thoughtfulness alone may be no substitute for data, but it sure beats a marketing program that sails off with no sextant and no port.