In my 13 years as Chief Strategist at Bulldog, I’ve had the opportunity to go behind the curtain of many of the largest B2B brands to observe and participate in the planning process. I’ve come to the conclusion that companies that plan the best perform the best—no exceptions, no outliers.
What distinguishes the companies that are great at planning? That warrants a rather long and complex answer. Here are three simple tips and tricks from the the best companies and marketing teams we’ve worked with—and key questions to ask yourself to plan for 2019.
1. The Best Performers are Obsessed with Identifying the “Right Things”
When it comes to planning, top performers tend to:
- Start the process early and collaborate with key stakeholders in vigorous (and sometimes contentious) discussion and debate about what they want to accomplish in the coming year
- Look to their customers, industry trends, and competition to question if they are on the right path
- Be introspective and honest about what is working well and what isn’t
- Know how to work as a cohesive team to align with corporate goals and define business priorities
The last point—alignment—is the hardest thing to get right. Business priorities often depend on your point of view in an organization, and big companies have many leaders that come to the table with different perspectives, performance expectations, and biases. This can often break down to brand priorities versus product priorities versus technology considerations or web priorities.
In my opinion, few companies find alignment at scale. Most of the time, one of two models emerge.
Loudest Voice in the Room Syndrome (“LVR”)
This is a very top-down approach where priorities are defined by a single person or a small group of people at a senior-level leadership position. For instance, CMOs with a brand background will often go all in on what they know best, starting their tenure with a complete brand refresh. Others with a stronger technology background will make their mark by upgrading the marketing technology infrastructure and databases, often at the expense of doing anything that actually impacts sales pipeline.
Once priorities are established, leadership needs their teams to execute the plan. The challenge with LVR syndrome is that it’s often difficult to get teams to buy in if they didn’t have any say in the strategy. The more teams buy in to a goal, the more committed they are to make it a reality.
Mile Wide, Inch Thick Syndrome (“MWIT”)
On the other end of the spectrum, some leaders aim to avoid conflict and promote harmony at all costs. They often manage in a much more democratic way and usually allocate resources across a very wide spectrum of initiatives, including branding, go-to-market strategies (GTM), demand generation, website, search, social, media, and tech.
But by trying to provide support to everything, they inadvertently handicap their ability to get anything substantial accomplished. Without a clearly defined top priority, everything becomes a priority—which ultimately means that nothing is really a priority.
The MWIT syndrome also often leads to silos where team leaders compete with one another for resources and attention. And that competition gets in the way of real collaboration and undercuts performance.
The best planners are comfortable with risk. With a strong focus on making a real business impact, they know they can’t get everything done at once.
Instead, they rally around a few key initiatives to move their business forward. While challenging other people’s points of view, they work hard to build consensus on high-level priorities and hold themselves, their teams, and their partners accountable for outcomes. These leaders know that marketing plays an important role—but requires collaboration and choreography with sales, operations, and product teams. Marketing isn’t an island; it’s a key part of any successful organization.
Top performers socialize priorities and inspire genuine collaboration up, down, and across the ranks. They are proactive, and often build business cases to inform their assumptions and expected outcomes. Without these models, marketing budgets are often the first to get chopped when companies need to find savings to meet financial goals.
2. The Best Performers are Informed
The most important part of the planning process is building a clear picture of what the future state looks like. For example, if a top priority is to improve customer retention, it’s critical to understand current state. What’s getting in the way? Why do customers leave? Where do they go? Where are the customer touchpoints that impact retention?
Questions like these help to inform what roadblocks are preventing current progress—and what areas to focus on to build future successes. Most of the answers come from good old-fashioned investigative reporting—talking with customers and sales people, mystery shopping competitors and asking them to compare and contrast their offerings, and reading customer and analyst reviews and ratings. It’s hard work but it’s not overly complex.
In contrast, we too often see teams come to the table armed to the eyeballs with campaign data to help them rationalize a planning goal. While it’s good to know email open rates, cost per lead (CPL) trends, and marketing qualified lead (MQL) conversions, it can become a distraction. Planning is about understanding the future. Programmatic data, by its nature, offers a look into past performance, and it’s often the symptom rather than the cause of customer friction.
3. The Best Performers Re-Evaluate Resource Requirements
It’s an exciting time to be a B2B marketer. At this point, it’s old hat to say the digital and mobile revolutions have been completely disruptive. But it’s foundationally true that most of the rules have changed—and are continuing to change.
Nowadays, we think in terms of the buyer’s journey, which almost always starts with a Google search. Buyers today have so much information and technology at their fingertips. As they increasingly rely on peer validation, Google and other search engines are becoming more critical than ever. According to Think with Google, “Mobile searches [that include the word] … ‘best’ have grown over 80% over the past two years.”
That’s huge. And in the shadow of search engines, email has become today’s white noise—or perhaps more akin to highway billboards, offering just one more top-of-funnel touchpoint. New technologies have emerged that provide a real competitive edge to those that know how to use them. In fact, size isn’t necessarily a strength anymore and often becomes a threat. Success is frequently driven by speed and agility.
It wasn’t long ago that we leaned on copywriters, designers, and marketing automation specialists to make all the magic happen. Today, we have media, social, customer insights, data, analytics, content, and technology teams. We consider ourselves experts at complex B2B marketing and yet, we, ourselves, are often insecure about our ability to stay on the leading edge of every trend. It can feel like an arms race to keep pace with new technologies—which usually requires new investments and new skills.
The Bottom Line
The best companies plan ahead—and keep an eye on the future, while tending to the present. In the world of enterprise B2B marketing, priorities can change on a dime and organizational needs can shift overnight. Having the right teams in place is part of the equation; but having a roadmap for success is key. As you and your teams start to think about 2019 planning, I challenge you to ask yourself three questions:
- Are you and your team focusing on the right things?
- Do you have all of the information you need to ascertain what the right things are?
- And, once you identify your top marketing priorities, do you have the right resources to be successful?