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7 steps for creating an effective annual B2B marketing plan

Dave Schad

To effectively market in today’s noisy, fractured marketing landscape, you’ve got to be firmly in charge of your customer’s experience. 

B2B buyers are bombarded with choices, but they are unequivocal in what they demand: relevant information delivered through a coordinated and personalized decision-making experience. If they don’t get it, they’ll take their purchasing power elsewhere and look for alternatives to meet their needs.

With the hype of marketing efforts from social media to influencers to content marketing, it is tempting to leap into tactical initiatives when beginning to formulate an annual marketing plan. But without an overall marketing strategy driven by your customers’ value journeys and your business’ needs, you’re missing the critical “why” behind the tactics.

It is important to step back and follow some fundamental principles that help guide your strategy and identify which tactics will be implemented and how they influence buyers at different stages of the customer value journey.

In this article, we break down seven steps to build effective, strategic B2B marketing plans:

    1. Analyze your company’s situation in the market.
    2. Outline your buyer.
    3. Define the Customer Value Journey.
    4. Set SMART goals.
    5. Identify tactics to meet strategic goals.
    6. Establish measurement (KPIs).
    7. Set your budget.

These steps, done properly, will set you up for success. 

1. Analyze your company’s situation in the market.

Before you can get started with your marketing plan, it is a good idea to do some self examination by revisiting or defining your current state or situation.

This entails three key areas of focus: The company, your competitors and the business climate.

    • Company: Are there new products and offerings? Have there been organizational changes? What are the company’s business goals? What has worked effectively so far? What needs to be addressed with an annual plan? 
    • Competitors: How do you compare to your competitors? Are their products better than yours? Do you have competitive advantages or disadvantages over them? Consider the gaps in each competitor’s approach. What are they missing? What are they doing and saying? How are they marketing? Has their product mix changed? What sets them apart? What sets you apart?
    • Climate: What is the marketplace like? Are there trends that are impacting your business positively or negatively? What is the current state of your reputation and place in the market? What needs work? Where are the opportunities to improve your position?

Conducting a basic SWOT analysis is an important foundational and fundamental step to creating an annual marketing plan. It is essential to review and define your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the context of your marketplace, competition and your recent efforts. If you have done this in prior years, it is good to review previous SWOTs, measure progress, and compare changes in the marketplace.

The temptation is to skip this important work and just begin “planning.” Don’t do that. Like practicing the fundamentals of any sport, this is essential to performance. Doing this will reward you with new insights and fresh opportunities, and will have a positive impact as you begin to better align with your customer wants.

2. Define your buyer audience.

If your company already has buyer personas, we encourage you to revisit these and refine them. If you don’t have a buyer persona, you should create them.

We are big proponents of bringing marketing and sales together during some of these initial planning steps. Your sales team is an important resource when creating buyer personas, and a few of the steps to follow; helping define the customer value journey and defining parts of your measurement plan. 

A recent survey by Hubspot found that when sales and
marketing teams work together, companies see 36% higher
customer retention and 38% higher sales win rates. 

For defining the customer audience, we use Customer Avatars which are similar to personas but go deeper to help you understand your customer’s world – the stressors, the opportunities, and the vision for the future. https://www.risdall.com/our-thoughts/the-customer-avatar-an-intimate-view-into-your-prospects-and-customers/

The Customer Avatar is a snapshot of a person in time that defines:

    • What is your ideal customer struggling with?
    • What are their goals and aspirations?
    • Who are they?
    • What influences their decision?
    • Who influences their decisions?
    • Where are they now and what is the next step for them?
    • What are their jobs like?
    • What are they excited about?
    • What can your product/service do that transforms their lives (to a more desirable future state)?

Once you have this information detailed out, it’ll help you define a Customer Value Journey for your buyer. 

According to Gartner, the typical buying group for a complex
B2B solution involves six to ten decision makers, each armed
with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered
independently and must de-conflict with the group.

 


We recommend you have an avatar for each key audience member that defines the different details that impact their information gathering and decision making within their role. In some cases, you may have multiple audiences for a single product or service. 

3. Define the Customer Value Journey.

We believe documenting the Customer Value Journey is arguably the most important step in formulating a sound marketing strategy for businesses.

The Customer Value Journey https://www.risdall.com/our-thoughts/customer-value-journey/ is a blueprint for creating a predictable flow of customers. It defines the step-by-step process of how buyers interact with products and services, providing a framework for converting casually interested prospects into high-value customers and brand promoters. 

Modeled after human relationships, it includes additional steps not found in a traditional marketing funnel. These steps lead to a more natural sequence of interactions, and helps align organizational and customer interests around shared success, leading to satisfied customers, advocates, and promoters. 

This framework, completed properly, will identify a current state and will reveal a host of gaps and opportunities to market to prospects. It helps you meet them on their terms through the channels they use to gather information and provide the right information to address their needs.

4. Set SMART goals.

Once you have a Customer Value Journey defined, you can determine what goals you want to achieve and how they impact specific stages of the journey.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This means that your goals should be specific and include a time frame for which you want to complete it.

For example, your goal could be to increase sales qualified leads by 15% in six months, or a simpler goal would be to increase levels of engagement on a specific product page by the next quarter.

If you don’t have clearly defined SMART goals before you move into tactical planning, you will have little direction around what you are trying to achieve and you will not be able to hold your marketing organization accountable for ROI.

5. Identify tactics to meet strategic goals.

The ultimate purpose of a marketing plan is to map out ​​a strategy to attract more prospects, convert more leads, close more sales and build loyal advocates. That requires selecting, implementing and integrating the right tactics to achieve the goals you’ve set to reach your goal. 

Tactics live in four primary areas: 

    • Attract more prospects – An example might be gaining more website traffic through content (blogging), email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), paid search (PPC), programmatic display advertising, PR, and social media advertising.
    • Create engagement – An example might be driving prospects to specific landing pages designed and developed for specific campaign initiatives. Converting traffic from anonymous website visitors to an identifiable lead would be a key engagement initiative, and would require developing relevant, gated and downloadable content.
    • Convert leads – An example of this would be sales enablement tools and information to help sales in their discussions with prospects, and then lead nurturing via email to maintain the connection and deliver information based on prospect behavior.
    • Create advocates – An example would be tactics that encourage current clients to tout the benefits of your product, service or brand to compel others to consider it. This may include social media, Google reviews, newsletters, email marketing and marketing automation.

With these four areas in mind, determining tactics is part art and part science. Some are  fundamental, while others may require additional learning and consideration. There may be  tactics that are new that you would like to pilot to test performance. The challenge is identifying the right ones and integrating them to lead your audience deeper into engagement with you.

Here are some of the digital marketing tactics we employ:

    • Search engine optimization (SEO)
    • Paid search (PPC/Google Ads)
    • Endemic display
    • Programmatic display
    • Content marketing (blogging and article writing, ebooks, white papers, webinars)
    • Social media advertising
    • Video production
    • Website design 
    • Conversion rate optimization
    • A/B testing
    • Landing page strategy
    • Call-to-action strategy
    • Link building/earning
    • Infographic design
    • Email marketing
    • Marketing automation
    • Digital publishing/newsletters
    • Lead nurture strategy
    • Public relations (PR)


6. Establish measurement (KPIs)

It is essential that you determine key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide measures of performance against your goals.

Many times, companies do a lot of activities without a clearly outlined framework of how to measure whether those activities are having an impact. 

We recommend you begin the KPI process by focusing on a handful of the most important, actionable metrics to gain insight into the effectiveness of a particular tactic, campaign initiative, level of engagement or even the performance of an outside specialist. 

A Growth Scorecard provides the framework needed for periodic review and assessment of initiatives, and can reveal opportunities to optimize an initiative. It also provides a crucial point of accountability with senior stakeholders who need to have a line of sight to how marketing is performing. To learn more about Growth Scorecards, visit this link: https://www.risdall.com/our-thoughts/avoid-data-blindness-and-gain-cross-functional-alignment-with-a-growth-scorecard/

7. Set your budget

Before you can finalize your marketing plan, you have to know your budget and prioritize activities to fit.

Once you have defined tactical elements of your marketing strategy and the KPIs you are measuring, you should categorize them by importance and impact. Then, you can prioritize the tactics you will invest in first, according to the available budget. 

It’s helpful to note an estimated budget or budget range for each tactic. Some tactics may be managed by internal resources as part of your marketing operations budget, while other tactics or initiatives may require external specialty resources such as a contractor or agency partner. Some of your marketing budgets will need to be allocated for out-of-pocket costs associated with media. 

In summary, your final marketing plan should be written to clearly communicate to other stakeholders your plan for action; a clear strategy, opportunities based on your SWOT, goals to address those opportunities, tactics you plan to use to achieve those goals and a clear framework for how you will measure those tactics. 

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The Customer Value Journey is one of the essential components to our marketing strategy framework. And likely the most important.  If you would like to learn more about how creating a Customer Value Journey can benefit your organization, a good place to start is by taking our free Growth Audit.  It will help you quickly identify gaps in your current marketing and provide guidance on which stage of the journey you should focus on first.

Free Growth Audit

*As a trained and licensed DigitalMarketer Certified Partner, we use the DigitalMarketer framework, which includes the Customer Value Journey, Customer Avatar Canvas, the Growth Scorecard and other tools and resources.