Without an integrated, action-based marketing plan, it is virtually impossible to achieve optimal results in your marketing activities. Without a plan, we won’t be able to know the specific things to aim for and how to get there. As the work piles up, it will get harder and harder to stop and evaluate your performance, often leading to unnecessary failures.
In this guide, we will discuss a step-by-step approach in developing a B2B marketing plan. By the end of this guide, you will be able to develop an integrated plan, monitor your progress, and regularly optimize your strategy.
Let us begin with the first one.
1. Set Your Goal
Every plan -not just marketing plan- should begin with a clear goal (or goals). If your goals aren’t clear or not realistic, you won’t be able to plan your journey properly.
Your marketing goals should first and foremost, align with your overall business goals. So, if for example, your business goal is to grow revenue by 20% next year, your marketing goal should support that goal, probably something like increasing lead generation by 50%.
So, start this step by defining one to five key business goals. The best way to do this is by truly understanding the current state of your business and the market. A simple SWOT analysis can do the trick here.
Then, define marketing goals to support those business goals. The key here is a thorough understanding of your potential customers. Here are some approaches you might want to consider:
- Develop buyer persona.
Remember that since you are targeting companies and organizations, there can be several different decision makers involved in the purchase process with different company roles. You might need to create different buyer persona for each of them.
- Understand your products/services
Define your value proposition, and carefully think about what differentiates your product/service from your competitors. This will be your main selling point throughout your overall marketing strategy, so make sure to pay enough attention.
- Understand your competition
Strategy, in its essence, is doing something different (or better) than your competitors. So, there’s no strategy without first understanding what your competitors do, their products/services, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
Based on the principles above, define your marketing goals. Remember that your goals should be realistic, or they might risk hurting the morale of your team. Your marketing team (and you) needs that sense of achievement. If necessary, break down goals into smaller, more realistic milestones.
2. Developing Strategy
After you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to start developing your marketing strategy to achieve these goals.
This is arguably the hardest step. There are many marketing channels, campaigns and tactics available to help you in achieving the goals, so choosing the right ones can be difficult.
Generally, however, we can divide the marketing activities into two big groups: inbound and outbound.
1. Inbound Activities
Inbound marketing activities, in a nutshell, are marketing activities that are aimed to “pull” your potential audience to your business. Essentially, inbound marketing is all about your content, and how to make those content pieces visible.
The main benefit of inbound marketing is establishing credibility: people only purchase things from brands they can trust, and yet trust is very hard to build and very easy to lose.
So, there are two main aspects of inbound marketing activities:
1. Content Development
The quality of your content means everything here. Your content should be valuable for your potential prospects while also targeting the right keywords for SEO purposes (more on this later).
To do this, we must first understand our audience: their behaviors, their needs, and their problems. You deliver value by providing solutions to their problems and offering information they might need.
To do this, you will need to do an extensive research of your potential audience, as we have discussed on the previous step. You especially need to find search queries (keywords) this audience often search for.
Do a quick Google search for the keyword, and research the top ranking content pieces. Your aim is to develop a better content than these sites.
Also, remember that content can come in many different forms and can be published in many different channels. Utilize all these different forms from textual blog posts, videos, and podcasts among others, and find the channels your audiences are the most active in.
Again, the key here is quality and there’s no shortcut for it.
2. Content Promotion
No matter how good your content pieces are, they won’t bring value unless they are visible to your audience.
The most effective content promotion tactic is through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) assisted by paid search advertising (sometimes called PPC ads). This is why targeting the right keywords is important, as we have mentioned above.
However, a huge part of SEO is to get more backlinks, especially those from high-quality sites. We can do this by utilizing other channels to promote our content, such as social media marketing, guest posting, and influencer marketing, getting backlinks in the process.
In short, your inbound tactic is all about developing high-quality content, and ensuring the visibility of your content.
2. Outbound Activities
While inbound activities are generally more effective, especially in a B2B environment, they have one major flaw: implementing inbound, content-centered strategy will need some time before you see significant results.
Outbound tactics, on the other hand, virtually guarantee results, but the issue here is usually about cost-management.
Outbound marketing, opposed to inbound marketing, is any marketing activities where your company “pushes” the promotional messages out to your audience. Here are some common outbound activities for B2B businesses:
- Advertising, both online and offline
- Email marketing, including automated drip campaign
- Cold calling
- Paid (and sometimes organic) social media marketing
- Direct Mail
Most of outbound marketing activities, as you can see, are related to costs. So, the key here is how you can maintain cost-efficiency, and thus, maximizing ROI.
3. Choosing Your Channels
After we’ve understood inbound and outbound marketing activities, our job here is to find the right balance to implement them as an integrated marketing strategy.
As we have mentioned, the main concern here is the balance between cost and time-frame: inbound activities are more effective and sustainable, but will require a significant amount of invested time. Outbound activities can generate short-term results, but can be costly.
So, your strategy here should be based on two questions:
- How fast do you want/need to see results?
- How much marketing budget do you have available? (And how much are you willing to spend?)
Based on your answers and your business/marketing goals you can find your own outbound-inbound balance, as well as choosing the right marketing channels to prioritize.
Another factor to consider is your audience’s behaviors: the channels they frequent, are they more susceptible to inbound or outbound approach, and so on.
Nevertheless, in this step, we develop a concise marketing strategy to pursue our marketing goals.
4. Develop or Optimize Your Website
In this digital era, and especially for B2B businesses, a website is a very important part of our overall marketing activity, an equivalent of our storefront.
A performing, professionally-made, and presentable site can establish trust and credibility. A conversion-optimized site (and landing page), can encourage conversions, and your site’s content can be effective in lead generation and lead nurturing stages.
Either in developing a new website or optimizing your existing one, here are some key areas to focus on:
- Again, your main deciding factor is your audience (refer to the B2B buyer persona(s) you have developed above). Understand their intent, and how your website can satisfy these intents.
- Your site should be able to cover three main stages of the marketing funnel:
- Lead Generation: how can your site generate more prospects, this is mainly covered by content/inbound marketing. Your site should have several different lead generation devices such as offering free content in exchange for contact information, free-trial offers, and so on.
- Lead Nurturing: your site should be able to nurture your prospects until they are ready to purchase. This is also mainly done through content marketing and can be combined with off-site tactics like email marketing and social media marketing.
- Prospect-To-Customer Conversion: your site should be optimized for conversion, making the process to purchase your product directly on your site easy and seamless.
- Optimize the customer journey across the three different stages discussed above. You might want to implement a marketing/sales funnel to optimize this step.
- Set up the necessary tracking: you can use Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or even advanced analytics tool like KISSmetrics to set up goals, event tracking, and funnel analysis.
Remember that your site must be easy enough to use, shows trustworthiness and credibility, and provide relevant values for your audience.
5. Develop Your Marketing Budget and Actionable Plan
Based on your marketing goals and strategy we have developed in previous steps, it’s time do develop an actionable plan while considering your budget allocation.
Develop a 12-month marketing activity plan, make this as detailed as possible into the smallest possible steps.
For example, if you are planning to run a PPC ad campaign, the first week action plan might be about finding the keywords, the second week might be about bidding for the target keywords, and by the third week, your aim is to have the ad campaigns up and running. The rest of the action plan regarding PPC ads, in this case, is about reoptimization.
You might want to schedule a quarterly evaluation for this action plan. This way, you can assess new opportunities, evaluate the performance of your campaigns, and adjust your approaches when necessary.
The more detailed you can develop your action plan in this step, the easier your marketing efforts will be.
6. Setting Up Analytics and Attributions
An important aspect of your marketing strategy is measuring the effectiveness of your actions and making improvements when necessary. Yet, it is often overlooked by many marketers.
In this step, we are planning how to measure the effectiveness of each channel, campaign and tactic according to the campaign goals and KPIs.
For example, if your marketing goal is to generate more sales and you have content marketing and PPC ads as your channels. Here, for example the KPI for the content marketing campaign is number of traffic, traffic-to-prospect conversion rate, and the number of generated traffic. On the other hand, the KPI of the PPC ad campaign can be click-through-rate (CTR) and prospect-to-customer conversion rate.
According to these KPIs, we can set up the necessary tracking tools to measure the related metrics. For example, we can set up Google Analytics to track the number of traffic, those who converted into leads by subscribing into email newsletters, and so on.
To track the effectiveness of our channels and campaigns in relations to revenue, we can set up marketing attribution. Marketing attribution, in a nutshell, works by assigning credits to various marketing channels and campaigns.
For example, if marketing channel A is assigned with 20% of the credit and your revenue is $1,000, marketing channel A contributes $200 to revenue in this case.
There are various marketing attribution models available, with different approaches in assigning credits. Make sure to pick the right one according to your business model.
7. Improve and Experiment
The core idea of the previous step is to be able to track the performance of your marketing tactics, channels, and campaigns, so you can evaluate them to make several key decisions such as:
- Budget allocation: spend more on effective channels and spend less on (or even, eliminate) ineffective ones
- Improvements and optimizations: marketing strategy is a never ending process, you should aim to constantly improve
- Figuring out new tactics: based on your performance, you can decide whether to add new marketing channels or tactics
- Evaluating your goals: depending on your performance, you might want to adjust your goals and KPIs
Developing a B2B marketing plan is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it: define your goals, define the strategy required to achieve those goals, translate it into actionable plan, and regularly measure, evaluate, and optimize your strategy.
The key of a successful B2B marketing plan is a thorough understanding of your audience, and remember that in a B2B environment, there can be several decision makers in a single target company comprising of several different roles. Understanding these different roles can significantly help in planning and executing a comprehensive B2B marketing plan.