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The annual planning framework: a four stage approach


The annual planning framework can unleash creativity and get sales and marketing working brilliantly together

This four-stage approach provides structure and discipline and gets marketing and sales teams collaborating for better results.  Having a framework is key because a series of random tactics do not a customer acquisition strategy make!

With discipline comes freedom. When you have a structure, a process, and defined parameters in which to operate, the mind is freed to be more creative.

Picture a world where you have created a clear line of sight from strangers to eager customers asking where to sign: your marketing team is creating content and campaigns that are serving up habanero-hot leads time after time; the transition from lead to marketing, and then sales qualified lead runs seamlessly; sales and marketing operations work like an Olympic relay team.  You have an established  set of KPIs that show whether you’re on track to beat targets. And you are!

A more common experience is that marketing and sales teams have different views of both themselves and each other.  There may be large, sometimes fragile egos at large. Protectionism abounds, assumptions are made, timing is off, process goes to pot, there’s a lot of reactive random activity and everyone wonders why results are rubbish.

Sometimes business plans lack clear objectives and sales targets bear only a passing relationship to the marketing plan (and vice versa). Budgets have been set by finance, structured by activity, or organised by channel (and yes, these are both bad).

So how do you get to a perfect world?  Here is a four stage annual planning framework that can help set your business on the way:

1. Analysis

Spend some time doing a situation analysis and figuring out what happened last year? What did you sell, to whom, and how?  How did they start the customer journey, what was the first thing they bought? Has anything changed since then? Have you acquired any fresh insights into what these customers care or worry about? What new external circumstances pertain and how has the competitor landscape changed?

It’s worth figuring out who owns this analysis because it’s the root of the next planning cycle and a collaboration between sales and marketing planners is desirable.

2. Strategy, approach and objectives

Agree where you will play and where you can win.  (This may require a fresh look at who you’re competing with and how they are positioning their solutions and services.)  Targeting particular segments enables you to focus your efforts and resources to best effect.  The flip side of this is to agree the segments you’re not going after and why. You can call this ‘sacrifice’ and if you’re not sacrificing anything your approach is probably too broad.

Create a portrait of the segments being targeted.  Spend time talking to customers and discover what matters; understand the technology and how it creates value for them.  Good insight into the segments you’re targeting helps articulate the value proposition of your products, solutions, or services for THIS and every other segment.  The value proposition needs to capture what it does, and the outcome it delivers for them, in their language.

Create separate value propositions and set separate objectives for each segment being targeted

Use the SMART approach to challenge the objectives.  Just in case you need a refresher, are they ‘specific’ and number based? Are they ‘measurable’ with clear milestones? Are they ‘attainable’ and realistic? For example, are your market insights good enough, does your business or your ‘brand’ have a track record and enough reference-ability in this segment to succeed? Finally, are they relevant and ‘resourced’ (or invested in and agreed upon by all stakeholders) and is there an agreed ‘timeframe’ and time investment that everyone is signed up to.

3. Tactics and plan

If you don’t already have it, start building the list of organisations to target. Do some stakeholder mapping for the top 20 prospects to pursue in each segment.  Ask what people in these roles have in common.  Where do they spend time? What routes to market are available to reach them?  Is there a big idea, or an exciting ‘guerrilla’ approach that will make these people sit up and notice you?  What type of content, stories, information will catch their attention and how will you engage them.  Can you create some repeatable ‘pumps’ such as an event series or research programme that will draw them in? And lastly, what is the hook, the offer, the package that will get them into a buying conversation.

Be warned; one size does not fit all.  You will need to do a separate plan for each segment, which is why it’s necessary to sacrifice outliers

4. Execute

Create campaign budgets and an activity schedule.  Source, or create the content, speakers and venues needed to deliver the campaigns for each segment and commit to the timings.  More on this later.

Important and often forgotten

When using the annual planning framework don’t lose sight of these common pitfalls.

Know your audience

When creating the value proposition for each segment, try and recognise the bottom-line impact of the pain, fear and learned helplessness that they have experienced to date.  Be sceptical. Recognise that they may have alternatives to your solutions; they can buy from others; they can make one for themselves or they can ignore the pain and do nothing at all.  When creating value propositions by sector, position your offering as specifically ‘for them’ to do ‘what they need’ that is therefore ‘better than’ the alternatives.

Without good market insight the plan may be doomed to failure. Sales and marketing need to pool their knowledge.

Don’t pounce too quickly

Ensure that your team don’t jump on leads too quickly.  Once you’ve got a lead, nurture it gently.  Share something valuable (useful, relevant, appropriate content), build trust and credibility, show them you understand them, and gradually build familiarity.

Overly familiar strangers are very off-putting, and few people buy from them.

Wear the right clothes

Take a step back and think how you might look and sound to prospects.  If you want to fit in, be seen as part of their world.  Reflect their language, join in their conversations, show respect for their tone of voice, culture, and values, and build common ground and trust.  People don’t buy from strangers, so be less strange.

You don’t need to be exactly like them, but they do need to see you as ‘their people’.

Agree that what gets measured gets managed

Decide up front what constitutes a lead, a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead. It may be different for each segment. Regularly report on numbers of each by segment.  Become familiar with the conversion rates between these different stages and review what levers you can pull to improve the conversion rates or accelerate the process.   Work out the hand off point from marketing to sales. Spend time to review these regularly and agree next steps.

Use the right planning tools

Used shared planning documents for the marketing and salespeople who are jointly responsible for achieving the SMART objectives in each segment. Put shared onus on validating insights and using these to create good content, and nurture prospects to the ‘pumps’. Put shared responsibility on both marketing and sales to know the technology and the audience.

Schedule regular structured communications between the marketers and the salespeople involved with each segment to review or refine what constitutes a marketing qualified lead.  It’s okay for this to vary by segment.  Regularly review the tactics, share feedback after calls or meetings and make sure that the marketer is meeting with or speaking to a customer at least once a month.

The annual plan needs to align business goal, sales targets and marketing objectives.

We have developed a set of planning templates we use to help get everyone on the same page.   Have a look at this recent article Three essential planning tools: soap, gin and pop

The discipline of following this process and capturing the agreed goals, audiences, value propositions and approach in a set of shared tools can be tremendously liberating.

As the year draws to a close and the planning phase begins again, rinse and repeat.  The four stage annual planning framework won’t let you down.

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