The year 2020 demonstrated why clear visibility into plans more than just once a year, half or even quarter is essential for marketing leaders. If you can’t see what’s happening in the first place, you’re not going to be able to adjust accordingly for sudden market changes.
Underscoring just how vital resiliency is when it comes to marketing planning, a blog from Forrester’s Meta Karagianni puts it this way:
“The ability to manage unplanned events and calibrate and adjust sales and marketing plans quickly is no longer a nice-to-have but a critical muscle B2B sales and marketing leaders must develop.”
For example, when in-person conferences were suddenly canceled or switched to virtual back in 2020, marketing leaders were forced, on short notice, to switch plans and reallocate marketing dollars in the best way they saw fit. Unfortunately, if this process involved gathering and making sense of spreadsheets, PowerPoints and other sources of data, it probably wasn’t a quick (or easy) process to make the changes and keep everyone in the loop.
Instead, to gain this “critical muscle” of planning resilience, marketing leaders need to get out of spreadsheets and silos and into a more collaborative environment offering one source of truth. With such a move, they can quickly adapt to changing market dynamics while keeping everyone aware of, and involved with, the changes.
Make resilience a capabilityThe blog suggests marketing and sales leaders should think of resilience as a capability, rather than a state. To do that, they need to “ensure that risks and dependencies of annual plans are articulated clearly and monitored often,” as well as come up with an “early warning system” that enables them to review data at regular intervals.
As a result, sales and marketing teams can better “anticipate potential events and be ready to take action,” Karagianni says.
To tackle the first step, articulating and monitoring plans, marketing leaders should adopt one single, shared space that lets them routinely improve what marketing is doing—while ensuring everyone is working from the same version of data. (It would also benefit marketing organizations to additionally segment their plans by budget categories such as “legal commitments,” “must-have programs,” “make-the-number programs,” “beat-the-number programs” or “purely discretionary,” for instance. This segmentation enables marketers to quickly view candidates for budget cuts without impacting the core capabilities they offer.)
On the other hand, as opposed to one shared space, spreadsheets, albeit a useful tool for myriad purposes, aren’t designed to track your organization’s marketing and financial data in their entirety—especially when your changing plans require specialized attention through responsive planning.
Furthermore, spreadsheets won’t be able to investigate what-if situations. To evaluate the aforementioned risks and dependencies of plans, you need a standardized methodology for tracking and measuring what’s working, what’s not working and what could work. When you’re equipped with actual campaign and tactic performance in addition to predicted results—i.e., an early warning system—you can make more informed decisions about where to invest in one area vs. another.
For example, if you switched a significant chunk of your marketing dollars from a canceled trade show in April to four webinars in May, you should enable your teams to know, right away, if that switch ended up generating the qualified leads you were looking for. Without this warning system, you’re flying blind on whether or not you should continue in investing in webinars or look elsewhere with your reallocated marketing dollars.
On the finance side, as well, if your marketing teams use scenario planning, they can associate their plans up with more than one potential budget in the future—e.g., a base budget or a rebound budget—and have a clear visualization of either scenario.
When you clearly know what’s happening, how well things are working and how well they could work in the future under different scenarios, you’re capable of being more resilient when the next round of unexpected changes comes around (and the next round).
“[T]he more an organization practices resilience, the more resilient it becomes,” the blog adds.
Plan more oftenThe Forrester blog poses the question “How do we break away from our own habits of creating static plans once a year?”
Traditionally, your marketing planning might look something like this: create your plans during planning season, put them into action and update them as needed. Then, when it comes time for planning season again, you can go back to the drawing board with new plans and repeat the process.
We spoke with a marketing leader from a large energy company who wanted to put an end to this process and gain visibility into marketing plans and budgets throughout the year, rather than just once during planning season. Their process was based on spreadsheets, but when they switched to our collaborative planning software, static plans became a thing of the past.
“Before, I would know what the plans are globally once a year,” our contact said. “So, in Q4, I would know what the plan is for next year, but I would have zero visibility during the year of how plans changed.”
Since they got out of spreadsheets, the company’s teams have been able to clearly see what’s been happening throughout the year in the context of their overall strategy. When the pandemic necessitated sudden budget changes, the energy provider’s marketing and finance leaders, in turn, had to rework all their plans.
“Local and regional teams were able to do that a lot more quickly,” the contact said, “and then, centrally, we were able to pull together a complete overview for the business, saying, ‘This is what the new balance looks like.’”
A solid foundationFurthermore, the blog points out the importance of having a strong foundation off of which an organization can build—starting with having clearly demonstrated plans aligned to organizational goals.
“Time and time again, we have seen organizations suffering from what I call the ‘100-page plan syndrome’—long, convoluted plans that few people read and many forget. Marketing and sales leaders can build this strong foundation by ensuring their teams adopt a best-practice approach to guide the development of their plans,” Karagianni writes.
Don’t lay out 100 pages of organizational goals for your marketing teams to decipher; instead, demonstrate clearly what success looks like to your organization, enabling everyone to plan in the context of these goals.
Things like how many qualified leads you generated from those May webinars need to be measured to gauge the success of your marketing plans, but you first need to establish what success even looks like to your organization. If it’s not clearly laid out in the context of your marketing plans, you’ll be flying blind again on what’s working and what’s not.
Don’t waste time and money on marketing plans that don’t make sense for your organization. Instead, enable your teams to quickly know when things don’t make sense so you can swiftly make the appropriate changes, moving full steam ahead.
As marketing leaders move to a so-called “new normal,” the Forrester blog explains, they are increasingly realizing that resilience and agility are “more important than ever before.”
“They can’t afford to spend valuable time and resources developing plans that aren’t meaningful when the next disruption—regardless of size—comes around.”
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