By Noah B. Rosenfarb, CPA
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language, Fourth Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, c2000, marketing is "the act or process of buying and selling in a market; the commercial functions involved in transferring goods from producer to consumer."
From the same source, plan is defined as "a scheme, program, or method worked out beforehand for the accomplishment of an objective." Putting it all together, a marketing plan encompasses the steps one has to take in creating a service, making potential clients aware of it, making them want it, and selling it to them, all the while looking for ways to enrich the entire process.
A marketing plan enables a company to know its business, know its market, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and find the opportunities within those strengths and weaknesses in order to plan and meet a company's goals. A large factor in the success of a marketing plan is relating the plan to all the employees and gaining their support. When an entire company understands and endorses its marketing plan, the company, as well as its employees, will reap the benefits. Read on to learn about marketing plans and how one can work for you- if you work for it.
Developing a marketing plan is not as cumbersome of a task as one may think. The process can be broken down into six main steps. The very first, and arguably most important step, is to perform research and analysis of your business and the market it serves. Once you are confident that you know your market and what you have to offer it, the next major step is to define your financial and marketing goals. With your goals in sight, you will then need to determine the strategies and tactics you will undertake in order to achieve them.
Creating a budget and forecasting revenues make up the fourth key step in the process, followed by implementing your plan. The final stage in developing your marketing plan is to monitor and evaluate your results. Keep in mind, throughout this entire process, that most marketing plans are created for only one year. Markets evolve, employees leave, clients come and go and, for best results, it is suggested that a company refreshes and regroups after each year with a new or revised plan.
Step 1: Research and Analysis
Research and analysis are essential because they lead you to identify your company's target market, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities that exist within your environment (commonly referred to as SWOT analysis). Learning the threats and opportunities your company faces will help you to realistically set your financial objectives. Knowing the opportunities, target market and financial objectives will supply you with the information necessary to set your marketing goals so that they take advantage of the opportunities and meet your objectives.
While strengths and weaknesses are deduced from internal elements, opportunities and threats are determined by external forces. An example of a strength for an accounting firm may be high client retention whereas a weakness may be a lack of new clients. An opportunity might be an increase of cases that require specific areas of expertise found in certain accounting firms (i.e. forensic investigation). A threat might include increased competition from new firms and sole practitioners.
Step 2: Goals
Financial and marketing objectives will become more apparent as you near completion of a thorough SWOT analysis. Both sets of objectives should be attainable, measurable, quantifiable, and time specific. Your marketing goals are the means to achieve your financial goals and should address each group within your target market. Throughout the process of developing your goals, keep in mind that it is impossible to predict the future and certain situations may arise that will alter some of your goals. Nevertheless, it is far better to have a slightly imperfect plan than no plan at all.
Step 3: Strategies and Tactics
The heart of your marketing plan maps out the roads you are going to take in order to reach your goals. Some may want to revert to the Four P's of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) when defining marketing strategies. Others may want to closely study the SWOT analysis portion of your plan to best determine the necessary tactics. Whatever your strategy, it is necessary that you precisely outline each activity (i.e. a direct mail campaign) that you want to undertake and the tools you will utilize in order to achieve your marketing goals.
Step 4: Financials, Budgets, and Forecasts
Your budget should be based on your plan's goals and objectives and the schedules you have recommended. If the tactics you have selected are too costly, you should re-evaluate them and search for more affordable ways to reach your goals (i.e. outsourcing vs. in-house).
Revenues should be tracked and forecasted on a detail basis. This will work to provide objective feedback regarding progress in the areas of industry expertise, specialization, and client revenue sources by type.
Step 5: Implementation
Organization and communication are the keys to unlocking a successful marketing plan. Whether you want to use a large scheduling board or a database program, it is essential that you are organized as you begin the implementation process. Schedule all events and assign responsibilities well in advance. You may also want to set up a reporting structure with progress reports and regular communications to help things stay on track.
Knowing every single deadline and communicating internally with employees to make sure they are being met is crucial to your marketing plan. External communication is equally as important. You will naturally be communicating with several outside companies and firms (i.e. a printer) to make sure they are on schedule as well. With open lines of communication and an extremely organized schedule, your plan is on the road to success.
Step 6: Measuring Results
You will be able to determine just how successful your marketing plan is by carefully monitoring and evaluating your results. The techniques you utilize to examine your results will vary depending on your marketing strategies. In general, however, you will find client feedback in any form to be invaluable. Client comments can be recorded and analyzed through email surveys, traditional surveys, face-to-face meetings, or via phone conversations. Think of negative feedback as suggestions for change and turn positive feedback into statements that can be used as testimonials and in future brochures or promotional activities.
The Value of Planning
Throughout the processes of creating, implementing and evaluating your plan, it is important to realize just how valuable planning is for your company. A marketing plan functions as a blueprint for everyone (not just the marketing department) within an organization to see and, more importantly, to follow. The company as a whole will know in what direction it is going, causing energy and efforts to be focused.
Another added value of a marketing plan is being able to maintain accountability. Because you are able to compare your plan to actual actions, there is a greater need for employees to demonstrate responsibility for their work. This increase in ownership of employees' actions will result in increased compliance. With increased compliance, you are on the path to success.
In the game of "telephone" that we all once played as children, by the time the message has reached the last player, it is often quite different from the intended message. Although we are no longer children, we still (unintentionally now) play this game, especially in the workplace. Taking the steps to create, implement and evaluate a marketing plan will not totally eliminate misunderstandings. It will, however, go a long way in ensuring that the message at the end of the chain still sounds very much the same as it did at the beginning.
Noah helps businesses enhance their profitability by improving business processes. He is available to discuss your business' needs and can be reached at 973-287-0864 or [email protected]