Setting a course for your marketing team through plans and strategy that drive real impact sounds like a great idea when you’re a small, agile company that can adopt new processes in a heartbeat. It’s relatively easy for small businesses to try something on for size and then put it back in the closet if it doesn’t quite fit. That’s not the case with enterprise organizations.
As we learned during our Marketing Planning Master Class with Helena Lewis, Chief of Marketing Operations and Technology at NI (formerly National Instruments), when you’re a global organization with business operations in nearly 50 countries, creating a company-wide marketing plan gets a little trickier. Autonomous business units, country-specific protocols, cumbersome internal processes and communication breakdown can hold these organizations back from pushing forward as quickly as SMBs.
In the Master Class, Helena revealed that a thoughtful approach can help enterprise businesses keep pace with marketing planning best practices. She illustrated how larger organizations can transition from piece-meal marketing initiatives across multiple regions to a unified strategic marketing plan that spans the entire organization. To get there, Helena offered four key pieces of advice to help every enterprise marketer overcome the most common strategic planning missteps.
1. Drive efficiencies through vision & strong leadership
It’s easy to lose grip on the reins of a multi-national marketing team, but far too often this is caused by a lack of cohesion at the leadership level. Sales, Product and Marketing should all be driven by the same vision because this will translate into decisive action at all levels, from execution to management and leadership roles.
Once the vision has been finalized, it needs to be transparent so that colleagues can see exactly how they are impacting progress. A big part of transparency means having the technology and systems in place so that those in execution roles are able to align to high-level strategy in their day-to-day work. Through Helena’s Master Class, we learned that having this kind of alignment can also drive efficiencies throughout the organization.
At NI, once leadership developed a cohesive cross-departmental strategy, they needed to quickly and effectively communicate that strategy to marketing teams in multiple countries. Rather than keeping strategic roles at a country-specific level, these roles were regionalized, and centralized to corporate in some cases. This gave global responsibility and visibility to a handful of individuals who could then guide country-specific roles against one cohesive, overall vision.
KEY LEARNING: Globally disparate teams must have access to the overall strategic marketing plan, with an understanding of how they fit into the big picture so they can take ownership of objectives. Having the right systems in place will ensure each team understands their country-specific goals as they relate to the cohesive corporate plan so they can be truly accountable for their portion of the go-to-market plan.
2. Don’t divide by product, unite with audience/segment focus
Within a large organization, independent business units that are each responsible for a product may also be responsible for defining their intended audience/segment. Once they decide how to reach the intended audience, marketing usually steps in to execute the strategy. This was exactly the case for NI a few short years ago. However, inspired by the SiriusDecisions Campaign Framework, they radically shifted their perspective to focus on defining their core audience first, and then allowing that strategy to trickle down through individual business units.
As Helena emphasized in her Master Class, when you start to plan a strategy from a product perspective, you don’t understand or incorporate the needs of real people. Often, individual customer needs span across multiple products, so not building your plan around customers first means you may be simultaneously targeting the same people through campaigns for different product lines. That’s why developing a solid marketing plan isn’t based on how you see the world, but how your customer is thinking.
KEY LEARNING: Use the SiriusDecisions Campaign Framework to become customer-focused so you can enhance your buyer relevance and strategic alignment. Above all, put the needs of the customer first.
3. Overcome resistance with solid change management
Progress demands making decisions, and when it comes to decisions about marketing plans and go-to-market strategies, often everyone has an opinion. That’s why large companies, regardless of whether they tend to be more hierarchical or consensus-driven, need a very transparent decision-making model. By agreeing on the roles and responsibilities of individuals at every step of the decision-making process, you ensure multiple opinions don’t hold up progress and waste more time than necessary.
No need to reinvent the wheel here! Adopt a pre-existing model that makes sense for your business. At NI, they use the RAPID model in which only one person makes the final decision if no consensus can be reached. At Allocadia, we have employed the RACI model to create transparency around decision-making.
KEY LEARNING: In times of major change, make sure everyone understands the anticipated outcomes of any changes you are making, as well as their role in the decision-making process. Try creating communications that executives can share internally to reiterate how proposed changes will add value to the company.
4. Review and refresh your plan!
Since you will be repeating the marketing planning process every year (and hopefully adjusting throughout its course), it’s important to be deliberate about the way you create your plan. This is especially true for enterprise organizations due to the amount of collaboration required to execute a successful strategic marketing plan.
NI was able to narrow down their planning process to five stages. The first four involve developing the plan, and happen in the following order: (1) Enterprise strategy (2) Aligned priorities (3) Marketing objectives (4) Campaigns & marketing plan. The last stage is (5) Execution, and that’s when they put their plan into action. Every organization needs to figure out the best way to develop their plan based on business needs.
It’s also important to revisit your marketing plan throughout the year. Far too often, companies spend time and resources to create a beautiful marketing plan with clearly defined budgets and objectives, but then spend nine months executing and praying they hit the mark. Remember to go back and work through the plan by measuring results mid-flight and updating objectives to reflect any changes in direction. Most importantly, look forward so you can reallocate money when needed. Your marketing plan should be an iterative process; it’s not something you set and forget until next year.
KEY LEARNING: We recommend starting with corporate goals when building out your marketing plan. In fact, our research found that 83% of marketers who expect budget increases year over year are more likely to align marketing performance goals to their company’s objectives. You must also connect your marketing plan to both investments and returns. This allows for insights that are necessary to assign accountability for results.
At Allocadia we’ve seen international companies, including NI and Red Hat, successfully adopt company-wide strategic marketing planning as a first step to tracking and measuring results. Although it takes investment of time and resources, these companies are starting to reap the benefits of sticking to long-term efforts that allow them to create the infrastructure needed to support strategic marketing planning.