The first step in your planning process for 2016 should be to review your company's overall business strategy for next year and identify the strategic business objectives that marketing will be expected to influence. For example, your company's business strategy will almost certainly include an overall revenue growth objective, but it may also include distinct revenue objectives for specific products or product line, geographic markets, or customer segments. Having a clear understanding of these strategic business objectives will enable you to align your marketing efforts with those objectives.
The next step in the planning process is to focus on three core components of any sound marketing strategy - the definition of the target market, the value propositions that you will communicate to organizations in your target market, and the buying group, the individuals within prospect organizations who will make or influence the decision to purchase your products or services.
Defining your target market, developing compelling value propositions, and identifying the buying group are critical for effective planning because these factors largely dictate the content of your marketing communications plan.
Think of it this way. If you've ever watched someone install a tile or hardwood floor on a home improvement TV show, you may remember that the installer spends a great deal of time making sure that the first row of tiles or boards is straight and square with the walls of the room. After the first row is in place, the rest of the installation usually goes fairly quickly. That's because as long as the rest of the tiles or boards "fit" with the first row, the whole floor is almost guaranteed to turn out right.
The definition of your target market, your value propositions, and your buying group are like that first row of floor tiles or boards. They provide the "landmarks" and reference points for the development of your marketing communications plan.
Target Market and Value Propositions
Defining your target market and developing value propositions is almost always a "back and forth" process. That's because it's likely that your products or services can create value for users in several ways, but it's also likely that they will create more value for certain kinds of companies. Therefore, the most effective way to deal with these two factors is to start by understanding and describing how your products or services will create value for users. From my experience, the best way to capture this insight is to answer a series of questions and record your answers in what I call a customer value map. Here are the questions:
- What are all of the significant reasons that companies have for purchasing a product or services like ours? What problems or needs motivate the buying decision?
- What kinds of organizations are likely to have the problems or needs that underlie these reasons to buy?
- What specific outcomes are organizations seeking when they decide to buy a product or service like ours?
- What specific features and capabilities of our solution will produce these desired outcomes?
- What will the economic benefits be if these desired outcomes are achieved?
The Buying Group
Once you have defined the target market and identified how your products or services will create value for companies in your target market, it becomes somewhat easier to identify the buying group. When you develop your customer value map, you will identify the problems or needs that motivate organizations to purchase products or services like yours. A good way to identify the buying group is to add a question to your customer value map (after question 2 in the above list): "Who within these organizations is most affected by each problem or need (who has the most to gain if the problem is solved and the most to lose if it isn't)?"
For most marketers, the primary output of the annual planning process should be a marketing communications plan that describes how you will tell your story to potential buyers. In a future post, I'll explain how to build and effective marketing communications plan.
Note: If you'd like to learn more about developing value propositions and see an example of a customer value map, take a look at my white paper titled,"How to Create Irresistible Value Propositions."