Attention Marketing Managers: Planning Season Ahead!

Earlier this month, a client mentioned that their strategic planning process was approaching. That means annual operating plan development is not far behind.

One of many challenges marketing managers face during this period of the year centers on resource allocation and more specifically, the inevitable challenge of keeping pace with immediate priorities while working to define opportunities and reassess allocation of marketing resources to deliver on a mix of new corporate strategies. If this situation is familiar to you, here are three suggestions that will help ensure better results, and maybe even better sleep along the way.

First, remember that planning is a process, not a project. If you haven't already, create a timeline with regularly scheduled assessment periods, probably monthly, to keep tabs on your individual goals and the quantified progress of the key initiatives that you drive that are directly supporting current corporate strategies. In this process, outline obstacles and re-evaluate how your resources are allocated. Make recommendations to your management about any corrective actions you see necessary and highlight progress on the initiatives that are making the most impact on corporate initiatives. By taking account of your own planning process, you will find yourself in a better position to see how new or evolving corporate strategies fit within your current plan and responsibilities and become a more valued contributor in the broader process.

Another way to keep ahead of the “planning season” is to contribute to leadership’s decision strategic planning process. Instead of waiting for guidance to be passed down, be sure you are feeding important information to leadership on a regular basis and in effect helping to fuel stronger discussions and debate in their planning cycle.

According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey1, a large percent of company executives felt that the strategies generated during their planning processes were admittedly “substandard”. Couple that with the fact that nearly 50% of those executives said that their planning cycle is the primary trigger for making strategic business unit decisions and you can begin to see a correlation.

Obviously, for leadership to make decisions they need information. But more importantly, they need evidence, proof that an opportunity (or risk) to business exists. You need and develop the same as you manage your business line or brand. Amazingly, all too often, the key data that you develop through research, customers and results from your initiatives does not make its way to the table where longer-term decisions on moving the business forward are being made. Take time to synthesize key insights and trends that you gather, draw out implications and summarize possible opportunities that keeps leadership informed throughout the year. In follow-up summaries continue to build on the prior findings that appear most valuable and provocative and outline possible research or test scenarios that you would recommend to validate opportunities. Providing input on a regular basis will help your leadership triangulate data points from other company functions and as a key contributor to the outcomes, you’ll be ahead of the game when the new or evolving strategies are put in place.

For new and possibly unchartered strategies that are now on your plate, take an early account of any missing information you need that is key to building a supportive, results-oriented marketing plan. Delve deep into your current data, but also explore archived data that supported similar initiatives in years past. Historical information can be critical in understanding what worked and more importantly what didn’t.

Once you have clarity on any obstacles or missing data points, don’t hesitate in putting actions in place to collect the information you need. You may need help in mining customer data or gathering insights from internal and external audiences and internal resources can get backlogged quickly as the company begins the operational planning and budgeting process. In addition, look to your external partners for support. In many cases, consultants, agencies and other suppliers have prior experience in supporting similar opportunities, or they can help you get the answers you need to break down the obstacles. The key is to eliminate the barriers to your decision process as early as possible which will afford you more time in defining stronger marketing goals and supporting strategies and less time re-assessing your decisions.

Finally, knowing that the market is fluid and actions create competitive reactions, top performing companies have back-up plans. Take time to assemble a broad team of internal and external stakeholders for a scenario planning session. Starting with your base objectives and plans, have the team develop a list of “what if’s” and work through high level alternative plans you would employ if those ‘what if’s became reality. In addition to better preparedness for the coming year you may also find more opportunity in what has previously been marketplace obstacles.

Following these steps will help you gain an edge in integrating your company’s planning process into your challenging workload, and likely an edge over your competitors. Interrupt has assisted dozens of companies gain the insights needed to define and develop results-oriented strategies and marketing plans that support long-term corporate strategies. We can help you with the strategic facilitation of scenario planning and creating processes and dashboards that will assist you and your team turn planning into a process and not three months of sleepless nights.

1 McKinsey Quarterly, July 2012

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