Marketing Plan Software – Will It Work For Your Business?

Marketing plan software developers suggest that their tool will help you create a plan for your company without knowing anything about marketing. All you have to do, they say, is point and click.

So the question is, do they really work for your business? As a marketing coach, I’m inclined to say no. And yes. Let me explain.

Like all tools, you’re going to get out the equivalent of what you put in. This is true both for your investment in the tool and in your ability to use it effectively.

A $100 hammer is the same as a $10 hammer in the hands of rookie carpenter who has never hammered in a nail before. But in the hands of a journeyman carpenter, that same $10 hammer can be used much more effectively. And when you combine the higher quality hammer with the expert carpenter, the output potential is much greater.

But do you really need a $100 hammer and a journeyman carpenter to hang a picture frame? The obvious answer is, “no, you don’t.” But if you’re hanging a masterpiece, you want to be darn sure that it looks great and won’t fall off the wall!

What I’m getting at here is that there are many factors that you need to take into account when you’re trying to determine whether or not to use marketing plan software to create a plan for your business. If you do decide you use software, which version will you use?

What Hammers and Marketing Plan Software Have In Common

A marketing plan is an essential component of any successful business because it describes both the business objectives, core customer base (or target market) as well as the competitive factors that stand in your way.

Since your business requires customers to survive and thrive, and since marketing is about the acquisition and retention of customers, your marketing plan will ultimately determine the fate of your business.

For that reason, the future of your company could rest upon your decision about whether or not to use marketing plan software to create the plan that your business will rely on for the foreseeable future.

Just like the journeyman carpenter who can use just about any hammer to do an above average job, you also need the marketing and business savvy to create an effective marketing plan for your business. When you have that essential knowledge, which hammer you use (your selection of marketing plan software) becomes less important because you’re more likely to produce an above average result.

Of course, again like the expert carpenter, when you combine exceptional knowledge with exceptional tools, the likelihood of producing a masterpiece goes up exponentially.

So, when it comes to marketing plan software, the key lies not in the tool you select, but in your experience and level of understanding of core marketing concepts and principles.

Down and Dirty – Creating a Marketing Plan That Works

Wouldn’t it be great if you could follow the Field of Dreams approach to business? What do I mean by that? I mean simply open the doors of your business, then sit back and wait for the people to come. Unfortunately, it’s not a very realistic approach to doing business for most entrepreneurs. What is realistic is putting together a detailed plan for promoting your business, and that approach takes the form of a marketing plan.

Many people cringe at the idea of creating a marketing plan because they have never done one before. Luckily, marketing is not rocket science. True, it is a skill, but it can be mastered over time. That’s good news for anyone who worries about putting together the right marketing plan for their business. Follow these easy steps and you can get started on creating a successful marketing plan in no time at all.

Research Your Market

This is an extremely important part of your marketing plan. Chances are you have already completed a lot of market research beforehand from when you created your initial business plan. Therefore, it should not take much to identify your market segments and what will make your products and/or services stand out from the competition.

Pulling It All Together

The research on your market is just one important piece you need. Other information that will prove helpful in writing your marketing plan includes:

  • Latest financial reports (operating budget, profit and loss statements, etc.) for the current and past three years, if available.
  • A list of all products and/or services you offer, along with the target market for each.
  • Your understanding of the marketplace, i.e. competitors, types of customers you sell to, latest and most relevant demographic data and any information on trends in your markets.
  • Input from sales staff as to what the most important points, in their opinion, that should be included in the plan.

Plan Draft – Define

  • Market Situation – The market situation will contain your best description of the current state of the marketplace. There is no room for guessing here. You need to know how big your potential market is, who you are going to sell to, and just what your potential customer is (demographics, income level, etc.). A lot of this information is probably in your head, but you’ve never committed it to paper. Now is your chance.
  • Threats & Opportunities – This is a continuation of the market situation, as it focuses on the good and bad aspects of the current market. List out what threats and opportunities you see facing your business in the next year. Ask yourself, what trends in the market are working for and against you? Are there competitive trends working in your favor or against you? Do the market demographics favor you or are they against you?
  • Marketing Objectives – Here you begin to “paint a picture” of what you see for the future of your business. You want to define what marketing objectives you want to achieve over the coming year (marketing plans are generally one year in length). Each objective should include a narrative description of how you intend to accomplish it, along with concrete numbers. Remember to make your objectives simple, concrete, countable, ambitious, but definitely achievable.
  • Implementation – Each objective defined above should have several goals and tactics for achieving each, i.e. the “what” and the “why” of the marketing tasks ahead. In this section, focus on the practical side of each objective: the who, where, when and how it’s going to happen. Create an activity matrix (timeline) so you can plot out when each action needs to be taken.
  • Budget – Each planned activity needs to be assigned a dollar amount in a budget. If you are new to calculating a cost of something, give your best estimate and add 25% to be safe. Be sure to consider both internal costs, such as staffing, and external out-of-pocket expenses when creating your marketing budget.

Finally, regular review of your marketing plan is important. At a minimum, you should be reviewing quarterly, and more ideally, you should be reviewing monthly. Your marketing plan is a work-in-progress so expect it to be adjusted often depending on the results you achieve. To be truly successful, a marketing plan takes time to create and implement, but the effort and time will definitely be worth it.

Write Annual Marketing Plan in 90 Minutes

Ideally, marketing planning is like career or job planning. The development of the annual marketing strategy, whether it is for an internet/ecommerce business or offline business, should be done at the end of the year. It should be based on market research. This applies to small as well as corporate businesses and not for profit organizations.

How To Write An Annual Marketing Plan

This guide to an annual marketing plan shows what needs to be done, how to do it and pitfalls to look out for. This marketing plan should ideally support and complement business plan.

An annual marketing plan ideally should have the following elements (basics of marketing):

  • Mission statement
  • Description of your niche markets
  • Detailed description of your products or services
  • List of your closest competitors
  • Marketing goals
  • Marketing calendar with monthly and weekly list of marketing activities to be completed
  • Marketing mix – advertising, public relations, media, corporate communications, promotions, events etc
  • Description of how the marketing campaigns will be monitored and measured

When you have finished doing everything suggested in this easy How-To marketing tutorial, you will have a blueprint of your marketing efforts. It will give you a lot of clarity, especially when you are working in a team. Make sure you revisit the plan every year, as well as during the year.

Now, whether you are selling watches or digital products, it is important to watch your spend to make sure that your marketing ROI (return on investment) is on track.

But Why Should You Plan?

It gives you a lot of clarity of purpose

You can control your expenses

When you are working in a team, or with external agencies or suppliers, you everyone involved knows who-does-what

You can take corrective action if the marketing plan is not progressing as desired

Are You Ready To Begin?

Just answer the following questions, and you will have the blueprint of your marketing plan in less than 90 minutes:

  • Which of my marketing and selling activities brought the most business for me last year? Was it public relations, events and conferences, social media, print advertising, Google Adwords, SEO marketing and so on
  • What mistakes did I make that I should avoid this year?
  • What worked well, but I can improve on this year?
  • What can I learn from my successful campaigns last year?
  • What can I learn from my campaign that did not perform well last year?
  • What is my target market like this year? Which factors of my market changed – geography, demography, income, habits, culture etc.
  • Has my competition changed? How?
  • If my target market or competition has changed, what do I need to do to adopt to that change?
  • Now that I know my target market, and I know what worked last year, which marketing channels will I use this year?
  • How much am I willing to spend this year? What’s my marketing budget? How do i intend to spend it?
  • How will I monitor my campaign?

Marketing Calendar

Now that we have an overview, break this strategy down into monthly marketing plan. Chart out monthly and if required weekly activities.

Identify key events that are likely to influence your marketing calendar. Is there an industry event or international trade show coming up? Are there local elections? Is there a major sporting event?

Make sure you are realistic in your marketing strategies and in your marketing plan. Try to spell out as many details as possible. Leave some scope for contingencies.

Now that you have the blue print, don’t forget the key point – action. Act on your plan, re-visit it often and change your course if required.

Your marketing plan is just that – a plan. Nothing is set in stone. If marketing environment changes be prepared to change.