When you think about marketing planning and planning sessions, what do they look like? In a perfect world, you’re probably using well-established practices and templates from SiriusDecisions, Gartner or IDC, developed to move you and your team through various exercises and phases to create a well-defined pathway to sustained success. Your teams are collaborating across business units, integrating sales, operations, creative, product and beyond to gather inputs and build a plan. You bring your plan to the CMO for comprehensive alignment with corporate strategy. Everyone loves the plan, and you’re ready to rock in the new year.

The Reality of Marketing Planning

If the marketing planning process went as described above, you’d be crushing it. But the process, in reality, looks more like this:

The CMO calls and says, “We have our goals, quotas, strategic direction and budget from the CEO, and we’d like to see a draft H1 plan based on these metrics. Can you pull that together by next week?”

So begins the annual fire drill for marketers.

Planning isn’t simple. It’s not always rinse-lather-repeat with an X% budget increase from last year. Planning requires deep collaboration and teamwork across business units, which likely have their own plans for corporate marketing, field marketing, product marketing, sales, etc.

So, given the likely state of your marketing planning efforts, where is the best place to start?

The Perfect Marketing Plan Is a Unicorn – It Doesn’t Exist

There’s no such thing as the perfect plan or even the ideal planning process. Each plan and planning model should be unique to an individual business, and to marketers’ preferences and needs at the time. If there are a hundred different inputs into these plans, where do you start?

Here are some questions to begin:

  • Does corporate strategy use balanced scorecard methods?
  • Is your plan an analyst model like SiriusDecisions?
  • Are there defined CMO goals and objects?
  • Are you leveraging certain sales funnel models?
  • Is it budget based?
  • Is it field-based or bottom-up?

Marketers also need to ask how they can get a head start on planning processes. The best and most logical place to start is with the metrics. No matter what planning process model you follow, they all require specific metric inputs. Data and metrics are a window into what you want to achieve and what you accomplished in the year or planning period prior. Metrics are your guiding point, how you achieve them are your tactics.

While planning is hard work, there’s no way to automate it, and your marketing technology (martech) stack isn’t going to help. However, we can all agree on some fundamental truths about planning: Using data to drive the process as much as possible will streamline decision-making and approvals. It will help understand “the why” behind “the what” of your marketing plan, and makes building it easier.

The Planning Process

The message here is all about the metrics — it’s essential to identify within the planning process where and when the metrics conversations can or should happen. To make it easier, let’s leverage the SiriusDecisions Marketing plan template. This will help drive focus toward the metrics that matter most.

Instead of diving into business objectives and marketing priorities, let’s discuss how to prepare and how to identify those useful best metrics so you can get a head start in addressing goals, strategies and actions. Think of this as setting the stage so you can be more data-driven in your marketing planning, these are metrics for pre-planning.

siriusdecisions marketing template

When building a template, plug your metrics into a set of lenses that will help to ID levels of measurements — critical investments, tactical outcomes, advanced insights and business value. As you work through these lenses, ask specific questions about each level. ID the metrics and KPIs you should be collecting before planning, so stakeholders can address the applications to be leveraged and the potential landmines to watch out for.

Critical Investments — Where Are You Spending Your Money?

This is the point in the planning process where you ID what’s been done, and where. As you progress, you’ll ID the results and whether it was worth it. In other words, was this a long walk for a short beer? Having the answers to these questions beforehand is tremendously helpful as you optimize planning.

Questions to ask:

  • Where was the budget allocated in previous quarters or years?
  • What was the historical spending distribution?
  • What percent was committed, and what percent wasn’t?

Stakeholders and sources to ask:

  • CMO
  • Operations
  • Marketing team leaders
  • Finance

Metrics to measure:

  • Marketing program spend ratios (social vs. events vs. ABM vs. content vs. web vs. analysts relations)
  • Headcount spending
  • Demand generation spend percent
  • Spend x geographies x quarters x product

Applications:

  • CRMs
  • Finance and accounting
  • HRIS

Tactical Outcomes — What Were the Results?

The people working in the trenches day-to-day will contribute here — department heads, field marketers and demand-generation campaign leaders. You’ll need this level of detail before CMO-level collaboration. This is the part of the planning cycle that typically takes the longest, as it contains many details about core marketing metrics for demand-generation and marketing operations. Every marketer should know these metrics, such as inquires, MQLs, SQLs and if you’re doing ABM, your target account engagements and responses across your marketing mix — site visits, social, events, form fills, BDR calls, dimensional mailer, etc.

With so many metrics to look at, it can be daunting to narrow down. Going back to the question of where you spent the budget last year can help. Additionally, a common area where these metrics get muddled is in their definitions. There must be shared understanding of what equals an inquiry, an MQL and SQL, etc. If there’s no agreement and if the definitions change frequently, there will be constant debate on the validity of metrics with differing versions of reality.

Other details to consider are the rules you want to have in place for metrics like leads x category x geographies. For example, you may see responses from an event that took place in Boston, but the attendee may have a San Jose address, or the company may be headquartered in Atlanta. Do you count that as a lead for the Northeast sales team, or Bay Area sales team, or the South team? You’ll want to determine your criteria for these decisions beforehand.

Questions to ask:

  • Which programs had responses and how many?
  • Which markets, channels and verticals did these programs run in?
  • What sort of personas and target accounts responded?

Stakeholders and sources to ask:

  • Marketing business unit leaders
  • Field teams
  • Demand-gen program leaders

Metrics to measure:

  • Response waterfall — inquires — suspects — MQLs — SQLs — ops
  • Media impressions x channel
  • Responses x geographies x demographic persona
  • Target accounts engaged and responses for ABM

Applications:

  • CRMs
  • Automation platforms
  • PR agencies
  • Social syndications
  • Demandbase
  • Marketing analytics

Advanced Insights — How Does Your Marketing Organization Perform?

This is where you start to roll-up the data and metrics from your tactical outcomes. Think about the hierarchy like this: marketers created a campaign, those campaigns created responses and those responses had “x” impact on the sales pipe. Some good points of measurement are the number of first meetings, discovery calls, number of BANT qualified sales calls, or SQLs. Ask the hard questions: Was a meeting generated? Did it create an opportunity? How many of those opportunities closed-won vs. close-lost? Often the most critical metric scrutinized here is attribution. Pipeline sourced and pipeline influenced can be challenging to pin down depending on the marketing programs they are being attributed to.

For example, in an account-based marketing (ABM) approach, your primary concern may be how effective the campaign was in securing a meeting with the sales team at a target account. To secure that sales meeting, a marketer likely targeted over 20 individuals within the account for that one sales meeting. In the ABM approach, everyone in an organization is aligned at the same accounts with the common goal of getting a foot in the door. In that case, the ABM metric for pipe attribution is “influence” vs. “sourced.” The point is that the primary metric for pipe impact attribution x program can and should change. A major landmine to watch for during the tactical planning phase, however, is metric creep. It can be very tempting to drill-drill-drill but at a certain point, the effort may not be worth the insights.

Questions to ask:

  • Which programs produced the most first-time meetings?
  • Of those meetings, how many converted to pipeline and deals?
  • What was spent x campaign categories?

Stakeholders and sources to ask:

  • CMO and marketing business unit leaders
  • Demand-generation program leaders
  • Sales operations

Metrics to measure:

  • Conversion waterfall MQLs — SALs — SQLs — ops
  • Pipeline generated x sourced x influenced attribution
  • Total campaign costs

Applications:

  • CRMs
  • Automation platforms
  • Finance and accounting
  • Marketing analytics

Business Value — Where to Focus Your New Plan and Budget?

A critical component of the marketing planning process is getting your house in order so you can plan adequately and be prepared to answer questions your CMO and board members will inevitably ask. For example, “We spent $250,000 on a series of live events in six cities, what resulted from that?” If you haven’t structured your metrics planning and CRM correctly, you may not be able to answer. Beyond leads, other high-level metrics and returns like partnerships, influence and brand impression adds value to the organization beyond pipeline impact. Having a well-prepared plan with metric data as backup before you get to this point will help position you as the keeper of truth.

Question to ask:

  • What is the most cost-effective way to impact pipeline?

Stakeholders and sources to ask:

  • CMO
  • Marketing business unit leaders
  • Sales leaders

Metrics to measure:

  • Attribution ROI
  • Pipeline funnel x phases
  • Total campaign costs

Applications:

  • CRMs
  • Automation platforms
  • Finance and accounting
  • Marketing analytics

Understanding how to apply a framework to plan better and avoid a year-end scramble will undoubtedly help drive success in future efforts. To that end, a critical final landmine to watch for is not understanding marketing’s contribution to the pipeline and what your sales team’s quotas are. To prepare accordingly, know your funnel math, conversion attrition ratios, and how much pipeline from existing business vs. net new you are responsible for.