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5 Critical Steps to Developing a Marketing Plan

Marketers have a saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Without planning and a sound strategy, how can you know where you are going or what you need to do to get there? Here are five steps to develop your marketing plan. 

Step 1: Document Your Business Goals and Budget

Before jumping into the tactics and execution, your marketing team should ask the leadership team to define their business goals for the next 1-3 years. Your goals can be externally focused, internally focused, or perhaps a mix of both.

Business Goals and Budget

When developing goals (at the business level or otherwise), write them in the SMART format that ensures accountability. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound and represents business goals such as:

  • Increase product line revenue by 30 percent to $2 million in the next 12 months
  • Double revenue through distributors in the next two years
  • Increase profitability from 25 to 30 percent by the end of the year

While you are setting business goals, be sure to also set a marketing budget for the year. A good rule of thumb for setting a marketing budget is 6-to-12% of gross revenue with higher spending in the early phases as you establish your marketing foundation. 

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Step 2: Conduct A SWOT Analysis

Ultimately, you want marketing that provides a consistent flow of high-quality leads to help fuel new sales opportunities and drive growth. You want your technical target audiences and customers to be happy to hear from you and not dread it. And you have a limited budget and tight bandwidth.

The way to achieve all of this is to use a smart marketing approach that builds a marketing strategy and execution plan aligned to your business goals and starts with a SWOT of your current marketing program. Document strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in terms of your competitive position, target markets, target audiences, current positioning/messaging, the maturity of your offerings, channel partners, etc.

SWOT Analysis


Step 3: Identify Your Target Personas

You probably know the profile of your most valuable prospects and the sales process your company uses to convert them from leads to opportunities to customers. However, as your company grows, you won’t know each prospect’s unique situation, and one message won’t work for all. You’ll need to customize your marketing approach by creating buyer personas.

buyer persona example-1 (2) (1)

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers based on demographic data, online behavior, and your educated speculation about personal histories, motivations, and concerns. For example, you may define one of your personas as VP of Engineering Vince, a business executive who cares most about cost and long-term support. A second persona could be Engineer Elliot, an engineering manager or senior staff engineer who is an expert in your technology area and wants to do a deep dive into the technical capabilities of your product or how you deliver a service. Elliot greatly influences Vince, but Vince makes the final decisions. Vince and Elliot have very different concerns.

buyer persona example-1

Here's an example of a buyer persona to give you an idea of how to develop your personas. 

The first step in creating your buyer personas is to brainstorm who they could be. Once you have your full list, identify the ones who have similar needs or roles and consider merging them. From here, prioritize your list of personas by considering their impact on the final purchase decision, their relationship to your company, and the size of the audience persona group. Once you’ve finished brainstorming, create your actual personas.

Create Buyer Personas


Step 4: Develop Your Marketing Goals

Armed with your business strategy, areas of greatest opportunity, and defined persons, you are now ready to create your marketing goals. Goal setting is critical to aligning your marketing organization, narrowing your focus, and setting your overall marketing strategy.

Marketing Goals

Documenting your goals ensures your team is aligned around your top marketing priorities and what you expect to achieve through your marketing efforts. Your goals can be externally focused, internally focused, or perhaps a mix of both.

Write your goals in the SMART format that helps ensures accountability. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

For example, your SMART marketing goal could be to “15% increase in the number of qualified leads passed to sales in the military market by Q4 2021”. Develop at least three, and no more than five, SMART marketing goals.

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Step 5: Build Your Activity Plan

Now that you’ve created your marketing goals and have a budget, you are ready to develop your activity plan.The most effective way to approach turning your marketing strategy into an execution plan is by using a campaign structure. You can think of campaigns as buckets of activities focused on a common theme or goal.

With limited time and budget, a campaign approach gives you the big picture before you get into the weeds of which new video you will produce, which white paper you will write and promote, etc.


Build Activity Plan

Campaigns can run the gamut in scope. They can be anything from a major product launch to building thought leadership in a particular segment to increasing web traffic and leads. Here are two examples of marketing campaigns and their stated goals and KPIs:

Campaign- Lead generation and conversion

  • Description—Through content and partner co-marketing, attract quality leads that convert to opportunities
  • KPI 1—Increase leads by 35 percent to 210 per month
  • KPI 2—Increase lead opportunity conversion from 6 to 8 percent

Campaign—Partner marketing

  • Description—Develop and implement a channel co-marketing program
  • KPI 1—Publish at least one lead-generating piece of co-branded content per quarter
  • KPI 2—Generate 100 net new leads through co-marketing activities

Strategy is an evolution, and something that takes a great deal of time to develop. However, mapping out a clear, strategic direction will ensure a cohesive marketing plan that maps to your personas through campaigns and is time bound and budget driven.

Marketing Planning Resources


Case Study: Knowles Precision Devices

Back in 2018, Knowles Precision Devices was under new marketing leadership and faced the opportunity to grab market share in a few key markets as they evolved. To meet these business goals, Knowles decided to implement an inbound marketing approach. Content was the heart of their approach, and they looked to TREW to plan, develop and execute their content marketing strategy from the ground up.

We started with a full marketing plan, establishing buyer personas, marketing goals, specific campaigns, and overall marketing strategy that the content plan would roll up and support. We then developed a detailed content plan that focused on four primary content themes targeted to the established personas at various stages of their buyer’s journey. Click the button below to read the full case study. 

Read the Full Case Study


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Looking for additional insight on marketing planning? Check out our B2B Marketing Planning Guidebook to dive deeper into the marketing planning process. This ebook steps you through how to create a 12-month marketing plan for B2B buyers.

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This post has been updated since its original publication in 2014.