Five Critical Steps to Developing a Marketing Plan

By Lee Chapman | VP Account Services

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. For a more detailed reference, check out our ebook, Preparing Your 12-Month Marketing Plan.

 5 critical steps to developing a marketing plan


Step 1: Define Your Business Goals

A sound marketing strategy aligned with your highest-level business goals and objectives helps you create awareness for your company and its products and services, drive website traffic and leads, and generate new sales opportunities that meet your company’s target audience profile.

With your goals and objectives in place, you have more insight into what you need to build a marketing strategy, develop an action plan, and define how to measure results.

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

Step 2: Conduct a Marketing SWOT and Set Goals & Budget

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 - 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.
  • Up to 5 SMART goals for the next 12 months, such as
    • Grow leads by 10 percent on a flat budget by shifting marketing dollars from outbound to inbound channels
    • Increase the number of qualified opportunities passed to sales by
      15 percent
    • Triple the number of published customer case studies in the top three segments
  • Marketing resources and budget - a rule of thumb for spending on marketing is 6-to-12% of gross revenue with higher spending in the early phases as you establish your marketing foundation. 

Recommended marketing spend based on revenue

 With your business and marketing goals defined and aligned, you are now ready to create your marketing execution plan

Step 3: Define 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 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.

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.

buyer persona

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

Step 4: Create Your Execution Plan

Now that you’ve created your marketing goals and have a budget, you are ready to develop your activity plan, also known as a marketing communications 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. 

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:

CampaignLead 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

CampaignPartner 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

Step 5: Organize and Measure

As a last step, you need to define marketing team roles, determine the timeframe in which you want to achieve results, and document the expected return of time and dollars invested. The organizational structure, pace, and outcomes should be part of your marketing plan, and you should review this plan quarterly and annually to ensure optimal use of limited resources for maximum output.

Though each company organizes its marketing team based on its unique culture, budget, and expected outcomes, you can choose from three general approaches to take: do-it-yourself (DIY), in-house, or outsourced. Each one has pros, cons, and cost variations to consider and thoroughly evaluate before making the best choice for your company. Often, the ideal approach is a hybrid one that optimizes existing resources and areas of expertise (such as technical content development) and focuses outsourced efforts on marketing gaps.

In terms of measurement, I recommend a marketing dashboard featuring the most important metrics that define marketing success for you. These metrics will likely come from multiple areas, including your funnel metrics (leads, opportunities, etc) and your campaign KPIs, and will indicate whether you are on track to achieve the marketing goals and objectives you defined in your strategy. Just as a car dashboard has indicator lights for low fuel or high speed, the metrics you include in your marketing dashboard should serve as these indicator lights, or warning signals, for marketing success. For your marketing dashboard, select these key metrics and add the monthly objective for each. Then, each month, add the actual results for each metric and consider an easy “indicator light” system such as highlighting each metric result red, yellow, or green based on whether they are below target, on target, or above target. 


Here's an example marketing scorecard. 

Looking for additional insight? Check out our free ebook, Preparing Your 12 Month Marketing Plan, to learn more. 

B2B Marketing Planning Ebook

This post was updated May 2018 from its original publication in 2014. 

The purpose of a marketing plan is laying out how a company will achieve its stated business goals, and providing a framework to ensure that activities stay true to the vision and mission of the company. When starting the process of developing a marketing plan, there are five critical areas for consideration – positioning, objectives, strategy, tactics and execution. Our intention is to help prime the thought process prior to creating a marketing plan.
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Lee Chapman

VP Account Services

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