3 Keys to A Killer Marketing Plan

Do you have a marketing plan? For many firms, the answer is no. According to a study by Outbound Engine half of small businesses don’t have a marketing plan.

It is not unusual to hear small business owners say they don’t do marketing because they get most of their business through referrals. And while referrals are a great source of new business, in reality you have little control over when and how many come in.  In fact, many business owners and managers view marketing as a “luxury” … something to be done when things are going well. To this group, marketing is a cost that should be minimized rather than an investment that should be maximized. Many of these business owners probably agree with John Wanamaker, the father of modern advertising, who famously said, “I know half of my marketing budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half!”

So …why should a business have a marketing plan? What are the benefits of having such a plan and can it make a difference?

3 Keys to a Killer Marketing Plan

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”– Benjamin Franklin

There are many choices business owners can make to grow their business. In a resource constrained environment, the challenge is to make the most cost-effective choices.  A marketing plan is a documented road map of data driven, strategic and tactical choices with clearly defined metrics. This distinguishes a formalized plan from an ad hoc, seat of the pants “throw a lot of mud on the wall and see what sticks” approach. A killer marketing plan is:

  • Data-driven
  • Actionable
  • Measurable

Data Driven – Build Your Plan on Data Not on Instinct

“Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.”- Suhail Doshi, CEO, Mixpanel

On the popular cable TV show, Bar Rescue, struggling bars are given advice and a solid plan to turn their business around. The show’s host, John Taffer is a seasoned expert, who has “rescued” hundreds of bars over the course of his career. He could easily rely on his intuition, experience and “gut feel” to develop strategies and tactics. Instead, Taffer relies heavily on internal and external data to develop a customized rescue plan. Like John Taffer, you should also use internal and external data to build your marketing plan. But what is internal and external data and where do you get it?

Internal Data Sources for Marketing Planning

Internal data is especially valuable because it is a free information source that you control in terms of the mechanics and timing of how it is collected and reported. Customer data is critical for marketing planning because it provides real time insights about who they are. A thorough understanding of your customers will make it easier to target prospects that have similar characteristics.  Your customer records will tell you: 

  • Long-term customers (Tenure, Satisfaction)
  • Who buys (Demographics, Psychographics)
  • What they are buying from you (Products, services)
  • Where they are buying (Online, brick and mortar)
  • Which marketing appeals had the most/least impact
  • Your most effective sales channel(s) (Click, Call, Face)
  • Their most frequently asked questions

Internal data sources include:

  • Accounting– Sales, cost and cash flows.
  • Operations – Production, shipments, inventory, customer satisfaction ratings, service levels.
  • Sales – customer reactions, competitive threats, sales by channel, price point, profit margin, geographic area, customer type and sales person.
  • Marketing– lead generation, lead sources, web traffic, inbound call rates, social media activity, customer demographics, psychographics and buying behaviors.

External Data Sources for Marketing Planning

External data provides context for your internal data. It helps you understand  market dynamics with regard to the  size of the market, your share of the market and your competitors. External data sources are useful in assessing:

  • Demographic/socio-cultural forces
  • Political and legal forces
  • Competitive forces
  • Science/technology factors

You have little control over what external data is collected and reported. It requires time and effort to determine which data is relevant and applicable to you. Fortunately, there is a ton of “free” external data from FederalState and Local sources that can be used for marketing planning.

Applying your intuition and experience to analyze and interpret internal and external data results in fact-based decisions that are tailored to your business situation.

Actionable – What You Will Do to Make it Happen

“Vision Without Execution is Hallucination” – Thomas Edison

An “actionable” marketing plan lays out:

  • Who the actions will be focused on (target markets),
  • What the actions are (inbound or outbound), and what they are expected to accomplish (specific goals)
  • When the actions will occur (dates of execution)
  • Where the actions will take place (social media platforms, geographic areas etc.)
  • How much each action is expected to cost (budget)

It is critical that everyone in the organization is aware of and familiar with the marketing plan, especially customer facing employees and support staff. It is a mistake for the organization to assume that sales and marketing functions have sole responsibility for growing the business. Ultimately, the degree to which the plan is successful is a function of the discipline used in its execution. Without enterprise wide commitment and discipline to execute the plan the likelihood of success will be compromised


“What gets measured, gets done” – Peter Drucker

It is critical to establish upfront what you want to accomplish with your marketing. A clear set of goals makes it easier to develop metrics that will accurately track your performance. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are actionable metrics tied directly to your bottom line that can be used to track progress against goals. Establishing KPIs  is one of the most important steps in the marketing planning process.

KPIs must be:

  • Clearly defined – everyone should be able to understand them
  • Quantifiable – you must be able to measure and report on it
  • Adaptable – easily modified if conditions change
  • Crucial to achieving organizational objectives – things that must be done to reach a specific goal

Sales and Marketing Key Performance Indicators

Marketing KPIs

Sales KPIs

Sales Revenue

New Leads/Opportunities

Cost Per Lead

Client Acquisition Rates

Customer Lifetime Value

Sales Volume by Location

Inbound Marketing ROI 

Competitor Pricing

Traffic-to-Lead Ratio (New Contact Rate)

Existing Client Engagement

Lead-to-Customer Ratio

Employee Satisfaction

Landing Page Conversion Rates

Upsell/Cross-Sell Rates

Organic Traffic

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Social Media Traffic (and Conversion Rates)

System Touches

Mobile Traffic, Leads and Conversion Rates

Sales Cycle Length


Final Thoughts

  “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence—it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”- Peter Drucker

One of the constants in business is change. Therefore, when executing your plan, you must be prepared to deal with unanticipated changes. Let’s face it, stuff happens, and a new development could render planned action items irrelevant. Even though the marketing plan is documented on paper, it is not written in stone. When new things occur, the plan can be used as a decision-making filter to compare alternatives, judge trade-offs and decide on the best approach. This approach brings discipline to what can be an emotionally driven response to new developments in the marketplace.

A killer marketing plan provides a level of control over the success of your business that cannot be achieved by simply relying on referrals. It is built on a set of data-driven actions that are continuously measured and monitored.

While it is unrealistic to expect to complete 100% of your marketing plan, commitment and discipline to the plan’s execution is essential for its success. This is more likely to happen when the entire organization is aware of the plan and understands that everyone has a stake in growing the business.


What are your thoughts on having a marketing/growth plan? Are they effective, what other ways can they be improved? We look forward to reading your feedback and perspectives, via comments below, or let’s connect on LinkedIn for further discussion.

gL Marketing Consultants develops inbound and outbound marketing plans and specializes in digital marketing strategy development, implementation.

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