How to Create an Effective B2B Marketing Plan
Marketing encompasses an almost endless array of possibilities. Even in B2B marketing for technical and industrial businesses, it’s not uncommon to get caught up with trends and “shiny objects.” To stay on track, start with a clear marketing strategy, and build a roadmap for executing that strategy with a solid marketing plan.
- What is a marketing plan and why do I need one?
- What makes a good B2B marketing plan?
- What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?
- How to outline and build a marketing plan
- A more detailed marketing plan outline
- Marketing plan examples
- High-impact tactics for a B2B marketing plan
- Specialized plans for digital marketing, inbound marketing and content marketing
- Keep your marketing plan relevant
What is a marketing plan and why do I need one?
A marketing plan is your guiding document for any marketing activities you undertake. It’s not static. It will evolve as you discover which activities perform the best, and as your company’s business, sales and marketing strategies, goals and messaging change.
The purpose of a marketing plan extends beyond just guiding day-to-day marketing. A marketing plan can:
- Establish a goal for marketing that is in support of, and contributes to, business success
- Help you get upper level buy-in and approval
- Communicate what you’re doing to others, including new staff or outside help
- Keep you focused on the most important goals
- Act as a consistent guide for strategies and tactics
What makes a good B2B marketing plan?
The current best guidance for any business plan is to avoid an overabundance of detail and keep things nimble and easy to adjust in a swiftly changing environment. We believe that the best marketing plans follow this philosophy, as well.
A hardworking marketing plan that won’t get put on the shelf, but will be used as a powerful tool, should:
- Outline short and long term goals
- Define your target market (ICP, personas, demographics/psychographics/firmographics, geography)
- Define your unique differentiators
- Define your niche or core focus
- Be simple and straightforward
- Be easy to scan, share and communicate
- Be easy to update on a regular basis
- Guide your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly activities toward your goals
Your plan will include the specific ways that you will reach your target market to achieve your goals, whether it’s through content marketing, PPC advertising, traditional advertising, social media, SEO, trade shows or all of the above.
What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?
Often, the terms are used interchangeably, and their contents overlap. For our purposes, let’s say that a marketing plan activates your marketing strategy by describing the steps you’ll take, during a defined period of time, to achieve the high-level goals of your marketing strategy.
A marketing strategy can and should be brief and to the point, while a marketing plan will include more specific objectives and tactics. To develop your marketing strategy, you might follow the “Marketing Strategy” portion of the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) business plan framework. The entire business plan is intended to be just two pages long and easy to understand, maintain and adjust. The Marketing Strategy portion contains these four sections:
- Target Market
- Three Uniques
- Proven Process
This is an excellent foundation. We recommend fleshing out the “Target Market” portion with more specifics, including:
- ICP (Ideal Customer Profile/company characteristics)
- Geography, firmographics like company size (revenue or headcount), industry
- Personas (key influencers in the buying cycle)
- Demographics, psychographics, key challenges or needs
Another element we recommend is a competitive analysis and/or SWOT that outlines how you stack up with the competition and where you want to make headway.
If your company hasn’t defined these things, some internal and external interviews, workshops or EOS processes, or an outside marketing consultant, can help guide you. It really is an important foundation. It might feel like homework, but if you’re re-positioning your firm, reaching new markets, or just haven’t ever written this stuff down before, it will help everything else get more focused and successful down the line.
Once you’ve established this baseline marketing strategy, however, you’ll still need a marketing plan for actions you’ll actually take to reach these companies and people.
How to outline and build a marketing plan
Determine whether you are creating a marketing plan for the entire company, a specific division or a specific product or service. Many B2B technical and industrial companies with small marketing teams will opt to create one plan for the entire company that might include some tactics specific to certain divisions, products or services.
Here’s the basic structure of most marketing plans:
- ICP and Business Summary
- Business Goals / KPIs
- Marketing Initiatives and Tactics
- Reporting and Refinement
It’s a good idea to preface the document with an executive summary for the benefit of management.
A more detailed marketing plan outline
Different outlines and templates are suited for different situations. For example, a more detailed approach for larger organizations would incorporate a great deal of research and background on both internal and external factors, from quarterly sales figures to global technological trends. You would begin with the executive summary, and then move on to background information, or the “marketing situation,” including the competitive analysis. Here is an outline of this kind of marketing plan:
- Executive Summary
- Marketing Situation or Background Information
- Your company — background data on sales, distribution, your target markets and so forth
- The larger backdrop — competitive analysis, the overall market and its segments, market trends, larger trends in terms of the economy, society, politics, technology, etc.
- Marketing Situation Analysis
- Including your SWOT analysis, this section sets up a rationale for the following section, your actual marketing activities
- Objectives and Strategy
- Specific objectives you wish to achieve, and strategies to achieve them
- Marketing Activities
- The actual programs and tactics you plan to use
- Measuring Success
- The metrics you will use to determine what is working, and how you will approach changes to the plan, such as a quarterly review
Marketing plan examples
For a quick example of a high-level marketing plan, head over to HubSpot and fill out their marketing plan template generator. It will ask you a few questions about your company and goals, and you’ll get a good example marketing plan, somewhat customized, as a starting point that you can flesh out with more detail.
You should always feel that you can tweak any marketing plan template or outline to suit your unique needs. Rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach, we’ve collected a few additional marketing plan samples and resources from around the web, so that you can see the similarities and differences, and find one that fits well as a starting point for you.
High-impact tactics for a B2B marketing plan
If you’re selling soft drinks, your marketing plan might include a Super Bowl commercial. In B2B, the stakes for your customers are higher than picking a beverage, and the highest-impact tactics will help establish you as an authority and a trusted resource.
- Build and optimize a great B2B website: Your website is your greatest marketing tool and the foundation of your efforts. You can take a good/better/best approach.
- Develop case studies and other content marketing pieces: Sales teams request case studies more than any other content tactic.
- Create high-converting landing pages to produce leads: Landing pages are campaign-based and often targeted to specific keyword phrases. Their only purpose is to capture a lead through a compelling offer and CTA.
- Leverage your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform for marketing automation: In addition to storing customer information in a single location, you’ll be able to tie revenue to your marketing activities and save money by automating certain tasks.
- Implement ABM practices to improve ROI: Account-based marketing uses retargeting and other tactics to focus on specific prospects or types of prospects.
- Include additional methods of generating leads and interest: If your company has had success with industry events, social media marketing, public relations or other activities, include these in your plan.
- Establish a process for nurturing leads: You’re building a plan to get leads; be sure to follow through.
Specialized plans for digital marketing, inbound marketing and content marketing
For most of our B2B and industrial clients, any marketing plan will have a heavy focus on digital marketing, inbound marketing and content marketing. Traditional marketing tactics shouldn’t be forgotten, but in our increasingly digital world, a marketing plan that doesn’t address Inbound marketing, digital marketing or content marketing would be a mistake and a missed opportunity.
Depending on the size of your business and marketing efforts, a specialized content marketing plan and content calendar, broken out into a separate document, will be useful.
A procedure document that outlines ongoing digital marketing activities (weekly blog/article posts, biweekly newsletter sends, daily social posts, etc.) will keep everyone focused on the granular to-dos that make up the overall strategic plan.
A digital marketing strategy plan should include how you plan to maintain and improve your digital presence through your website and marketing automation tools, initiatives for organic SEO, paid media or PPC, social, local SEO, email, and other account-based marketing (ABM) practices.
B2B digital marketing plan
As noted above, a digital marketing plan goes deeper than a general marketing plan on digital marketing strategies and tactics. When our team reviews a new client’s digital marketing situation for the first time, we look holistically at the current situation and what’s worked and not worked in the past, setting goals and KPIs for improvement, along with recommendations for all of the major channels.
Often, we work with clients that have not invested heavily (or at all) in digital marketing in the past, and then it’s even more important to prioritize efforts to focus on the highest-impact activities.
A sample digital marketing strategy plan will typically cover key objectives, strategies and tactics related to a variety of areas, prioritized and hand-selected based on the individual client’s situation, starting point and goals:
- KPIs, goals, and objectives
- Website improvements
- Messaging and positioning clarification
- ICP and persona definition
- SEO (organic search engine optimization)
- PPC (Google ads and other paid ad opportunities)
- Directories and referrals
- Display advertising or remarketing
- Social media advertising
- Organic social media or outreach activities
- ABM strategies
- Content calendar creation and topic identification
- Marketing automation and CRM
- Lead nurturing
- Web analytics and reporting
A typical three-month plan might prioritize setting up analytics to measure progress, key activities on the website and organic SEO, selective paid advertising to boost organic traffic in the short term, and remarketing, initial marketing automation and email nurturing, leaving other activities to be brought in further down the funnel.
B2B inbound marketing plan
An inbound marketing plan is similar to a digital marketing plan, but focused primarily (sometimes exclusively) on inbound marketing. While we see inbound as the ultimate goal and primary focus of any SEO initiative, most clients benefit from looking at the picture holistically and diving deeper into inbound after the basics are in place.
When you’re ready to commit to inbound marketing, which usually demands a large amount of content generation, you’ll want to include strategy and tactics for:
- Goals and KPIs
- ICP (ideal customer profile) definition and personas
- Content calendar development
- Marketing automation (including the tools for setting up gated content access and exit intent popups)
- Email nurturing
B2B content marketing plan
Content marketing is of course a huge component of any inbound marketing plan, or any digital marketing plan, for that matter. Think of it this way: A marketing plan > digital marketing plan > inbound marketing plan > content marketing plan.
A content marketing plan may include pieces of content that are likely to be delivered as part of the sales process—datasheets, case studies, trade publication articles and the like—in addition to those delivered via marketing activities.
These end up in sales enablement territory, but that is fine, because sales and marketing work best when they’re working together, not isolated in their silos. It’s more practical to think of all your content together, with the sales process a continuation of the inbound marketing process for inbound leads.
Keep your marketing plan relevant
Update your marketing plan regularly. Approach it as a living document and conduct regular “checkups.” You’ll want to assess it quarterly.
Do you need to update KPIs or refine plans to reach objectives that you’ve missed?
Do certain goals need to be updated because the previous goals have been achieved or have become irrelevant? Are your target personas still accurate?
The circumstances of your business are also constantly changing; make sure the plan evolves along with business goals, sales goals and external factors. Think of how the global pandemic affected your business in 2020. Did your entire business have to pivot?
Did you change your B2B marketing approach because trade shows and sales meetings were canceled or changed to virtual formats? Most external factors are not so dramatic or historic, but stay attuned to factors that might affect your marketing in the short or long term.