From the desktop of Amanda Vande Brake for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' blog.
Hello fellow tech marketers! Let’s play a game . . . and let’s call it “Guess What Time It Is?”! Picture this: You’ve begun scouring Slideshare, looking for the latest powerpoint trends. Your junk email folder is overflowing with the SPAM you’ve invited by downloading all those buzzword-fueled forecasting white papers. Meeting with Sales and Product fill up your calendar, and your team hasn’t seen you for days.
Now, guess what time it is! Give up? Why, it’s time for your organization’s strategic planning, of course! You must recall last year’s planning season - unseasonably balmy with a few surprise lightning storms followed by blistering heat, dust storms and tumbleweed? Sound familiar?
Well, the hope is that it won’t be familiar to you soon. Because, if you’re able to put some of these concepts for optimizing the actual communication and implementation of your Magnum Opus into practice today, the next time enterprise planning rolls around, your planning will have transformed into a delightful, 72-and-sunny stretch of action-oriented analysis.
That’s my hope for you, anyway! And to help turn these hopes into usable help, I offer my short-list of perennial strategic planning essentials.
#1 - Market your plan like a product.
You basically need to create and deploy a marketing plan for your marketing plan. It’s your tent pole product launch as a marketer, after all. Take a couple hours and map out your internal communication channels, distribution schedule and roll-out messaging alongside a standard market / audience assessment. Deploy, rinse and repeat every planning cycle.
#2 - Actively tend (read: assess + update) the planning deliverable.
Here’s the hard truth: If your marketing plans are one-and-done exercises, your plans will be recycled as quickly as the strategies detailed within them. Adapting and versioning your final plan when performance data comes rolling in is critical for your organization’s success as much as it is for building confidence in your own leadership. If you don’t believe your plans deserve careful and ongoing tending, why should countless team members and expenses be dedicated to fulfilling it?
#3 - Iterate your plan content and format with feedback from all end users.
As Judi Uttal wonderfully illustrated in her latest post for The Technology Marketing Center’s Leader’s Blog, feedback from internal teams such as Sales is invaluable for enhancing Marketing’s output and leadership value within your organization. Schedule an open forum conference call for your most vocal colleagues to provide feedback and send a quick, SHORT survey to those introverts in your address book. Take these steps before and after your plan is distributed throughout the organization to gather balanced input.
#4 - Don’t forget external partners!
Be sure all team members and outside vendors / partners are included in your roll-out efforts, and consistently encourage them to use the plan as their North Star alongside any project or creative briefs. For this group, especially, acronyms and buzzwords are a no-go or you’ll lose them at FOMO.
#5 - Create your own language.
Language is KEY! I’ve had success time and time again assigning ridiculous, though entertaining, names to some overwhelming planning documents. The latest was “Phil” (renamed here to conceal his true identity), an excel file busting at the seams with the entire line-up of an organization’s marketing, media, content and creative tactics. In truth, it was a simple list of tactics associated with schedule dates; however, it was a long, long list that overwhelmed the bravest of marketing pros. So, I named it Phil. Phil became our friend and kept things real by giving us a laugh before we took a deep breath and opened the document to answer the question on the table. As silly as this one sounds, it actually adds some lovely levity to the pomp and circumstance of strategic documentation.
#6 - Develop the team’s capabilities before introducing new strategic tactics if possible.
This one deserves its own book series, in my opinion. But as number 6 on this list, I’ll focus on the core takeaway which is - If the audience for your strategic plan is either not capable or not confident enough to receive your plan as a rousing call to marketing arms, then you, my brave and weary friend, have some major work ahead of you.
Now, let me clarify, before I lose some of you myself - I am not suggesting that the strategic goals and legit needs of an organization be tempered or delayed due to resource development needs of any kind. I am suggesting that the team charged with executing the strategic plan be coached and developed to the stage where their confidence and / or competence is stable enough to be able to welcome the plan with an open mind and trust that the same organization standing behind the strategic plan is also standing behind their success as plan-implementing team members.
Brandi Stankovic, author of The Strategic MVP, sees this as a risk for successful plan implementation.
“In my experience, the greatest vulnerability for a breakdown in execution of the strategic plan happens in the accountability of implementing operational tactics and/or allocating adequate resources,” Stankovic shared. “Organizations may also adjust the plan itself in order to align with the capacity and resources of the organization.”
“Rarely will a strategic initiative not be addressed due to regulatory oversight and performance metrics; however, organizations may shy away from setting audacious or innovative goals because they just won't be able to achieve them,” Stankovic added. “And guess what mediocre standards produce? Mediocre results.”
Strategic planning - at any level - is inherently complex and angst-filled within even the calmest organizational waters. By putting these plan roll-out essentials into practice, you’ll be on your way to managing a few more of the manage-ables and leveling some of the speed bumps on your plan’s path to success.