How to Plan Smart and Pivot Fast.
7 Marketing Leaders’ Planning Perspectives
The CMO Guide to Planning in 2022
How do marketers learn to plan?
There’s no industry standard for planning, and no course that gives you a cheat sheet. Many marketing organizations are starting to recognize that planning is its own discipline, so they’re creating roles focused entirely around marketing planning and strategy.
Marketing leaders across different industries share their insights on marketing planning—how they learned to plan, what lessons they’ve learned, and how they keep hundreds of marketers aligned to the plan.
Each chapter shares a new perspective and advice backed by decades of experience.
Leverage Rev Ops Insights to Drive Growth
Today’s CMO faces more budget scrutiny than at any time in recent history. However, they’re blocked by operational silos, limited visibility, and poorly utilized technology investments. One path through the noise is for CMOs to take the lead on revenue operations (rev ops) initiatives to drive growth.
So what can a veteran rev ops leader share about planning?
Richard Wasylynchuk, former vice president of revenue operations at Visier Inc., says that since the formation of the rev ops function, the organization is able to look at plans and performance more holistically. In the past, planning might have started with corporate objectives and key results, which were typically pipeline and revenue targets, and then marketing and sales would divide and conquer.
Data is power and knowledge. I think the more data points you can look at—how things perform and how they will perform—will be helpful in getting a plan that is closer to the reality of what you wanted and will deliver the results you expect.
As Viser started looking at programs more holistically, their investments began to take a full-funnel approach. The mindset changed from “we need leads, we need MQLs, so here’s the budget, and here’s how we’re going to do it,” and they were able to focus more on programs that impacted velocity down the funnel.
We're always watching the quality of lead and pipeline generation. If we're finding that certain channels aren't performing well, we determine if we should make adjustments . . . we ask if it's the right mix of channels, if it's the right targeting, or if we should decrease or increase funding anywhere.
Richard recommends viewing marketing performance data through two lenses. The first is understanding operational program data points such as, “Are webinar registrations trending up or down?” But then there is the strategic lens: “How long does it take for those webinar registrations to convert into pipeline?”
A feedback loop to review trends and take action is where many marketers struggle. Richard advises on establishing a cadence of reporting and insights tied into the same cadence as budget management. Depending on the complexity of your marketing organization, that could be monthly or quarterly.
Planning is a Promise to Deliver
To marketers, their plans are blueprints for how they’re going to hit pipeline targets. But for the rest of the company, marketing plans are a promise and expectation of what marketing will deliver to the business.
Eric Gillies, marketing finance analytics manager at Unilever, always approaches marketing plans by thinking of the CEO’s and CFO’s expectations. Unilever uses a “North Star” marketing strategy to keep more than 400 global brands and hundreds of marketers aligned to top-level company targets and business goals.
Within the financial world, we're constantly giving out projections for the next quarter, next year, and so forth. For me, planning is making sure that when you talk to someone else, you're able to say, 'Here's what we're planning. Here's actually how we're going to deliver it.' Then it doesn't become a discussion several months down the line—when actuals come in—that anyone is really surprised.
The “North Star” starts with the global team to set the strategic intentions for marketing. Those goals trickle down to the geographical leadership level and then to a category level, such as Ice Cream, where marketers are delivering on the spending goals but can change the plans to better fit the needs of that region or product line.
For B2C enterprises, any campaign in a marketing plan has months and months of preparation, but things can still change by the time a campaign is ready to roll out. Supply chains have been the biggest change agent in the last couple of years. To ensure that things land as expected or to handle a necessary pivot, Unilever uses scenario planning and matrices to know when their windows for change occur.
Planning Isn't a Checkbox—It's Your Strategy Come to Life
Up until spring 2020, many marketers saw planning as an annual exercise. Even though the majority of marketing departments have since move to shorter planning cycles, Sean Hiss, vice president of global GTM operations at WEKA, still believes most marketers see planning as a checkbox.
What you hear often is 'tell me how much budget I have, and I'll tell you what I'll do with it,' which is a spending plan that usually has a list of tactics associated with it. But that's not a go-to-market plan. I wanted to break functional silos and give visibility to planning and marketing strategy.
Marketers need to start seeing planning as strategic instead of a chore or the next item on their to-do list. Sean likes to ask his team what plans they would execute if they had an endless budget. They take the best of their limitless ideas, and then work backwards to see what’s possible based on available budget, people, and time to execute.
A CMO’s or VP’s role in the planning process is to make sure their team understands the value of a cross-functional plan, thinks holistically about their plans, and is invested in the execution and success of their programs.
I want to empower my team so they don't feel like their marketing tactics are random—or worse, start doing random marketing tactics.
With how fast the markets change, there’s a sense of urgency to get programs and campaigns out the door. But that urgency doesn’t negate the need to think and act strategically. In Sean’s experience, you’ll go into market faster and stronger if your marketing team takes the time up front to get aligned by agreeing on outcomes and order of priorities.
Use Stakeholders to Stop Random Acts of Marketing
For a plan to succeed, everyone involved needs to be aligned. At Faro Technologies, while everyone is involved in the planning process to some degree, the four integrated marketing directors (IMDs) act as stakeholders to prevent random acts of marketing from taking over plans.
Always be able to plan to change. I've never seen a plan that actually unfolds exactly how to initially expect it to.
The IMD role is a new change implemented by Lisa Cole, vice president of corporate marketing at Faro. As the keepers of the plans, an IMD will build the plan, and then report on performance. They’re aligned with workflow directors in product marketing for revenue expectations, and they reverse-engineer demand generation programs and campaigns based on what they need to create in the context of their goals and regions.
To monitor and track any plan changes, you need to have a clear understanding of your leading indicators of success. Once you establish those metrics, you'll be able to get out ahead of shifting plans as quickly as possible. You need to know what's working and what's not.
Lisa says Faro’s marketing team used to start planning based on what sales needed in a region. And although sales and marketing alignment is important, this process led to too many random acts of marketing.
Now they have guardrails up to guide their planning process and keep it aligned to strategy. They start by asking:
- What are we going to talk about?
- Who are we going to reach?
- What are the business goals?
- How will we get the revenue based on expectations for the region?
IMDs ensure their plans perform well by going over reports on a monthly basis. They check for underspending, gaps in lead flow, and any other areas where they need to pivot to hit their marketing goals.
Marketing Ops Should Run Planning
Too often, marketing ops is mired in configurations and integrations so that it becomes no more than a glorified lead processing function.
Marc McNabb, vice president of marketing operations and strategy at Hyland Software, passionately disagrees. To Marc, marketing ops should run planning; they should be the ones to drive and optimize the strategy process. He’s speaking from decades of experience running strategy and planning processes at companies like Siemens and formalizing the marketing ops process at SAP.
Planning is planning, but it needs to adapt to the needs of the current business. There is no 'one size fits all'.
Hyland’s marketing ops team is integral to Hyland’s planning process, which is broken into the strategic marketing operational plan for the year and the always-on campaign planning. Every quarter, marketing ops creates reporting packages so marketing leadership can vet active campaign performance and any expansions or modifications against net-new campaign proposals.
We want to understand what's working and what new opportunities we have. We're always prioritizing and updating campaign plans to get what needs to be in the market right away.
Marc’s team evaluates each campaign’s success from a program objective: reputation, demand volume, demand ABM, sales enablement, and customer. The process is still evolving, but it gives Hyland’s marketers the ability to make data-driven changes faster.
Get Your Systems and Processes Fit to Fight
No battle plan ever survives first contact, and Ron Myers, performance management and operations at NSF, would say no marketing plan ever survives the first marketing activity. The only way to make intelligent and agile decisions to change plans is to listen to your metrics.
We are ultimately breaking down the ROI, which is every marketer's dream, to justifiably quantify what we're doing and make sure we've got direction or the go-forward.
Over the last two years, this has been a very focused project to connect revenue targets and attributable marketing actions. This measurement system is critical to NSF’s planning process. It is imperative to connect marketing’s investments to specific activities and measure their return.
But Ron cautions not to get too sucked in by a beautiful dashboard of metrics. It doesn’t mean anything if those metrics aren’t key performance indicators (KPIs), and you can’t use those measurements to truly drive your actions moving forward.
Make sure you have consistent measurement systems that work together: they're fit to fight. It doesn't do you a lot of good if you've got limited resources and you pile everything in, you're going to break the system.
It’s not enough to have a consistent planning process, you need consistency around reporting too and those processes must be aligned. Ron recommends starting by agreeing on your KPIs, how those are being measured, and the reporting cadence. Then you can focus on how those KPIs will be used to direct and adjust your plans to that you ultimately reach the objectives that support the larger business goals.
Marketing Agility Needs Structure to Succeed
Marketing planning is now a constantly evolving operation, not an annual process. To change plans with agility, marketers need:
- A single source where plans are managed
- A hierarchical structure to guide planning from strategy to execution
- A level of autonomy to adapt global plans
Stephan Giesecke, global category manager at TMD Friction, shares these tips for how their global marketing organization became more aligned and agile.
Of course there have to be some guidelines, starting with corporate design. Then I think the best way to do it is with autonomy, so that people can actually identify what they're planning and they stand behind that plan, which is approved and discussed centrally.
Plans inevitably face roadblocks. Campaigns that execute well in one geography may not perform well in another. Teams may suddenly face a lack of resources or personnel. Economic conditions can change opportunities in different markets.
This is where Stephan sees the benefits of flexibility from allowing centrally developed materials to be adapted to fit local requirements. But without any sort of guardrail system, there would be chaos.
Without a top-down component, we would have failed . . . At the top, we have company, region, campaign, element of campaign, etc. This structure needs to be decided and implemented in every region.
Marketers can build the plans that work for the specific region. Having that level of autonomy creates a better environment for the marketers to thrive and for the team to reap the benefits together.
Forrester's Advice on How to Plan Smart and Pivot Fast
In the Plan Smart. Pivot Fast. webinar series, Forrester Principal Analyst Marcia Trask identified three areas to monitor for signs to pivot:
1. Dependencies and risks
2. Operational KPIs
3. Early-warning systems
Planning and budgeting tend to be synonymous, and I'm here to tell you most definitely they are not, and should not be.
Forrester flagged eight early-warning systems:
1. Macroeconomic growth data
2. Customer community feedback
3. Local client spending data
4. Customer satisfaction surveys
5. Market trends radar
6. Regional marketing data
7. Customer journey maps
8. Product usage/client business outcomes
Forrester recommends leveraging the role of marketing operations as a strategic function to own measurement and analytics, drive the planning process, and work cross-functionally to mitigate risk and discrepancies.
Three Take-Away Themes for Planning
Throughout the conversations with these marketing leaders, we started to see three persistent themes emerge.
1. Strategy and planning are inextricably linked
Marketers need to stop thinking about planning as a chore, a checkbox, or a budgeting exercise. Planning is strategic. You should always be able to explain how the marketing plan can ladder up to the business plan, align to product roadmaps, and link directly to the sales plan.
2. Return on intent is a new measurement for success
The program with the best ROI really depends on your goal and what the intent was, not just the investment. If your core objective was X and your go-to-market machine did Y, were those plans really aligned to that intent? Highlight how those outcomes translate to hitting your business goals to reinforce marketing’s contribution.
3. Monthly reporting and re-evaluation of campaigns is a must
Marketing operations plays a critical strategic role in planning. Their expertise is necessary to understand how campaigns are performing, if there is under- or overspending, and if there are gaps in your lead flow. These check-ins and scenario planning can help you better understand how your plans need to pivot to meet your marketing goals.
Continue to learn about strategic and agile marketing planning in our Plan, Pivot, & Repeat Webinar Series.
Marketing leaders at companies like ON24, Cisco, and Hyland Software share their stories on keeping their team aligned to strategy, staying agile with planning processes, and building innovation into their plans.
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