It’s planning season. What does a growth-driven marketing plan look like? What research should you do? How do you cascade down from marketplace issues to marketing strategies and quarterly tactics? We’ll answer all this, and more, in just 20 minutes and 19 seconds.
Jason Mlicki: So I had this random idea, as you know me well enough to know that I have these all the time. And as you know, my idea was I want to do 2019 marketing planning in 20 minutes and 19 seconds. So I want to be able to give our listeners a roadmap to build a plan in just 20 minutes and my concern is that I’m talking to you and you’re going to blow that. So I’m counting on you to be surgical today.
Jeff McKay: That’s a big request but because it’s you, I will give you the liberty to just cut me off.
Jason Mlicki: The promise we’re making is that we’re going to do this in 20 minutes and 19 seconds. When we set this up, we said, okay, it’s planning season. We need to talk about planning.
The first question that came to mind for me was the nuances in different types of planning. So there’s strategic planning, marketing planning. There’s key account planning. Key capture plans that firms build. So I just thought you and I ought to have a quick dialogue around just the nuances in those different plans, you know, really what’s a strategic plan relative to our marketing plan? What’s the difference?
Jeff McKay: Some of them are interrelated, which ones you do really I think depend on where from is in terms of size and maturity and where they kind of land philosophically. So I think business planning is the most rudimentary. If you have practices or separate P&Ls, you need to lay out some kind of revenue goals and how you plan to get there.
Jason Mlicki: And revenue goals belong in the business plan. The goals for the growth you want the business to have in all its parts is a business planning activity.
Jeff McKay: Yes. And I think that ties back in most firms to some kind of three to five year strategic plan about longterm growth, HR strategies, IT strategies and general operation strategy.
Jason Mlicki: And when we’ve done this together. So I’ve had you come in to our clients and do strategic planning with us. We look at the entire landscape. So it’s not just the marketing of the practice, it’s all these other influences are going to affect a business’ ability to be successful.
Jeff McKay: Yes.
Jason Mlicki: Now, how does that differ from a marketing plan?
Jeff McKay: On an annual basis, those practices or however the P&Ls set are going to generate some kind of revenue goal. How are we going to get there?
Jason Mlicki: Target. Yeah.
Jeff McKay: And that’s going to be some top down and bottom up work and reconcile it in the middle, right.
Jason Mlicki: Okay.
Jeff McKay: And then how are we going to translate business plans into actual growth? And to me that’s where the hard work is because most business planning is kind of trend base. Hey, we’ve gone, you know, we’re growing at this rate for the last three or four years, let’s expect that to continue. And maybe give some caveats based on the maturity or potential of a given service line. The marketing planning or the marketing strategy really depends on kind of what school you belong to. Some more strategic marketing functions are going to say, okay, how are we going to translate it into something realistic? That starts with market segmentation, looking at market share, looking at potential and really identifying where that growth will come from. In a very real sense.
Jason Mlicki: One of the things I like to do in the marketing planning cycles, just try to get out of the leaders what they really want for their practice. Tell me what is it you want this firm to look like three years from today. And then map that down to a set of activities that we can do to deliver on those outcomes. And I always look at it as this sort of this continuum on one end, whatever they want. There’s things that we can do to get there and then that’s going to take a certain level of investment. And a lower level investment might get a lower outcome. And so it gives them a chance to say, well, yeah, I have this big grandiose vision, but maybe that’s not realistic.
I want to take a moment then and just differentiate between a marketing plan and a capture plan or a key account plan. And I see this a lot in the AE industry where they sort of know the big deals, right? They know what the big opportunities are in the marketplace and they’re focused very hyper sensitively on we need to build plans to go capture those large programs. And to me that’s not a marketing plan. That’s an important thing. It determines where revenue is going to come from for the growth plan that you’ve described. But to me a marketing plan is more of a one to many activity. It’s how we’re going to approach this market place with these initiatives, these strategies, these messages, these campaigns that we believe are going to accomplish these outcomes.
Jeff McKay: I’m fighting my urge to talk about nuance in terms of you know, that venn diagram of overlapping circles of business strategy, business planning, marketing planning and account planning. And to what degree are those messages really focused on specific marketing segments?
Jason Mlicki: I tend to look at a fairly simplistic way and say, well, if you operate under the assumption that marketing’s role is to go bring in new potential clients for new work, then your marketing plan should be focused mostly on that. And then your account plans ought to be focused on existing new. Right? So what are we going to do to go build new work inside of our existing client relationships or sustained work we already have, you know, sort of a pure professional services sense. So that’s how I try to paint it as a very black and white thing. It’s never that black and white. It’s always more nuanced, but I find it easier to look at the world in those kind of simplistic polarized lenses. I liked that discussion a lot. I think it was informative, but let’s talk about. So the goal is really to say if I’m sitting in the planning shoes right now and I’m a growth school marketer, I’m in a leadership function and I’m getting pressure from my leadership and from myself to deliver my 2019 plan. Let’s talk about the process for doing that. So I’ve got some thoughts, but I think I want you to start.
Jeff McKay: I think there are multiple ways of doing this. And every firm that I’ve worked in has been slightly different. But I think the general process is the same, is you have to decide how are you going to organize the marketing. And if you’re going to do it on a practice basis, then you need to sit down with the practice leadership team and after reviewing their business plan and going deep on how we’re actually going to translate that and asking them tough questions about, as you said, future state. What would it look like if we were successful after the end of this year or the building towards three years or whatever the case may be? And laying out some broad based goal. And then how are you going to measure the achievement of those goals? So laying out some very specific objectives, whether that’s, you know, new logos or share of wallet, overall revenue generation, however you’re gonna do that.
Jason Mlicki: In this context, when you say new logos, you mean new client acquisition?
Jeff McKay: Yes. You know, or however many leads in order to hit that revenue target. But you got to put a stake in the ground that you’re working towards and getting feedback on and learning from. And then to me, you really have to break down that target market whether your approach is ideal client profile or personas or some kind of demographic approach. You got to get down to that. And then what messages do we want to communicate either at the brand level or the marketing level? That’s all built out of building brand relevance in a given space. So what’s it going to take because you only have limited bandwidth into the channels. And people are only going to absorb so much, so let’s get really focused on what message we want to deliver to the market. And then I think where most plans hit is a combination.
Okay, what strategies are we going to use? Are we going to use an inbound methodology? Are we going to use account based strategies? Or however we’re gonna go after that. And then you jump into the tactics. For me, the tactics always start with what’s the intellectual capital agenda for the year? What thought leadership, what research, what point of view is going to shape this? Because whatever channels you choose you know are going to be driven by that point of view coming out of that intellectual capital agenda.
Jason Mlicki: I want to clarify something in there. So you start with goals. You say, okay, what are the goals now? What do we really want the future state to look like? You talked about the importance of just identifying the clients, meaning what type of client are we trying to attract that’s going to lead us to those goals. And you talked about there’s a couple ways to do that. From there you go to messages. Now this is where I wanted to kind of clarify a point. Because you have messages, strategies, tactics. And my assumption is the intellectual capital agenda that occurs in tactics, the message that we’re trying to tell occurs and the message is layer. So it’s sort of what is our point of view in this marketplace or in this practice or whatever it is we do? That supersedes strategies in my mind, and I think it does in yours.
Jeff McKay: Yes, and I think those messages are multilayered, right? You’ve got brand level messages, you’ve got marketing level messages, you’ve got sales level messages. You know, if you’re trying to own a certain positioning in the buyers mind that has a certain message associated with it. Your intellectual capital agenda should reinforce the positioning that you’re trying to achieve. So I think those all kind of get in … thrown into a mix that I would use for shorthand and that I would call value proposition you’re taking to market.
Jason Mlicki: And I, I guess I would argue if I, if I hear you describe those three tiers of messages, I would say there are issues you want to own. Those are strategic issues in the marketplace. I am Accenture. I want to own a distinct and compelling point of view on big data. That’s an issue that I need to have messages around. But then I think you’re saying there’s levels below that which are, I’m going to call them product messages, although that’s not what they are. It’s more describing the practice itself. It’s the differentiators of the practice or the features and benefits of the practice if you were to break it down and make it a product. So it’s almost you need to define all of those right. We need to define the issues we want to own, the key distinguishing features and benefits of the service we have or the practice that we have, which ultimately is the value proposition.
And all that supercedes strategies I think is the interesting point here. Is that you’ve got to figure that out before you figure out what you’re going to actually do about it. Because you need to be clear on what you want the market to think of you before you decide how you’re going to get potential clients to think and feel that way.
Jeff McKay: Yes, and to me that is all summed up in building the brand’s relevance in a given space.
Jason Mlicki: And what do we mean by relevance?
Jeff McKay: So relevance to me, brand relevance is about being considered a player, a go to small number of people in a given space.
Jason Mlicki: With expertise on a specific issue that matters.
Jeff McKay: Yes. McKinsey has relevance in the strategy market. McKinsey has no relevance in the accounting market. They’re just not recognized as a player in that space. And when I say player, I mean leader, expert.
Jason Mlicki: Yes.
Jeff McKay: Not just, Oh yeah, we know they’re not an accounting firm. But no, we know they have a point of view and they are a leader around as you used the Accenture example. Big Data.
And the goal of marketing is to build the relevance of the firm. And the practices around given client issues.
Jason Mlicki: Let me push on that a little bit because I can hear some practice leaders a little bit groaning, right? In the sense of they want more. Right? So what’s the role of marketing and lead gen? Because I would argue that the role of marketing is not just relevance, it’s you need to build the relevance of the practice in this way and you need to turn that relevance into leads for the practice. And so from messages we go to strategies and strategies we go to tactics. And when you say intellectual capital agenda, to me I read that as these are the things we’re going to do. This is the thought leadership we’re going to develop, this is the editorial calendar that governs it and this is how we’re going to take it to market. This is how we’re going to get it into the hands of the people that matter. People who can act upon it and hire us and, and of course get us back to the top of our goal, which was revenue growth. You know, new, new — new clients, new projects into the business.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. I want to know the big thinking coming out of the firm this year and I really want to scrutinize that thinking. And I think that’s a strategic marketing function, is to scrutinize the relevance of a thought leadership agenda. Is it unique? Is it innovative? Is it differentiated? Do we have proof points that demonstrate that point of view where we can actually substantiate what we’re saying with case studies or very specific and meaningful use cases?
Jason Mlicki: Original research and data.
Jeff McKay: Yes. And a lot of what comes out is thought leadership, you know, is it’s just bad and you’re expected to build a marketing plan out of it? It just doesn’t work. If you don’t challenge it then, when is it going to be challenged? It’s a critical success factor.
Jason Mlicki: One thing I would argue this, we’re going to bleed out of planning for a second, but is that I think it’s the responsibility of the marketing leadership to challenge as well as the practice leadership. In fact, it may even be more the responsibility of the marketing leadership to challenge because the practice leadership has a tendency to get a little bit inside of its blinders. And see what they believe as unique because they just haven’t been able to look across the whole picture as much because they don’t have the time. And the marketing leader’s job is to say, well, wait a minute. This isn’t all that unique. This isn’t novel. This isn’t different. We need new thinking here.
One thing I do have to say is we are incredibly well on schedule here. Now it be, we’ll see if the editor can get us down to exactly 20 minutes and 19 seconds. We’re a little long at the moment, but it still might be possible. But before we wrap, one part I want to talk about is the role of research in all this. What type of research goes into a good marketing planning process? And in this case, I want to specifically exclude the research that actually happens downstream. So the research that you should be doing to develop your intellectual capital. That’s different research. I’m talking about research on the planning side, if any.
Jeff McKay: I think that goes hand in glove with the upstream intellectual capital agenda as well. I don’t bifurcate the market research and the intellectual capital research around client issues. To me those dovetail and it’s more effective both in terms of marketing ROI and understanding the market speed and cost to combine them into one. And I think there are intelligent ways to do that. But it was really getting clear about what are the right questions that need answering versus what questions would we kind of like to have answered in order to be more effective in driving revenue. But I, I think they all kind of roll into one. And I think you know, if you look at some of the work that Bob Buday has done at the Bloom Group in their model, which I really like, he outlines it that way I think very cleanly in terms of you know commercialization of new products and services and an understanding of the market in a way that you can start building relationships with new clients. I just liked that way of …
Jason Mlicki: I agree entirely. I probably should preface my comment from before a little bit better. The act of doing research to me is the act of finding new ground. So it’s the act of identifying ways clients solve problems that you would not have otherwise understood from facing them in a day to day client relationship. And that creates new ground, creates new products, creates new services. The research that I tend to be dismissive of is sort of the research that defines the scale of something. Let’s see how many firms there are that are this size. Let’s see how many firms there are grappling with this issue. How big is the market for this or how big is the market for that? I agree with you. I believe that the foundational research that’s part of a thought leadership program ultimately is the … it’s R&D. Bob Buday would say it’s the research and development of the practice. It’s the places you go to innovate. And I can’t imagine how a firm can create new lines of future service without doing that type of research. It’s sort of the more demographic brand type research that often I think just gets in the way of what you’re trying to do as an organization.
Jeff McKay: Yeah, and I think that approach or at least for me and PrudentPedal and the work I do with clients has been supplanted by more of a business model canvas and lean startup methodology. Where we have smart people in the firm, let’s create a hypothesis and then let’s get out of the building and test it with the people that we think. And the learning just happens so much more quickly, much more cost effectively when you use that methodology versus a more formal strategy research or pure market research approach in the traditional sense.
And others would argue that against me, you know, and that’s fine. I’ve just found in my time the types of strategy stuff that comes back from McKinsey or BCG or LEK, yeah, it’s great information, but it’s just the ROI on that is just not there in my opinion.
Jason Mlicki: There’s a nuance though, right? We’re talking about a professional services practice and the way you approach that. And a lot of the research that those firms are doing are for totally different types of companies. I mean if I’m … the example I’ve always used is McDonald’s, let’s say, right. They do tons of research and they should do tons of research given the fact that they’re the largest real estate holder in the entire world, right? They feed more people than anybody in the world, so there’s a certain scale of operation there and a certain touch across so many consumers globally that there’s a requirement to do some level of research in order to make informed decisions. I guess to be prudent, right? To understand the risk associated with making changes or doing certain things.
Jeff McKay: Especially when it’s cascading down through channels like they do.
Jason Mlicki: Yes. And the scale of that. But I really enjoyed this sort of rapid fire discussion. I found a lot of value in it and I hope our listeners did too. Thank you for taking the time to join me on this 20 minute and 19 second journey that as of right now is definitely more than that, so we’ll see if that the wizards in editing can get it down to where we want it to be. And if not, well. We did our best. That’s all I can say.