By Elizabeth Harr, Hinge
Step 1. Focus on business goals
A firm’s business goals should drive its strategic marketing decisions and be reflected in its marketing budget and plan. By answering such essential questions as Do we want to grow, and if so, by how much, and by when? Marketing executives should establish specific targets and goals and then identify customized strategies for achieving them.
Step 2. Develop insights on your target audiences
For most VAR organizations, marketing audiences typically include a mix of potential customers, referral sources and influencers, employees and subcontractors. Even if you believe you already understand your different audiences, conducting additional focused research can allow you to truly understand their preferences and craft your marketing accordingly.
There are two primary ways to research target audiences. Secondary research involves finding studies that have already been conducted regarding specific industries, markets or trends. More specifically, there are studies and research regarding marketing budgets that can be used for benchmarking (for example, my firm publishes a variety of marketing budget research). A second option is to commission primary research into the needs, wishes and constraints of your target audiences. Of the two categories, primary research is more expensive, but it also provides deeper and potentially more valuable insights into your customers.
Depending on your needs, there are different types of primary research:
- Opportunity Research — gauging the viability of various opportunities, audiences and sub-markets.
- Brand Research — assessing the strength and visibility of your brand in your chosen markets.
- Client Journey Research — gaining insight into how customers engage with you, from their first contact to development into loyal customers.
Step 3. Develop your marketing strategy
Establishing a marketing strategy involves high-level decision making regarding your overall marketing, including your marketplace positioning and messages for key audiences. An effective marketing strategy should have four key components:
- Insights into key target audiences, including how they see and value your service offering.
- Your firm differentiators. To be effective, each differentiator must be true, provable and relevant to clients — and ideally, informed by your research findings.
- Your market positioning. Incorporating your differentiators, your positioning provides a cohesive and compelling story that distinguishes you from your competitors.
- Key messages. These should be nuanced and specific for each of your audiences and must support your overall market positioning.
Step 4. Select your marketing channels
Your target audience research will tell you which communications tools and channels each of your audiences prefers to use. Based on those insights, you should balance your offline and online marketing accordingly. As shown in Figure 1, there are many parallels or analogues between traditional (offline) and digital marketing techniques.
Figure 1. Marketing techniques (green) and their traditional counterparts (blue).
Our research has found that the fastest growing and most profitable firms typically rely on a mix of traditional and online marketing techniques. Our findings also suggest that certain techniques work better than others, so it’s worth weighing your choices carefully to achieve the greatest impact.
Step 5. Determine how you will gather metrics
Most professional services firms track marketing results in three dimensions:
- Business Outcome. Typically found in your firm’s financial or CRM system, possible metrics include revenue growth, number and category of new clients and leads, and profitability.
- Market Visibility. The single best measure here is external website traffic. Specifically, consider tracking such metrics as number of visits to your site’s careers section and social media pages; another possible metric is growth of your email database.
- Subject Matter Expertise. Tangible indicators include number of white paper downloads, blog post views, and attendees at speaking events or webinars.
If you’re not doing so already, you should also begin tracking performance of specific elements in your marketing plan, such as whether article and blog posts, webinars and other events occur on schedule.
Step 6 Decide on your level of frequency and effort
For most value added resellers, marketing is a team sport, in which no individual or department can succeed by itself. This means that before you make decisions about how frequently your blog posts, white papers and so on appear, you should consult with any other departments that will be involved. To optimize the execution of your marketing plan, an industry best practice is to maintain a marketing calendar that specifies who is responsible for what marketing activity, with accompanying deadlines.
Step 7. Establish budgets
Once you have in place all of the marketing plan elements described above, it’s time to develop a corresponding budget.
If appropriate, ask any specialized vendors for estimates on specific projects and tools, such as website development or a new marketing automation platform. Somewhat more difficult is the process of estimating the cost of recurring marketing activities. Examples include writing and placing blogs or articles, which can be more complex, since part of the challenge is capturing the focus and involvement of your subject matter experts.
The next step is to compare your marketing expense benchmark, if you have one, with the estimated costs in your detailed “bottom up” budget. If the two budgets are fairly well aligned, congratulations — you’re well on your way! If there’s a significant discrepancy between the two, you may need to revisit some of your assumptions, making sure that you have allowed for all the possible steps and players involved.
Based on our experience, if you need to reduce your budget, it’s best to try eliminating one entire technique or initiative, rather than trimming across the board. In our experience, doing fewer things, but doing them better, delivers better results.
Best of luck to you on your marketing budget journey!
About The Author
Elizabeth Harr, Partner at Hinge, is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, branding and growth for professional services. Elizabeth cofounded a Microsoft solutions provider company and grew it into a thriving organization that became known for its expertise in Microsoft customer relationship management.