Annual Marketing Plans

Part III: How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Own Planning Meeting

As I mentioned last time, most advisors start their annual marketing planning meeting by reviewing their progress against the firm’s business plan.I can’t think of a worse place to start.

Never Mix Business (Plans) With Pleasure

Obviously, you need to benchmark yourself. Figure out if you’re hitting your targets. Understand whether you’re spending your marketing dollars wisely.

But please don’t make the first item on your planning meeting agenda a postmortem. It will put you in a terrible mindset for brainstorming. You should be facing the future with energy, enthusiasm and an open mind. Instead, your head will be crammed with stale ideas. You’ll feel sad about the goals you missed and may even hear a few little voices murmuring, “That won’t work,” “Can’t do,” and my favorite, “We already tried it once.” You’re also going to wear yourself out talking about revenue goals and office space and technology upgrades. By the time you get to marketing, you’ll be exhausted.

The solution? Break your annual planning meeting into two distinct meetings. At the first one, get down to the nitty-gritty of benchmarking progress against your business plan. Be brutal. Be honest. Ask tough questions. Pore over your spreadsheets until you have objective answers. Has your favorite charity gala ever resulted in a lead? Do the same few people always come to your events? It’s great to know your clients’ golf handicaps, but do you know their profitability?

Like I said, this part isn’t very much fun. Fortunately, you’re going to leave most of it behind when you head into your offsite planning meeting. You’ll be bringing only a few high-level takeaways with you.

The question is, what do you take away? What do you need in your hands when you start your marketing planning?

What to Bring Into Your Marketing Planning Meeting

You’re going to walk away from your business plan review with certain obvious bits of information. Revenue targets. Planned service or product line expansions. That sort of thing.

But for marketing, the single most critical components of your business plan are the constituencies you want to reach. In other words, your target markets. Your clients should always be one constituency. Centers of influence are typically another. If you’re trying to reach new prospects, they’re a third constituency; you’ll need to define who they are and what they look like.

Those constituencies will drive everything else in your marketing plan. For each constituency, you’re going to specify a realistic goal and a strategy to achieve it. All too often, I see goals like, “Do more email marketing.” Email marketing to whom? With what purpose? That way of thinking is backwards. You need to start with the constituency you want to reach—not with a tactic you might use to reach them.

Imagine your firm does advanced tax planning. Your business plan tells you that your most important constituency is high net worth investors with complex tax issues. Your goal is to reach more of them. So you create a strategy to develop more influence on advanced tax topics—to become a well-known, go-to expert. You brainstorm tactics for executing that strategy, such as producing relevant thought leadership content, and promoting it on social media and email. That’s where email marketing comes in: as a tactic in service to strategy.

That’s the right way to approach marketing planning. First, define whom you’re marketing to, and what you want to accomplish. Then walk into your marketing planning meeting and figure out how to get there.

Some people find it hard to define marketing goals and objectives. I’ll have more to say about them next time.