By now you should be deep into your marketing planning for next year. If you don’t yet have a strategy for 2010 and a marketing plan being developed around it, you’re already making one of the biggest marketing mistakes by moving into the year ahead without a plan. You need to get started now. Otherwise, you will likely fall behind competitors who are moving forward, be forced to make hurried decisions without the support of good data, and waste precious marketing dollars on ineffective programs.

To prevent this gloomy situation and put your company in a position to start out strong in the year ahead, here are some common mistakes to avoid when planning for 2010—and how to fix them.

Mistake: Not evaluating the performance of your current marketing programs
If you don’t measure the performance of your marketing choices, there’s no way to know if they are working. Do you know how many leads you received from each of your marketing channels this past year? How many leads were converted to sales? How visible your brand was to your target audience? What ROI your programs delivered? Without measurement, companies often tend to stay the same course, doing “what they’ve always done” but not getting better results.

Fix: Choose marketing programs whose performance can be quantified. For example, online programs are built around impressions, clicks and conversions—metrics which lend themselves to measurement. In addition, become disciplined about sourcing the origin of leads and tracking them through the sales and marketing cycle. (See related article this month: Five Tips for Better Lead Management.)

Mistake: Forgetting to fish where the fish are
This is a classic marketing tenet which commands you to put your marketing efforts where you can best reach and capture your target audience. In this Internet era, virtually all engineering, technical and industrial professionals go online to search for and locate suppliers, products and work-related information.

Fix: Allocate more of your budget to online marketing such as your Web site, targeted e-newsletter advertisements and banner ads, online catalogs, directory listings and virtual events. You will have more opportunity to connect with your target audience.

Mistake: Ignoring frequency
If you deploy marketing programs only on a sporadic basis and disappear for stretches at a time, it will be difficult to gain any momentum in the markets you are targeting. Too often, companies ramp up efforts around an important event such as a product launch, then go quiet. This leads to lost opportunity because demand always exists in the market, but your target audience may forget about you.

Fix: Choose programs that allow you to maintain a persistent presence in the market and make it easy for your target customers and prospects to find you at any time. Remember: the benefits of regular visibility tend to compound over time as more and more prospects recognize your company. This improves your opportunity to get on the short list of potential vendors and also shortens the sales cycle.

Mistake: Forgetting to include your sales team
Too many marketers implement programs without letting the sales team know about them or without getting their buy-in or hearing their opinions. And too often marketing materials get created that the sales team doesn’t use because the materials either aren’t appropriate for the sales process or the sales team doesn’t know about them.

Fix: Include your sales team in the marketing planning process.  Sales people are on the front line and are closest to the customer. And as a marketer, your sales team is your customer. Ask them about their needs and how marketing can help them. Solicit their input on marketing collateral and programs. Get them to agree on lead management and tracking guidelines to help the measurement process.

Mistake: Neglecting to maximize your media partnerships
It may seem like every year you need to make harder and smarter marketing decisions about where to allocate your budget. But don’t make the mistake of going it alone. Sure, every potential media partner wants your business, but some deserve it more than others and you must find those media partners and work with them.

Fix: Before committing to any marketing programs, ask your existing and potential media partners to demonstrate how their marketing solutions help you achieve your goals. Do they have your target audience’s attention? Can they keep your company visible to prospects and customers at all times? Do they deliver targeted, quality leads with full contact information? Do they provide reporting you can use to monitor and measure the performance of your marketing and justify your marketing investments? Their answers to these questions will help determine the right media partners to meet your marketing objectives.

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