In too many IT provider companies, especially smaller and emerging providers, the marketing professionals are relegated to marketing communications, possibly demand generation programs and some aspects of branding. That’s what becomes clear from Gartner’s interactions with them. It also emerged from research we did some years ago into marketing roles within IT providers. CEOs indicated that they wanted marketing to be tactical and centered on demand generation. Their views differed significantly from the marketers we interviewed in the same survey.
But, as Gartner Fellow Jennifer Beck has said, “if you’re not marketing-led, you’re dead.”
Positioning yourself and the marketing function effectively in your company is clearly not a one-step process. But one thing that will help is to demonstrate your relevance and the relevance of the marketing function by taking the lead on a strategic marketing plan.
We’ve found that no matter how small your IT company is, or how new, there are some irreducible marketing elements for which you must plan.
A written marketing plan is a cornerstone of any effective marketing function. For marketing practitioners in IT providers, it can be instrumental in:
- Articulating a vision and a practical plan that exhibits leadership to the whole organization. It gets you engaged in the strategy process.
- Communicating the organization’s marketing direction to all who will have a role in executing it — which is the whole organization.
- Setting and communicating priorities, especially when the marketing budget is small.
- Providing the basis for the development of other plans, such as a sales plan, marketing communications plan, or channels plan.
- Gaining agreement from the board and senior executives on how to focus resources toward opportunities.
- Demonstrating that you have performed planning work thoroughly to avoid risk and misuse of resources — that is, keeping the vital marketing budget intact!
Many clients who are IT providers have asked me for guidance and an outline for a marketing plan that recognizes the realities of the IT market. So I provided a template for that plan, and recently revised it: Marketing Essentials: Marketing Plan Template for IT Services Providers.
It has proved itself over many years especially for emerging IT providers and smaller firms, and those in emerging markets.
The key, however, is that the plan you create must not just be a document, but a day-to-day guide to action, discussion, argument even. If people in your company are pulling out the marketing plan and arguing about it, then it’s serving its purpose. If you create it in the format of detailed slides, then you can carry it around on your tablet and use it to support your discussions with senior executives, colleagues, staff and others.
Sell It As You Develop It
As with any corporate initiative, the market plan should ideally record decisions that have already been discussed reasonably widely. It should have had both input and buy-in from stakeholders of all kinds — decision makers, people whose cooperation you’ll need and people who will need to execute the plan. In this sense, it is just like a sales proposal to a customer: proposals that come as a surprise have little chance of being accepted, or need a lot of uphill effort to sell them.
One telecoms marketer I know carries the key slides of his current plan with him on his tablet and will use them constantly to support his discussions with senior executives, colleagues, staff, analysts and even customers.
If you have sold the plan as you go, when you finally present it formally, the stakeholders will already be your contributors and collaborators. They will see their contributions in the plan. Heads will be nodding in agreement, not nodding off to sleep. The presentation will become a formal sealing of the agreement to proceed.
Bottom line: an effective marketing plan can be one of the tools that helps get you a seat at the strategy planning table.
Especially if you are an emerging IT provider, or one with limited experienced marketing staff, I’d appreciate feedback.
These blog posts will continue to discuss the business of IT Services.