STAFDA Session Preview: Ten Steps to a Winning Marketing Plan

Butler University Marketing Professor Dan McQuiston outlines his 10-step marketing program.

www.stafda.orgAll firms, regardless of size, need to allocate their resources in the most effective and efficient way possible. That is especially true in a down economy as many businesses struggle to cope with shrinking markets and slumping sales.

Unfortunately, in this type of economy, some firms choose to cut back their marketing activities until “things improve.” This is wrong. Most business experts agree that pursuing such a course of action is exactly the opposite of what a proactive firm should be doing. A forward-thinking firm should actually be increasing their marketing activities to better position themselves when an upturn in the market does come.

Dan McQuiston, Butler UniversityThe questions, therefore, become, “How should we allocate our scarce resources? What marketing activities should we focus on to get the most bang for our buck?” The answer lies in having a well-defined marketing plan to guide your activities, a plan that will help you to focus both your efforts and your resources in the most effective and efficient way possible.  

The session entitled “Creating A Winning Marketing Plan” at the upcoming STAFDA conference in Atlanta will give you an overview of The 10-Step Marketing Plan, a process that I have developed to help firms create a workable marketing plan. It will be a version of the one I give at the University of Industrial Distribution and which I have used with companies both large and small to help them determine how they should focus their marketing activities.

Dan McQuiston, Butler University, will present “Creating a Marketing Plan,” from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8. This session will run one time only and will not be repeated.

Any company, no matter the size, should have such a plan to know where to best focus their efforts. This article will outline The 10-Step Marketing Plan and  briefly describe what each step entails. You are probably doing parts of this plan already. If so, good for you! This article will help you to build upon that.  

Putting together a full-blown marketing plan is a journey, not a destination. To accomplish all the activities in each step will require some effort and will change the way you do things now. Don’t let that scare you. Pick the one or two steps that you think will have the greatest impact on your operation and develop them to the point where you are comfortable. Then tackle another step and do the same thing. Do this in a methodical fashion and you’ll eventually work your way to the point where working through the steps to developing a marketing plan will become second nature.

The 10-Step Marketing Plan

  • 1. Create a mission statement            
  • 2. Complete a SWOT analysis            
  • 3. Do a competitive analysis            
  • 4. Prioritize the main issues            
  • 5. Formulate financial objectives
  • 6. Formulate marketing objectives
  • 7. Implement marketing objectives via the marketing mix
  • 8. Determine necessary resources
  • 9. Develop a regular reporting procedure
  • 10. Prepare a formal written document

Let’s briefly discuss what happens at each step.

1. Create a mission statement
Just about every company has a mission statement, even if it isn’t written down. The purpose of a mission statement is just that — to outline the mission of the company and what the organization stands for. A good mission statement will make sure all the employees understand the values of the organization, who their main customer groups are and how the firm is going to create and deliver their main value proposition(s) to these customer groups.  

2. The ‘SWOT’ analysis
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and is an analysis companies large and small undertake to determine the nature of the marketplace and how they wish to position themselves in that marketplace. There are two parts to this analysis — the external analysis (OT) and the internal analysis (SW).

The external analysis involves tracking environmental factors that might offer opportunities or constitute threats to the firm. Consider such things as:

  • What’s happening in the economy?  
  • What technological advancements are out there?  
  • Are there any political and legal changes coming down the pike that we need to consider?  
  • Are there any societal pressures or demographic changes that will affect how we operate?  

Be careful about getting bogged down with information. Your litmus test for factors in these environments is, “Does it affect me?  If so, how?  If not, let’s move on.”

The internal analysis involves determining your strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of your target audiences. Put another way, decide who your main customer groups are and what they see as your strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to find this out is to do some basic marketing research — just go ask them! You don’t have to spend a lot of money or do any real sophisticated data collection and analysis to learn some very good information. You can get a lot of the information you need by doing some in-depth interviews with 15 to 20 customers.

When I work with a company, I ask them for the names of about 20 customers – 1/3 good, 1/3 average, and 1/3 not so good — and ask them not to tell me who’s who. I then have the company send them a letter informing them that I’ll be calling them. I ask these customers three simple questions:

1. What are ABC company’s strengths — what do you like about them?

2. What are their weaknesses — what could they do better?

3. What actions should ABC company take to gain some more of your business?

One suggestion here: have an impartial third party do the interviewing for you. Customers will reveal things to this third party that they won’t tell you. Another suggestion: you might consider contacting the business school of a local college or university and see if they would be willing to make this a class project. Schools will often use situations like this for their students to gain valuable experience at little or no cost to you.

3. Competitive analysis
Here, the company needs to determine the following:  who do our customers see as our competition, what do we do better than them, and what do they do better than us? Often this information can be discovered during the SWOT analysis mentioned in Step Two.  

One key thing to remember is that a competitor is any company that offers a product or service that is perceived as an acceptable substitute for the product or service you offer. Even if we don’t think a firm or a product is a competitor, if the customer thinks so, then it is.

4. Prioritizing the main issues
This step is very important but often forgotten. After a firm has set its mission, done a SWOT analysis and analyzed the competition, it should undertake a “gap analysis.” From the first three steps, the firm should know what its “ideal” situation would be and compare it with its “current” situation. This will reveal a number of  “gaps,” and the firm must decide which gaps to focus their efforts on and what resources will be allocated to those efforts. It is virtually guaranteed that there will be more issues to address than a firm can tackle and has resources to allocate at one time. This step will help you decide what areas will be addressed in what order.

5. Formulate financial objectives
Most firms already set some sort of financial objectives for themselves — gross revenues, area revenues, profit margins, desired rate of return, and so forth. If the firm has completed the first four steps of this plan they should have a more realistic idea of just what these numbers should be. Also, doing this analysis will help you present a more realistic number to the manufacturers you represent and can help your company to take more proactive measures.

6. Formulate marketing objectives
After you have determined your financial objectives, you need to determine what marketing objectives need to be put into place to reach those financial goals. For example, if you wish to grow your gross revenues by 10 percent, you need to be definitive in just how this will be accomplished. Will you get 10 percent more revenue from new customers? Ten percent more business from your current customers?  By adding new lines?  

It is important to be as specific as possible to allow you to measure your results. You also want to be sure that your information management system can track these increases.

7. Putting the marketing objectives into action through the “marketing mix”

The “marketing mix” means that you mix together the “Four Ps” of marketing — product, price, promotion and place — to reach the marketing objectives you have set.  Let’s briefly examine what each “P” entails.  

Product. Every firm must differentiate itself from its competition by creating a uniqueness along the two dimensions of the product – the physical side (what you get) and the service side (how you get it).  Firms can determine how they want to combine these two together to create that uniqueness in the minds of their customers.

Price. The price of a product is determined by a combination of the costs involved with producing and marketing it, by the financial objectives determined above, by market and competitive factors and by the perceived value of the product. Many firms tend to just mark their products up by a standard percentage and be done with it.

Other firms, however, once they determined the perceived value of a product to their customers, have discovered they were overcharging for some products and undercharging for others. In many cases, they were leaving money on the table more as a result of undercharging than overcharging.

Promotion.  There are many “tools” that a company can use to promote its product — advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, public relations, direct and social marketing, to name a few. However, the key in deciding which tools to use is to determine what is the best way to reach the desired target audience with the right number of exposures to create the desired impression — and do so within an acceptable budget. This is often more art than science, but the key is to have a plan — don’t just throw money into a promotion because you feel you should.

Place.  The objective of a channel of distribution is to get the right product to the right place at the right time in the right condition for the right price. Clearly, there are an awfully lot of “rights” that can go wrong! However, firms must remember that “place” involves more than simply delivering the product. In addition to being providers of the physical product, you must also be providers of information on the most effective applications of the product.  Also, remember that your customers are looking for excellent customer service — service that is responsive, reliable and knowledgeable.  

The marketing-oriented firm will then “mix” these elements together to create the desired product offering to a customer or group of customers. As you likely realize, no two customers or group of customers desire exactly the same mix. To some customers, having the most technologically advanced product is most important; to others, it’s a product with a high perceived value; still others want timely delivery and a high level of customer service.  

A final word here: it’s important to understand just what elements are important to what customers. Many firms spend a lot of time and resources adding elements to their marketing mix that customers don’t understand or desire.

This step takes a lot of time, but is critical to the success of a marketing plan. Notice too that it is the seventh of 10 steps, and also notice all the activities the firm should undertake before determining its marketing mix. Far too many firms start their planning process at this step without doing the background work that is necessary to offer the most effective marketing mix.   

8. Determine human and financial resources needed to reach objectives
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Now you need to determine what it is going to take, in people and dollars, to reach the marketing objectives you have set forth. You will most likely discover that you want to undertake more things than your budget and people will allow and will have to scale back. That’s certainly fine. The key thing is to let the objectives drive the budget, not the other way around.

Another key aspect here is to assign responsibility for the specific tasks you want to have accomplished. It needs to be made very clear who will have what completed in what time frame to allow for accurate reporting in Step Nine.

9. Develop a regular reporting procedure
Most firms have some sort of reporting procedure for measuring sales, expenses and so forth. The objective of this step is to develop a formal process to assess performance on a regular basis. An old adage states, “If it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done,” and that’s very true with the marketing activities we’ve discussed above.

On a monthly (or at least quarterly) basis, the manager and management team need to review the outcomes that were achieved versus the goals that were set. Variances from the goal should be discussed and, if necessary, corrective action taken. A caveat — if a particular employee does not meet his or her goals, remember the wise coach’s mantra: criticize the performance, never the player.

This process should be repeated in more detail at the end of the fiscal year, comparing performance to stated goals and using past performance to set goals for the upcoming year. It’s usually best to set aside whatever time you think necessary — anywhere from a half-day to a few days — to complete the annual planning process. The most productive planning will take place outside of the office to minimize distractions and, if time and budget allow, go to a ‘retreat’-type setting. I’ve found that doing the planning process in a peaceful setting surrounded by nature helps participants relax, concentrate and get the creative juices flowing.

10. The written marketing plan
I’m always surprised to discover the number of firms who do some sort of marketing planning process but don’t take the time to write all their objectives together into a written marketing plan. It’s important to remember that goals that are not written down soon become a distant memory. Having a formal, written document actually makes you think about what you’re writing down and can also serve as a reference for the quarterly review process or indeed any time someone needs to refresh their memory throughout the upcoming year.

In this short article I’ve tried to set forth the process of The 10-Step Marketing plan to allow STAFDA members to help put a structure around your marketing activities.  Again, if you don’t have a formalized plan, don’t be intimidated by these 10 steps. However, you should not try to accomplish all of them at one time. Determine which of these activities you’re already doing and what ones would help you increase your sales. Choose one or two steps and work on those steps until you’re comfortable with the results. Then go on to the next, the next, and so forth.  Remember, putting together a viable marketing plan is a journey, not a destination. CS

Dan McQuiston is a professor of marketing at Butler Univeristy in Indianapolis, and a faculty member of the University of Industrial Distribution. He can be reached by e-mail at