A Strategic Marketing Plan: What it is and Why You Need One

Leads, leads, leads – the ultimate prize in the business world; the one thing we all want is people lining up to buy our products or services. There are many ways to get leads: some more effective (or expensive) than others. To find a never-ending stream of qualified leads is the business equivalent of having a goose that lays golden eggs.

There is no magic trick to generating, nurturing or converting leads for your business, and there’s no quick shortcut either. What’s the answer then? A clearly defined, carefully considered marketing plan. A solid marketing strategy can not only improve the number of leads you get but more importantly, it can increase lead quality and your ability to close more deals, faster.

Sound out of your scope? It’s not. As much as it would benefit my colleagues and me at Total Product Marketing to leave you thinking that marketers have some innate skill or inborn wizardry that allows us to generate a strong ROI on marketing investments, the truth is, you can do it too. You just need to know where to start.

What is Marketing, Anyway?

Sales. Marketing. Branding. If these words all sound the same to you, you’re not alone. A lack of familiarity with the particulars of each, combined with the fact that, frankly, they are all closely related, means many companies view the terms as interchangeable. What’s wrong with that? Well for starters, if you don’t know where one ends, and the next one starts, you’ll struggle to determine what is driving your results, and what is just costing you money and resources without improving to your bottom line.

So let’s get clear on these from the start, shall we?

Start with what you know. We are all aware of what sales are, of course. High sales numbers are good, low sales numbers are bad, your boss’s sales targets are aggressive – but where does sales end, and marketing or branding begin?

Marketing: Put Yourself Where They Can See You

Marketing is tactical. Marketing is where you get to unleash your inner ninja and employ every weapon in your arsenal. It’s using processes, tools, and strategies to get yourself in front of your target market’s eyeballs. It can include advertising, but ads are only the tip of the marketing iceberg – it also includes search engine optimization (SEO), leveraging social media, email campaigns, content generation, and anything else you can think of to make sure your name gets seen.

Simplified: marketing is your microphone.

It’s how you get your message across, let your audience know who you are, what you do, and why they should want to do business with you.

Because marketing focuses more on the big picture and the wider audience than sales, it needs to be a longer-term investment of resources. Too many companies dive headfirst into marketing, create a Twitter account and publish a few blog posts and then kill the venture for poor returns before it ever has a chance to perform. Marketing takes time – but for those willing to invest, the results can be game-changing.

The other (very important) differentiation between marketing and branding is this: marketing is measurable. Whatever your weapon of choice, make sure you track key performance indicators (how many people read your blog, open your email, click your link) so you know you’re putting your resources to good use.

Branding: This is Who You Are

Branding is your organization’s identity or personality – it helps your audience identify what you stand for and determines how they perceive you. Your branding is all-inclusive; every interaction a prospect has with you is part of your brand – whether it’s seeing your logo, visiting your store or website, engaging with your customer service or watching your advertisements.

Your brand may motivate your buyer to choose your product or service, but branding is never so blatant or uncouth as to come out with anything resembling a sales pitch. Rather than saying, “Buy me,” your brand plucks at deeper strings within your prospect – letting them know you align with their values and are a business they want to support and endorse.

Your brand, while never directly involved in marketing or sales, is what sticks in the minds of your audience after they deal with you. It’s forever associated in their mind with you, your products and your company and has the power to create lifelong loyalties if you work at it. (Coke or Pepsi? Honda or GM?)

Unlike marketing, brand success is difficult to quantify. There are no metrics for how much your customers love you or feel like you understand them. At the same time, unless you’re giving your organization a complete virtual facelift, you’re probably not spending on branding either.

So How Do Sales, Marketing and Branding Work Together?

Short answer: in harmony. Sales, marketing, and branding will be most effective if they are aligned, which is why a deliberate strategy is invaluable. Sales efforts that clash with your carefully crafted marketing message will jar your prospect, leaving them, at best, confused, and at worst, untrusting of your brand and unwilling to do business with you.

Coordinating your efforts, on the other hand, can make the combination stronger than the sum of its parts. Enter the marketing and sales funnel, which, not coincidentally, lines up with the 3 stages of a buyer’s journey:

Attract (marketing) – get the attention of buyers in the Awareness Phase

Convert (marketing) – nurture your relationship with buyers in the Consideration Phase

Close (sales) – make the sale when buyers reach the Decision Phase

(In case you’re wondering where Branding went, branding encompasses everything and subconsciously impacts every stage of your buyer’s journey.)

A good marketing strategy includes sales, marketing, and branding to create a consistent experience for your customers and prospects. A prospect nurtured by a curated stream of content, showing how you understand his pains, needs the same touch from your sales team. All your valuable content marketing efforts will go out the window if, upon reaching out to you, he’s met with a catalog of features filled with technical jargon or an unresponsive sales rep, leaving your brand in shambles and your deal, incomplete on the table.

Applying the Funnel to the Cloud and Hosting Industry

That’s it. The basics of marketing in 15 minutes and enough of the fundamentals to start you on the path to developing your very own marketing strategy. That wasn’t so bad.

But why should you bother? The cloud and hosting industry is experiencing explosive growth – companies are flocking to your field with fistfuls of cash, ready to step into the brave new world of cloud computing. The business is there, yours for the taking. Why do you care about what I have to say? Why do cloud and hosting providers need a marketing strategy at all?

Because it’s a great way to differentiate yourself from your competition to get a slice of that booming market. Just as customers flock to your industry, so does competition. Your marketing plan can help you better segment and strategically target your audience to improve the effectiveness of your efforts.

Because generating new customers is the number one challenge faced by MSPs, VARS, and ITSPs. Cloud and hosting technology is developing and evolving rapidly; you can’t just rely on Joe Customer to recognize your superior offering and eschew all others in your favor – you need to show him what you’ll do for him.

Because your current customers don’t even know what you do. New service and product offerings appear in the cloud market every day, and there’s nothing worse than finding out your loyal customers have gone elsewhere for solutions, all because they didn’t realize you offered the same thing.

Marketing doesn’t have to be costly or flashy. Even with a limited budget and a little bit of time and commitment, a solid marketing strategy can help you solve those problems.

Use your marketing microphone to communicate with your market and build your brand. Let them know who you are and why you’re different. Educate your audience on the benefits you can provide and the problems you can solve for them. Build a relationship with prospects; let them know they can trust you, and that you want what’s best for them.

Want to learn more about how a solid marketing strategy can help create new opportunities for your business? Join us for our Strategic Marketing Bootcamp session at HostingCon, July 24-27th in New Orleans, LA.

Source: theWHIR