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Why and when to review your marketing plan

In The Marketing Plan Handbook, author Robert W. Bly explains how you can develop big-picture marketing plans for pennies on the dollar with his 12-step marketing plan. In this edited excerpt, Bly explains why you must review your marketing plan on a regular basis and what you should be looking for.

Despite the wisdom and many benefits of creating a rock-solid marketing plan, virtually all marketing plans contains the same flaw: They’re written to cover a year-long period, but in inevita­bly, circumstances change, sometimes dramatically, during those 12 months. And many of those changes are significant enough to ren­der some or all of your beautifully crafted plan incorrect or obsolete.

Therefore, it’s exceedingly common to alter the plan, or at least a number of its tactics, to adjust midstream based on current market conditions and the results of implemented tactics to date. Says CPA and financial planner James Lange, “All good plans need to be modi­fied and adjusted due to changing circumstances.”

No plan is perfect. No matter how solid your assumptions are and how thorough you are in putting together your plan, expect to make adjustments as you learn more. Reviewing your plan on a regular basis is so critical to your success that you should schedule review dates.

Before you review it, though, decide exactly what you’ll review, how you’ll approach troubleshooting, and what you’ll do when things don’t quite go according to plan. Once you make any needed adjustments, it’s time to do it all again.

There are two major signals that it’s time to rethink and revisit your marketing plan. The first is when you launch one or more campaigns based on your stated core value proposition — promoting your new or flagship product — and those promotions start bombing.

You test some emails or postcards, and the results are terrible. Time to change the market plan? Not quite yet. Instead, rework the copy and design. Test different formats, offers, pricing, lists, and media. If these tests begin yielding positive results, crisis averted. On the other hand, if test after test produces little or no sales, you know your plan — or one or more of its major assumptions — is flawed at the core. Time to gather in the conference room and rethink strategy, approach, and messaging.

So it’s a growing stream of failed promotions that’s the first sign your marketing plan may need retooling. The second signals that the marketing plan may require adjustment is sudden and worse unexpected changes in conditions — changes in the market, the competitive landscape, technology, and any other factors affecting your business. For a stock market newsletter publisher, for instance, a market shift from bearish to bullish may render the marketing plan written only a few months ago ineffective or even obsolete.

How often should you stop and review your plan’s progress? The frequency with which you should evaluate your progress and make corrections in your sales and marketing depends on your business. In my copywriting business, for instance, my jobs are typically two to four weeks in duration. So my cash flow may be uneven. Therefore, I look at my month-to-date and year-to-date gross sales at the end of every month to see whether I’m on track. I also check on a weekly basis the number of active jobs and pending jobs, for which I keep two separate lists.

On the other hand, in my internet marketing business, where I sell products instead of services, each sale is made in a minute online. So I look at a one-week sales report that tells me, among other things, my revenues for the week. I look at this twice a week: once at the end of the week to see how well I did, and once in the middle to see whether I’m on track to make my weekly sales goal. I also check my sales revenues daily, again to see if each day I’ve earned the average dollar amount needed to achieve my weekly and annual revenue goal.

Troubleshooting your plan

How should you approach troubleshooting your plan? Begin with the data you set up as benchmarks. If you see significant variances, dig deeper and ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • Is the recession affecting your business?
  • Are you getting fewer leads and new business opportunities than normal?
  • Are your sales up, down, or flat?
  • Has the dollar value of your average order declined?
  • Do sales take longer to close?
  • Are customers seeking concessions on pricing and terms?
  • Which marketing activities seem to be working well?
  • Which marketing activities have seen results fall off lately?
  • Can I trace new clients or increases in sales to specific sources or actions?
  • Are my actions generating the expected revenues? Or are they costing more than they’re bringing in?
  • Which actions have been most fruitful?
  • Which actions have been least productive in terms of generating sales and clients?
  • Has anything been a disaster?
  • Are there any tactics or actions that have completely fallen flat?
  • Are there significant changes in my industry or marketplace affecting my business?
  • Which of my services is generating the most revenue?
  • Which is generating the least? Why?
  • Should I replace a tactic that isn’t working with another tactic or action now? Next year? Why?
  • What do I need to do more of?
  • Are my refund rates steady or increasing?

Pinpoint which elements of your strategy aren’t working by looking at the numbers:

  • Are you getting the new clients you wanted?
  • Are you increasing your retention rate as you desired?
  • Are you getting the referrals you anticipated?
  • Are those converting to new sales?

Look at each piece of your strategy to try and pinpoint what’s falling short of your goals. Is your competition more successful than you expected? Why? What are they doing that you can learn from?