Why Marketing Goals Must Be Tethered To Strategic Planning ObjectivesMonday April 12th, 2021
To set marketing goals, first define your long-term, strategic objectives and work backwards to identify benchmarks, KPIs, and ideal marketing channels.
A seasoned financial advisor would be foolish to recommend investment strategies before understanding a client’s financial status and time horizon, even if the advisor was successful and could tout a 30% growth rate in year 1. Without knowing the client’s risk profile, expected life milestones, financial goals, and desired retirement age, the portfolio may or may not be aligned with the client’s desired vision for the future.
Short-term success is not always lined up with longer-term priorities.
The same is true for marketing.
“But we’ve doubled our leads in 6 months!”
Great. Is that putting you on track for your 3-year goal? What about your 10-year vision for the organization? How do you know? Unless you start with the long game and work back from there, you don’t, even if you’re successful in the short term. To know you are truly successful today, you must know your goal for the week, based on the goals for the month, based on the goals for the quarter, the year, and the 3-year plan.
“You can be successful in the short term and still end up at the wrong destination.”
I’ve advised many business leaders over the last 17 years, and while growth can be achieved with a mix of good marketing strategy and sound technical execution, there is a major risk in focusing your sights too near-term or isolating your marketing efforts. Many organizations think of their marketing as a separate entity, an island, detached from the core of their business. They think that the marketing department is not connected to the heart of the organization… ops, finance, and sales drive the company. This is a mistake. Only when a leadership team clearly communicates the long-term vision and strategic objectives of the business, can it empower the marketing department to march in the right direction and grow the business in a deliberate, and sustainable, way.
“Find us more leads” is not a motivating call to arms. Marketing should have a seat at the leadership table, but of course the seat must be earned through active participation in the strategic planning process and a desire to be more than just a tool for social posts, email blasts, and print mailers.
Agencies must earn their stripes as well. While agencies throw around the term “partner” often, rarely do they act the part. Under the pressure to fall in line, agencies frequently slink back into the role of executor, comfortable being technicians and implementers with sometimes the most minuscule of tasks and decisions being dictated by distant leaders with no background in marketing.
Marketers and Marketing Teams: You must be growth strategists, in tune with business challenges, industry trends, pricing strategy, and obstacles in the sales process. You must ask hard questions and challenge leaders to communicate their unabridged vision and objectives.
Leaders: To ensure that your organization is doing the right things now, and at the same time putting you on a path for the future you want, you have to avoid getting pulled back into the day-to-day tactics and think long-term: clearly communicate your vision and develop your marketing goals to meet long-term strategic objectives. It starts with bringing all stakeholders into the strategic planning process.
“Understanding a company’s 5-year vision is the only responsible way to start a conversation about marketing.”
Why is understanding a company’s vision so important? Because that is the purpose of marketing — it’s a vehicle to lead you to that future state. Defining a company vision is one of the main tenets of strategic planning, which is fundamental to any good marketing roadmap.
What is strategic planning?
Gino Wickman, creator of the Entrepreneur Operator System (EOS), starts his work with a clear set of requirements to proceed with his process: you must be open-minded, growth-oriented and vulnerable. Gino’s first component is “vision.” A company must have a strong vision to succeed, but even more critical, an organization’s leaders must be able to communicate that vision to their team. Gino goes on to say that often great vision goes unrealized. It’s where many great visionary CEOs go wrong — they don’t have a plan to communicate and implement their vision, and they are biased in their belief that because they see it clearly, their team should naturally visualize it as well. This is not the case.
There are many great resources to help leaders with strategic planning, and more specifically, to help with that first step of coming up with a company vision statement. EOS has a process for it, and another helpful exercise we take clients through in our initial strategy workshops is the hedgehog exercise from the book Good To Great by Jim Collins. The hedgehog exercise helps companies hone in on their best self — a sort of Venn diagram approach to seeing 1) what you are best in the world at, 2) your financial North Star, and 3) your passion/purpose. At the intersection of all three is your hedgehog state — or what you can call your vision.
Defining Your Company Vision
Once you have come up with a vision for your company, the next step should be coming up with a long-term target. That could be 3, 5, 10 years, or more. This gives your team something to buy into and strive for, to help them stay grounded through the day-to-day, and give them a bigger purpose to work towards.
Once you have a long-term target established, you will break that down into smaller steps. If your 5-year goal is $10 million in revenue and 15% net profit, what will you need to reach in year 4? Then back your way into year 3, 2, 1 and so on, until you have granular, achievable goals tied to your vision.
How do I develop measurable marketing goals to meet strategic objectives?
Once you have used your 5-year goal to back your way into your 1-year target, you’re now ready to establish quarterly marketing benchmarks or KPIs. These benchmarks tell you if you are on track to meet your year 1 goals. Some goals may feel intangible, but discipline yourself to make every goal SMART. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. In other words, it should be quantitative, and easy to determine whether you hit your mark or not. If there are differing opinions amongst stakeholders, that means you did something wrong. If your Q1 goal is onboarding 10 new customers, you either accomplished your goal or you didn’t — there is no in-between with a SMART goal.
With a long-term vision, yearly goals, and quarterly marketing benchmarks that are measurable, you will ensure your complete organization is heading in the same direction. Sales and marketing will be aligned and marketing will no longer be an island unto itself, flailing in every direction to reach some vague definition of success.
Marketing can be a formless money pit or a well-oiled machine. The difference certainly comes down to the quality of execution, but before there can be sound execution, there must be a shared sense of purpose and vision for the future that runs through the entire organization.