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Ten Commandments For Marketing Planning
First published in the American Marketing Association's "Marketing News", September 1994.

Marketing planning is a fundamental process which is at the core of every business. This process defines the corporation's view of the market, its current position in it, the objectives it sets and the way it allocates resources. Its execution has a direct bearing on the organization's financial well being. Yet with all its importance, this process is often inadequate or even undefined.

In my experience as a recipient and developer of plans and as consultant in marketing planning over the last decade, I have found the following as the key levers that determine success or failure of planning efforts. You may think of them as the 10 Commandments of Marketing Planning.

1. Demonstrate executive leadership.
By far, the single most important factor in the success or failure of marketing planning efforts is the role played by the executive responsible for success in the market. Ideally this executive should personally lead the planning effort. If activities that chart the direction of his or her part of the business are not the top of the priority list, what is? And Why? In cases where the executive cannot personally lead the planning effort, he or she needs to sponsor it both strongly and visibly. They should designate a team leader who is empowered to represent them, select the planning team, kick off and set the tone for the planning effort, clearly state the objectives, and be readily available for regular status reviews. When the plan is completed, it should be their plan, and they should lead the drive toward its implementation.

2. Drive for cross functional participation.
To ensure that the plan reflects organizational realities and has buy-in from all functions responsible for implementation, these functions should be included in the process right from the beginning. Some functions may be represented in the core team while others may be called on to participate as needed. An awareness of the project from the start and being kept informed of progress will contribute significantly to the project's success.

3. Utilize market intelligence.
Market intelligence is the foundation of any marketing plan. In some environments it is abundant, and in others scarce. Plans need to be built as much as possible on facts, and as little as possible on opinions and assertions which cannot be substantiated. Where these opinions and assertions are made, they need to be noted as such, and if significant, they need to be validated before committing resources. Before you kickoff a planning effort, get all the intelligence you can get your hands on relating to the market, the competitors and the company's own capabilities.

4. Focus, focus, focus on the customer.
Marketing planning revolves around the customer. It requires a thorough understanding of his wants and needs. It results in the delivery of offerings to satisfy the customers' wants and needs. The customer must be the target around which the thinking is developed. When leading marketing planning efforts, I at times reserve a seat for a representative customer. When we are too internally focused or confronted with a thorny issue, I challenge the group to think how this customer would vote. That vote has to carry a lot of weight.

5. Plan by market segment.
In today's business environment, where mass customization is becoming a norm, delivering an average offering for an average market is a sure prescription for failure. A vendor who satisfies most of the needs of a segment of the market will win over a vendor who satisfies only some of the needs of the whole market.

6. Set a hard target date for plan completion.
Some planning efforts develop a momentum of their own and carry on with endless analysis. The longer the planning project takes, the more likely one is to encounter shifts in organizational focus, planning team turnover and loss of momentum. To shorten the planning cycle time you need executive focus, a schedule for the plan with progress milestones, clear objectives, good market intelligence and people for whom the planning project is a high priority.

7. Cultivate a bias for action.
All plans need to answer three basic questions: a. ‘Where are we now?’--the market analysis phase; b. ‘Where do we want to go?’--the objective setting phase; and c.‘How will we get there?’--the strategy and action programs phase. While the phases build on each other, each successive phase provides more value for the organization. You need to make sure you do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. Market analysis is not an end in itself. It is simply a foundation upon which to set objectives, build strategies and formulate action programs.

8. Tie compensation to plan objectives.
Business people are driven by their compensation plans. If executives' compensation is tied to objectives which are different from those in your marketing plan, guess which objectives they'll pay greater allegiance to. To ensure compliance with the plan, you need to tie people's compensation to performance against the plan's objectives.

9. Think process.
I have seen cases where the process emphasis has been poorly applied and has become an end in itself. Yet stripped to its core purpose, process has a significant role in marketing planning. The following questions can help you frame your process thinking: How do you go about deciding what market segments to focus on? How do you plan for them? Who is responsible for allocating resources? How does that get done and when? What measurements are in place, both for the plan and the planning process? How do you strive for improvements year to year?

10. Remember that one size does not fit all.
We all have plans, whether they are deliberately developed or defacto. Some may be formal, highly documented and with elaborate segmentation schemes. Others exist in people's heads, or on a yellow sheet of paper drawn on a kitchen table one Sunday morning 5 years ago (literally, for a $4 million software company I know). What is important is not the form or volume, but the clarity of thinking and the appropriateness of the plan for your organization. If the plan spells out clearly your current position, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there, and is understood and supported by your organization, then you are well on your way.

Zuhair M. Suidan

Suidan Associates

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