January is the perfect time to conduct a marketing assessment. Take a moment to look back at last year’s plan.  How well did your marketing campaigns work last year? What worked well? Where were your surprises? What elements of planning and execution require improvement? Whether you decide to conduct your own assessment or hire an outside expert to facilitate the process, here are a few tips to get you started.

As our economy continues to grow out of recession, customer preferences and expectations are changing, too. What worked last year may not work this year. It’s worth taking an hour to sit down with your marketing team to critique your plans and challenge your assumptions. Here’s a quick checklist of questions worthy of asking:

* Sales & marketing relationship: On a scale of 1 – 10, how good is your relationship with sales? If there is a problem here, this must be your first priority to fix it. Something is broken.  Chances are it stems from either a) a disconnect or non-understanding of the sales objectives vs marketing objectives (or vice versa), or b) unclear definitions of what constitutes a “qualified lead”, or c) both.  Marketing has a singular goal: to help the sales team sell. Marketing and sales teams must be in tight alignment and partnership. It can be tricky to untangle these issues. Consider working with an outside facilitator to help you focus on the issues, and not on the personalities.

* Objectives vs metrics: What are your marketing objectives for 2014?  (Hint: it’s not to write 12 press releases, push social media,or attend 3 tradeshows — those are tactics, but they are often confused with objectives). And, what are your metrics for measuring your success?  Does your team have a common understanding of the big picture and how their tactics will support the achievement of your objective? (If your answer is, “we don’t know out objectives because management hasn’t told us”, then you have an opportunity to show marketing leadership. Consider hosting a “marketing & sales summit” — a working session where marketing and sales leaders are invited to define a set of guiding objectives for the year. It can be difficult to host a meeting and participate in it at the same time. Bring in a qualified facilitator to keep you on track.

* Market focus: Has your target audience grown or changed? Do you have a persona(s) to act as your guide? Is it fresh, or does it need tuning? The persona may be the most important tool in your marketing arsenal because if you don’t know who you are targeting, your messaging will be irrelevant, confusing, and just plain wrong. If half your marketing budget is wasted and you don’t know which half, it’s probably because you are focused on too many (or the wrong) personas. Check out the new online course: Create High Impact B2B Personas in 4 Easy Steps.  This course teaches you how to build, critique, and apply these personas in your marketing plans. (Note: this online course is currently being offered at a discounted rate for a limited time.)

* Customer-relevant messaging: Does your messaging clearly show that you understand the problem(s) your persona cares about? Nobody likes to be sold to. Instead, use story-telling to engage your customers and prospects.  Most messaging fails because it’s all about the product (“It’s great!  Buy it now.”)  Effective B2B messaging is best when it is focused on the customer and their pain points first, not your product. Use the “Message Box” technique to help you freshen up your “elevator pitch”. This is the most effective and fun messaging technique I’ve found.

* “Marketing blueprints”: Have you created a marketing blueprint? A busy marketer is not necessarily an effective marketer. The answer is not to execute a 100 tactics; the answer is to find the right set of tactics to execute, and in which order. Marketing blueprints are literally flowcharts that map out the dialog you want to have with a prospect. This is a great tool to help you engage the prospect throughout their buying process. Avoid marketing popcorn — that is, a set of random, disconnected and unintegrated marketing tactics. Once you’ve drafted a blueprint, socialize it with your colleagues to get their feedback.  They may even suggest additional ways other marcom functions can support your plan.  And make it visible by posting the blueprints where everyone can see them.  (This, by the way, goes a long way to helping strengthen the sales-marketing relationship.) See the photo offered by one hi-tech company.

These are some tough questions, and it can be challenging to find the time to gather the team to assess where improvements can and should be made. But it’s well worth the effort.

Looking for assistance in conducting your own marketing assessments or marketing workshops, contact me or KickStart Alliance for more tips, templates, and services to help you dominate your market in 2014!

Good luck!  And good marketing!

Mike Gospe