Whether you work for an agency or in a corporate marketing department, developing annual strategic marketing plans has become a rite of passage. Long gone are the days of marketing by the seat of your pants. The advent of digital channels that provide real-time data for program measurement and the demand (rightfully so!) for return on investment and other key performance indicators for communications programs has led to much-needed changes in the strategic planning process.
For channel marketers, the strategic planning process can be more complex. Not only do a brand’s overall marketing objectives need to be translated to the channel program, but how a plan supports the local distribution channel also needs to be contemplated.
To ensure your channel program is delivering desired outcomes, consider formalizing the process for developing your strategic plan, along with developing a standardized way of capturing the plan, defining the frequency for updating the plan throughout the year, and ensuring you have a repeatable and scalable planning process.
Method to the Madness
A strategic marketing plan doesn’t just happen. It takes thought, collaboration and stakeholder engagement. For channel marketers, it’s important to consider the connectivity between the corporate marketing plan, the extension of that plan to the channel program and how the plan will be extended to distribution partners.
For brands that work with partners like Channel Fusion, engaging with your channel provider and including them in the strategic planning process is critical. At Channel Fusion, we have established and formalized a process for facilitating the planning process with our clients.
The result of this process is called the Outcomes Blueprint. Developing the blueprint starts with a facilitated session with client stakeholders to discuss and capture information relevant to their current channel programs, industry updates, macro influences on their business, what is happening in the channel and changes in the competitive landscape, for example.
Standardize the Template
While having an established process for developing the plan is important, another key consideration for the strategic planning process is standardizing how the plan is captured. In other words, how is the information from the planning meeting going to be captured and shared with stakeholder audiences?
A plan’s template can be a Word or Google Doc file, PowerPoint or an InDesign file that’s saved as a PDF. The format is not what’s important. It’s ensuring the planning meeting leads to a consistent, actionable roadmap that guides the channel team and agency partner’s activities for a specified period and is updated in the same format based on the established frequency.
Cadence and Rhythm
Because of the dynamic nature of today’s channel marketing programs, defining the process and timing for reviewing and revising the plan is another key consideration for the strategic planning process.
Strategic plans should be assessed and revised regularly, sometimes using a mid-year health check or an audit of your channel program. More often, that takes place as part of a quarterly business review (QBR). The first part of a QBR can be focused on operational activities and metrics, while the second part of the meeting focuses on reviewing the overall plan that has been guiding the program for the past quarter. This includes reviewing KPIs around strategy, customer experience and ROI outcomes.
Most importantly, regularly reviewing plan elements and KPIs should lead to iterative changes to the program strategy and corresponding tactical elements for the next quarter or pre-defined period.
Rinse and Repeat
Similar to the cadence and rhythm for reviewing and making iterative changes to strategic plans during the year is the need to establish a repeatable process for creating the next year’s plan. While some marketing organizations utilize a rolling 12-month planning cycle, there’s still the requirement to go through an annual planning process to develop budget inputs for a fiscal or calendar year.
That’s a perfect time to step back and repeat the strategic planning process. Whether it’s something similar to the Outcomes Blueprint utilized by Channel Fusion or some other standardized process and corresponding documentation, spending the appropriate amount of time each year to evaluate the state of your channel program, make strategic and tactical adjustments and identify new plan elements, initiatives or pilot programs, for example, is what will help ensure your program’s success the following year. The key is the consistent execution of the planning process from one year to the next and how the plan will be monitored, measured and adjusted during the year.
Channel programs can be complex. Oftentimes there are lots of moving parts that need to be considered to ensure your program is delivering desired outcomes. That’s why it’s important to formalize the process of developing your strategic plan. To support that effort, be sure to develop a standardized way of documenting the plan, establishing a frequency for updating the plan throughout the year, and creating a repeatable and scalable planning process. It’ll also save you time by working with a channel partner who does this across multiple brands every quarter.
About Channel Fusion
For 20 years, Channel Fusion has been delivering strategy, customer experience and return on investment outcomes for brands and their channel partners with a wide variety of solutions and industry expertise. We continue to invest in the overall ecosystem of our channel marketing offering to ensure our clients provide their partners with an optimal customer experience. Our core technologies and configurable platforms are supported by a team of customer-centric “Fusers.” Let us know if you’d like to learn more about how we deliver desired outcomes for brands and their channel partners.