COMMENTARY

The Winning Pitch: How to sell your marketing plan

With a historic baseball season in the books and Washingtonians still reveling in their first World Series title, many in and around the Nation’s Capital have turned their attention to annual planning. For business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-government (B2G) marketers, it’s a time filled with vendor and stakeholder meetings, death by PowerPoint, personnel mapping, and prognostications about the future.

It’s also a reminder that we have an internal sales job in front of us, one that requires us to convince public sector and corporate executives to sign off on our annual plans and budgets.

I’ve been through this process multiple times in both B2B and B2G organizations, and while there are more similarities than differences between the two, there are also some distinctions that are worthy of exploration. Countless articles exist to walk you through the general ins and outs of crafting a marketing strategy, so I won’t attempt to cover those here.

Instead, I wanted to share a few practical tips for public sector marketers who are (or soon will be) knee-deep in the process of requesting buy-in, resources and support from outside their marketing organizations.

The Public Sector Dynamic Adds Complexity

Many B2G marketers undertake the planning process while facing some or all of these realities:

  • The public sector leadership team must authorize their plans and budget requests.
  • That team likely includes sales leaders who (understandably) prioritize short-term demand generation activities to fill their pipelines for the coming fiscal year.
  • Marketing executives at the corporate office also may exert control over public sector marketing resources, campaigns, messaging, and priorities.
  • Headquarters decisions are influenced by a broader set of business objectives, messages, and campaign tactics that don’t always translate well into the public sector marketing realm.
  • Even in the best case scenario, government marketers are unlikely to get everything they need and will have to be resourceful in how they approach budgeting, resource allocation, campaign execution, and engagement from key personnel across their public sector and corporate marketing organizations.

If this sounds like your situation, read on for a few suggestions that can improve your chances of getting the buy-in, funds, and support you need to succeed in the year ahead.

Do Your Homework

Dig into the market to ensure your strategy is on point and defensible. There’s a mountain of publicly available information out there on your federal customers to inform your strategy. For a starting point, see my LinkedIn article on this topic.

Are you targeting the right government agencies based on their spending plans and priorities? Do you know which personas and titles influence the decisions, and are you able to identify the right media channels and partners to reach those individuals? If you’re modeling traffic projections, potential downloads, or lead conversions from paid campaigns, do you have relevant figures to back up your assumptions? Challenge your marketing vendors to make sure they’re giving you realistic performance data.

This is important for a few reasons. First (and most important), you want to make sure you’ve selected the right strategic and tactical approaches based on the available data. In addition, your audience will likely want you to justify how and why your choices were made (hint: “because we’ve always done it” is not an acceptable answer). Having that information available will help you defend your decisions and lend credibility to your recommendations.

Know Your Audience

Executives and sales leaders tend to be direct, action-oriented communicators who respect numbers and demand results. Think about what their priorities are, how they’re compensated, how they interact with you, and what motivates them. Do they prefer it when you get right to the point with high-level summaries, or will they want to dive into details? Do they want to see slides, spreadsheets, or both? Are they familiar with the marketing jargon and methods you are pitching? If not, do they have the patience for you to educate them? Keep these in mind as you craft your story.

Educate the Corporate Office

If you’re trying to sell your plans to decision-makers back at HQ, consider what they’re dealing with and how your needs map to theirs. They may be rolling out company-wide campaigns that cut across multiple verticals. Maybe they’ve prioritized new product introductions, staff consolidation, international expansion, rebranding activities, strategic messaging realignments, implementation of new marketing platforms, or all of the above.

They may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the public sector or understand why the approach they’re applying to every other “vertical” won’t work for you. They might be intimidated by what they don’t know about B2G and don’t want to admit it. Or they’re struggling to allocate resources and plan to emphasize generic campaigns over segment-specific approaches.

Think about how you can utilize your market data, historical performance metrics, case studies, customer feedback, and vendor relationships to help them understand where your plans fit in. Look for areas of compromise and reserve some resources to customize what they give you or outsource what you can’t get internally. Communication and prioritization are key here, along with some give-and-take to ensure all goals are met.

Align to the Sales and Business Strategy

If you can’t demonstrate how your plans will help public sector leadership generate revenue, retain customers, or achieve their stated business objectives for the year, you’ll just be seen as a cost center. That’s not a label you want to wear.

Consider taking a top-down approach to map your plans to their desired outcomes. Think through how marketing can impact the major sales and strategic goals, and build your outlines with those in mind. That may mean shifting items on your list to focus on driving new leads, targeting named accounts, or supporting specific activities that lead to upsells, cross-sells, partner recruitment, new contract awards, or other business priorities.

Set Expectations Up Front

The actions you take now will affect not only the plan for the upcoming year but also your ability to influence future negotiations. If you and your leadership can’t agree on what success looks like up front, you’ll forever be chasing wins while putting your credibility and career at risk. Even worse, you may not get credit when your plans are successful.

Make sure the decision makers understand the risks in your plan and are willing to accept them. Discuss organizational dependencies such as financial investments, new hires, market feedback from customer service, and ongoing sales engagement, including what will happen if those don’t come to fruition. Clearly establish what your joint service level agreements are for things like lead follow-up times and CRM usage, as well as how each stakeholder defines the phrase “qualified lead.” Is there tolerance for long lead times? Will you have the latitude to try new things, fail fast, and adjust if needed, or will that be viewed negatively?

It’s best to find out now while you can still adjust your plans. It’s also important to define and agree on the metrics each side will use to evaluate the results of your activities, as well as the format and cadence for reporting on them.

Start with a Winning Game Plan

Every organization approaches this process differently, and there’s no perfect way to proceed. But behind every good “pitcher” a lot of preparation, analysis, communication, and teamwork.

Working out these details now, before you’re standing in front of a crowd defending your investment requests, will determine whether your marketing pitch falls flat or wins the day.

About the Author

Allan Rubin is chief marketing officer at ORock Technologies and more than 25 years of combined experience in B2B and B2G marketing. Connect with him at linkinedin.com/in/allanrubin.

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