Planning Effective Business-to-Business Marketing Communications

Many years’ experience has resulted in the development of two standard planning documents, the Product Marketing Strategy (PMS) and the Marketing Communications Plan (MCP). When properly completed, these documents – in particular the PMS – will be of great value not only within the organization but also for informing and impressing potential investors, lenders, joint venture partners, agents, distributors, etc.

The function of the PMS is to help the person responsible for marketing the product or service to produce a written specification of the task to be done, in a standard and logical format.
Some of the statements in the PMS may seem self-evident, but remember that you will have been living with this project for some time and what may be obvious to you may not be so obvious to others. The purpose of a PMS is to explain clearly to everyone who reads it what the company’s objective is and what its strategy is to reach this objective. As such, the completed document is company confidential information. You should note that the PMS requires answers to be given from the customer’s viewpoint, not only yours.

You may think this too is obvious, but some years ago an exercise was conducted with the top international management of a Scandinavian hi-tech company. After a long discussion of their new product, the people involved were divided into two and put into separate rooms. One group was asked to make a list of what the company was selling; the other group a list of what their customers were buying. Each list had ten points, and to be worthwhile everybody had to play it for real. They were very shocked when the lists had only two points in common, and a valuable lesson was learnt.

A properly completed PMS fully documents everything one needs to know in order to undertake a product launch, marketing and sales campaign, and post-sales support.
The second document, the Marketing Communications Plan (MCP), must be ignored until the PMS is complete, approved and signed off. The purpose of the MCP is to define (and cost) all the different marketing communications activities required to implement that aspect of the PMS. To avoid confusion, the various types of activity are divided into categories – advertising, PR, etc – which are defined in the document. Not every category may be relevant to every product or service.

The MCP cannot by definition be worked on until the PMS is complete; after all, if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve and why, you cannot possibly say what is required to do it. The MCP has another advantage in that it defines each individual item and activity and puts a cost to each one, resulting in a total MC budget. If the result is too high, then rather than just saying ‘cut 10%’, you go through the MCP and choose to manage without specific items. You can decide not to produce an ad, or run it fewer times, reduce a brochure from 12 pages to 8, print a datasheet in black-and-white instead of colour, and so on. In each case you know how much you are going to save, and what you will have to make do without in order to achieve this saving.

In general, the PMS should be reviewed after a year, and updated if and as required. Then a new MCP is produced to give next year’s MC budget, and so on each year. This is not a one-off exercise, to be forgotten once it has been done. This system of PMS+MCP really does work; several clients have found it most valuable in making them think through in detail exactly what they are trying to achieve and how, and then putting this down on paper so everybody involved is not only playing in the same match, but on the same side. Nobody can come afterwards and say they didn’t understand what they should have done.

The MCP similarly provides a specification of exactly what MC support the sales force will get, where and when, so they can plan how best to make full use of it. A well-thought-out MCP, professionally executed, can provide a good return on the investment, since it can improve the productivity of the sales force by reducing the number of sales calls required, and the time taken, to win an order and reduce the demand for post-sales support.