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Below, we take you through the process of creating a marketing plan for your business. You can follow the steps online - or download our free workbook, which has all the same information plus worksheets for you to fill out as you go.

The Elements of a Successful Marketing Plan

  1. Do a Gap Analysis. Evaluate your company and define what you have right now – and compare it to what you want to have. Those are your company’s Gaps.
  2. Understand your business model and what makes it work. Only by understanding your business model, will you be able to determine which Gaps you want to bridge. We can only establish a marketing game plan once we know our business goals at a much higher level – like how much money do we want to make?
  3. Set goals and action items for your marketing plan based on the Gaps you want to bridge.
  4. Determine strategies for your marketing based on the goals you want to achieve:
    1. Define your overall budget based on your company business plan/overall financial plan.
    2. Define your target markets.
    3. Define your target audience in these markets – what are those people like and why?
    4. Define your growth goals and determine whether your company should be an aggressive, moderate, or conservative marketer
  5. Develop and execute an advertising, promotion, and lead generation plan to support sales and enhance awareness of your brand
    1. Based on your overall marketing budget, growth goals, and knowledge of your local media market, determine how to allocate your marketing budget among the various media
    2. Be sure to keep a reserve fund for emergencies
  6. Develop marketing materials to support your marketing plan.
    1. Work with your creative team to ensure that your advertising campaigns and sales collateral properly reflect your company’s brand and values.
    2. Synchronize the elements of your marketing message so they work together to achieve your goals:
      1. Your “Unique Selling Proposition” – what sets your company apart from the competition?
      2. Your company theme or slogan
      3. Your brand identity – how is it defined in the consumer’s mind?
      4. Your company jingle (if there is one)
      5. Your company logo/colors/typefaces
  7. Develop processes in your company that support your marketing plan.
    1. Allocate administrative resources as needed, i.e. be sure you can respond to new leads promptly, that you have the staff to manage direct mail pieces, etc.
    2. Provide sales training to technicians if technician sales are part of your marketing plan

Let us also dispel a stubborn myth about creativity (cool ads): Good creative is not a substitute for a well-organized marketing plan.

Creativity is great, and IS a huge plus, but creativity needs to be focused on the key aspects of the overall marketing plan to truly drive sales and profits.

What we want is excellent marketing planning combined with excellent creative in our advertising approach. Together they are a winning combination!

1. Do a Gap Analysis.

First Step: Business Evaluator

An Explanation of the Business Evaluator Questions:

There are four elements of marketing that are internal to your company and that you can control:

  • Pricing Practices and Strategies – how we position our company and how we establish value
  • Advertising, Sales, Promotional Strategies and Brand – how we create leads and awareness about our company
  • Product Strategies – what products we carry and sell
  • Distribution Strategies – how we sell and install, where we get our products

Each of the above “Four P’s” (Price, Products, Promotions, and Place) is impacted by the five external aspects of marketing – the “Five C’s”:

  • Consumers - the trends with consumers (research, education, needs, wants, desires)
  • Competition – what they do now, and their likely reaction to our strategy
  • Constraints in our own business – like money, labor, or skills (competency)
  • Channel – meaning our suppliers’ reaction: what happens in the distribution channel?
  • Corporate Laws – what we can do legally, and what regulations are affecting us (EPA)

The Business Evaluator questions help you understand the way your company handles the Four P’s and the Five C’s. The goal of these Evaluator questions is to be able to start answering the question, “How can I improve my Marketing and Operational Practices to create a better company and make more money?”

 

Company Marketing & Lead Generation Questionnaire YES NO
Do you know your market share in your local market for each of your market segments?    
Are you interested in the market growth potential in your local area and what the forecast is for the growth?    
Do you intend to grow your company revenues this year, and make double digit profits?    
Does the company generate $1 million in sales per 3,000 customers?    
Is the company satisfied with its sales curve (void of steep peaks and valleys)?    
Does the company have a unique selling or marketing proposition, which separates it in the market from all other competitors?    
Does the company utilize customer service representatives?    
Does the company train customer service representatives and front line office people to answer customer phone calls? Is scripting utilized?    
Does the company have an image policy for personnel and vehicles?    
Are there any new market segments you plan to enter into in the coming year?    
Does the company have a defined revenue target for each market segment, that identifies the sales, and gross profit dollars required for each market segment?    
Does the company understand the impact of changing the sales, product and margin mix and what this can do to sales, margins & profits?    
Does the company effectively market to existing customers?    
Is the company’s marketing budget allocated 50% to new customers and 50% to existing customers to generate leads?    
Is the company’s overall marketing expense 3% or less of sales in the residential market?    
Does the company have a written marketing plan that defines the leads required by each department to meet the sales forecast for each department, and specifies how this is accomplished?    
Does the company utilize an effective service strategy to retain and keep customers active?    
Do you have an effective marketing plan to focus on growing demand service sales?    
Do you have an effective marketing plan to focus on growing service agreement sales?    
Does the company have a marketing strategy, or strategies it utilizes such as price positioning, or product/service bundling to increase its average selling price, and sell more accessories?    
Is there one person in charge and totally accountable for a marketing strategy and marketing plan to be executed in the company?    
Is there a written and well thought out advertising plan or calendar that is a part of the overall marketing plan?    
Does your current marketing work for your company to your satisfaction producing enough leads when needed?    
Does the lead forecast define leads required by each department, and assign personal accountability for leads to individuals within the company?    
Are leads and sales tracked on a historical basis so the company understands where leads came from in the marketing, and what the closure rates were?    
Does the marketing of the company use a marketing model of any type to develop your company marketing materials and insure they are successful in marketing to existing customers, new customers, and those customers who did not yet buy from you but still may be prospects?    
Do you understand direct marketing and how to utilize it to its fullest extent?    
Does the company have a series of marketing materials (flyers, direct mail letters, newspaper ads, radio ads, door hangers, coupons, event flyers, color brochures, cable TV ads, sales credibility book, guarantees flyers etc…) on hand at a moment’s notice in support of marketing plan, and promotions to meet lead requirements?    
Do you have a consumer promotional plan that aligns and ties directly into your company’s marketing plan?    
Do you have an effective company brochure?    
Does the company have effective consumer education marketing materials?    
Does the company have an effective set of technician handout marketing and sales materials?    
Does the company have an effective set of service sales support materials?    
Does company have an effective Internet strategy?    
Does the company utilize internal promotional programs (i.e. – sales contests)?    
Does the company collect e-mail addresses and use in customer communication?    
Do you understand how to gain maximum co-op dollars from your suppliers?    
Do you conduct any market research in the market place with consumers?    
Does the company conduct any market research on its competition in the market?    
Are you the company of choice in your market for the media to call upon when they need information about our products, services or industry?    
Do you understand how to put together a press release?    
Do you have a ready-made set of ads and creative materials to help create leads for your company when they are needed?    
Is the company assigning lead responsibilities to departments and personnel to support the lead plan for the company?    
Is the owner ever interested in acquiring other HVAC businesses, customer base assets or any other form of acquisition?    
Are your company trucks and vehicles maximizing your company name brand and image?    
Is your company signage and identification gaining you the maximum exposure in the market?    
Does the company have a set of home show guidelines for maximizing home show investments?    
Does the company have a customer referral plan in place?    
Does the company have a quality inspection process in place after each sale is made?    
Does the company effectively use manufacturing marketing funds?    
Is the company interested in private-labeling equipment?    

 

Second Step: Identify Your Gaps

Describe from the questions in the Business Evaluator, what the gaps are in your company. Any answer “NO” to a question in the Evaluation is considered a gap based on industry better practices.

We are not attempting to bridge every gap, but for now, we want a complete list.

Define the Gaps in the chart on the next page for use later. You can prioritize them roughly now if you like, but you will prioritize them later in greater detail.

The Gaps in Your Company’s Marketing Practices Today

 

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2. Understand Your Business Model and What Makes It Work

Your “business model” can be defined as the pieces of the business chessboard that are in your business and the way you use them and fit them together to help your business sustain itself. Do you have all your chess pieces?

For example, in residential contracting, the business model is to develop demand service and maintenance to a level of at least 30% of overall company sales.

  • Total Sales = $1,000,000
  • Demand Service & Maintenance = $250,000 to $300,000
  • 30% ratio of service & inspections to overall sales

The business model here is simple – develop enough demand service that we can begin to farm accessory leads and sales from that service.

If you think for a moment about how deceptively simple this is, it is also the baseline for establishing the entire balance of the entire marketing plan that follows.

We cannot have a marketing plan until we know what our business model is and how we are going to go to market to develop the business.

Everything we do is based upon our understanding of our business model! Without the model, the company lacks focus and definition. With the model, we know how to set up our entire marketing plan!

The residential service business model example suggests we can develop service and then develop accessory leads, upgrades and sales. This is a simple concept, but there are some very hard disciplines that correspond to this business model.

You must have certain marketing principles in place and operating well in order to sustain your business model. Here is a list of some – but certainly not all – things that must be in place in order for a residential service business to succeed:

  • A well organized service department to manage calls and make happy customers
  • Marketing plan for capturing demand service calls from new customers
  • A company culture that helps service grow continually
  • Service technicians who can create leads for accessories/sales
  • Supporting materials for service technicians to generate leads
  • Training for the service department in a wide range of areas
  • Great execution – happy customers make for referrals
  • Measurements of how well you are doing

3. Set Goals and Action Items for Your Marketing Plan

As you can see, the basic business model leads us to some immediate and important conclusions about our marketing and operations practices. Successful marketing is not just outside advertising – it’s a whole-business discipline.

Once you understand your business model, you can select marketing goals that will support it.

Here are some examples of overall marketing goals:

  • Achieving a defined sales target for the year in a market.
  • Selling more service agreements to meet a target.
  • Changing the mix of business – such as higher-margin products and accessories from lower-margin products to improve gross profit dollars per man/hour or man/day.
  • Entering a new market segment, such as commercial contracting.
  • Increasing sales in a particular market segment such as demand service
  • Trying to exceed 30% service sales to total sales.
  • Developing a better company brand name – and better brand attributes.
  • Creating an advertising and media plan to create a certain amount of leads to help achieve the sales goal.
  • Creating a certain amount of internal self-generated leads from demand service.

Defining your goals allows you to determine where your time will be spent, where your money will be allocated and spent, and how the training and resources for your company will be directed.

List your overall marketing goals below:

 

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You may end up listing even more than 15 goals. It’s helpful to your thinking to list all of them, but next you need to trim the list to three or five high-priority goals. (Three to five marketing goals is all a company should be looking to achieve in a year.)

Consider these questions as you prioritize your marketing action items:

  • Which marketing goals are critical to your business model’s success?
  • Which marketing goals will create the most impact in the company?

Prioritize the Top Five Marketing Goals in Your Company for the Year

 

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Next, you need to decide the direct action you need to take to achieve these goals. In other words, what kinds of marketing and marketing support activities will you need to have in place to make your business model work well? List them all!

Some examples are:

  • Flat-rate pricing
  • Improving showroom
  • Service technician accessory sales training
  • Customer service training
  • Increasing service prices
  • After-the-service customer call
  • Developing sales support materials
  • Improving technician selling processes

List your direct action items below:

 

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You may end up listing even more than 15 action items. As with your overall marketing goals, it’s helpful to your thinking to list all of your action items, but next you need to trim the list to three or five high-priority items.

Consider these questions as you prioritize your marketing action items:

  • Which marketing action items are critical to your business model’s success?
  • Which marketing action items will create the most impact in the company?

Prioritize the Top Five Marketing Action Items in Your Company for the Year

 

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4. Determine Strategies for Your Marketing Based on the Goals You Want to Achieve

Marketing strategies outline the actions you will take to help you achieve the goals and action items you have defined.

To start defining your marketing strategy, begin with a few questions:

  • What is your overall marketing budget?
  • How fast do you want to grow your company?
  • What products or services are we marketing?
  • To whom are we marketing?
  • What is the consumption rate, if any?
  • What is the pattern of repeat purchases, if any?
  • How will we create awareness about those products/services?
  • What offer or call to action can we make to our customers to make them want to try a product/service?

First Step: Determine Your Target Markets and Audiences

For example, you may have decided that you want your marketing to increase your residential demand service. You would then identify the following audiences for that marketing:

  • Single Family Homes – Females. – 10 Year Old Homes or older, $40,000 family income
  • All New Homes - Homes Less than 1-year-old (Accessories and IAQ Marketing) Demand Service
  • All brand new move-ins in the community

Second Step. Identify How Many Leads You Want Your Marketing to Generate

Here’s how:

  • Identify how many leads you require for each month and each week.
  • Assign those leads to the various lead generation sources in the company – for example, service will have a lead target, as will your external marketing. Each source is responsible for its assigned lead target.
  • Assign these lead targets each month, but measure them weekly.
  • Create accountability systems for lead production, both internally and externally. Internally, you meet, review results and discuss what is happening. Externally, you track the results of your advertising and adapt your approach as needed.

Third Step. Decide If You Want to be an Aggressive, Moderate, or Conservative Marketer

To decide if you want to be an aggressive, moderate, or conservative marketer, consider the following:

Keep in mind that the goal of all high performing companies is to lower their marketing expenses to below 3%of the gross sales and maintain a 10-15% growth rate using service-based lead generation. This is true regardless of a company’s disposition to be aggressive, moderate, or conservative in marketing.

Your advertising and media plan should be based on the profile of your business in concert with your goals. Here are some examples of what type of marketer you may need to be:

Aggressive:

  • Aggressive marketing goals and desires
  • Willing to invest heavily in marketing development – 8-12% of sales
  • Launches new products and services or has the need to do so
  • Very focused on developing new customers sometimes forsaking existing customers
  • Objectives are fast growth – 20% or greater in revenues in a market segment
  • Aggressive promotions – with aggressive offers
  • Leads are much more important than brand or general awareness – image is secondary

Moderate or Balanced:

  • Starts with a moderate set of marketing goals and expectations
  • May introduce products/services from time-to-time, but slowly
  • Willing to invest in marketing development – 3-7% of sales
  • Develops new customers and existing customer marketing as part of strategy
  • Desires to develop existing customer sales and relationships to maximize repeat sales
  • Objectives are controlled sustainable growth – 10-15% or greater in revenues in a market segment
  • Likes to promote, but not aggressive in offer types
  • Leads are very important, but also concerned about image & brand – general awareness

Conservative:

  • Starts with a conservative set of marketing goals and expectations
  • Introduces products and services through existing customer relationship channel, not through marketing, because they have a large customer base to mine for leads
  • Willing to invest in marketing development – but targets 3% or less
  • Has an established or developed customer base, image is already strong, and maintains a market presence that goes beyond advertising – has operational quality, success, and history working in favor.
  • Develops new customers and existing customer marketing as part of strategy, but has a referral system and a deep network of local influencers supporting the company.
  • Desires to develop existing customer sales and relationships to maximize repeat sales
  • Objectives are controlled sustainable growth – 8-12% or greater in revenues in a market segment
  • Likes to promote, but not aggressive in offer types
  • Leads are very important, but also concerned about image and brand – general awareness

There is no one all-encompassing profile, but if you look closely at how you actually behave in your existing marketing, and in each segment you conduct operations, you will see a pattern emerge as to what profile you fall into as a marketer.

Understanding your attitudes towards marketing, advertising, and media planning should help you guide your goal-setting and expectations.

Be advised, aggressive marketers are not any more successful than conservative marketers.

Different marketing styles are simply a matter of taste and growth bias. However, it is useful to know what your style is because it will affect how you structure your relationship with an agency or media representatives. It will also affect your operational practices. For example, a conservative marketing approach in marketing would require the Service Department to generate more accessory sales and leads. An aggressive marketer may try to do this through direct mail or other means.

Here is a general outline of the media allocations for the different marketing styles. Of course, this is only a guide. Your final allocation should take into account the media environment of your particular market.

 

Media Mix: Aggressive Moderate Conservative
Direct Marketing 40% 30% 20%
Newspaper 10% 20% 20%
Broadcast Mediums 20% 20% 30%
Yellow Pages 20% 20% 15%
Internal Marketing 7% 7% 10%
Reserve 3% 3% 5%

 

5. Develop and Execute an Advertising, Promotion, and Lead Generation Plan

You are now ready to craft your company advertising plan.

Remember that there are only two reasons you advertise:

  • To make people aware of something – your company, your brand, your existing products, new products, your services
  • To get leads so you can generate sales – ads with a call to action

That is it! It is just that simple – but most companies do NOT have the luxury of doing both because of limited resources.

Brand MUST become secondary to leads when you are a small company. However, all advertising affects the way your company is perceived in the marketplace, so be aware of the long-term impression your lead-generating ads are creating over time.

Some basic guiding principles for your advertising plan are:

  • Choose your advertising media to maximize the amount of leads you can get first. If you have money left over, you can then decide if more leads are helpful or if you want a more blended approach to support brand development for the company.
  • Maintain a reserve. This is held back for special circumstances when you may require immediate money to spend on advertising to generate leads.

Here are some tips for getting the most from your hard-earned money:

  • Do your homework. Once you have determined how you want to allocate your money across different media, you need to figure out which channels/outlets are the most effective within each medium. Find out what media vehicles in your community have the best reach, and do it for lowest costs in your target audience group. Ideally, you want to maximize both your reach and frequency as much as possible – but always making sure that you get our message out to your target audience first.
  • Decide how you will measure the success of every advertisement and build in the systems as needed. For example, you may need different phone numbers to track the leads from different ads.
  • Stay focused with your message, and adapt your creative to fit it. Your message should remain consistent so it becomes cumulative. Your creative can change as your needs require.

 

Here is a spreadsheet to help you plan your media buying.

Here is a spreadsheet to help you calculate your cost-per-lead.

 

6. Develop Marketing Materials to Support Your Marketing Plan

The marketing materials you develop will depend on the kind of marketing activities you have identified as priorities for your company. However, it’s common for companies to focus on their visible advertising and neglect the more everyday “sales collateral” like invoices and sales books – which can be fantastic sources of leads.

For more information about the various sales collateral that you should consider for your company, see the “Sales Collateral” section in “How to Choose the Right Traditional Media for Your Business”.

Synchronize the Elements of your Marketing Message

No matter what media you choose for your advertising, to get the most from your advertising dollars, you need to craft a compelling message for your ads. In general, it’s a good idea to hire outside help for this.

Before you actually start spending your company’s money coming up with ads, you should get a few things organized so that you have clarity about the basics.

Answering the following questions will help save you time and money as you work with your creative vendors.

What is your brand?

Define how you want consumers to FEEL about your company brand when they think of you.

Examples of brand attributes:

  • Trustworthy
  • Fast
  • Dependable
  • High-Quality
  • Consumer-Friendly

What is your company’s Unique Selling Proposition?

Your company unique selling proposition is what makes you unique in the market place and different than all other players in your market. Most contractors have great difficulty with this. If you do not already know what your Unique Selling Proposition is, ask yourself: why should a customer buy from you? What do you offer that no one else can duplicate or provide? What exactly would your customers miss that no one else can provide if you disappeared from the market tomorrow?

Examples of Unique Selling Propositions:

  • Service within an hour or it’s free!
  • Same day installation or it’s free!

What is your company theme or slogan (it should tie back to your brand attributes)?

The theme of a company is what people see in print that helps them remember your company when it comes time to purchase your products or services.

Examples of themes/slogans:

  • We make your happy home a healthy home too!
  • Service now or it’s free!

What is your company jingle (it should tie back to your brand attributes)?

Example of a company jingle:

  • Call Jamie O’ at Air Solutions, the Doctor of Indoor Air, he makes your happy home a healthy home too!

A jingle is not necessary unless you are considering using broadcast media such as radio, television, or cable television.

These advertising media tend to allow your jingle to build up cumulative impressions in a customer’s memory over time. They help trigger customers’ memories about your brand, and encourage them to call your company when they need services your company provides.

Create enough of these impressions over time, and you can begin to create what is known as top-of-mind awareness – also known as “mindshare”. Having a strong mindshare is very desirable for service businesses, especially contracting.

What is your logo?

Your logo is the image, words, colors, and typeface that represent your company.

Whenever you get graphic design work done for any sales materials, you will need to have your logo ready for use. If you already have a graphic designer, make sure that he or she is able to provide you with all images and fonts that you need to produce high-quality graphics.

List the elements in your marketing message here:

 

What are your brand attributes?  
What is your USP?  
What is your theme or slogan?  
What is your jingle (if any)?  
What is your logo?  
Where are your logo and graphic design files?  

 

7. Develop Processes in Your Company that Support Your Marketing Plan

Advertising is only the first step in an effective marketing campaign. It is equally important for you to manage the internal operations of your company so that you are positioned to take full advantage of leads when they come in.

The internal operational changes you need to make will depend on the kind of advertising you do, but here are some examples:

  • Hire additional staff to answer phones, and train phone answerers to respond to questions that will be generated by your advertising
  • Allocate staff resources to prepare mailings
  • Designate a staff person to manage the creation of advertising campaigns
  • Provide sales training to technicians if technician sales are part of your marketing plan

List the operational changes you will need to make to support your marketing plan:

 

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