Marketing Plan for a Software Company
Getting from a brilliant idea to an equally spectacular business success is likely to be a long haul. In the highly competitive IT market, it’s often a solid marketing strategy that determines whether a company will succeed in achieving its goals.
A B2B marketing plan is the foundation for building a thriving business. In this article, we’ll go over what a marketing plan is, why software development companies should have one, and how to develop it step by step.
What Is a B2B Marketing Plan?
In the simplest terms, a marketing plan is a kind of a strategic roadmap that indicates what paths your software company should follow in order to achieve its business goals. The overarching aim here is to define the activities that will allow your firm and marketing team to reach their strategic goals and objectives and deliver value to the clients. This may lead, for example, to building a strong brand or help in increasing IT sales by acquiring new clients or improving loyalty of actual ones.
However, one important thing to remember is that a highly effective digital marketing plan is not a schedule or a checklist. Rather, it is a strategic approach that enables, as the name suggests, planning the company’s market activity in the long term. As an integral element of a B2B marketing strategy for software companies, it should be thought out in its early stages to help your business gain a competitive advantage and reach your business goals.
Why Do Software Companies Need a Marketing Strategy?
Strategic planning helps IT companies meet their business goals. But before you do anything, you should first carry out a thorough analysis of your current situation – only then should you proceed with writing an outline to an actionable plan and thinking out its implementation. As a result, you’ll avoid a situation in which a new line of business or tech product is introduced to the market in a chaotic manner and potential B2B clients are acquired by other software companies.
There are many other benefits of planning marketing activities, such as:
a higher ROI from marketing activities,
a more efficient use of the budget, team and resources,
improved customer service and, as a result, customer satisfaction,
the ability to monitor changes on the market and adapt accordingly much faster,
a better coordination of intercompany activities and your marketing team’s workflow,
the possibility of measuring the efficiency of individual activities and drawing conclusions based on data,
ensuring marketing communication consistency.
Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan
The terms marketing plan and marketing strategy are often used interchangeably. Although both documents define the ways of reaching marketing goals, specify marketing activities, and indicate how to measure their effectiveness, they are far from being the same concepts. The key difference between them lies in the level of detail.
A B2B marketing strategy is oriented towards achieving an in-depth understanding of your software company’s situation, defining its competitive advantage, and determining how certain operations are supposed to be carried out. A marketing plan, on the other hand, is focused on identifying what your IT marketing team is supposed to do to meet your business goals. In other words, the company’s goals and overall philosophy, as defined in the strategy, are supposed to be translated into and supported by the marketing activities defined in the plan. And while the strategy primarily answers the questions of “why”, “for whom”, and “how”, the marketing plan is intended to provide more comprehensive answers to “how”, “when”, and “where.”
While most CMOs realize that acting without a high-level marketing plan leads to chaos, increased risk, and higher costs, they usually don’t know how to actually write one. What is more, both the document as well as the entire process of creating it are often identified with some of its last stages (such as creating a list of “tasks”), with prior research and analysis often ignored. This is a serious mistake that translates into lower effectiveness of marketing activities in the IT industry.
How to Develop a Marketing Plan For a Software Company?
Understanding the role and benefits of strategic planning is one thing, creating an efficient plan is much harder. Even if a universal template doesn’t exist, there are some components that should find their way into every IT company’s plan.
The key elements of a B2B marketing plan are:
- Conducting marketing audit (with an executive summary)
- Defining marketing goals
- Setting strategic objectives for your company
- Choosing marketing mix and tactics
- Defining marketing plan implementation and measurement methods
Below you’ll find a brief description of each of these areas.
- Conduct Marketing Research
The first step in preparing a high-level action plan is conducting a market analysis (looking over the current market situation). This is because in order to determine what the best direction for developing your business is, you must first understand where your IT company currently stands.
You can do that by analyzing your company’s environment on two levels: macro and micro. As part of the macro-environment analysis, pay attention to general trends that may affect the market situation specific to your high-tech business. For example, for a company specialized in software development in a specific programming language, information about the dynamic growth of demand for competitive solutions will be of crucial importance.
To analyze the macro-environment, you should consider using dedicated tools, such as a PESTEL analysis, a simple framework of the most important factors (P – political, E – economic, S – social, T – technological, E – environmental, and L – legal) that may affect the development of your IT company. You can obtain data on these from industry reports, media releases, government reports, or conversations with subject-matter experts.
The second step in conducting a marketing audit concerns your company’s immediate environment, including your B2B clients, competitors, and business partners. Here, it’s worth analyzing what your competition is up to and what their offer is. Conclusions from your research and analysis can be presented on several slides, helping those who are not involved in the process to better understand the situation.
During marketing assessment, try to answer the following questions:
What kind of target groups are your competitors trying to reach? Does it coincide with the ones you want to get to?
What are the key differentiators, competitive advantages, and value proposition of other businesses in the IT industry? In which area does your software company provide greater value?
What B2B marketing channels (website, social media, offline) do other IT companies use?
In which direction, in your opinion, are other software development companies trying to develop their businesses?
Gathering this intel (by conducting a marketing research for your IT company) doesn’t mean, of course, that you should blindly copy what other hi-tech companies are doing. However, it is a good starting point for understanding potential growth opportunities or threats to your IT business.
Moreover, make sure to investigate your target groups during the micro-environment analysis for your software development company. You can, for example, conduct short interviews with selected B2B clients, or develop questionnaires and send them out among your client base. Ask them why they chose your firm in the first place and what value you managed to deliver. Maybe your developers are particularly friendly and communicative, and therefore easy to work with? Or perhaps your company offers convenient forms of payment? Oftentimes, business clients find value in other aspects than the quality of IT services or products you deliver. But don’t stop there – try to really understand their experience and inquire about the reasons why they would (or would not) work with your Software House again.
Also, remember that a key step in conducting a marketing audit for an IT company is to examine the extent to which your business has met its objectives to date. For this, you’ll need clear data on gross profit or sales volume. Ideally, your firm should also have data on brand awareness or your business’s market share – for this, however, you should carry out a separate research (either on your own or by commissioning it to an IT marketing agency specializing in strategy consulting).
Financial data and conclusions from the micro- and macro-environment analysis should allow you to assess where your software company stands. It’s also worth closing this stage with the so-called SWOT analysis, which indicates the strengths and weaknesses of your high-tech business as well as possible opportunities and threats that await it. As the foundation of the SWOT analysis, you can use information from your PESTEL model or conclusions from the client survey.
2. Define Marketing Goals For a Software Company
The second element of an effective marketing plan is defining the marketing goals of your IT company. Knowing where your business stands is an important foundation for all further activities, but in order to grow your business, you need to think of how you want to move forward.
Such objectives can be related to many areas. However, the direction in which you’re taking your software marketing should be consistent with the high-level strategic and business goals of your IT company. In other words, if you expect to reach a gross profit of $3 million in a given year, the marketing objectives should support this plan.
The areas in which you can set IT marketing goals include:
At the same time, each of the B2B metrics mentioned above should be formulated according to the SMART framework – that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. For example, your B2B marketing goals can be as follows:
an increase of the Software House market share in Poland by 10 pp by the end of the year,
an increase in customer loyalty by 10% by the end of the second quarter of the year,
an increase in IT sales by $5 million in the first quarter of the year.
3. Define Strategic Assumptions For a B2B Marketing Plan
After establishing your business and marketing goals, the next step is to determine how you want to achieve them. For this, you should use strategic assumptions.
Within the strategic part of the marketing plan for your IT company, you should first focus on defining your target audience or target groups. Directing your messages at everyone is simply a waste of time and money.
Think about this in terms of:
the main industries (or segments) you want to reach,
client needs you want to satisfy,
what motivates your potential B2B clients,
the problems your prospects are facing (and the solutions you can offer),
the expectations your potential clients might have towards a software company like yours.
Defining target groups is the first step in understanding who you want to target with your products and/or IT services. For companies operating on the B2B market, it’s equally important to create buyer personas – semi-fictional representations of your ideal clients based on your company’s data and research. One of your buyer personas could be, for example, a specific type of CEO. Understanding the needs, problems, and objectives of decision makers and stakeholders on your client’s side will allow you for more precise actions down the line.
The strategic part of your digital marketing plan is also the place to identify the key advantages you have over your competitors which you’ve previously analyzed. What IT services does your company offer? What kind of competitive advantages does your high technology company hold? An integrated marketing plan must include answers to such questions.
4. Choose the Right Marketing Mix For Your IT Company
Identifying the competitive advantage and target groups of your software company, hoverer, is not enough for an effective execution of your plan. For that you’ll also need to choose the right B2B marketing tactics – or, in other words, specific activities that will help you reach your strategic objectives. For this purpose, consider using the so-called marketing mix, a combination of marketing activities in several key areas.
The 7P marketing mix consists of:
Product – the elements of your B2B company’s offer as well as various branding aspects (colors, fonts, naming),
Price – the general approach to pricing services and/or products and occasional discounts (if applicable),
Place – ways of reaching your audience (such as social media, websites, external services) or, in other words, places where your clients will be able to find or hear about your IT services,
Promotion – what B2B marketing channels you’ll be using to convey information about your services and how you’ll formulate those messages to your clients,
People – guidelines for people who will have direct contact with the recipient,
Process – a list of activities that will lead to the delivery of your IT services/products (such as the time that should pass from acquiring a lead, converting it into a client, interviewing them about the product they want to develop, or actions to be taken in case of problems on the client-side),
Physical evidence – all kinds of visual elements that will reassure the recipient that you’ll deliver your service (such as a well-functioning website, testimonials from other clients, or an impressive appearance of your company’s headquarters where the clients will be invited for crucial talks).
Physical Evidence (świadectwo materialne), czyli wszelkiego rodzaju wizualne elementy, które upewnią odbiorcę w przekonaniu, że zrealizujesz usługę, której oczekuje – jak choćby dobrze funkcjonująca strona internetowa, referencje innych klientów czy… efektowny wygląd siedziby firmy, w której podejmiesz klientów na decydujące rozmowy o kontrakcie.
5. B2B Marketing Plan Implementation
All that background research is necessary to develop a plan that is well-adjusted to your situation. But you might be wondering how to actually implement a marketing plan in your software development company.
First, you should figure out how you will monitor progress and evaluate the efficiency of various initiatives at their different stages. Without it, you won’t see how your business is performing and whether or not the effort put in preparing a marketing plan has actually paid off. This is why the final part of creating a marketing plan is to prepare a kind of blueprint for its execution (discussed in more detail in the next section) and defining ways to measure its performance. Thanks to the metrics you choose, you will be able to continually assess your marketing team’s business results.
The primary measure of effectiveness is when a goal defined on the plan-level has been achieved. However, consider creating additional B2B marketing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), which will make evaluating individual elements of the plan significantly easier and, if problems arise, help you determine what has gone wrong.
Digital marketing metrics are different depending on the area you’re measuring. For IT companies operating in the B2B market, you might indicate:
the strategic level – the measurement of high-level marketing business objectives (as defined earlier, market share, sales profitability, etc.),
the marketing-mix level – the elements in relation to the 7P framework mentioned above) such as:
- product (e.g. brand awareness indicator, the number of customers for a particular service)
- price (e.g. price index),
- place (e.g. the number of visits to a page with specific services),
- promotion (e.g. the number of users on the website, social media reach)
- people (e.g. employee satisfaction index),
- process (e.g. the average response time of the customer service, the time it takes for a lead to convert),
- physical evidence (e.g. the percentage of leads gained thanks to client testimonials or word-of-mouth marketing).
Using an IT Marketing Plan in Practice
After developing a marketing plan for your software company, you might be unsure about what to do next. Truth is, even the best plan won’t bring you or your business the desired outcomes if it’s not implemented correctly. Below, you will find two critical documents that may help you in the process.
Executive Summary and Its Benefits
An executive summary of your marketing plan is a short document containing only the most important information. It will serve you and other people (also those who weren’t involved in the drafting process) as an overview of the document’s individual assumptions. How long should an executive summary be? Just one page is enough! When creating it, make sure to include the main objectives, key numbers, crucial tactical activities, and a general overview of the marketing mix you’re using.
A fair share of problems with marketing plans manifests itself exactly during the implementation of their assumptions. This makes defining ways to implement the marketing plan an absolutely key element of the whole process and must be taken into account at the stage of strategic planning. So, consider supplementing it with an executive summary section.
Work Schedule for Improved Communication
In addition to the above, having a clearly defined work schedule will come in handy at the implementation stage. When creating a schedule, consider using a Gantt diagram. It will allow you to place particular marketing activities in time (e.g. preparation of the concept of a new product or service, decision concerning its pricing, the way of communicating it via social media.) and to allocate budgets and employees responsible for carrying them out. Research shows that over 40% of marketers declare that communication problems and difficulties in cooperation are the biggest barriers in implementing the plan. Thus, paying special attention to these aspects is crucial.
A Marketing Plan Cheat Sheet for B2B Marketers
Establish a coherent vision of the future that ensures (although you can never be 100% sure) the successful implementation of the B2B marketing strategy and plan.
Keep the team involved at every stage of drafting the plan for your company.
Set clear timelines for the various stages of implementation.
Ensure that the CEO and the management team are involved in the process (not only the creation but also implementation phase).
Prepare an executive summary of and distribute it to management.
Strategic Planning is worth more than a Plan
Hopefully, the tips outlined here will be useful in creating an IT marketing plan that will help your company build an edge in the market. After all, in the IT industry, good strategic and marketing planning is the key to business success. By developing a B2B marketing plan for your software company and executing it step by step, you’ll significantly increase your chances of reaching clients who are the best fit for your business and support its growth. Just remember to do your research!