Build Your Marketing Foundation: Defining Strategic Business Goals

It’s one of the biggest mistakes we see when companies come to us for marketing: They have a laser-like focus on tactics but haven’t thought enough about strategy—specifically, their strategic business goals and their messaging.

For example, we’ve had prospective clients ask us how to write email campaigns, when is the best time to post to social media, how long should a blog post be, how to save money on ad spend…but no one simply asks “What’s the best way to achieve our growth goal?”

All marketing tactics should be built on a foundation of strategic business goals. Those goals then inform marketing goals and help define the audience and messaging. This article will discuss the importance of defining your strategic business goals before creating your marketing plan.

What is Marketing? (It Might Not Be What You Think)

True story: I was interviewing a client for a case study recently, the CEO of a hospital. He mentioned that his board had been constantly on him to “do more marketing.” He wanted to get their perspective on what, exactly, they were asking of him. So he did the wise thing and asked each member of the 14-person board, individually, what they thought marketing consisted of. The outcome? “From 14 people, I got 25 different answers!”

Everyone has a different idea about what marketing “consists” of. And this shows us that most people, when they talk about marketing, are excited by tactics, when they should really focus first on business strategy. Here’s why.

Small Businesses Do Marketing…They Just Don’t Know It

Getting a business up and running requires a lot of skill. Most of that skill is geared toward providing a good or a service. Making a business profitable is a matter of “perfecting the craft”—that is, finding the best, most economical way to provide that good or service.

Marketing, too, is a skill. As a small business owner or start-up, you are doing marketing when you are developing your product or service, learning from your customers, and creating processes to ensure your customers have a consistent experience.

But too often, this forces one to think of marketing in terms of tactics. If a business owner is used to handling those things on their own—product development, customer feedback, and customer experience—it makes sense that, when looking for outsourced marketing talent, they would focus on the skills and knowledge they feel they lack. And so they equate “getting marketing help” with knowing how to do pay-per-click, or getting onto social media, or advertising in various forms.

What often goes missing is the intentionality behind communicating their value to prospects and customers to develop relationships and grow their business.

An Official Definition of Marketing

Marketing is so much more than the tactics you use to publicize your business. According to the American Marketing Association,

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

That definition makes marketing very broad! It includes almost anything you do to provide value to your customers, and then anything you do to let them know about it. It includes, but is not limited to, product development, customer service, sales, public relations, and advertising.

When you have such a broad set of activities, it’s easy to lose perspective on what you are actually doing. It’s one thing to be a Fortune 500 company with millions of dollars for a marketing budget, able to try any and every tactic under the sun. But if your time and your budget are more limited, you have to be intentional about your marketing efforts.

How does one “be intentional” about marketing? First, you need to take a step back and look at your higher-level goals for the business. Every business has goals. The key here is to be explicit about them so they can drive your marketing strategy—instead of having the strategy drive you.

How to Define Your Strategic Business Goals

“Throw it against the wall and see what sticks” is not a good approach to your marketing. You will be in a better position to maximize your marketing budget if you approach your marketing plan with strategic business goals in mind.

When you define business goals, you set the foundation for what you want to happen in your business over the next year or more. If marketing efforts do not align with those goals, you will at best waste precious dollars, and at worst be working against those goals and hindering progress.

For example, consider your company website. It’s an important component of marketing your business, the digital face of your company. Many companies will spend tens of thousands of dollars to develop, build, and rebuild their website every few years. Is that money well spent? It depends: How would a new website make progress toward the company’s marketing goals? That question is impossible to answer without having well-defined business goals.

So how does one go about defining those strategic business goals?

Defining Strategic Business Goals with the SMART(ER) Framework

To do the work, your business goals need to be specific. Avoid creating vague goals like “grow the business.” Instead, be specific in regard to what you want to achieve, and by when. I like the SMARTER framework, an adapted version of SMART goals by Michael Hyatt. With this framework your goals should be:

  • Specific: what, exactly, are you trying to achieve
  • Measurable: you want to know if you hit your goal, so make it measurable
  • Actionable: use action verbs
  • Risky: stretch yourself and your team a little bit
  • Time-keyed: have a deadline
  • Exciting: it is more motivating to have a goal you and your team are excited about achieving
  • Relevant: does it align with your culture and stage of your business?

An alternative goal to “grow the business” that meets the SMARTER framework might be, “Increase revenue by 10% by December 31, 2023.” 

A Working Example

Here is an example scenario to better demonstrate this concept. ABC Accounting is a small CPA firm committed to providing high-quality business planning and tax services to its clients. With over 25 years in business, ABC has found it works best with business owners who have more complicated tax needs and require more regular accounting support for their businesses. The client feedback is excellent, giving ABC high marks on their service and attentiveness to their clients’ needs. Their clients feel very well taken care of and trust in ABC’s expertise.

ABC is struggling, however, to gain enough new clients to really drive the kind of growth the owner is looking for. The firm does receive referrals from current clients, but their strategic plan includes faster growth than has been experienced with referrals alone: The business goal for the year is to increase the number of new clients by 9%.

From a marketing perspective, the firm should translate that into a marketing goal, and then determine the best tactics to use to reach that goal. For example, to achieve 9% client growth, the firm needs to increase their pipeline of new leads by 15%, given their close rate. That is the marketing goal…15% net new leads. Now the firm should focus on the tactics that have proven to be the most successful for driving professional services leads.

The owner could have easily demanded the firm invest in tactics to nurture client relationships. But by thinking through growth goals, they know to allocate part of the budget toward advertising opportunities that attract new prospects. The firm is being intentional about which tactics they choose by starting with their strategic business goals.

Other Examples of Strategic Business Goals

Here are some other examples of good business goals; maybe one of them will inspire you to set one of your own:

  • Increase total revenue by $2.5 M in the next three years.
  • Increase revenue from the main product line by 50% in the coming year.
  • Become a financially sustainable company in 18 months’ time.
  • Increase customer retention by 5% year over year.
  • Increase employee retention by 10% over the next year.
  • Increase average billable hours per employee by 20% in the next two quarters. 

You can find more examples here. But remember: We’re talking about SMARTER goals here, not just SMART goals. Anyone can set an ambitious yet arbitrary goal. That won’t do any good. You should ensure that your goals also fit the company culture and are appropriate for your business, given the stage it is in. They should be motivating, not de-motivating.

After Defining Your Strategic Business Goals: The Next Step

Have you already defined your business goals but now find yourself stuck on where to go with your marketing?

The Marketing Physical by Pace Marketing is the perfect opportunity to turn your business goals into a step-by-step marketing plan. Schedule a call now to learn more about how to take actionable steps to grow your business.  

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