For many B2B marketers there is that annual planning process in which we determine priorities, initiatives, budgets, headcount, and so on, but in today’s digital-first go to market environment how do we utilize this annual process in a way that benefits our marketing efforts throughout the year.

Here are a few methods I use with B2B brands to ensure their marketing planning effort delivers the not only must have foundations but also the flexibility to innovate in the digital-first B2B go to market environment.

Method #1: Don’t Build Plans, Build Frameworks

Planning in B2B marketing is a must, but it must also be actionable, digestible and flexible. I always encourage marketing and sales leadership to build frameworks, not hard plans. That is leadership – with the team – should build: the lighthouses (objectives, definitions & success measures); the bets (prioritization & key initiatives); and the tent poles (key storylines & activation), but leave everything else to the teams doing the work. In reality this means that marketing leadership is delivering frameworks – the guard rails – for a B2B brand’s go to market.

I usually did this via a team offsite, where we would collaborate on developing the lighthouses; bets and tent poles by sharing a vision and workshopping how we get there. I’d bring in speakers from product, sales, customer services, finance, technology, etc. And not just leaders but also speakers in the field that could share their day in a life. Where in essence they would present their average day as a video testimonial. And I would extend this to a few key customers as well. So the team could have better empathy for our clients and understand their day to day challenges.

Method #2: Planning is a Matrix

The second is ALL marketing planning is a Matrix. We have ICPs, Personas, Messaging, Product Stories & Use Cases, etc. And since all things reaching our audience need to be customized and personalized we need to plan in a way that mirrors that personalization. A matrix is a great way to visualize that.

But more importantly a matrix can demonstrate the interconnectedness of your plan. Many of us use “swim lanes” to help visualize cross-functional processes, but an additional use for swim lanes is to document the connections among your various marketing activities. How does content marketing and demand generation work together to drive content engagement. How does social media drive ICP development and owned content consumption? How does ABM as a strategy impact all our marketing efforts, and so on. Build a matrix of swim lanes to visualize the interconnectedness of your go to market.

Method #3: Bake in Predictable Unpredictability

One of the challenges with the annual marketing planning process is it fails to allow us to react to changing market conditions. By using documentation methods that are less about prose and more about action (read: NO to docs and YES to slides) we can enable flexibility into our planning process. The real problem is finance, operations and the c-suite hate unpredictability. And so do their bosses: boards, shareholders, etc. But the world is unpredictable, and this is even more accelerated in today’s digital age. So what’s the solution? Accommodate unpredictability into your marketing planning.

There are two parts to this method. One, on the tactical level, build wiggle room into your business case and outcome forecasts. Build your forecasts with at minimum a 5% outcome differential. Typically, I encourage clients to build low / med / high scenarios in their forecasts to provide the ability to absorb the unpredictability.

Additionally, from a budget perspective, I recommend taking a small part (5-7%) of each of your budget line items and making an allocation for experiments and testing. This allows you and your team the financial flexibility to try new things that can deliver against your forecasts. And deliver results with less budget. You’ll be surprised at what your team can do.

What are your thoughts on how to build your marketing plans so they have the flexibility needed for today’s digital-first world? Share your thoughts on The Buzz Community.