This article is part of an occasional series from leading voices about key issues facing marketing today.
There are (probably) 14,821 templates for marketing plans. One is sure to be perfect for you and your company, and you'll probably find the right one about a month past your deadline.
But it's really not a template you need. It's a tactical approach to understanding where you've been, where you are, where you're going (or should be), and what resources are required to get there. Easy. Really.
If you're new at your firm or your job, you'll have to speak with people who've been there a while. (Sorry.) They can offer some perspective on the company—its products and services, competitors, changes in the market (and in government regulations, if that matters), the impact of disruptive approaches, the speed at which the company responds to outside forces, the way the business treats its employees, and the value that the CEO attaches to Marketing. You may get excited at the firm's adaptability and commitment to its mission, or you may get so depressed that you put paper back on the street.
Get out of your office
The truth is, though, that talking to the people on the inside is rarely universally informative. That's why a more useful tactic is to speak with the folks on the outside: customers (especially), partners, suppliers, and investors. They're the people often called "stakeholders," but that gives me visions of Jonathan Harker standing over a coffin. And you have to speak with prospects, as well—the ones still in the pipeline and the ones lost to somebody else.
Customers will reveal what really matters to them (things that no one in the company is consciously aware of) and things that don't matter at all (which the CEO may well be in love with). Prospects will identify the things that attracted them to you. Lost prospects will share the things they felt others do better or, as they learned, you don't do at all.
Partners and suppliers offer different but vital points of view about how easy or how challenging it is to do business with your company. Do they think you add advantages they couldn't get elsewhere? Do they feel you respect them? Do they trust you?