A quick guide for planning a solid marketing budget
To play the marketing game prepare a solid marketing budget with which you can win.
Crafting a marketing budget can feel like a guessing game. The options to invest your marketing dollars could seem endless, and you could spend weeks debating what will move he needle for your startup. In this article, Steve Lim, Vice President and Head of Marketing at Vantage Data Centers, and I have put together a quick guide that our CEOs and their marketing teams have found useful for budgeting marketing spend. We divide this brief guide in two parts: the three guiding principles for guiding your plan and the process for defining your marketing scope
Guiding Principles: The 3 Cs of your Marketing Budget
We've found three simple guiding principles we call the "3 Cs" that can help you navigate your marketing budgeting options.
Your budget must include spend for the key areas:
1) brand awareness
2) content and tool creation
3) demand generation
Specifically, to drive awareness for the brand, you need to budget for public relations, social media, websites and digital presence as well as other brand related programs that reach customers but do not drive direct lead creation or engagement. Then, to develop content and tools, you need to budget for thought leadership content and sales tools. The important thing to keep in mind is that you need an ongoing strategy to tell your story in a compelling way and to portray your company & products in a positive light. Finally, to deliver contacts and leads to sales, you need to budget for things such as digital programs, digital media, trade shows & events, and partner marketing - all of these create a blended program that directly engage customers and drive lead or contact creation for sales teams.
We recommend that rather than using rules of thumb, you calculate estimated marketing spend based on lead conversion or customer acquisition costs (CAC) payback period. To do this you need to incorporate specific building blocks, including:
- Total addressable market (a large market requires a broader marketing outreach)
- Size of your existing database (if you don't have a strong target list, then you will need to invest to build it)
- Size of sales teams and velocity of sales process (you need to calculate the number of leads required to support each sales rep over time and in relation to time of sale)
- Your market position (newer entrants will need to assume the CAC will be higher, whereas known companies are able to spend less)
For each category of marketing spend, there is a minimum threshold. Either you commit to spending a certain amount or, in the category, forego spending anything. Do not try to find cost savings in specific line items. The worst possible scenario is to try and execute a plan after your board agrees on that plan but asks for simple percentage cuts across the board. You have to look at each area of marketing spend and determine what the minimum threshold for spending should be, and either decide to proceed or cut entirely. This is especially true for demand generation programs that drive direct contact acquisition and lead creation. For example, activities like media spend (digital ads, SEM, etc.) require a certain level of investment with some consistency over time to tune, adjust and manage before you see real results. If you cannot commit to spending consistently for a minimum of 6-12 months, you are best to forego this activity completely.
Some areas are more flexible in how you can tune spending up or down, but you need to ensure that you know the thresholds for each as well as the overall mix of spending required across the key areas of marketing. Properly planned and executed marketing is a well thought out mix of spending across the key areas with deliberate thought to how each investment influences the activities overall - essentially the sum is greater than that parts.
Process: Size and Shape of your Marketing Budget
You need to spend time to determine the right size and shape for marketing spend based on your unique circumstances and your market.
The size of your marketing budget should be based on an overall estimate of spend. To determine the range for marketing spend, we recommend using the average cost for an inquiry and lead conversion analysis to estimate the spend per closed/won opportunity (Marketing program portion of CAC). With a range of estimates for leaders and laggards, you can then determine the overall Marketing spend level with confidence. It's important to note in the process, however, that there are both minimum thresholds that you need to be conscious of and ceilings that are capped based on total addressable markets. Simply put, you have to spend at certain levels across marketing to achieve any results at all - if an average cost per lead is $100, you can decide to invest $100 and get one lead. On the other end, you should not assume you can put an unlimited budget into marketing and generate infinite leads. You'll be limited by the total addressable market and by some basic assumptions about what a reasonable penetration percentage is for your target market.
To size the marketing budget determining the average costs per inquiry, answer the following key questions:
- What is the quota assignment?
- What is the average sales price (ASP)?
- How many new deals per year?
- How many Quota Carrying Sales reps today and planned?
- Who is the buyer? what level? executive? manager? is this a software purchase? What part of a typical org would make the purchase?
- What is their target market geography? Are they going after just US business or global?
- What is the length of the sales cycle (sale velocity)?
The shape of your marketing budget is determined based on the relative importance and spend between brand awareness, content & tool creation, and demand generation. For an early stage company to build infrastructure and capabilities, there is a minimum amount of spend needed in all areas. In later stages, companies can shift emphasis and spend depending on whether they need to build awareness, capabilities or sales leads. The shape is also determined based on the approach to planning and executing your marketing programs. This approach can be either agency or internal-resources led with the appropriate management resource for each approach and is a basic build vs. buy decision. To achieve high levels of quality, many startups should use an agency-model until they can hire enough people to assume relevant functions - after all, the trend in marketing - and in finance also BTW - is rent versus own.
Co-author Steve Lim is Head of Marketing at Vantage Data Centers. He has deep experience in marketing strategy, field marketing, sales enablement, program development & delivery, content marketing, and operations.