marketing calendar

Lead Generation: Failing to plan is planning to fail


Not sure you realize this, but Valentine's Day will soon be upon us. Being a total non-romantic (at least in this post), the day is significant solely as it represents a milestone date that you, as a B2B Sales and Marketing expert, should be leveraging. In other words, whether it's Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, or any other significant event in the eyes of your audience, you should be planning well in advance to launch a campaign around it.
We've all been there. Trust me when I say, based on my past track record, I should probably be the last person to write this post.
So what's your plan? Have you already created a lead generation campaign that will leverage this milestone event? If so, congrats; you're now excused and no longer need to read this post.
Still here? Welcome to the club. Alright, let's make sure this doesn't happen again.
Folks, it starts with a Marketing Calendar.  I know we talk about it.  We mean to do it.  We may even have an Excel spreadsheet of the major events we're doing (i.e tradeshows). However, used properly, a Marketing Calendar becomes a critical tool in your strategic planning. Before you do anything in your annual marketing plan, look at the calendar, pick the dates out that are opportunities to leverage (i.e. Valentine's Day, or Thanksgiving), and then enter a Campaign launch date that is days, or weeks, prior to that date.  Once that major milestone is in place, you can reverse-schedule your supporting tasks to ensure you actually launch on time.
Of course, when that's done, you should enter your events next. Those dates are often fixed and not controlled by you.  Following that, you can add in your news releases, your blog posts, and your newsletters.  What we're doing here, if you haven't picked up on this, is staggering the marketing milestones so that they don't overlap.  We want to optimize our campaigns with our financial and people resources. When you have multiple campaigns happening concurrently, it's a recipe for team discord.  Avoid this at all costs! 
Now that your schedule is layed out, you can start adding additional marketing campaigns to supplement your activities. For example, a tradeshow may be an opportunity for promotional emails and incentives to drive event attendance.
Sounds easy enough, eh? Almost common sense. many of you can not only show me your marketing calendar, but also claim to invite others in your extended organization to participate and contribute to direction, content, and measurability? How well do you actually meet your deadlines?
It's not easy. It's hard. I understand. But a marketing calendar that's shared by, and visibile to, the entire organization is a Marketer's best friend. You eliminate the question of "What does Marketing do?". You actually create morale because staff feel like Marketing is making noise and generating revenue. The conversation moves from "We need new leads." to "We need to close the leads we have."
So how do you make this mythical marketing calendar? For years I used
MS Project or MS Excel and simply posted it outside my office.  I updated it weekly with my team and shared it via email to my executive peers. When people asked me what we were doing I'd simply walk them over to the posted calendar (they soon stopped asking!).
These days, I prefer technology to create and manage my calendars.  
For years I used
BasecampHQ. It's a great product for simple project planning.  That's all we really need. It is great for transparency because team members can be both internal or external. The subscription fee is relatively low. It's a good investment.
Currently we're using
ManyMoon.  We love it.  We made the move because our email and team collaboration backbone is all built upon Google Apps (GA). Unfortunately, BasecampHQ didn't have great integration with GA but ManyMoon does. Being able to update projects and milestones and tasks seamlessly between your email, contacts, and projects is very efficient.  The reaction from our clients is overwhelming.  In fact, while we may be engaged to deliver a subset of their marketing activities, we encourage our customers to use our ManyMoon instance and update the shared calendar we have with them to include all of their marketing activities.  It works well for both of us.  We can see what they have coming up on the calendar - even if it doesn't involve us - and we can plan our campaign dates such that they don't create conflict for our clients. Conversely, our clients now have a single place to go to see their entire marketing calendar.
So what's your plan? Do you have one? Are you planning for success, or failing to plan?