Four ducks swimming in a row with thought bubbles containing marketing terms floating above their heads

At this time of the year, it’s easy for B2B decision-makers to feel a little overwhelmed and fall into the mindset of “that’s a January problem”. Strategic planning for the coming year, even for important events in the first and second quarters, can get pushed off while we focus on wrapping up this year’s deadlines.

In our experience, however, Q4 isn’t just a good time to focus on the next year’s goals; it’s the best time. It’s far more effective to work out your strategic approach, goals, budget and other key elements for the coming year during the fourth quarter. Having these details in place gives you valuable breathing room, so you can be less reactive — and more profitable. The right amount of forethought, or what we call “Q4-thought”, can make a big difference in the year ahead.

Let’s Start the New Year Right

Even if your fiscal year doesn’t begin on January 1, the turning of the calendar is when the world at large primarily gets back to business. Just like you, your customers are going to be charged with starting Q1 strong. They’ll also be better positioned to spend, as opposed to later in the calendar year when budgets are dwindling. That makes the early part of the year a prime time to show your prospects the value of your offerings!

Earlier this year, my colleague Danielle Morgan made a case for the benefits of strategy, which include using your marketing resources more efficiently, making smarter decisions, better internal alignment and ultimately, delivering stronger results. She also warned about the dangers of a reactive approach to marketing: chaotic planning, extra deadline pressure and less time to do just about everything — all of which increase the risk of mediocre work. 

Poor planning can threaten your plans at any time, but it’s especially harmful when heading into a new year. Putting it off in Q4 can position you to miss out on an entire quarter while you get back into the groove.

For example, let’s say (for the sake of easy math) you have a goal of generating 1,200 new leads next year, i.e., 100 each month. If you’re not planning now, you’ll probably lose January and even a good bit of February playing catch-up. Then the next thing you know, you’re spending the rest of the year making up that lost ground. Being ready to deploy at the start of the year can make the following months less stressful and aggressive for everyone.

You’ve Got Your Budget, Why Not Your Plan?

By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, most marketing teams have a pretty good idea of what their budget for the next year is going to look like. They also know what has worked in the current year and what hasn’t. Now’s the perfect time do that SWOT analysis, analyze your 2023 performance, and figure out how to optimize the year ahead.

Even if you’re ahead of most B2B organizations and already have your 12-month plan for 2024 worked out, Q4 can give you valuable time to start getting down to a more granular level, developing the specific tactics you’ll need to achieve your goals.
Which brings me to another important point: once you commit to the value of planning ahead, you can be much more thoughtful if you break it up into two process-driven stages.

Handle Strategy and Tactics Differently

High-level strategic planning and tactical planning often get thrown together in the same bucket. Sometimes they’re even handled in the same meeting! The most successful programs, however, tend to categorize and approach them with different mindsets.

At the strategic level, you’re defining the challenge. This is when you need to get all the right people in the room and start asking tough questions like these:

  • What worked for us this year?
  • What didn’t, and why? 
  • Who are our buyers? 
  • Do we truly understand our buyers, or are we missing the mark? 
  • Where did a campaign go flat? 
  • Are we actually providing any value to the marketplace? 
  • Are we paying attention to what our competitors are doing? 
  • Has the market changed? 

Making a close, honest examination of the state of your business, your buyers and the marketplace is an invaluable step that will help you set achievable goals and inform the tactics you pursue.

At the tactical level, you offer solutions to the challenges you’ve identified, set specific goals, and build a detailed road map for achieving them. If you’re doing it right, you’re taking a close look at any previous performance data you may have to help determine what’s feasible. 

In a recent interview for the BBNmixtape podcast, Michelle Crawley, TriComB2B’s director of public relations, stressed the importance of having a clear path and purpose for every marketing effort. That means your goals need to be as specific as possible. And by specific, I mean measurable. Marketers who have their ducks in a row define their goals in terms of quantifiable metrics like these:

  • “We want to receive X percent more responses than we got last year.”
  • “We want to achieve Y dollars in revenue from marketing-qualified leads.”
  • “Our marketing efforts should account for Z percent of our sales pipeline.”

These are examples of true, scalable goals that offer achievable opportunities for greater profitability. Simply saying, “We want some pretty brochures” or “Let’s make more videos” won’t provide the same level of value that definitive goals like these can achieve.

From there, it’s simply a matter of walking backward from each goal: “If we’re responsible for this revenue number, this is how many opportunities we’ll need. This is how many we could get from this tactic,” etc.

Don’t Settle for “What We’ve Always Done”

If your plan for 2024 looks a lot like what you had planned for 2023 — or worse, your plan for 2019 — that’s a red flag. Big changes are happening worldwide, not only in marketing technology, but in the mindsets, worldviews and working habits of your buyers. 

Although B2B organizations may not feel as much of an impact from today’s economic and geopolitical uncertainty, they’re still likely to be affecting your own marketing landscape and your industry in new ways. Be honest with yourself and your team, and don’t be afraid to ask those difficult aforementioned questions. It will be a lot less awkward to deal with them now than to sweep them under the rug, only to have them come back to bite you later in the year.

If you’re working with a full-service agency, you’ll have the benefit of a partner who can give you an outside perspective — and they’ll be less afraid about looking into those dark nooks and crannies. That may sound a little scary at first, but it can be refreshing to have marketing experts take some of the weight off your shoulders and do a deep dive for you while you conduct your day-to-day business activities. An agency partner can evaluate your entire plan for new opportunities and may have valuable expertise with newer channels and technologies.

Resolve to Have a Happy (and Profitable) New Year

“Q4-thought” isn’t just about being a straight-A student and getting a gold star. The efforts you put in now can significantly support your profitability for the year ahead. If nothing else, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with a clear direction and resources in place, rather than throwing a lot of extra money at problems you could be dealing with now. That’s the smartest way to spend that precious budget — one that could give you even better reasons to pop the bubbly next December.