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What is the difference between a marketing system and a marketing plan?  Let’s start with what a marketing plan looks like.  A marketing plan is a time frame and listing of tasks or activities that you hope will lead to higher sales.  When an advertising agency “helps” your organization with a marketing plan, you can bet it will involve lots of expenditures for paid advertising.  When a public relations agency “helps” your organization with a marketing plan, it will likely be full of really exciting promotional opportunities that the PR agency will help you execute (for a fee, of course).  When a general business consulting or marketing firm assists, you’ll end up with wonderful data about market potential.  Along with a new list of services the consultants can provide for a fee. 

A marketing system, on the other hand, is more than just a list of sales objectives coupled with marketing data about your prospective customers or clients.  A marketing system includes a set of activities or tasks with a complete set of instructions so that an inexperienced individual could implement the marketing plan.  A really good marketing system includes specific feedback mechanisms and budgets so that “filling in” the paperwork will actually tell you how much each additional sale cost you in terms of marketing expense, how long it took your firm to identity and move the prospect to a sale, and feedback on how to improve your product or service to improve value and future sales. 

A marketing plan may or may not help you increase sales.  A marketing system not only helps you improve the sales of your goods or services but should allow you to SELL your business for more money than you would otherwise receive when the time comes for exiting your business.  Marketing systems shift your organization from being a “people dependent” organization to becoming a “system dependent organization.”  What makes a business very valuable to a buyer is not just a list of clients, but detailed instructions as to how to get more sales from current and new customers.  The reason why people buy jobs (by purchasing franchises) is that they don’t want to sell … they want to do anything but sell.  A marketing system is a  complete set of instructions that even an inexperienced individual can generate new customers or clients just by following instructions.  There is great comfort to just following instructions.  Detailed instructions including scripts of exactly what to say takes the fear out of selling.

A typical marketing plan describes the target market and sets desired goals.  But most marketing plans rely on finding an experienced sales professional to implement the plan.  By contrast a marketing system describes in detail everything that will be done, said, and what needs to be recorded.  The result of using a marketing system is a record or documentation that can be analyzed as to what the actual cost was in getting new sales or getting more sales from existing customers.  A marketing plan is based on future activities.  A marketing system is based on training through documentation of every sales effort.  A well written marketing system includes a ‘feedback’ loop so that individual experience is documented and recorded.  The documentation gives an organization a historical record of exactly what worked and what didn’t.  The marketing system gives the format for this documentation with instructions on how to interpret the results which captures “wisdom from experience.”

When you sell your business that has a marketing system, you are selling an information bank of collective individual “lessons learned.”  Regardless of turnover of people, a well designed marketing system captures intellectual capital that can be analyzed and reviewed by the new owner.  That allows a new owner to inject their creativity and sophistication to leverage up the organization in higher sales and hopefully extraordinary growth and profitability. 

Are you convinced a marketing system versus just a marketing plan might be right for your organization?


This Business article was written by Charles R.B. Stowe on 6/5/2010

BA Vanderbilt, MBA University of Dallas, JD University of Houston law Center, Ph.D Warsaw University (School of Management). 15 Years Venture Capital, Corporate VP New England Paper company & CEO Real Estate Development.
27 years in Higher Ed. Currently, Dean, College of Business and Public Affairs, Lander University, Greenwood, SC. Author “”How to Start Your Business with No Investors and No Debt”” Edpubtech, Inc.