Sales and Marketing Pro

Marketing Plan Pro tip: Market growth

graphIs your target market growing, shrinking, or just holding steady? Figuring out the answer will help you strategize as to whether you’re trying to gain share by expanding the market, taking share from a competitor, or working hard just to keep the loyal customers you already have.

Market Analysis table
Marketing Plan Pro contains a number of tools to help you forecast your market’s growth (or lack of it) in concrete terms you can translate into action. The Market Analysis table is a great place to start, letting you list the different types of potential customers your marketing efforts are aimed at. Project change in these populations for the next five years for a good medium-range outlook.

Sources for your data
Getting your strategy right depends on getting sound data about your market. Look to industry publications and associations for trends and supporting data. One of the critical parts of the market forecast is not just how many potential customers you have, but their overall purchasing power. U.S. Census data has some great information on industry spending, and if any of your competitors are publicly traded you can compare your numbers with theirs fairly easily.

Reconsider your focus
Sure, the overall market may have one trend, but are you sure that reflects your Ideal Customer? In a shrinking market, you may be able to maximize your outreach efforts by better qualifying your leads, rather than expanding the pool of potential customers. If your Market Analysis table shows far more potential customers than you realistically expect to reach, consider returning to your Ideal Customer description and making sure you have focused in on the best possible opportunities.

Marketing Plan Pro tip: Becoming remarkable

Your DifferenceThe second section of the Tasks list asks you to define what makes your company remarkably different. “But I’m not,” we hear. “I’m just doing the same thing a dozen other guys are doing down the block!”

Below are some questions to walk you through figuring out why this statement isn’t true. If you want more help like this while you’re writing your plan, click the Plan Setup button on the toolbar and choose a Standard plan (the most detailed) – it will break each Task down into smaller steps.

  1. Make a list of your direct competitors, people who offer the same product or service to the same target market.
  2. For each one, write down how you differ from them on quality, selection, price, convenience, customer service, experience, or anything else that matters to your Ideal Customer.
  3. Make a list of your indirect competitors, people who solve the same problem you do in a different way.
  4. For each one, write down the advantage you offer over these ways of solving the customer’s problem or meeting their needs.
  5. Now think – if you could be any other company out there, which one would it be? Is there somebody who is really doing everything right? This will be your model competitor, the one you study to improve your own business.
  6. Don’t forget to ask your existing customers! When someone comes in, makes a purchase, or completes a contract, just ask: “What did you like about doing business with us? Is there anything you’d like us to do better?” You may be surprised by what you hear.

That’s it. Now you just need to look at all the lists you’ve made and find the patterns. Put it into a sentence or two, thinking about it from your customer’s perspective – what benefit you offer to them, over your competitors.

Maybe you have differences that seem to be problems, yet can be turned around to provide advantages. For example, a small business can offer more personal, customized service than a big, anonymous one. Or maybe your prices are higher than everyone else’s – which reinforces your reputation for offering high quality.

Remember, in some senses, your business is you – what you care about, what you value, what you like about going to work every day. Finding your remarkable difference should be like doing a personality test on your business – fun, easy, and maybe enlightening.

Marketing Plan Pro Tip: Share your plan

If there are specific team members in your organization who can give you some help in crafting your core message, sales forecast, or other portions of your marketing plan, you can easily share portions of the plan content with them for input.

Invite comments online

  1. On the File menu, point to Send to and click Secureplan.com
  2. Use the Sign Up Now button to create an account, then Upload your plan
  3. Use the features on Secureplan.com to invite specific people to view and comment on your plan online.

Marketing Plan Pro Tip: Use reports to share your marketing vision

As you create your practical marketing plan, you’ll want to share it with employees and partners, and even use parts of it for your marketing materials. In fact, for your marketing to be successful, you’ll need to share some parts of it with others in your organization.

Marketing Plan Pro includes a Reports feature that lets you automatically publish parts of your plan for different purposes. Reports include a Presentation designed to be exported to PowerPoint, Marketing Materials for your kit, an Internal Marketing Education report for training staff, and more.

  1. Click the Reports button on the plan toolbar
  2. Click on any item under the Documents heading on the left, to see what’s included in that report
  3. Click Print or Export to begin publishing that report from your existing plan content

Marketing Plan Pro Tip: Expand your plan

If you started with the 30-minute or Basic marketing plan, but want to keep exploring your marketing opportunities, you can expand your existing plan.

  1. Click the Plan Setup button on the toolbar
  2. Click Next to get to “Step 2: Customize your Document”
  3. Select the Basic or Standard marketing plan and click Next
  4. Click Close

The information from your original plan displays in the summary topics and the original tables, but the Tasks list and Outline now lead you through subsets of your marketing plan in more detail.

What does Business Plan Pro have to do with Amazon S3?

Business Plan Pro now takes advantage of the robust nature and high speed bandwidth provided by Amazon S3 to serve its web updates. Palo Alto Software gets a smaller bill for bandwidth and one less feature running on our server farm to have to maintain. While at the same time, our customers get reliable, high speed service for our downloads. It’s a win/win situation for everyone but our ISP.

Business Plan Pro has a great feature that allows users to opt to automatically check for updates to the software every time they run the application. This ensures they will always have the latest and greatest version of our software on their machine and helps minimize the impact of bugs our developers and QA missed. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that even our world class team of developers and testers still release software with bugs from time to time ;) And with the time it takes a CD ROM to enter production and make it to the shelves of our retailers, it’s more common than not that there will be a newer version available on the web at the time the user first runs the application. So the auto-update saves the day, allowing users to never be the wiser about bugs already having been fixed but still lurking in the software they were about to run.

Business Plan Pro, by virtue of being the decisive leader of Business Planning software in the world — applaud goes here ;), has great demands on bandwidth for its updates. Without disclosing confidential figures on the size of our user base, I can tell you that thousands of updates are served per week. And each update ranges anywhere from 4 MB to 40 MB. This kind of strain accounts for a significant portion of Palo Alto Software’s total outgoing bandwidth needs. Therefore, moving the services to Amazon S3 is a significant change.

The good news is that because of the way the web update feature was designed, we were able to seamlessly move our updates to Amazon S3 mid product lifecycle. Business Plan Pro hits a web service on our ISP which returns the URL to download the software thru. Easily enough, going live was as simple as modifying the web service to issue Amazon S3 Urls to the client instead. All the changes to implement this feature were server side and so now customers get even better update service without having to get an update first .

Tim Greenfield
Senior Software Design Engineer
Palo Alto Software

Welcome!

Welcome to the Dead Simple Software product blog, a new blog focused on conversations about the Palo Alto Software product line that is authored by the people at Palo Alto Software and the customers that support them.

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