We Had a Plan BUT Something Else Happened Instead

Bob Dumouchel

We Had a Plan HeaderWith 40 years as a Business Executive and most of that in Sales & Marketing, I have never seen a Marketing Plan happen exactly as planned. The truth that nobody wants to tell the boss is that the project everyone just poured hours into is a fantasy, but it is. Now out of the other side of my mouth, let me tell you that Marketing Plans are absolutely essential to your marketing success. It is with these two inescapable realities firmly in mind that I write about this conflict.

Why Write a Marketing Plan

If we know Marketing Plans never happen, then why waste our time? Why call them essential? The simple answer is that the planning process, setting goals and discussions with  your entire team are essential in preventing horrible execution sins. The process of planning makes your business team better at marketing and makes the marketing execution smoother. The fact that it will not happen as planned is unfortunate, but it is also the reality. Just remember that at least you have a plan to deviate from.

Why Plans Never Survive the First Contact

The market is a thousand times more powerful than your business, and it does not bend to your will. Many enterprises plan for things they are never going to get. The straight line to purchase thinking is an excellent example of this. In this thinking, the plan proposes that a sale goes straight from the first contact to purchase. Sometimes this happens. However, this is an outlier, not the norm. If you have a Transactional Sales Model, this can happen. Most businesses sell using a Relational Model where trust is earned before you can close a sale. The path from the first contact to a finalized sale is never a straight line, although everyone wants it to be, and some marketing plans call for this.

Let me tell you a story

We had a client that thought their sales went in a straight line from click-to-page to placing an order, and sometimes they did. This belief caused them to shut down their Google Ads because of the low conversion rate. In reality, customers returned to the site multiple times before converting, causing the orders to be credited to direct traffic. When they turned off the ads, the orders continued but slowly faded over the next 30 days to near-zero. The reality was that the paid traffic brought the lead into the sales pipeline, but the direct traffic is what got credit for the order. This is the danger of last-click attribution and making the assumption that you know what the data is saying is easy.

Confusing need and want

Planners often confuse what they think the customer needs with what the customer wants. I cringe every time I hear the statement, “Customers need our product.” Few companies are the sole source for a product that a customer needs. When it comes to Digital Advertising, the goal is to be “top-of-mind” when the customer’s need morphs into a want. Then, you have to provide a solution that wows them.

What to do when something else happens instead

First, remain calm because the plan always goes sideways. The key here is to stay focused on the mission, not the chaos. When the plan goes wrong, and chaos is all around you, focus on the mission. Create a Corrective-Action-Plan to move back towards the plan goals. All plans have key-metrics that will need adjustment as your campaign runs head-on into reality.

What is a reasonable planning range?

Plans never go exactly as planned, so what is a reasonable range? For early-stage plans, plus or minus 50% is fair. As you get more experience in a specific market, it is possible to get this down to 10%-20%, but you should never assume perfection.

Seeking Incremental or Breakaway?

Before you dive into the details of a plan, the Big Goal needs to be finalized. Are you after Incremental Growth or Breakaway Sales? This question can be posed another way, do you want High or Low risk? Incremental Sales are predictable and low risk. Breakaway Sales are high risk. For most businesses, Incremental is up to 20%, and Breakaway is at least 50%. Some types of marketing campaigns are more appropriate than others depending on the big-picture goal.

How many campaigns?

In most SMB’s, the marketing plans are just 3-4 campaigns that they plan to run that year. If you go much beyond that, the risk of technical failure increases rapidly. In many cases, it takes four months or more to know if a campaign will produce the desired results.

Throw lots of ideas away

In businesses, there are Technicians, Managers, Sales, Entrepreneurs, and Worker Bees. All of these contribute to the business, but some create problems in planning. Technicians and Managers, for example, want to be right and have a style conflict with being wrong. The planning process is 90% wrong to be 10% right.


You must have a plan, but do not take it personally when something else happens instead. Stay flexible, watch your data, and adapt quickly.