For many businesses, the planning and reporting of marketing activities are two quite separate functions, managed in rather different ways. Planning is often done in spreadsheets: frequently at a high level (e.g. total sales for a campaign, or monthly buckets), and often based almost entirely on the expert judgement of the marketer in charge. Actual sales are typically visible in a separate reporting tool such as Business Objects. Although this may allow comparison of actual with budgeted sales for a time period, this is rarely linked to a specific marketing campaign, unless there is only one running at a time.

Sometimes, the marketer may copy summary information from the reporting system into a reporting spreadsheet, to allow actual sales to be viewed alongside the plan. Occasionally, those actual sales might require a revision to the forecast for the campaign, in which case this would probably be typed into the planning spreadsheet but might not necessarily permeate through to other parts of the business without a fair amount of effort.

Our approach is to combine campaign planning and reporting/analysis seamlessly into the same system. The marketer can enter basic information about campaigns and this is transformed into a full profit and loss account by week and campaign. These ‘mini P&Ls’ by campaign are aggregated to generate the overall forecast for the business. Actual sales are fed from the transactional systems and allocated to the appropriate marketing activity, allowing drill down from a top-level overview right to the individual elements of the marketing campaign to identify the causes of any over- or under-performance. Algorithms, which run automatically once the previous day’s actual sales are loaded, suggest revised forecasts for the eventual campaign outcome. The marketing department typically takes the final decision on whether to change the forecast, but if they do, changes at the campaign level instantly propagate to all parts of the system (demand forecast, financial forecast etc.), ensuring all departments are working from a single version of the plan.

Combining the planning and evaluation of marketing activities (e.g. trade promotions or direct marketing campaigns) into the same set of tools benefits both activities. It promotes better feedback from historical performance into the planning process, and ensures that actual sales can be viewed in the context of the original plan (and subsequent revisions) without the need for laborious copying of data. Tailored tools allow for much more detailed planning and reporting whilst saving the marketing team a lot of effort. Instead of spending their Monday morning putting together the week’s marketing report, the Marketing department can spend that time thinking about the numbers in the report.

The end result is that businesses can improve the targeting of the marketing budget, deliver better customer service and allow their marketing team to focus on the sorts of tasks that cannot be automated – such as thinking of new ways to delight their customers!