Editor’s note: Grace Ueng presents this guest column . She is strategic marketing and management consultant . Highlight’s of her “12 Steps to Success “ framework will be presented in a 4-part series.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Have you stepped back lately to define your vision and mission, to write a marketing plan for your business, to examine your product roadmap, or to invest in a communications audit to assess the perception of your company? Marketing, when well executed, is a strategic and planned investment that should have a high correlation to your sales results.

The 12 Steps framework is used in teachings locally at UNC Kenan-Flagler and globally in Fudan’s international MBA program in Shanghai, a joint venture with the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Steps 1 – 3:

Marketing Can Be Strategic: Make sure that management understands that “marketing is too important to be left solely to the marketing guys.” Marketing cannot exist and operate in a silo; they do best when empowered, but must interact actively with the rest of the organization. The head of marketing should ideally help the executive team strategize and provide content for the company’s business plan. Equipped with this big picture thinking, marketing is in a better position to help drive revenue attainment and add to corporate value.

To be a savvy entrepreneurial marketer, you need to be strategic and therefore, you need to be involved at the highest levels – that includes writing or reviewing and inputting into your company’s business plan. If you work for a Fortune 1000 company and this is not be feasible, then it is important to have input into your division or your product line’s business plan.

While many entrepreneurs wing it, the chances for success are much higher with a plan. If you need outside funding, in fact, a plan is essential. Often I am asked to help a company write a marketing plan, but I end up stepping back and helping them with their overall corporate strategy and business plan which should be decided prior to putting together the marketing plan.

If you have not spent time developing a business plan and defining your overall corporate strategy, this is a definite precursor to writing the marketing plan. In my various technology leadership roles, when marketing and other management team leaders have been involved in the strategic planning process, this has resulted in the best outcome.

Invest in a Marketing Plan: Once you have a plan, adhere to it by revisiting and tracking progress on a monthly or quarterly basis. If you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen. Otherwise you will be reacting and executing and not be strategic.

Compose a realistic budget and tie marketing investment to volume and profit. Create a fully integrated marketing plan — avoid one-offs that are often a waste of time and money.

Large companies with higher staffing levels can afford to have marketing brand groups be heads down in a rigorous review and planning process mode for up to a quarter of the fiscal year. While entrepreneurial ventures simply don’t have the resources to invest this much time, they can mimic a modified process of reviewing their business on annual basis, boiling their plan down to addressing 3 key issues, and then write a plan to guidepost the next 12 months.

Do you have a marketing plan and at least a few key dedicated people with the right skills in place to resource this function? If you don’t, the tendency I have seen in many small businesses is to do one off marketing – e.g. opportunistic ads that neither build on each other nor fall under fully integrated brand messaging and end up being a waste of money and effort. When an individual is only partially allocated to marketing , especially when their other responsibility is sales, marketing takes a non urgent priority which ultimately handicaps the sales process. The tendency in hard times is also to shut off marketing. Bad times actually are the best time to be marketing, as it is often easier to gain attention with less clutter and there is more negotiation in pricing – this investment will pay off for you when good times return.

How are you going to resource marketing? What is your budget? What percent is it of revenue? Who will do the work? Companies sometimes have great ideas but no one to execute the tasks or vice versa – know what your talents are and where you need help and fill in as appropriate.

Boil key issues down to 3 – could be groupings – might have plethora of issues, but focus on top 3. Otherwise, will be too many to remember and none will be accomplished well. Again, focus and prioritize.

Grade Your Marketing Plan: Is there a solid market assessment, thorough business review, definition of top 3 key marketing issues, positioning and key messaging, roadmap for products and lead generation, marketing programs complete with budget?

Big but important question – Have you done each of these things? Let’s walk through each.

Market Assessment: How big is the market in which you compete? This may seem like an obvious answer but I encourage you to quantify the potential. What is the growth rate? How big will it be 5 – 10 years from now? Who are your direct, indirect competitors? Substitutes? Are they growing? Shrinking and why? I worry when companies say they have no competition – then is the market opportunity big enough? Or are you truly a “market maker” – this can be positive in that you are first to market – the challenges is that you are truly evangelizing and educating – which can elongate the sales cycle. Thought leadership to key targets then is truly key.

Who do you compete against? Do you have a competitive advantage that is sustainable and defensible? Ideally, you should. Do you compete in a growing or a crowded market?

Business Review: If your business has been around for a few years – conduct a SWOT analysis, review deals to date, customers, marketing – complete analysis of business. Review marketing – what in your sales kit is working? Missing? What are the quality of your leads? What should you continue? Stop? Internally: who is contributing the most? Who is not? What outside marketing partners are working? Not?

From this, you can identify your top 3 Marketing Key Issues – 3 is a good number to focus.

In what verticals are your customers? What additional verticals would you like to target? What are your rates of trial and retention or repeat purchases? Awareness?

Corporate and Product Positioning: Incredibly important foundation on which to build all communications. This is an exercise that can often take hours if not days to think through. Who do you sell to? Who are the decision makers (primary, secondary, tertiary) and who are the influencers?

What do you do that no one else can do? This is called unique selling proposition and is a key question to answer. What quadrant or share of mind do you own in the mind of your target market?

Do not try to do all things for all people – focus and prioritize.

Is your product line too broad? Too narrow? What is profitable – what is not? What is your product roadmap? You should have prioritized product pipeline to grow your company. How does development get their market requirements? Are you in constant touch with your customers and target market?

Marketing programs – have clearly defined goals and objectives for each as well as ROI metrics determined prior to launch of each program.

Budget – be realistic – it is hard if not impossible to market with no financial or people resources. Heavy up to impact back half of year.

About the author: Grace Ueng has 2o years of sales and marketing experience with high-growth consumer and business-to-business products. With a foundation built on classical consumer packaged goods brand management , Ueng has contributed to five successful consumer and enterprise startups that had successful exits through IPO or acquisition. She has been a key member of executive teams that have delivered a return of over $1 billion to investors. She can be reached at:  grace@savvymarketinggroup.com

About Savvy Marketing Group: Savvy Marketing Group is a leading RTP strategic management and marketing consulting firm serving entrepreneurs who want to take their company to the next level or established companies venturing into new products or services. Savvy Marketing Group focuses on corporate strategy and development and business planning through their Resolute Ventures™ services, and delivers on marketing strategy and planning and business development through their Chief and Crew for Hire™ services.