Why Marketing Should Go Agile

Marketing has changed more in the last five to seven years than at any other time during my career. The pace of change has quickened, there is more direct pressure for marketing to demonstrate its contribution to the bottom line, many more channels of communication are available to reach increasingly fragmented audiences, and all of this must be done with scarce and expensive talent and resources.

Despite all this change, many of the core processes of marketing remain unchanged. We still spend time writing thick marketing plans, constructing yearly budgets, launching big-bang ad campaigns and targeting broad audiences (instead of having conversations with people).

Some marketers, including myself, are taking a different approach—one based on agile development. Software developers faced a similar crisis in 2001. They were pressured to get more done with scarce resources, and to adapt rapidly to change. They responded with a set of principles and a methodology called agile development, and it has transformed software programming.  I believe that we can apply many of the same principles and methods to marketing and transform our discipline.

What Is Agile Marketing?

Agile marketing is an iterative and experimental approach to marketing that values adaptability and responsiveness to change over long-term planning. It also values individuals and two-way marketing interactions, as well as collaboration among the various marketing disciplines. There are six core values of agile marketing.

Responding to change over following a plan. It’s not that agile marketers don’t do any planning; they do. However, they put a premium on adapting and responding to the marketplace through constant adjustments to their plans and priorities on a weekly or biweekly basis—rather than an annual or semiannual planning cycle.

Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns. Few marketing campaigns can get it exactly right the first time, and there is also value in speed to market. Agile marketing recognizes this and values an iterative approach. It encourages marketers to try something out quickly and fine-tune it as they go, rather than putting all of their energies and dollars behind a big-bang campaign.

Testing and data over opinions. If you’re iterating, how do you know something is working or not working? Data makes the difference.

Individuals and interactions over one-size-fits-all. Agile marketers realize that there isn’t just a market for a product, but many individuals who make individual buying decisions. Buyers make their decisions as the result of conversations, not through traditional one-way advertising. Agile marketers seek to foster those conversations, and provide an individualized buying experience. Think of how Amazon customizes its recommendations to your unique purchase history;
this is an example of individuals and interactions.

Collaboration over silos and hierarchy. In this era of specialization, it is tempting to organize marketing departments around skill sets: PR, advertising, social media, etc. But to the buyer, the product or the company is the product or the company, regardless of the medium used for communication. Collaboration is necessary to ensure not only consistency of message, but also a user experience that is consistent and pleasing. Teams that collaborate also get more done.

Agile marketing is a mindset: Marketers who practice agile marketing put the customer experience at the center of everything they do. They focus on solving buyer problems and the buyer’s journey, not on selling and the sales cycle.

Lastly, agile marketing is about aligning marketing with the business and sales goals of the organization, getting stuff done quickly and documenting the results with transparency and accountability.

Planning for Change

How do you “plan for change”?  How do you organize your marketing team to respond to new demands when you don’t know what those demands might be, or how you’ll address them?

The first step is to admit that your priorities will be in a state of constant change and to throw out those tools that give a false sense of security about the amount of control you have over that change. Throw out yearly marketing plans, yearly marketing budgets and rigid organizational charts. Instead, revise your priorities, including how you spend both your time and your budget, on a regular, frequent schedule: at least once per month, and if you’re really ambitious, once every two weeks.

Second, make it someone’s job to rapidly respond to changes and opportunities in the market. Depending on the size of your organization, create a team, assign a person or make it 50 percent of someone’s job to respond in real time (somewhere less than 24 hours, perhaps less than 4 hours) to particular kinds of opportunities such as competitive threats, newsjacking and brand-damaging events.

Scrum

Scrum is a formal methodology that can help you revise your priorities. Agile marketers use it to manage their work, just as agile development teams use scrum to manage software development. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover everything you need to know about scrum, and many of the readers of Pragmatic Marketer are very familiar with both agile and scrum. Instead, let me outline the basics of scrum, and discuss how scrum for marketing is somewhat different than scrum for software development.

Scrum starts with the marketing backlog, which is basically the list of all the potential activities that marketing could do. The marketing backlog can be seen as the “wish list,” although it should be cleaned up and prioritized over time.

Unlike scrum for agile software development, most marketers do not write user stories. Instead, they break tasks down into manageable chunks that are typically half a day to 1 week in size, describing what’s to be done, who the audience is, what the desired outcome is and how success will be measured.

At the sprint planning session, the marketing team meets with executive management and sales for 30-60 minutes to hear about the current business and sales priorities, adding any new items that come up into the marketing backlog. The team then prioritizes work off the marketing backlog, accepting enough work to fill the length of the sprint (usually 2-4 weeks of work).

Although scrum as practiced by developers requires assigning each item story points (a measure of the complexity of the task), I find that marketing teams tend to keep it simple, deciding for each task whether it is a half-day, full-day, half-week or full-week task.  Anything that is bigger or longer than a week’s worth of work should be broken down into smaller tasks.

Once the team has 2-4 weeks’ worth of prioritized activities, they go to work. This 2-4 week period of getting things done is known as the sprint.

One of the most important rituals of scrum is known as the daily standup. Every day, or at least 3 times per week, the team meets for no more than 15 minutes. Each person on the team answers three questions:

  • What work did I complete yesterday?
  • What am I working on today?
  • What issues, if any, are blocking me and preventing me from moving forward?

When the sprint is finished, the sprint review is held. Executive management and sales are invited, and the marketing team reviews the results of the sprint. For software developers, the sprint review is a time to demo working software. For marketers, new marketing materials are handed out or shown, new websites are demonstrated and the results of any mini-campaigns are shared. The sprint review provides a degree of accountability and transparency that is sometimes lacking in marketing. It answers the question, “What do you guys in marketing do anyway?”

The sprint retrospective is a short internal meeting of the marketing team to talk about what worked and what didn’t work during the last sprint. It allows for adjustments to the process and methodologies used by the team over time.

Who Is Practicing Agile Marketing?

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is one of the early adopters of agile marketing. He has used the methodology at companies as diverse as Webtrends, Involver, MindJet and his current company, BitTorrents, where he is chief marketing officer. You can read some of his posts on agile marketing at marketingiteration.com. Jascha credits agile marketing with helping him to create an agile culture:

Agile processes and tools are actually install mechanisms for culture. By requesting people to work together in certain ways, track specific metrics and check in with each other at specified intervals, companies can put in place the building blocks for people to interact in positive, productive ways.

EMC is also an early adopter of agile marketing. You can read about their success with agile marketing at Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist blog, www.chiefmartec.com as well as watch a video of David Quinn, EMC’s senior director of corporate marketing, presenting to the Agile Marketing Meetup group in Boston on YouTube.

Quinn credits agile marketing with changing how EMC launches new products and interacts with the business groups. It not only has helped the marketing team with time management (and eliminated those long “coordination” meetings), but also provided greater accountability and transparency.

Lastly, I should mention Frank Days, whose blog Tangyslice.com has been a source of inspiration for me. He has implemented agile marketing at Novell and Correlsense, and his approach to agile marketing is refreshingly pragmatic. He likes agile marketing because it helps him get better results, plain and simple.

Jim Ewel is a startup CEO and blogger on the topic of agile marketing.  He is currently the CEO of InDemand Interpreting, which provides language-interpreting services to hospitals, clinics and physician practices nationwide. Previously, he was the CEO of Adometry and GoAhead Software. Earlier in his career, he was a VP of server marketing at Microsoft. You can read more about agile marketing at his blog, AgileMarketing.net. – See more at: http://pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/why-marketing-should-go-agile#sthash.3BfWS6o3.dpuf

Positioning for Advantage – a Q&A with Sprint.ly’s April Dunford

(Q) The Product Marketer: First & foremost, we’re interested to hear your perspective on what role a Product Marketer plays in a B2B organization today? 

(A) Maybe it’s because I work more with startups than larger companies, but I am seeing a blurring of lines across Marketing, Sales, and Product. I feel like we are moving away from an organization where teams are very siloed toward one that is more agile and fluid with respect to functions and processes. Things that were traditionally “sales only” or “product only” are now often looking like things that marketing can and should tackle. In a world where this is happening, Product Marketers have the unique opportunity to help bridge that gap. I see Product Marketers (or at least a product marketing skill set, even if the title doesn’t match) as being something that is in increasing demand.

(Q) The Product Marketer & Positioning: The godfather’s of positioning, Ries & Trout, posited that “positioning cuts through the chaos.” In the world of B2B, what’s your definition of positioning? What is it NOT? 

(A) Positioning is about providing a frame of reference for potential customers to understand what you do and why they should care. It’s not a tagline or a slogan and it definitely isn’t branding. Positioning is the context that makes sense of what your offering is, what the primary value is and who that offering is really for. Positioning is the foundation for not just marketing but sales strategy, product strategy and even support and hiring.

(Q) To ensure that Product Marketers are viewed as true Architects of Growth by the C-suite, how should Product Marketer’s position for advantage? 

(A) In my mind the fundamental value that Product Marketers bring to the table is a deep understanding of customers, including what customers hate, what they struggle with and what they really love. Marketing tactics change every week and frankly, they are easy to learn. Deep customer and market understanding however, takes time to develop and once you have it, you are an extraordinarily valuable resource to the company. The keys to unlocking growth are not located inside the offices of your company – they live inside the minds and hearts of your customers. Product Marketers should be the keepers of the maps to those keys.

(Q) Are there any parting words of wisdom you would like to leave with our Product Marketing members? 

(A) Don’t get too hung up on tactics and tricks. With all of the content being created for marketers today, it’s easy to get distracted by flavor-of-the-month lead generation tactics that may or may not drive results for your business and your market. Rely on what you know about your buyers and ignore your marketing FOMO as much as possible 🙂

An engineer by training, April’s worked as a marketing and sales exec for most of her career. She’s run marketing and sales at a number of startups. In October 2015, April acquired Sprintly – an agile project management tool for startups, along with the original founder, Joe Stump. April works mainly as a consultant to early-stage tech companies. Her specialty is on market positioning and go-to-market strategy. 

The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing

10 Commandments LogoWhether you’re a fan of Charlton Heston or Mel Brooks, you likely understand the concept of a commandment: It is a foundational command or directive or an essential requirement with no compromise. In the course of managing today’s crises and worrying about tomorrow’s problems, we as product-marketing professionals can lose focus on the essentials needed to be an effective product marketer.

Having been at the product-marketing game for about a dozen years at three different companies (more if you count how many times I was acquired) and having had the distinct honor of working for a master of product marketing, I submit to you this list of the essentials, which we call “The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing.” I hope they help guide new product marketers or reintroduce core product-marketing fundamentals to veteran practitioners.

The 10 commandments are built around the constituencies we as product marketers serve: sales, product management and business, press and analysts, competitors, partners and most importantly, customers.

1. Have an up-to-date positioning document and buyer persona for your product. How often do you start developing product or marketing materials without fully knowing who the target buyers are and what their pains are? It happens more than it should when we are going too fast, but without this fundamental understanding you run the risk of losing control of your message. Never forget: YOU own the message.

2. Know the business plan for your product and have a measurable go-to-market plan for it. Regularly perform a marketing activity analysis against budget to measure this. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t achieve an objective without understanding what it takes to get there. I recommend setting a regular cadence of operational reviews with your functional marketing counterparts, where you can review a standard set of results to measure what’s working and what’s not. And when marketing issues come up during quarterly business reviews, make sure your business leader is prepared with the numbers. It’s your responsibility as steward of the marketing budget for the business.

3. Know how customers are using your product. Observing customers in their native habitats need not be intimidating. Ask for a ride-along with a sales rep, or talk to an established customer willing to give you honest feedback. (Customer reference program members are an ideal source for this.) Use these conversations to determine if how you’re positioning your product is real or just hype. Be prepared for an opinion different from what you were expecting and take it in context with other conversations. Just because you have one conversation with one customer who says something completely divergent from what your buyer personas say doesn’t mean you have to shift how you market your product. Keep it real by speaking to a real customer at least once per month. This is also a non-threatening way to gather win/loss data.

4. Know where your product’s customers and users are coming from. This one can be tricky, especially if your business lacks the operational maturity to have consolidated business metrics. There will be someone—likely multiple people—who are able to tell you how many active customers you have for a product (maintenance or support records); the sizes and industry verticals of your customers (Hoover’s et al); average sales price, discount and margin (bookings database from finance); and new customers vs. existing (finance). The trick is to consolidate this information so you have the right information when you need it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if—when your business leader indicated you needed to focus on selling to existing customers to drive penetration—you had that data at your fingertips and could weigh in on the addressable market?

5. Know your product’s license and maintenance revenue targets and progress toward those targets. As a product marketer, you are the VP of marketing for your product. The main focus of your role as a marketer is contributing to revenue. How are you influencing license bookings? Pretend for a moment you work for a “company-is-the-product” startup. You own marketing for that product—and therefore the company—soup to nuts. What do you need to know to be successful? Knowing your progress toward targets helps you move your marketing investments to meet current business objectives.

6. Know who sells your product. Also know what their comp plans look like. Sales reps are coin operated; their behavior follows the money. Knowing how your reps are compensated helps you know what to focus on in sales-enablement discussions. For example, if reps have their comp plan tied to growth in enterprise-level accounts in their region, they’re not going to respond to products and training that address a small- to mid-market customer. Hand-in-hand with this is an understanding of quotas, average deal sizes, whether they’re comped on other parts of the portfolio, professional services, etc. This helps you better understand the folks who are taking your product to market and how to talk their language. You can then be better positioned to influence comp-based incentives or spiffs for your product. 

7. Ensure sales, partners, field marketing and others can successfully evangelize for your product with accurate and up-to-date sales tools. Gather feedback from the field and provide regular updates. This seems like a no-brainer and will likely be 75 percent of your job. Notice the nuance here, though. Your role as a product marketer likely revolves around building messaging, enabling the sales force and influencing campaigns to drive leads and awareness. But turning other marketing shared-services personnel into advocates for your product increases internal mindshare and ultimately improves focus and results. It’s not just about the blocking and tackling of producing sales tools and a good website, but also ensuring the folks building those tools and that website or managing that event can tell the story well. Part of your success will be dependent on turning others, not just sales, into evangelists. Remember, you’re likely competing with other products for mental shelf space across the company. Be aggressive: It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

8. Know your product’s top three competitors and be able to explain how your product is different. I bet this is the No. 1 request you get from sales. But if you’re like many companies, analyzing competitors is a tricky undertaking. It’s frowned upon to download a competitor’s product under false pretenses or break the law in any way, so you rely on publicly available materials that are either authored by the competitor or from an expensive third-party source. My advice is to stay above it and simply provide strengths and advantages of your products.

9. Know who the key analysts and market influencers are and how they position your product in the market. Don’t rely exclusively on the analyst relations, public relations or social media teams to give you regular updates on analyst reports or industry articles. You need to take responsibility for knowing who your top influencers are and how they feel about your product, and you can do that by subscribing to their blogs and Twitter feeds. Also, establish a quarterly cadence with those influencers to talk business strategy, product updates, etc. It doesn’t even have to be formal, and some of the best influencing I’ve done is over coffee or standing on a tradeshow floor. Begin with the end in mind: How do you want this conversation to end? Courting these influencers is as critical to your success as educating your sales force. Ever had a deal go south when a customer said that Analyst Firm X hadn’t heard about your product before?

10. Know your product’s release schedule and roadmap and execute product releases on time. Another “duh” moment. But seriously, how many times have you been surprised that a product is ready to release, and you nearly caused a delay in its release? At the company I work for, product management owns the release to marketing/manufacturing date, but product marketing owns the generally available (GA) date when the product is actually live and sellable. There are typically 10 business days between these two dates (with some flexibility on either end), which gives product marketers 10 days to shepherd sales tool updates, marketing programs and sales training through the processes needed to post it all live. To keep up on when the release is coming, attend your product or program manager’s regular release meetings and be prepared with a plan on how you will market the product.

Breaking It Down

Remember the old maxim that you either are in sales or sales support? Master these 10 commandments, and you will be better connected to the business, be able to measure your results with what really matters (bookings), be closer to the customer than you ever thought possible and less likely to have to answer to sales.

Remember, you have execution teams to help you. Leverage them so you can be a marketing representative to the business. Overlaying these commandments on top of the Pragmatic Marketing process—and using the templates and tools available to you—adds rigor, discipline and a professional quality to your role as product marketing and business representative to the marketing department.

Author: Scott Lang