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

The ‘Challenger Customer,’ Product Marketing And The Misplaced Focus On Value Propositions

For the past five years, CEB has been studying the evolving roles of sales and marketing professionals, in the context of the changing B2B customer. In 2011, our book “The Challenger Sale” turned the idea of the high-performing sales rep on its head. Well, I’m thrilled to announce the release of our new book, “The Challenger Customer” – available Sept. 8, 2015. Along with my fellow CEB authors, Brent Adamson, Matt Dixon and Nick Toman, we’re genuinely excited to release this next chapter in the Challenger journey.

In many ways, this book picks up the story from “The Challenger Sale,” but with significantly more research on the relationship between Marketing and Sales, and with extra focus on B2B buyers.

The punchline: If marketing and selling solutions is hard, buying them is even harder! Consensus purchase dynamics are stalling deals, often before they even get to a stage where customers engage with your content, much less one of your sales reps. The number and diversity of stakeholders involved in purchases is increasing, and those parties are failing to arrive at the kind of consensus early on in the purchase to give suppliers any chance of winning high-quality deals.

The implications for Sales and Marketing are huge and we unpack all of this in the book. The upshot is, Challenger isn’t a sales methodology, it’s acommercial strategy. It affects what Marketing and Sales need to do individually and together.

With all of this in mind, I’d like to share some of our thinking on how Marketing organizations should change under a Challenger strategy. Just as sales reps need to change their behaviors to challenge customers, front line marketers need to change their approach as well.

Leading up to the launch of the book, we’re releasing a series of Challenger Marketing role guides for Product Marketers, Field Marketers, Demand Generation Managers and Channel Marketing Managers. So, I’d like to take the time to walk you through the first of the series, focused on Product Marketers, check out the role guide for additional details.

What Should Product Marketers Do Differently Under a Challenger Model?

A common refrain we hear in internal sales and marketing conversations—usually in response to conversion rates not being where marketing and sales leaders think they should—goes as follows:

“You know what? Our value proposition isn’t clear enough. It just isn’t resonating in the marketplace. We need to make our value prop more crisp.”

And in response, product marketers feverishly set about making that value prop even more crisp than it already was.

However, based on all of our research, we believe product marketers are overly fixated on crafting and sharpening the value propositions for the products they market.

That sounds like crazy talk, doesn’t it?

Well, one of the really fascinating buying trends we’ve picked up on in our research essentially disqualifies the argument of making value props more crisp. We found that customers will unapologetically recognize, to a supplier’s face, the incremental performance a supplier’s solution provides, but aren’t willing to pay for that performance! They’ll look the breathless sales rep—who has just masterfully laid out how his solution creates value for the customer—right in the eye and say, “We know. We get it. Your solution outperforms this other one because it has more uptime. But we don’t need all that incremental uptime. We just need X amount of uptime, and we’re only willing to pay Y for that.”

So, what do you do now? No amount of tweaking or clarifying the value prop will solve that problem. The customer already gets that your solutions provide incremental performance.

Based on our research, we believe the number one thing a product marketer needs to do differently under Challenger is to cut the time spent sharpening value props by 50 percent, and instead shift that energy to developing Commercial Insights.

A Commercial Insight teaches the customer something new that reframes how they think about their own business, and leads uniquely back to you as a supplier. When crafted well, Commercial Insights lead customers to value—and pay for—the incremental performance you provide. It gives customers asurprising rationale, in their own business terms, to value that incremental performance. That’s why Commercial Insights are at the heart of the Challenger approach.

Product marketers—with their knowledge of the marketplace, product vantage point and relationships across the marketing and sales organization—are in the best position to orchestrate Commercial Insight creation. And it really is orchestration—it takes a mix of characters from Product, Sales, Marketing and potentially other parts of the organization to create Commercial Insight. But if product marketers don’t take the lead here, no one else will. At least, not as effectively as a product marketer could.

You’ll find a brief example of a Commercial Insight from Xerox XRX +0.73% in theChallenger Role Guide for Product Marketers. And in “The Challenger Customer,” we’ll lay out a methodology for creating Commercial Insight, with plenty of practical guidance and frameworks to get you going.

You can find more details on the other areas where product marketers need to do things very differently in the role guide. Hint: They need to think about customer understanding and content creation very differently, as well.

 

Patrick Spenner is a Strategic Initiatives Leader in CEB’s Marketing practice, variously spending his time on research, new product development and thought leadership. Since joining CEB in 2005, Patrick has overseen membership programs serving the needs of CMOs, Corporate Communications executives and Marketing Communications executives. Prior to working at CEB, Patrick led a business line in Capital One’s marketing and analysis group. In that role, he managed all aspects of the marketing mix for the business, including marketing communications, pricing, segmentation, sales strategy and distribution, and analytics. In the distant past, Patrick worked in business research on initiatives supporting heads of strategy and human resources at Global 1000 corporations. Patrick holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Georgetown University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University. 

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.