agile marketing

Agile Marketing: What It Is, Why Implement It, and How to Do It

Agile Marketing has rightly been receiving a great deal of attention. For many organizations, it is becoming THE operating model for marketing.

I recently had the pleasure to hear the awesome Kaycee Kalpin, Chief Marketing Officer of Premier Inc, share perspectives on Agile Marketing. Kaycee led the transformation of a 50+ team of marketers to this new model. This was a masterclass on the subject.

(BTW, Kayce was a guest on our podcast)

In this post, I will share what Agile Marketing is and how it is implemented at this multi-billion dollar healthcare firm.

So What is Agile Marketing?

According to Atlassian, a major software firm who are masters in agile…

 Agile Marketing is an approach to marketing that utilizes the principles and practices of agile methodologies. This includes having self-organizing, cross-functional teams doing work in frequent iterations with continuous feedback.

Agile Marketing is no different from Agile practice in other areas, including software. It is doing more and with less. It is a way to carve out a body of work, put a timeline to it, and create a cross-functional team to get the work done in a time-efficient and time-boxed way.

Why Make the Change to Agile Marketing?

There are many reasons to consider changing to Agile Marketing. This includes

  • Budgets that are being cut or are not growing.
  • Campaigns are not delivering sufficient results to justify the spending on marketing
  • Increasing the team is not improving outcomes

In Kaycee’s case, it was driven by the need to adapt to frequent changes in organizational structure. Kayce found a great deal of inefficiency in the handoff from one vertical to the next, no matter how they were aligned.  The goal was to make the team more adaptive.

How Does Agile Marketing Work In Practice

Let’s say there is a gap in the pipeline, and marketing needs to launch a campaign that quickly increases deal flow. The goal might be to get sales five at-bats within 30 days.

First, you do a brainstorming session, you put down everything under the sun that you could do in a campaign that would achieve the goal. Then you assign points based on the level of effort required. Different organizations use different point structures. Kaycee’s team used the number of hours it took to complete this task.  For example, if someone came up with a webinar. Within a webinar, there needs to be an invite, a registration page, an invitation, a list pulled, the webinar executed, polls within the webinar, and content. That would be a high number of points.

Then you put all of your ideas up on the board and rank them in terms of the level of effort and leads that each would generate. Then you go back to the board with the team and say, what can we reasonably accomplish in a two-week sprint that gets you to the lead number goal?

That point system helps you determine a reasonable amount of work that this team can do to get those five at-bats. Your tactics may shift around a little bit. Maybe a webinar isn’t the best way to do it because it will take three weeks to get it to market. Maybe you do an on-demand webinar with a prior event instead.

How Did Kaycee’s Organization Learn The Principle of Agile Marketing

Before the pandemic (and not knowing the pandemic was coming), Kaycee had a consultant teach her team the principles of Agile.

The coach had them make pizzas out of construction paper.  Someone was cutting the construction paper, someone was coloring the construction paper, and someone was taping the pepperonis onto the pizza. This created an assembly line. As the teams assessed the process, they noticed where things would get held up. For example, they needed more scissors. The process was getting held up at the stage of cutting the pizza because someone was being way too meticulous with their scissors. This exercise taught them to shift their mindset to look holistically at the work that was being done and holistically at the goal we were trying to meet. And then create a line of individuals and resources to get there regardless of functional alignment, skillset, or job description.

How Does Agile Marketing Change The Way Teams Work

agile marketing

One of Kaycee’s key recommendations is to avoid reorganizing the department. People kept the same titles, and the org chart remained largely unchanged. The most important thing was to change how they worked.

In practice, you measure the output of the team. That’s hard sometimes, as it identifies weak links in creating agile teams with a project owner called a scrum master. No one on the team or very few on the agile team reported to that person. The coaching and the development of the person happened in their vertical. For example, a digital analyst is coached by someone specializing in digital, but they may be attached to a team working on a project.

The team would do daily standups and report what they did in the last 24 hours. Everybody chipped in, and the peer-to-peer interaction held people accountable.  This helped improve team productivity.

One of the critical benefits during the pandemic was that it kept people very connected.

You have to have the right tools. They started with a technology that didn’t work. They ripped it out and put in Monday boards that they use for sprints now. You will need everybody to speak the same technical language. Everyone commits to the standup, whether it’s weekly or daily, or biweekly. In a remote, virtual situation, Kaycee was die-hard on using cameras, so people looked at each other. They would start with an icebreaker and then dive right in.

How Does Agile Marketing Change Roles Within the Marketing Department

Kaycee has a growth team that creates the campaigns and execution verticals (automation, digital, PR). She forms cross-functional teams.

One key learning from this transformation is that 100% specialization is the death of a marketing team with limited resources. For example, Kaycee’s team has a tight marketing budget, so someone exclusively dedicated to a LinkedIn person would be deployed at 40%.

When you specialize, you’re telling someone that they operate in a specific box and not to color outside the box. This limits their productivity, their contribution, and their development. It also limits the collective potential of the whole marketing team, especially if you have omnichannel.

It can be especially hard for people who are perfectionists. Agile can put a strain on creative specialists. They want to deliver a 10 of 10 in terms of effort every time. They want it to be the best digital ad they’ve ever seen. But you may only need a 3 out of 10 because you need 10 digital ads. So when you tell someone that specializes in something that you need a level three effort, they are not going to be happy with the work they deliver. But if you tell a team that you need to do this 10 times to make an effort, they start to get it.

Success Factors

Critical To Sucess #1 – Working Towards Specific Goals

The key is that because you are working towards a specific goal, it makes the team think differently about how they achieve these goals. For example, how often do you have people come to you and say we’re running a campaign, it’s a webinar? And you reset their thinking “A webinar isn’t a campaign. Thought leadership that leads to a webinar that leads to a telemarketing call that converts to a sales meeting. That’s a campaign”. And so it helps people think differently about what they’re working towards.

This can improve the way you approach annual planning. Typically the annual plan can be the death of everyone because, on paper, it looks like it’s going to work. When you start deploying tactics that are not working, you can persist with things that don’t work.  Kaycee’s approach is to break down the work into campaigns that contribute to growth in three business areas. Then break down that work into two-week sprints. “This week we are going to work on this slice of the market, or these two weeks we’re going to work on this slice of the market, and we’re going to try to increase engagement in two weeks of these 10 accounts by 2%, etc.”. The critical thing is to break down the work to the slightest degree that provides an impact.

Critical To Sucess #2 – Top Down

It has to start from the top down. You must align from the CMO down, and the CEO must be on board because you will say no to things. And the early stages are hard, and you have to report more and overcommunicate. For example, this is what the team is doing in this two-week sprint, and here is what we accomplished and how it was measured. Kayce said that they went through 10 two-week sprints before they started to get buy-in from some of the P&L owners. Kaycee got the CEO to say a few things about it at meetings and how marketing is trained in Agile, how they were rolling out these new principles, and to be patient with them.

How Did Kaycee Manage the Team Through the Transformation

The pandemic created an inflection point to transform to Agile. When the pandemic started, the executive team shifted their philosophy from selling hard to supporting their customers. Premier Inc serves 5,000 health systems, and especially during the height of the pandemic, they didn’t want to be sold to. Kaycee and her colleagues focused on communicating with them about what resources they have through their partnership to help them through this journey.

As an Agile team, they needed to be fully committed to this strategy. Kaycee took a 60/40 approach where 60% of their time was spent on the deliverables through Agile and 40% on the business as usual.  The team found that the Agile projects drove them more as they were more rewarding. They were working as a team, coloring outside of the lines, finishing projects in sprints that had a goal that was attached to the goals of the organization. They were even more productive in the 60% of projects done through Agile.

What are some of the challenges that arise out of this transformation

One of the biggest challenges with Agile is in the war for talent.

As an organization, you are going to get more done for less money, and you are going to get better results, but the people management of this can be challenging.

Staff turnover is a significant issue for everyone  The problem is to convince individuals that there is a development path. The issue is that as they are part of a unit where everyone is equal, no one is more in power than the other. And if they all win, they all win, if they all fail, they all fail.

The problem is that individuals struggle with seeing how they can climb the corporate ladder. How do they go from a manager to a director to a vice president to a CMO? And how do they maintain a semblance of specialization?

Key Takeaways

  1. Agile Marketing is about doing more with less, creating cross-functional teams to get the work done in a time-efficient and time-boxed way.
  2. There are many reasons to adopt Agile Marketing. At the end of the day, it can change up the productivity of your team and improve results.
  3. Avoid a reorganization of the department. Don’t change people’s titles or the org chart. The most important thing was to change how the team worked.
  4. Avoid specialization and encourage team members to color outside the lines.
  5. Agile Marketing starts with a focus on a specific goal. Being more goal-focused is one of the key changes.
  6. You kick off an Agile Marketing project by brainstorming ideas, breaking those ideas into many small tasks, then scoring and ranking the ideas based on the level of effort and potential results.
  7. The next step is to design a series of short sprints with a cross-functional team assigned to each sprint, managed by a scrum master.
  8. One of the key elements of Agile Marketing is regular (often daily) stand-ups, meetings where all the team members report out on progress. This allows the team to adjust quickly as needed.
  9. You will also change what you measure. You become even more focused on productivity and outcomes.
  10. You most likely need to bring in a specialist coach to teach the team how to implement Agile Marketing practices. This includes having many team members become certified in Agile.
  11. Many tools support Agile Marketing. These include project management tools like Monday.
  12. Getting executive buy-in is critical. You will need the CEO’s support as you transition to an effective and fully-functioning Agile Marketing capability.
  13. One of the hardest adjustments is that 10 out of 10 in quality is not always needed. Sometimes 3 out of 10 is sufficient.
  14. One of the biggest issues that people have in an Agile Marketing environment is the concern about how their careers will advance.
Adam Turinas

Adam Turinas is a long-time technology marketing leader and entrepreneur. He is the co-author of the Total Customer Growth book and founder of Total Customer Growth LLC. Adam spent two decades marketing for Dell, IBM, Bank of America, and dozens of other major marketers. In 2012 he founded, grew, and eventually sold a healthcare technology software business and then created healthlaunchpad, a leading healthtech marketing firm that teaches clients how to use ABM.