Applying Agile Methods to Marketing and Sales

There’s a lot of agreement among marketers that Agile methods, originally engineered for software development, are beneficial for sales and marketing programs. But what does that really mean in practice?

Without going deeply into the history of Agile Development, it’s useful to know that the move toward Agile was a reaction to traditional development processes that were deemed too rigid, too slow, and too heavy to support modern innovation. Traditional development processes, often based on the waterfall model, were based on earlier manufacturing methods, which were linear, very meticulously planned, and very expensive to change. While spending several years planning and executing millions of lines of codes to create a new product release made sense in the early days of enterprise software, it simply wasn’t fast and flexible enough to respond to a rapidly growing marketplace that demanded constant software updates and innovations for companies to compete.

The move toward Agile has been an ongoing evolution, with lots of different flavors, add-ons and modifications along the way. But the core ideas of Agile development include an emphasis on trying things more than planning them, on human collaboration over rigid processes and procedures, on breaking things down into smaller components that can be tried and tested more quickly, on simplicity and streamlining, and on embracing change rather than resisting it. Agile developers value input, adaptability, and iteration. Some embrace the motto “Fail fast, fail cheap”, meaning that you focus on getting smaller versions of software to market quickly in “sprints”, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate in the next sprint.

Much of the focus of Agile Marketing today is about discovering which Agile methods make sense for marketing, how they can be adapted, and how they can be integrated without compromising strategic planning and execution.

Adapting Agile for Marketing

Agile’s short sprints, acceptance of trial and error, and focus on adaptive innovation are well suited for marketing campaigns. Agile for product marketing also makes sense, as the frequent iterations drive earlier user engagement and market testing of product functions and features.

However, some areas of marketing are less adaptable for Agile processes. How do you create an Agile corporate identity or competitive positioning strategy? How do you plan the optimization of customer lifetime value in short sprints, or put together a major event with rapid cycles of iteration? It’s clear that there are longer term processes in marketing that require careful planning and development, and aren’t as iterative and flexible as an Agile process would allow.

Much of the focus of Agile Marketing today is around discovering which aspects of Agile make sense for marketing, how they need to be adapted, and how they can be integrated with other approaches to improve overall marketing agility without compromising the fundamentals of good strategic planning and execution.

The Minimum Viable Product

One concept that isn’t native to Agile but has become closely associated with it is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The idea behind the MVP is to focus product development on the least number of features and functions required to engage users and prove the value of the product, and then to add on features and functions according to market response and demand.

The value of the MVP concept is that it forces development teams to make a clear determination of what is essential, and to be disciplined in sticking to a minimal roadmap, instead of insisting on a “complete” product perfected for all viable customers. Scope creep is a critical challenge for product developers, especially when different customers request different features and turn the product roadmap into a bill of materials for everything but the kitchen sink.

The MVP becomes a clear organizing principle for development activities, enforcing discipline by defining a bright line between necessary and nice-to-have features, and creating a clear objective to direct each sprint.

The Fastest Path to Revenue

Although you can conceptually adapt MVP to marketing—e.g. what’s the minimum campaign required to attract new prospects—in practice, we’ve found that MVP doesn’t translate as well to marketing as a tool for organizing behavior. But we have found a correlate that does work, focusing instead on what we call the Fastest Path to Revenue.

Ultimately, marketing is about enabling and accelerating the production of revenue. Although many critical marketing activities are intangible and difficult to measure, the reason for creating a compelling brand, communicating a differentiated value proposition and generating leads, is to sell more of what the company offers. In today’s complex and disrupted marketing environment, that obvious objective too often becomes obscured by soft metrics and abstract objectives.

The Fastest Path to Revenue is an exercise for Agile marketing programs that helps organize behavior by creating a sharply defined and minimalist objective.

Like the MVP, the Fastest Path to Revenue is an exercise for Agile marketing programs that helps organize behavior by creating a sharply defined and minimalist objective. If your goal is just to generate awareness, or to improve customer loyalty, then this likely isn’t for you. But if your goal is something like trying to figure out how to use social media to grow your market, or how to create events that generate net new leads, or anything that’s about customer engagement and sales enablement, then trying to find the Fastest Path to Revenue is a guiding principle that helps draw a clear line toward meaningful and strictly essential activities.

In our next post, we’ll talk more about the Fastest Path to Revenue concept, and how we applied to a specific lead generation campaign.

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