How Agile Creates High-Performing Marketing Teams

In a recent MarTech Advisor article, Frazier Miller (CMO at Wrike) summarizes four key characteristics of high-performing marketing teams, and discusses how CMOs can take action to encourage and grow these characteristics in their own team. The conclusions in this article are based on Google’s Aristotle Project research around the key drivers of effective teams. Here are the characteristics:

  • Connection with Customer: Direct interaction with the customer drives more effective campaigns and gives meaning to the work of marketers.
  • Ability to Drive Revenue: Revenue is a tried-and-true method of justifying investment dollars, and dollar-driven goals can make the team feel more inspired.
  • Operational Excellence: Finely tuned processes and workflows drive collaboration and visibility across functions.
  • Growth Mindset: A corporate culture that values learning and growth nurtures innovation.

Under the point of Operational Excellence, Miller recommends adopting an Agile approach to drive marketing operations. But really, an agile approach and an agile mindset embody the entire message of this article, showing that Agile truly is the driver of high-performing marketing teams. Let’s take a look at how this happens:

1. Agile brings you closer to the customer

The closer you are, the more empathy you will have for your customer, and the product you create for them is better as a result. Agile brings you closer to the customer in two ways: First, the framework of a shortened production cycle (sprint) end-capped with what the pros call asprint review builds frequent customer (or end user) engagement and feedback-gathering into the process.

Second, the tactical execution of the sprint cycle and review promotes a customer- and feedback- obsessed mindset within the team, and makes it OK (i.e.: safe) to change your approach (i.e.: better align to the customer’s needs) if the customer says it’s not working.

2. Agile drives revenue

Revenue happens in two ways: sales and savings. Agile drives both. First, as an inherently fast and fluid method of producing marketing materials, Agile provides a method for A/B testing that will quickly, consistently, and constantly spin-up the most effective means of marketing to drive revenue. Slower and more cumbersome methods of production that must wait until the campaign is over to measure lift and identify a winner just can’t compare. Frequent customer reviews throughout the content-development process ensure that you stay in sync with the customer’s needs throughout development, and produce a more desirable product as a result.

Second, the shortened cycles and internal feedback reviews of operational performance for that cycle act like built-in, self-correcting mechanisms to drive process efficiency. Because teams and businesses are always changing, it is difficult if not impossible to improve a process once every year or so and expect the process to remain cost-effective. By constantly engaging with and reviewing your processes (an activity that’s built-in to the agile production cycle) you can guarantee that your processes are primed and working as efficiently as possible. And, because Agile is all about fast testing and learning, the team can fearlessly try new things with their processes to see what kind of savings they can produce, and quickly change back if their hypothesis doesn’t work.

3. Agile is a methodology for operational excellence

Agile moves work forward quickly, and builds-in checkpoints for feedback and re-prioritization. Not every sprint needs to produce a customer-facing deliverable, but it does produce something worthy of review. Much like climbing a ladder and frequently checking that the next rung is sturdy – with Agile, you define the rungs, and the checkpoint is built in every time you move to ascend to the next level.

The process or steps to complete a deliverable are clearly defined and documented as one or more checklists. A piece of work is not complete until the checklist is complete. These checklists and other processes are often revisited and scrutinized during the sprint reviews, resulting in more efficient processes.

Agile offers an ever-adapting method of resource management as work is scoped, prioritized, accepted, and completed as part of a single work cycle. Teams can respond to shifting priorities and visualize the impact ad-hoc work items (emergencies) have on planned work. Agile teams are often organized around specific KPIs, and the team works together to innovate on how to reach them.

4. Agile mindset is the growth mindset

In Google’s research on team effectiveness, psychological safety was rated as the top contributor to driving a team’s innovation, effectiveness, and revenue. Psychological safety means that team members feel safe to take risks, and Agile offers a framework that embraces risk and uncertainty by minimizing consequences and maximizing rewards. An agile mindset means that anyone can propose a hypothesis, quickly test it out, then let the data decide if it was successful or not. If not, a new hypothesis takes its place and everyone benefits from learning and openly discussing what might work better. The various feedback checkpoints built into the agile lifecycle, including daily standups and sprint (deliverable) reviews, promote communication across the team, and can be major contributors to creating an open, trusting relationship between team members.

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Agile marketing is more than adopting the linguistics. In fact, scrum, sprint, and kanban don’t even need to be part of your vocabulary. You can begin incorporating agile tactics and shifting your thinking to a more agile mindset today, without ever mentioning the word backlog. Becoming Agile is about balancing the mind and body of your organization so they work together, not against, each other.

Mind: Learning, fail-fast culture, empathy for the customer, meaningful and purpose-driven work.

Body: Short development cycles followed by review sessions with the customer and internal post-mortems, adaptable approach to planning, daily standup meetings with the team.

Shortened deliverable cycles, along with the following review and re-prioritization sessions, are a great way to quickly get started with Agile. Pick a team, goal, or major project and test out the methodology, then grow from there. Action drives the mindset, which in turns drives more action. The best time to start is now.