Agile Marketing is About Focus, Not Speed: Operational Best Practices from CMOs on the Rebound

April 27, 2020 Matt Heinz

Early each week, we ask CMO Coffee Talk participants to choose from four possible discussion topics for the upcoming Friday morning’s chat.  And last week, nearly 70 percent wanted to learn more about how to be agile.

Turns out there’s agile and then there’s Agile.  And there’s a difference.  Both have value, trade-offs and caveats.

We learned a ton about Agile Marketing (as well as how to generally be agile successfully) on Friday from Andrea Fryrear, president of AgileSherpas.  Among the best practices she shared as well as those reinforced by CMO attendees:

  • Agile is about focus first, speed second:  Many people get it the other way around, which just means you’re getting more stuff done in random, unproductive order.
  • Agile assumes strategy already exists:  Agile cannot be used as an excuse for not having objectives, not having strategy and not having direction.  An agile mentality helps you primarily filter the noise into a tightly prioritized list of actions that best align with the strategy and objectives.
  • Agile only works if all of the work is considered:  Some companies use agile to prioritize a portion of their work, but that just means only a portion is being focused correctly.  If other work isn’t important enough to triage regularly, then why is it being done in the first place?
  • Agile isn’t necessarily about sprints:  There are analogies from the software development agile world that don’t necessarily apply successfully for marketing.  Focusing on “sprints” (i.e. establishing a locked-in list of priorities for the coming weeks) doesn’t allow the ability to be agile as things come up in the meantime.
  • Agile mitigates the seagulls: You prioritize a set of work items for the week, then Tuesday morning your VP of Sales brings a “has to be done today” task to your team.  Sound familiar?  This is apparently referred to as “swoop and poop” in the agile community (with the perpetrators referred to as “seagulls”).  If you allow the seagulls to win, you stop planning and now you’re just a reactive helpdesk.  If instead you share with the seagulls where their project fits into the priority list and why, if they agree with the higher priorities, they generally fall in line.
  • Find a process person to manage it: Someone who’s great at detail, project plans and loves both getting their hands dirty as well as tight documentation and communication cadences.

Learn more about the current state of Agile Marketing in this benchmark study, and thank you Andrea for joining last week’s CMO Coffee Talk (on both coasts no less).

A few other conversation highlights:

  • CMO searches continue, but comp is tight:  Some promising research shared by Kate Bullis and Carilu Dietrich showed that 70 percent of CMO searches started before the COVID lockdown continue to be active.  On the other side, compensation packages are materially lower (commensurate with executive comp reductions across many companies).
  • Are you building cars or skateboards?:  It’s really easy (whether you’re following Agile or not) to push out a bunch of features that have no continuity or throughline.  And as Adam New-Waterson smartly pointed out, if you’re trying to ship more effective cars, a bunch of random features just feels like a bunch of skateboards coming off the assembly line.  Better to create a strategic product marketing plan up front to ensure the development work (big and small) aligns strategically based on what your customers need.  Here’s a great GTM Decision Tree framework created by Brittani Dinsmore at Moz that helps with this.
  • In a downturn, provoke your customers:  This Harvard Business School article (published after the 2008 downturn) has some great real-time lessons that “favor the bold”.  Thanks Jon Russo for sharing this.
  • Exec team customer calls create greater alignment:  A handful of companies have used this crisis to talk to more of their customers (big and small) as an entire executive team.  That’s a big time commitment, but has led to greater alignment around everything from GTM pivots, product direction, resource allocation and more.

If you’re a marketing leader in your organization I’d like to invite you to our CMO Coffee Talk series, presented by 6sense and Heinz Marketing.  It’s an informal but highly engaging drop-in interactive Zoom meeting Fridays at 8:00 am Eastern and another at 8:00 am Pacific. 

Think of it as coffee with CMOs - you can participate actively or simply watch and read what others are thinking.  Get registered with a hands-free calendar invite here.

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