Why ISVs Need Agile Marketing

Software developer Dr. Jeff Sutherland co-created Scrum, which he has deemed, “the art of doing twice the work in half the time,” (which is also the appropriate title of his book about the method). “Scrum,” he writes, “incorporates the concepts of continuous improvement and minimum viable products to get immediate feedback from consumers, rather than waiting until a project is finished,” and has become the fundamental guiding principle behind the creation of new software products. It is based on the simple idea that whenever you start a project, you regularly take stock, see if what you’re doing has the desired outcome, and if not, pivoting immediately. This cycle is called “Inspect and Adapt,” and it’s done consistently as part of the project management process.

Of course, scrum has now extended its borders beyond software development and into other business areas; companies of all sizes and from a range of industries are using scrum to manage processes from recruitment to customer service, and now, it’s also the buzz in the world of marketing, (especially those doing marketing for ISVs). The term agile marketing was coined to describe an experimental process that values adaptability to change over an inflexible long-term plan. Agile marketing uses the concept of scrum by privileging direct interaction with the market; generating immediate feedback from buyer personas and user-groups, and implementing changes based on the real desires of those core targets.

According to Jim Ewel, founder of the Agile Marketing.Net blog, the method is “designed to increase alignment with the business aims of the organization and the sales staff, to improve communication, both within and outside the marketing team, and to increase the speed and responsiveness of marketing.” It’s especially important for ISVs to adopt the principals of agile marketing since it’s likely to be a natural extension of their software development. Growth hacking, or integrating features into the product itself that enable it to be easily shared, can be a form of agile marketing, but agile marketing goes beyond the tweaking of one particular feature. It’s a general way of describing the need for adaptability in the marketing space; testing marketing tactics (with it being an accepted part of the process that not every test will be successful), and deviating from the traditional view of simply following the opinions or gut feelings of marketing higher-ups.

“We had used scrum successfully on various projects before, and we knew about the benefits.” says Oliver Ristow, Project Manager at NCR Switzerland and team lead of the yourVcam project (a cloud-based VSaaS solution). “Once we started using the principals of scrum for our marketing work, we saw an immediate and significant improvement in results. Using it helped us avoid dead-ends and misunderstandings; we saw an instant enhancement in our workflow which helped us save time and money.”

So, how can ISV’s use scrum to make their marketing strategies agile and what are the benefits of doing so?

Here are some tips to get you started:

Collaborate to set priorities

Many organizations tend to keep information in silos, and don’t necessarily exchange across departments. Agile marketing processes encourage cross-functional teams to help set company priorities to make sure that marketing is supporting the areas of the business that need supporting. This will help better align priorities, especially between marketing and sales where the disconnect can often lead to unhealthy resentment on both sides. A good way to get started is by organizing a meeting with department heads to discuss the priorities for the upcoming quarter.

Establish small, tangible goals

Throw that Gantt chart out the window! Rather than sitting down and writing a 10-year plan, it’s important to set small, measurable and easily quantifiable objectives. It’s also a good idea to understand the business impact you are looking to have, and to determine why those goals are important. Having thousands of social media followers that never convert into concrete sales makes little sense because vanity metrics are nothing more than an ego boost. It’s more effective to quantify KPIs by real impact. So for example, if you want to use content to help increase brand recognition for your ISV, you could promote that content across channels or via methods on and offline; once the cycle is complete, you determine how many people engaged with that piece of content (and where) in order to focus your efforts moving forward on the ones that are the most effective. Benchmarking can then be done to test different pieces of content (video versus print for example), and determine the delivery method that is best received by prospects.

In scrum, “sprints” are used to describe short work cycles (usually lasting 2 weeks) where an increment of the product is completed; in marketing, this same idea can be applied to particular tactics. As a team, everyone decides how much work they think they can accomplish during the next two weeks, taking items off a prioritized TO DO list. (And if you want to get really “scrummy” about it, you’ll use sticky notes on the wall!) At the end of the sprint, the team meets together and discusses what has been accomplished, and determines the impact of those efforts.

In practice, this enables ideas to be tested in small, controllable environments, like experiments; what has been done is then measured and evaluated with data. Running experimental marketing in this way helps define what works and what doesn’t before big budgets are spent on mammoth campaigns that fall flat.

Get feedback and use it

Ideally, your clients should be your biggest advocates and should want to help spread the word about your software solution. Word of Mouth Marketing is one of the most effective ways to broaden one’s client base and shorten the sales cycle. By involving your customers in the process, your marketing efforts are bound to improve.

Conducting win-loss interviews is also a great way to get agile. By understanding why your clients went through with a purchase, or why they chose a competitor instead, you’ll pinpoint the exact areas of your sales-cycle that needs more support from marketing. Everyone knows that one size does NOT fit all; making sure that your marketing efforts are tailored to each specific audience will ensure that the messaging is on point for each target buyer persona.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Agile marketing is highly experimental. Like a scientist in a lab that conducts trial after trial, errors are a natural part of the process. It’s important to realize that not all tests will be successful; as long as you can learn from the experience and try something new the next time around, then you’re on the right track.

The top benefits of agile marketing:

Provide real value to your customers

By listening to what your clients have to say, you’ll be sure to focus on what provides them with the most value. That will, in turn, help create a positive marketing cycle: clients that are happy with your solution will recommend it to others. Agile marketing helps eliminate guesswork because each experiment provides concrete data on the reactivity and transformation rate; if what you are doing isn’t producing the results you want, you pivot and do something else.

Adapt to change faster

As the tech world is changing faster than ever, so is marketing. Marketers need to keep up with shifts and those that adapt quickly will survive, leaving the others in the dust. As we say, “Change or die.” Agile marketing requires that constant change be part of the process; because of this, marketing teams are less likely to be fearful of it when the time comes to make radical shifts in strategy.

Inspire innovation

Because team scrums are conducive to brainstorming, new ideas and innovation are a natural by-product of agile marketing. Sometimes thinking aloud in a group is the best way to come up with tactics you wouldn’t have developed otherwise; some of the best ideas are born this way.

Conclusion

Software vendors are the most natural candidates to adopt agile marketing methods. Not only are their solutions likely to have been developed using similar scrum techniques, but their products lend themselves well to the guiding principles. Software solutions need constant updates, feature improvements, and enhanced functionalities to remain competitive. And the market for software solutions is more cut-throat than ever. Agile marketing helps keep ISVs on the top of their game so that they never fall behind the curve.  

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Liz Lemarchand
Liz Lemarchand is the Chief Operating Officer of MediaDev, a global IT marketing firm. She has 20 years of marketing experience and provides strategic counsel to software vendors both large and small.