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How To Use Agile Marketing for a More Productive (and Happier) Content Team

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How To Use Agile Marketing for a More Productive (and Happier) Content Team

It’s time to stand up for your content marketing operations.

Yes, physically get up from your chair. Ask your content marketing peers to do the same. Stand together every workday for no more than 15 minutes. Share what you’ve done in the past 24 hours, what you plan to do today, and what hurdles you’ve encountered that could hamper your progress.

This daily exercise is just one part of turning your team onto an Agile content marketing approach.

“An Agile content marketing process unlocks more than speed, productivity, and efficiency. It also delivers employee satisfaction and creates room for honest-to-goodness creativity,” writes Andrea Fryrear, CEO and co-founder of Agile Sherpas, (and CMI’s go-to expert for all things Agile.)

An #Agile #ContentMarketing process unlocks speed, productivity, and efficiency. It also leads to more satisfied and creative teams, says @AndreaFryrear via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Adoption of agile principles in marketing is on the rise. In the 2021 State of Agile Marketing report, over half of marketers (51%) said they use an Agile process to manage their work – a 10-point increase over 2020. In specific specialties, Agile is even more popular:

  • 77% said they use Agile practices for content creation and operations
  • 72% said they use Agile for website changes
  • 66% said they use it for social media work.

If you’re not already using Agile marketing, you’re probably wondering what it is and how it can help your brand’s content marketing program. Let me explain.

What is Agile marketing?

Agile marketing is an approach built on the principles and practices of agile methodologies used in software development to focus resources on high-value projects. Cross-functional teams collaborate to create the assets for the priority projects. Agile content processes are iterative, building on what works (as determined by available analytics and other input) and dismissing what doesn’t. The tasks are typically organized into short completion periods.

An Agile approach differs from traditional content and marketing practices in these ways, Andrea explained in an article for Atlassian:

  • It focuses on frequent releases (publishing or updates).
  • It involves deliberate experimentation.
  • It aims for audience satisfaction.

Content teams can choose to follow one of several Agile marketing frameworks. Two of the most common are Scrum and Kanban:

  • Scrum involves deciding on tasks to complete during a defined period (usually two to four weeks), sometimes called a sprint.
  • Kanban involves setting work-in-progress limits and using identified signals to know when to pull in new work.

Most marketers (53%) in the 2021 State of Agile Marketing survey said they use a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban techniques. Andrea explained more about implementing each approach in this Agile marketing FAQ article.

53% of marketers report using a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban techniques for their #Agile marketing, according to @AgileSherpas 2021 State of Agile Marketing survey via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What are the characteristics of Agile marketing?

Andrea explained how the five attributes of the Agile marketing concept can work for content teams no matter which Agile framework they follow:

  • Visibility: Transparency in your content processes exposes the health of your content marketing processes. It also lets stakeholders see how new content requests relate to current priorities and impact the progress of content projects already underway.
  • Experimentation: Internal changes, audience evolution, and digital volatility mean what worked for you once won’t necessarily work again. An Agile marketing environment embraces repeated short-term experiments that can be done within two to three weeks.
  • Iteration: Agile content teams expand on proven ideas and add value and functionality steadily over time. For example, Andrea explained, you could turn a listicle that got strong audience engagement into a more robust piece of content. Then, if that iteration performed well, you could create a webinar on the topic. If that performs well, you could expand on the topic in a video series.
  • Collaboration: Synergy between and among cross-functional teams allows people with the necessary skills and expertise to work on the projects and decide together how to get the work done. (This is one reason for the daily standup meeting exercise.)
  • Efficiency: Though efficiency is more a result than an attribute of Agile, it deserves a mention. “Agile teams work hard to do less,” Andrea explains. “That’s one of the most counterintuitive things about the process, but it’s indisputably true: Work on less, and you accomplish more.”

Agile #Content teams work on less and accomplish more, says @AndreaFryrear via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

How to build an Agile content marketing operation

Before you go all-in and redesign your content marketing to follow an Agile approach, do a pilot project to help you better understand all the elements and efforts, including the specifics of a sprint.

Andrea shares the key components for a content marketing program using an Agile approach:

  • Create the right user stories.
  • Hone your definition of “done.”
  • Align sprint lengths with content types.
  • Find your content run rate.

Let’s go through each one.

Create user stories

Everybody on the team needs to know the why behind the work. User stories make that clear.

Andrea offers this simple fill-in-the-blank exercise to write down a first-person user story:

As a ___________ (role of audience member), I would like to _______________ (have this kind of content experience) so that I can ______________ (accomplish this).

Here’s how she would write a user story when the audience includes content marketers:

As a content marketer, I would like to see a presentation about producing more content in less time so that I can increase my team’s chances of succeeding.

1650449323 913 How To Use Agile Marketing for a More Productive and

User stories help creators develop more relevant and higher quality content from the very beginning, saving time in the revision process. It’s also an excellent test to see how well the content asset fits the content marketing strategy.

TIP: If the user story reveals an epic story, break it into user substories to accommodate the sprint process. To illustrate, let’s use another example from Andrea of an epic story: “As a content marketer, I would like to learn how to implement a video program so that I can take full advantage of this medium.”

That how-to content couldn’t be done in a two-week sprint. However, Agile can still be used by breaking down the epic story into multiple user stories that can be accomplished in a sprint. Here are user stories from Andrea for the first two sprints to complete the epic story:

  • As a content marketer, I would like to read a guide on the best video-editing software for beginners so that I can edit my first videos efficiently.
  • As a content marketer, I would like to watch a video on how to include calls to action in my videos so I can make sure my videos convert well.

Define ‘done’

When is the content done? It sounds like an easy question, right? But how many times have you named a file “FINAL” only to have “FINAL 1,” “FINAL 2,” and “FINAL 3” follow suit?

Detail a list of objective criteria to indicate your team’s definition of “done.” For example, it could be the sign-off by the final approver. Or it might be after the content has gone through the proofing process.

“Done” could be the outcome of a collaborative review. Andrea explains that’s how her team defines it. They consider content done after it’s been reviewed in their biweekly meeting and updated to reflect any constructive feedback.

Establishing the criteria for “done” also eliminates haphazard decision-making. After all, one person’s definition of “done” may differ from another’s – leaving your final content inconsistent.

When is your #content done? Defining done eliminates haphazard decision-making, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #Agile Click To Tweet

Set sprint lengths

Agile marketing involves completed content in sprints – short, predetermined timeframes for completing tasks. But how long the sprint is or how many sprints you’ll need to complete a content project depends on the content type and your resources.

For example, you can complete a blog post in a two-week sprint. However, a video might take six weeks – with tasks spanning multiple sprints.

Here’s how a video creation might look in an Agile methodology:

  • Sprint one: Research, draft outline, and identify available on-camera subjects.
  • Sprint two: Schedule and conduct on-camera interviews. Write script.
  • Sprint three: Record narration and edit video into a 10-minute final product.

Determine run rates

A run rate is a score calculated at the end of every sprint based on what the team completed in that time. This score helps you refine your estimates of how much work your team can do during the predetermined time blocks.

As you develop your Agile content marketing approach, assign a point value to each type of content. For example, two points are awarded for a completed blog article sprint, while 10 points for a completed video sprint. (Remember, a completed sprint doesn’t necessarily mean a completed content asset.)

When the sprint ends, calculate the run rate. I’ve modified an example Andrea shared:

  • Sprint one: The team completes four blog articles (eight points) and the tasks for the video in the first sprint (10 points). Everything went smoothly without interruptions, vacations, etc. The run rate is 24.
  • Sprint two: The team completes four blog articles (eight points). An unexpected social media crisis pivoted resources away from the video, so related sprint tasks weren’t completed. The run rate is eight.

Averaging those two weeks, the team’s run rate is 16. Now, the team can more accurately estimate points for the next sprint to ensure the best chance for completion.

Stand up for Agile content marketing

For Agile marketing to be successful, everybody must buy into the concept – from those directly involved to those who make requests for content.

Don’t skip those daily standup meetings in the early days of your transition to Agile. Daily standups keep everybody apprised of what’s happening and offer an opportunity to troubleshoot potential problems. And they’re also a strong signal of your brand’s commitment to an Agile content marketing method.

Once you’re well into the Agile process, keep the meetings to keep your work on track. But you won’t need them to prove the value of Agile. Your team will notice the benefits in speed, productivity, efficiency, and room for creativity. And your audience will see the benefits in more consistent, valuable, and relevant content.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To
  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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