00:01:19 Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about your skills and experience and what people are about to learn.
00:05:00 So, what is agile?
00:06:49 What’s the overall benefit if the company is sort of looking at moving more into agile, what benefit is it really gonna get from doing that?
00:11:21 So, if you were interviewing for a B2B marketing role, what sort of advice do you have for our audience?
00:18:09 How do you convince someone your marketing plan is the right thing to do?
00:22:15 How did you make the transition from being a manager to showing that you could strategically have a big influence on key business decisions?
00:26:49 What are the top five KPIs that a marketer should focus on?
00:31:26 With social and technological changes set to continue at peace, what do you think an aspiring marketer should be learning now to be in the best position possible to add value to business in five to ten years time?
00:35:04 What’s the most valuable marketing skill you can have?
00:44:56 How do you deal with all the noise and the hype in the market balanced against the reality of day to day execution which often isn’t given due care?
00:54:05 What is the book you recommend most to B2B marketers?
01:00:21 What parting words of wisdom or advice would you share with our audience?
Fiona: 00:00:11 Welcome to Market Mentors, a podcast for the marketing leaders of today and tomorrow. I’m Fiona Jensen, a director and co-owner of Market Recruitment. For over a decade, I’ve been helping B2B marketeers find the best jobs with great companies. Together we’ll discover how marketing experts reach the top, and learn from their experience, ask career related questions you can’t get answers to elsewhere. Be tough, be challenged, be mentored.
Fiona: 00:00:43 I think we’re all familiar with labels like tech geeks, mad men, and Mr. Goodvertising, but today I’m going to throw a new one into that mix, Mr. Agile, aka John Webb. John talks us through agile as a methodology and how utilising this technique can help you and your company win. You can learn more around agile by following John’s blog at Get2Growth, or see him talk live at events, including this years B2B Martech Event in March.
Fiona: 00:01:19 So I’m here with the lovely John Web, thanks ever so much for joining us today as part of Market Mentors. Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about your skills and experience and what people are about to learn.
John: 00:01:32 Sure. Firstly, thank you very much for having me, inviting me on.
Fiona: 00:01:35 Pleasure.
John: 00:01:36 Yeah, so I’m gonna talk a bit about my background, my history, I think I’ve had quite an interesting marketing career. I think as we just talked about, I’ve been around a bit. So I think there’s a lot of lessons there for people in terms of some of the moves that I’ve made, some of the strategic choices should we say in terms of how I developed my career. But then, the kind of field that I’ve now led myself to is really a kind of new area for marketing, which is moving into much more agile and lean ways of working.
John: 00:02:07 So the organisation as a whole is moving towards agile. It’s moving out of traditional ways of doing things, traditional ways of planning, traditional ways of developing strategies, etc, etc. into this new world of agile, which essentially means adaptability, choosing the right thing to do at the right time, [inaudible 00:02:28]. To be able to accommodate the changes that we’re seeing in the environment, whether it’s customer, the market that we’re in, other external factors, etc, etc. So really, the space that I’m now operating in is how do marketing teams change the way that they work, change the way that they operate to maximise the opportunities that are being presented to them every single day.
Fiona: 00:02:51 And why do you feel it’s a real benefit to marketeers now?
John: 00:02:56 I think one of the big things is, as I say the world is changing, and companies are moving in this direction. So if you look at the development side of the business, the operation side of the business, this is where these kind of principles really started from. But what we’re seeing is that’s now starting to move into and percolate a lot of the other areas and functions of the business. So, a few weeks ago, I was at an event where there was an internal audit team who had now fully moved to agile ways of working. And we’re seeing in departments like finance, we’re seeing it in HR, in sales, so agile ways of working, it’s not just about developments in IT anymore, it’s about the whole business. And marketing really needs to get on board with that, otherwise it’s going to be very difficult for marketing to communicate and collaborate and be part of the corporate village, as it were.
John: 00:03:49 The other big aspect is, historically marketing has always seen itself as the guardian of the customer, within the business. And the relationship has changed. The relationship with the customer has moved from a very limited set of people and teams having that relationship to, you could say, being pervasive. The whole organisations now. The amount of touch points that there are with the customer means that marketing has to work with not just sales and operations and those kinds of teams, but increasingly with the whole organisation to be able to deliver that customer experience. And if those other teams and functions are now working in this agile way, then marketing again has to get in lock step, it has to change the way it works.
John: 00:04:37 Now that’s not ’cause it needs to be in line with all those other teams, but it’s because that way of working has been proven to be more effective, more efficient, and more successful, especially in this age of pace and accelerating transformation, across both the business and increasingly the markets in which we’re operating.
Fiona: 00:05:00 So, what is agile? If there’s someone out there who’s just come across this term for the first time, in layman’s speak for someone like me, what is agile?
John: 00:05:12 That’s one of the big barriers, ’cause there an awful lot of misconceptions and myths out there about what actually is agile, and I look at it in terms of kind of three layers, so the first one is, really what agile is all about is it’s an approach. It’s a mindset, it’s a set of values and principals that are how companies should be approaching work. Should be approaching how they deliver the outcomes that they’re seeking to deliver. So essentially it’s an approach.
John: 00:05:47 Now, underneath that approach, the second layer, is there’s a whole set of different methodologies that companies and teams can apply to do things in an agile way. And so, you might have heard of things like scrum or Kanban or safe and things like that, they’re all methodologies that apply the agile principles. So they are ways of specifically doing things that mean that the business and the team can operate with agile principles.
John: 00:06:20 And then underneath those methodologies there’s a whole set of what I call practices, and those practices are things like having day standard meetings, or creating a Kanban board, so workflow board, and things like that, so different practices and different ceremonies and different tools that people are using which collectively make up the different methodologies, which enable the company to then act and work in a very agile way using those agile approaches.
Fiona: 00:06:49 What’s the overall benefit if the company is sort of looking at moving more into agile, what benefit is it really gonna get from doing that?
John: 00:07:00 A whole host of benefits, but I boil it down to really three key ones. The first one is, fundamentally, agile is about being adaptable and responsive. So, as I say, things are changing so much, changing with the customer, changing with markets, changing with sociopolitical environments and so forth. And these things are not just changing on a daily basis, sometimes we’re talking about they’re changing by the minute. So to be able to respond to that and crucially to adapt, and that change becoming the norm, as opposed to something that disrupts everything that we do, requires this different way of working. So what agile brings is that adaptability. So that’s the first thing.
John: 00:07:43 The second thing is it does that at speed. So, it’s been proven to accelerate speed to market by something like six times. So what that means is companies and teams can get ideas, products, initiatives, campaigns to market a lot lot faster than they’ve historically been able to do. That’s still a massive issue because Mackenzie just did some research and they showed that still, marketing teams are taking on average eight months to get initiatives to market. So, that’s a whole length of time-
Fiona: 00:08:19 That’s almost a year.
John: 00:08:20 -by which time, guarantee, most things will have changed. So the assumptions upon which those campaigns or those ideas or those initiatives were originally based will have fundamentally changed by the time they actually come to market. And if you haven’t got a process, A that can convince that and do it a lot faster, but also, coming back to the first point, is adaptable to be able to take into consideration those changes, essentially what you’re putting out to market is going to be at best suboptimal and at worst a complete waste of time, resources and money.
John: 00:08:55 So adaptability married with speed, but then I think the third biggest area, which is the third biggest benefit of agile is it makes you a lot more attuned to the customer. So built into all these different practices and methodologies, a lot of it is focused around the customer, and how you get proximity to the customer. So what it enables you to do on an ongoing basis, using literally a daily cadence, is to be looking at what’s going on with the customer, building those feedback loops, using data and testing to learn on a continuous basis about the customer, so that you can input that into your plans and your strategies.
John: 00:09:36 What agile doesn’t mean is that you don’t have strategy and you’re not doing planning. So again, that’s one of the really big myths about agile. A lot of people think okay, you just throw out your strategy, and you throw out your plans and you’re just doing things on a kind of ad hoc, whimsical basis. That’s absolutely not the case. It’s about how you take your strategy and you implement it more effectively, more efficiently, in a much more adaptable, intuitive way so that that strategy becomes much more relevant, much more effective, and much more successful.
John: 00:10:10 And so, the ultimate benefit of agile, again this has been proven by case studies and research, is that it’s three times more likely to significantly grow market share, as well as increasing revenue and profitability for the business. So it’s not just about marketing, this has come from other areas, initially from product development, but all areas of the business are now moving in this direction, and marketing is one of those places where there’s absolutely the application for agile, it completely makes sense, I think there’s still a lot of inertia within marketing, there’s still a lot of this is how we’ve always done things. We’ve always done the annual marketing plan. We’ve always done tons of market research about the customer up front, and things like that. As opposed to adapting those processes to make them more fluid, more nimble, more attuned to the customer on an ongoing basis.
Fiona: 00:11:10 Intriguing, lovely. Well there you go, there’s your introduction to agile. I bet there’s about 100 marketers now tapping that into Google and trying to figure out how they can bring it into their team.
John: 00:11:20 There’s plenty out there.
Fiona: 00:11:21 So, if you were interviewing for a B2B marketing role, John, or if either pulling from your own past experiences of interviewing people, or going through interviews yourself, what sort of advice do you have for our audience, because a lot of the people who come to the podcast or find us in the first place, are active people who are looking for new roles or potentially looking to recruit. So, what sort of hits and tips have you got for them?
John: 00:11:49 I think, the first thing is, I differentiate between what I would call hygiene factors, and then how do you go the extra mile, how do you absolutely ace it? And I’ve been both sides of the fence here, so I’ve done a ton of interviewing, and a load of recruitment, but I’ve also obviously interviewed myself. I’ve moved around a bit in my career, intentionally, because that’s broadened my experience and expertise, and I’ve made some pretty big leaps. I’ve moved from the safe environment of the food industry, fast moving consumer goods, to the internet, which was a huge leap. I also moved later in my career from, B to C, a career built sort of 15 years doing B to C marketing to B to B.
John: 00:12:34 So I’ve been through those processes where I’ve had to sell myself in completely new areas, in completely new spaces where I didn’t really have direct experience, but I think it’s crucial that you do the hygiene factors, but also you think about how you can tell your story in such a way that you’re demonstrating the value that you could bring to them. So, when I talk about hygiene I’m talking about firstly, making sure you do your homework. There’s no excuse in this day and age for you not to absolutely understand to the nth degree everything that there is about the market in which the company’s operating in, who their competitors are and everything like that, the company itself, what’s going on with the company, what are the company dynamics, what’s their strategy, which is absolutely key, what are the challenges that they’re facing and so forth.
John: 00:13:27 But I think one of the areas that a lot of people miss is the individuals. So who are the key individuals in the company, especially the ones that are in the interview process. And there’s so much information out there about those individuals, there’s no excuse not to go into every single one of those conversations with the due diligence to really understand what gets under their skin, what are the problems that they’re facing, what are the challenges that they’re trying to overcome, and therefore how can you add value to them. I call that a hygiene factor, because there’s no excuse not to do that, and if you haven’t done that you’re gonna stand out for the wrong reasons like a sore thumb.
John: 00:14:06 The second thing, and again, this is talking from recent experience of interviewing people, the amount of people that go into interviews without pre prepared questions, and so I think one of the things that a lot of interviewers are looking for, more so than the questions they’re asking you are what are the questions that you’re asking them. And again, that comes back to the first point, because what you’re trying to do with those questions is show the insight into their business. Yes, part of the interview process is for you to gather the information as well, so that you can make your decisions about whether that’s the right company and the right role for you, but also, the questions that you’re asking I think can be hugely important in how you portray yourself and how you can demonstrate that A you’ve done your homework, and B that you’ve done some thinking about the nature of their business and what they’re trying to do.
John: 00:14:59 I would call those hygiene factors. Then taking it to the next level, I think the first thing is, when I talk about researching the individuals, one of the tricks I do when I prepare for an interview process, is I look at what interviews they’ve done, whether it’s a podcast like this, or whether it’s a written article, a video, guaranteed you can find something where the person you are being interviewed by or somebody in that chain is talking and giving their opinions. And one of the things I found very very successful is where you take that and you ingest it, and you use that as part of the interview. You’re not necessarily feeding it directly back to them, but you’re building on and you’re using that as a basis to have those conversations. And then the other thing that I think, again kind of builds on that point is once you’ve done your homework and your research is how can you think strategically absolutely those businesses?
John: 00:16:01 So what you’re trying to demonstrate is that strategic insight. So, again, think in broader terms, think about the challenges that they’re facing and think about what you would do if you were actually in the role, so go to them with a plan, go to them with a strategy, and if you can demonstrate that, and you can demonstrate that proactivity you’re gonna really ace it, as opposed to just sitting there and answering questions about you, if that makes sense.
Fiona: 00:16:27 Yeah, that’s really good advice I think, because often the whole reason why a company is looking to recruit is they’ve got a problem. They need marketing expertise and they want someone who’s gonna be able to hit the ground running. So, if you do the ground work and you demonstrate that well, that’s definitely gonna help you get to the end goal.
John: 00:16:44 They’re employing you for your experience, your expertise, your opinions and the decisions that you make ultimately. So you have to demonstrate that, and you demonstrate that by being proactive, by going into that conversation already having done that thinking so that you can go and say, okay, look, these are the challenges that you’re facing, these are your needs, this is what you’re trying to overcome, these are the opportunities you’re facing and this is how I think you can address them. This is how I think that you can be doing whatever you need to be doing to achieve the outcomes that you’re looking to achieve.
Fiona: 00:17:19 But I think you’re right with that point about the questions as well, and having those prepared and having actually thought about it. The difference that can make from an experience perspective from the interviewers side, it would definitely help you stand out.
John: 00:17:32 And I think, I would go as far as to say seven out of ten interviews that I do, the people haven’t prepared enough questions. And it’s not just at the end of the interview where they say have you got any questions, because the worst thing that can happen is you don’t. But it’s also as you’re going through the interview, and I always think of an interview as a conversation. And so, as part of a conversation you’re asking questions, and the more insightful questions you can ask, the more it reflects on you. So it’s part of that process in terms of how you’re demonstrating and how you’re positioning yourself within the environment of that conversation.
Fiona: 00:18:09 Perfect. So, we now go to some of the questions from the audience, and one of those is how do you convince someone your marketing plan is the right thing to do? So they’ve landed the job, they’ve come up with the idea, and now they need to get it through, what do they do?
John: 00:18:30 So first thing is there’s a number of different aspects to that. I think firstly, and this is one of the thing that agile espouses is that the plan isn’t static. So, think of a plan as a framework, it’s not a hardened fast. One of the traps that marketing historically has fallen into is that plans have been rigid. Here’s the plan, we sign it off on a 12 month basis, we go away, we do that, we come back 12 months later to see if it’s worked or not. Now that just doesn’t work in this day in age.
John: 00:19:02 So the first thing is it’s really important to have a long term vision, but again when you’re talking long term, I’m talking 12 months. And then break that back. One of the things that agile does, and does very successfully, is look at how you break that back into different time frames. So how do you break that into a six month time frame, quarterly time frame. But then crucially, how do you take that down to two weeks or a week. So you’re working in these very fast cycles, and so by being able to do that, what you’re able to do is start showing traction very early. So when you’re trained to get buy in for your plans and for your strategies, it’s really important to get early traction, and the way you do that is by having the vision, but having the short term focus to say okay this is what we’re needing to do right here right now this week, over the next fortnight, to start delivering that plan and that strategy. And if you can show traction over that short period of time, week, two weeks, three weeks, then you start getting buy in.
John: 00:20:09 The other aspect to that, is again one of the things that agile suggests. Instead of relying on opinions and assumptions, so again a lot of decisions in marketing has historically been made around opinions and assumptions. And usually they come from the highest paid person, so called HIPPO, highest paid person’s opinion.
Fiona: 00:20:31 I love that, I have not heard that before but I love the HIPPO now.
John: 00:20:39 So, the highest paid persons opinion, that’s what happens is it’s the highest paid person who basically says okay this is my assumption, or this is my opinion on how to do something, that’s how were gonna do it. And what ends up happening is that’s usually not the best way of doing it. By getting rid of assumptions or opinions, or minimising them as much as we can, then you come back to the data. You come back to a philosophy and approach that’s based around testing and data, and really understanding why chunking your plan up into these small steps, and using testing and data to prove the decisions that you’re making, then it means that you can get unequivocal buy in, because you’re not talking about is that the right thing to do, is that the right thing to do, you’ve got data to prove it. So that’s how agile marries that kind of short term focus built around testing, data and iteration with longer term strategic vision to be able to both be strategic and tactical at the same time, which is a really important balance.
John: 00:21:47 One of the tools that a lot of really high performance companies are using today are OKRs, so objectives and key results. So that’s a great tool for working in this way where you’re setting these longer term objectives, but breaking them down into shorter term key results so you can start seeing traction, using empirical data to prove decisions rather than assumptions and opinions.
Fiona: 00:22:15 Brilliant. Really good example. How did you make the transition from being a manager to showing that you could strategically have a big influence on key business decisions?
John: 00:22:27 So, I think it’s a bit of a cliché, but I think what I’ve experienced in my career is you have to do the role before you’re given the role. So every time I’ve made a jump to the next level, I’ve had to do the role before I’m given the role. So you have to be proactive about that, and I still think that a lot of people sit there, and they sit in their roles, almost expecting things to be given to them. And I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I was ever given is you’ve got to take control of your career. You’ve got to manage your career. Don’t let other people manage it for you. And that’s about firstly being proactive. So you’ve got to find ways that you can demonstrate that you can do the role. So if you’re looking to move from manager to director, or from director to VP, or from VP to CMO, whatever the role is next level of the hierarchy you’re looking at, you’ve got to demonstrate you’ve got the capabilities of doing that.
John: 00:23:30 And so, that’s looking at, firstly, are there opportunities for you to join projects or working teams or any way that you can find to gain that exposure so that you can show people within the business and the decision making powers as it were that you’ve got the capabilities for that next level. So look for those opportunities and that’s something you need to be doing on an ongoing basis.
John: 00:23:56 And then, second thing is, you’ve got to be vocal. We talked about it a moment ago, the reason that companies employ you, the reason that bosses employ you is for your knowledge, is for your opinions, and for your expertise. And so, they’re expecting you to be vocal, you’ve got to share them. And I think technology’s actually played a role in this, because more and more we’re now communicating via things like email, increasingly video conferencing and conference calls and things like that. It’s easy to hide in those environments, and it’s very difficult sometimes to be vocal. Especially if you’re on a video conference and you’re doing it with the US or something like that, but you’ve got to be firstly self aware, and conscious of that, and then proactively make the effort to be vocal and be visible. Because if you’re not visible then people aren’t going to be looking at you and they’re not going to be looking at you for that next role.
John: 00:24:59 So the second piece of advice would be make sure that you’re visible, make sure you’re being vocal whether it’s in meetings, especially where it’s easy to get lost on video conferences and conference calls and things like that. And then, I think also a key thing is look at different ways of doing things, and this again, you know I’m-
Fiona: 00:25:23 Mr. Agile.
John: 00:25:23 Mr. Agile, I’m a big believer in that. But companies are changing, the ways that companies work are changing. And the way that we have been conditioned to do marketing, whether that’s formally through tuition, training courses, I believe that a lot of the training courses out there today are outdated. They’re not relevant, they’re still training people how to do marketing from five years ago, ten years ago. Things have moved on so much, and I think you’ve got to be very wary of that, but also think about how other parts of the business are moving. So things like agile, things like lean, look at how different functions in different departments and teams are now working. And start looking at how you can bring that into your marketing function, your marketing team, and especially your own personal day to day way of doing things.
John: 00:26:18 There’s a lot on an individual basis we can learn and we can take from disciplines like agile to improve our efficiency and our effectiveness as we’re actually doing our day to day roles, and again, that’s gonna put a spotlight on you, and especially if you can start bringing some of these principals into your marketing teams, you start proving the benefits that they can have, then the spotlight’s really going to be on you and you’re gonna start really shining in terms of the results that you’re bringing and delivering for the business.
Fiona: 00:26:49 Perfect. What are the top five KPIs that a marketer should focus on?
John: 00:26:55 There’s no such thing as a top five KPIs a marketer should focus on. Obviously I’m bound to say that. I think that’s a really dangerous question, personally, because I think firstly a lot of people get hung up on KPIs.
Fiona: 00:27:12 But that’s because a lot of jobs nowadays come with KPIs.
John: 00:27:17 Absolutely.
Fiona: 00:27:18 And there’s a lot of companies certainly that we speak to who often have key performance indicators or revenue almost or certain expectations with regards to what marketing should be able to achieve for them.
John: 00:27:34 So I think that comes down to, firstly the concept of vanity metrics, have you come across that?
Fiona: 00:27:42 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: 00:27:43 So, this was popularised in the book The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries and essentially the concept of vanity metrics for those people who haven’t come across them before is really that there’s a lot of things that people are measuring, because they think they should be measuring them or because they can measure them, that don’t necessarily have an impact on actually the results that they’re trying to achieve. So, it could be things like visitors to your website. Now you look under the surface of that, everyone’s measuring how many visitors, how many unique users are we getting to the website. But if they’re coming to the website and then not doing anything, and then not converting or turning into loyal customers of paying customers, is it really important to have a high number of visitors coming to the website? Would it not be better to have fewer visitors but those that are doing more and creating more value?
John: 00:28:39 Similar things like the number of names that you have on your email list. If none of them are opening your emails or responding to your emails, then what’s the point? I actually had a classic example of this very recently where I was in a board meeting and one of the other execs in there said okay, I think an objective should be that we should be the number one ranking google search term for this particular term, very specific term. And I immediately turned around and said what the point? Because I’d done some research on this and nobody was searching on it. So what’s the point in trying to be the number one google search result for a term that nobody is searching on. That’s a classic vanity metric. Just because you could say to somebody oh look, we’re the number one search term on this term, it doesn’t matter. So I think there’s a real risk and a real danger with marketing that we get caught up with vanity metrics and I think it comes to the other side of the equation.
John: 00:29:41 The other side of the equation is looking at, okay what’s the outcome that we’re trying to achieve. Either for the business or for the customer. So what is the ultimate end game here? What’s the ultimate outcome that we’re trying to deliver? And then how do we know that we’ve got there. And so you start building your metrics based on what is it you’re actually trying to achieve, what is the outcome that you’re trying to achieve, and then how do we know that that outcome has been realised, and then work backwards. And that’s how you define the metrics that you should be focusing on. Anything else that doesn’t result in that ultimate goal that you were trying to achieve, frankly is irrelevant and is a vanity metric. And I think people need to be aware of that, and not enough time is spent thinking about what actually should we be measuring.
John: 00:30:29 Now, I’m a massive believer that you should be measuring stuff. You should be measuring, you should be optimising, data is usually important. But I think too many marketers, too many marketing teams are measuring the wrong things. Every answer’s gonna be different. Every business is different, every brand is different, every product’s different, every context is different. This is really important to understand, all of those in the view of what is it you’re trying to actually deliver at the end of the day and then work backwards from there.
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Fiona: 00:31:26 With social and technological changes set to continue at peace, what do you think an aspiring marketer should be learning now to be in the best position possible to add value to business in five to ten years time?
John: 00:31:40 So I think what’s more important than learning what those things are, the things that are gonna be the big trends in five years time or whatever, because frankly you don’t know. I mean we don’t really know whether it’d gonna be block chain or AI or things like that. Because even though these are [inaudible 00:32:00] terms and [inaudible 00:32:01] phrases that everybody’s talking about at the moment, if you actually look at what’s happening in businesses today, those technologies are still really naissant, they’re really early [inaudible 00:32:13]. So it’s really difficult to say where are they gonna be in five years time. I think what’s more important is building the learning into your business about how you develop the processes and the practices to ensure that you’re developing in such a way that’s gonna take advantage of whatever those technologies and those trends are. And again that comes back to my job.
John: 00:32:36 So, it’s about how do you development the organisational muscles shall we say to understand what’s going on in the market and in the environment both here and now, today, but also in the future, where are things going, and have the intelligence system and the intelligence network to be able to take advantage of those. And the way to do that is to balance the long term view with the short term view. So the long term view is having that long term vision, using roadmaps and OKRs and tools like that, and then breaking it back to a very rapid cycle of work iterations. So work cycle, a phrase that you’ve probably heard of is sprints. So a sprint is a time banded period of work, so it can be anything from one week to four weeks, averages about two or three, and essentially by working in those time banded cycles, in those sprints, A you can put things to market quicker and get more immediate feedback, but also it gives you an opportunity, a natural pause to be looking things.
John: 00:33:49 To be looking at and building the inputs that you’re putting into the decisions that you’re making and both the short term things that you’re doing but also the long term strategy. So, every two weeks, every three weeks, every four weeks, depending on how long your sprint is, you’ve got the opportunity to say okay, well what’s going on? Firstly, are the things that we’re doing working? If not, how can we refine them, how can we make them better? But also, what’s going on outside, what’s going on in the environment, in the market, with the customers especially, that we now need to input into the decisions that we’ve made, both short term and long term.
John: 00:34:27 So it gives you kind of the ongoing ability to have those conversations, whereas traditionally with a marketing team or marketing function, you’re probably not having those conversations. You might have them on a quarterly basis, when you’re doing quarterly planning, or at worst I’ve seen people don’t have that conversation for a year. And so, by having them on an ongoing regular basis, it means that you can have more inputs, it means that you’re more adaptable and more responsive to these trends as they’re emerging, as they’re developing, so that, essentially you’re building that organisational muscle to be able to maximise both in the here and now, but also in that long term as well.
John: 00:35:11 Building on what I’ve been talking about, it’s a balance of vision and adaptability. So I think, to be a great marketer you’ve got to have vision. So you’ve got to be able to see where things are going, and Steve Jobs always talked about connecting the dots. So you got to be able to identify where those connections are, and that’s how you spot trends and things like that. So having that strategic vision, I do think one of the skills that has been lost is strategic thinking. I think too much, as marketers and marketing teams, we’re jumping to execution. So we’re jumping straight into content creation, or SEO or marketing automation or social whatever it is. We’re focusing on the end execution, we’re not focusing on the strategy. And I think what makes great marketing, either a campaign level or an overall level, is great strategy. So I think the ability for marketers to think strategically, which is a skill, is really important. But then be able to take that strategy and make it adaptable and make it emerging.
John: 00:36:22 So again, not having rigid 12 month plans, 6 month plans, 3 month plans, but having that rapid iteration so you can take the longer term visions and turn them into what is it that you’re supposed to be doing on a day to day basis. ‘Cause ultimately, all strategy comes down to is what is it we should be doing. And the decisions that we’re making around that. And that is not only a long term view but its a short term view. And so in the short term, what are the things that we should be doing, and why is it more important to do those than the other things. This is especially relevant I think in marketing because a lot of the time we get incoming, we’re having fire drills, we’re having to drop everything-
Fiona: 00:37:06 Or a salesman desperately wants to do this or that or the event or …
John: 00:37:10 They need some collateral for something, or something like that. That always happens, and this is one of the key things that agile gets around, because you’re breaking things down into these short sprints, into these short cycles, it gives you the opportunity to then have the conversations and say okay, is this thing that’s just come on to the table more important than the other things that we’re doing, because what agile creates is transparency. Everybody knows at any point in time what’s being worked on for that sprint. And you can say okay look, if you’re telling me that this thing coming in needs to be done, what needs to drop out the other end to accommodate it? And that’s very transparent. And you can make decisions, you can say well look, we don’t do it here and now, we defer it to the next sprint, so that therefore doesn’t disrupt what we’re working on. Or we can say, it’s gotta be done now, but that means that something else has got to drop out, and there’s a process in place to make those decisions. Or, worst case scenario, everything changes, but that means you have to re plan.
John: 00:38:13 Now what agile does is it gives you frameworks for doing that thinking and making those decisions, so that change is actually something that is a norm. You get away from these fire drills because there are processes in place to accommodate the incoming, and make it much more seamless in terms of the way that you’re working on an ongoing basis.
Fiona: 00:38:37 I think it’s really interesting, because as you say marketing is often the glue that keeps organisations together, and with that people always have lots of ideas for marketing don’t they, as in what they’d like to do, what they think you should do, what they think customers would want. So, yeah, it’s good to know.
John: 00:38:57 One of the foundational principles of agile is customer focused collaboration. So again, instead of-
Fiona: 00:39:03 Across the company.
John: 00:39:04 Across the company. So instead of having these debates around is this the right thing to do because sales are asking for it, ultimately it comes down to is this the right thing to do because is it in the best interest of the customer? Is it going to deliver the customer outcomes that we are striving for? So, the customer is really positioned as the north star. And again, coming back to you remove assumptions and opinions and make a lot of the decision making processes around data and testing, so, again when you’ve got things coming in, and say okay look, this is a really good idea, I think we should do this. You can say okay let’s test it. ‘Cause again I think a lot of people go down rabbit holes on initiatives and things like that, because they haven’t proved it out. So by having that testing mentality we can say okay well let’s test it, get the data and then we make a decision.
John: 00:39:56 With agile and with sprint you can do that very fast. You can do that within one or two weeks, literally. As opposed to having to wait a quarter or whatever to get that kind of feedback to be able to make sure that you’re on the right track.
Fiona: 00:40:10 Yeah. So, another question here from the audience is when is it safe to move more towards strategy and leave the task [inaudible 00:40:19] behind without jeopardising your value as a marketeer to the organisation?
John: 00:40:24 So, I think no matter where you are you need to be able to both. Marketing is a balance of strategy and tactics, and the way I always communicate agile is it’s kind of the operating system between the two. So as I say, one of the things that a lot of marketing I think is failing on at the moment is jumping straight to the tactics, straight to the execution and not doing strategic thinking up front. What agile does is it enables you to connect those two disciplines.
Fiona: 00:41:01 But what I like about it, from the sounds of it, is that it’s then an ongoing process.
John: 00:41:02 Correct.
Fiona: 00:41:04 Because your competitor might do something completely …
John: 00:41:08 Absolutely.
Fiona: 00:41:10 That has huge impacts.
John: 00:41:11 Or Brexit might be delayed by two months. There’s all kinds of things that happen.
Fiona: 00:41:13 You said the B word, I don’t like that word (laughs).
John: 00:41:13 These are things that we have to accommodate, and nobody knows what’s going to happen. Your competitor can launch a new product any second, any moment and we just don’t know. Or something happens in social media where you’ve got to react. I used to work for Samsung, on B2B marketing for Samsung and there was the whole episode with the burning phones.
Fiona: 00:41:40 Yeah.
John: 00:41:40 Now that’s not something that Samsung planned for, but you have to accommodate, you have to adapt to that.
Fiona: 00:41:47 Yeah.
John: 00:41:47 So things like that happen. And the one constant in business is change. Things change. So you’ve got to be able to manage that change effectively, and the way to do that is to make it part of your process is to make change the norm, as opposed to something that is disruptive and comes from left field, and throws everything out of window to start again, because they can’t accommodate that change.
Fiona: 00:42:14 But then isn’t it like the more comfortable you become with change, the more you’ll be able to see the opportunities that lie within it, even when it’s a nightmare, there’s still opportunities to be had.
John: 00:42:24 That’s the point, what you’re then doing is then every change is an opportunity. And so you’re then turning it into a much more proactive way of working. And that’s absolutely key, when things are moving and you’re seeing it quickly, you’re able to then optimise that situation and not just react, but to pro act in terms of doing something that takes advantage of it. Whereas if things are coming in from the outside, and you haven’t got a process in place to be able to accommodate those, you’re reacting and you’re having to fight fires, which is what marketing constantly feels like it’s doing, but it doesn’t have to be like that. And I think the rest of the organisation and definitely teams like developments and operations and IT have learned how to do that, because the whole world of product development has changed from these big monolithic applications to ongoing always on software.
Fiona: 00:43:26 Yeah.
John: 00:43:27 And so, to be able to deal with that, and to be able to deal with a product that’s always live, they’ve had to work out these ways of working and how to do things. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are big, big differences between marketing and development. There are big differences in the context between marketing and development, and you can’t just take agile from the development world and plunk it into marketing and expect it to work perfectly. So it’s really important to understand agile in a marketing context, and to apply the principles of agile and the methodologies and the practices, but taking into consideration the way the marketing works.
John: 00:44:10 So, for example, one of the barriers that I’ve seen in companies that have tried to do this is the terminology. A lot of the terminology that’s been developed has been developed for IT. Which doesn’t make sense to marketers. So, we need to change that. Why can’t we change that? We can. Another one is, in marketing we’ve got much more of these incoming, so again we’ve got to think of ways of dealing with that where it’s not necessarily the same in product development. So there are subtle differences, and it’s about understanding that and working with people that have been there and done it to make sure that you’re on the right path and on the right track as it were.
Fiona: 00:44:56 Very good. How do you deal with all the noise and the hype in the market balanced against the reality of day to day execution which often isn’t given due care?
John: 00:45:05 Moving to working in these short time manage cycles like sprints I think is really important. Another concept in agile is what’s called the back log. So, again one of the things that happens a lot in marketing teams is that individuals of different parts of the team, different functions or different disciplines within the team have their own to do lists. And there’s no cross over, there’s no synchronisation between those to do lists. The concept of a back log in agile is that there’s essentially one master to do list. But that massive to do list is constantly managed and constantly cleaned, so you’re constantly asking the question, what’s the most important thing that we should be doing? And using that backlog is a great way of having transparency in terms of what are the things that marketing’s focusing on, ’cause you can easily see where things are ranking. You can have an input into that. There’s meetings and ceremonies where there are opportunities for any of these stakeholders to come in and have conversations with marketing about what they should be prioritising.
John: 00:46:10 But then they’re also seeing how that’s flowing through the marketing team, and again one of the things that agile can do is create a lot more transparency around where things are in the process, where the blockages are. So not just the marketing team but the rest of the organisation can start seeing how things are moving, where things are and so there’s that visibility but what it also brings is accountability. And so it makes the marketing team much more accountable for those deliverables and for the outcomes that they’re trying to ultimately try for.
Fiona: 00:46:44 Brilliant. So a bit of fun now John, what do you listen to when you need to focus or coming up with [inaudible 00:46:53]?
John: 00:46:54 I guess I geek out a little bit on this one. It has been scientifically proven that listening to instrumentals is much more conducive to deep thinking and to deep work, and I’ve read a lot of books around how do you get into the zone.
Fiona: 00:47:09 Monk Mode mornings, or that sort of, yeah.
John: 00:47:11 Yeah. I think one of the skills that a lot of marketers can learn is, again, coming back to this, there’s so many disruptions, there’s so many incoming and things like that, creating space. Because there’s a balance between that kind of ongoing interruption driven management, but then also the deep work and the deep thinking that you have to do to move things forward, and when you’re at your most productive, you’re usually in that kind of space. And so simple tricks like just blocking out chunks on your calendar where you can go into a different environment, go into a different room. I need to get out of the building. What I like to do is go into a coffee shop, put my headphones on and just get in the zone.
John: 00:47:56 And so tricks like that mean that you can then get into that deep work, so what I do is I listen to instrumental music with things like Spotify there’s a ton out there, you can get playlists. Whether it’s, I hate to say things like soundtracks or classical music and things like that-
Fiona: 00:48:17 Easy listening.
John: 00:48:20 Yeah, without the kind of voiceover [inaudible 00:48:23] it means that you can focus and you can concentrate. I find I work very differently when I’ve got headphones on and when I’ve not got headphones on. It’s difficult to do sometimes in an office environment but try and take yourself out of that, go sit in a meeting room, or go out and sit in a coffee shop or something like that, ’cause you need to have those spaces of deep work. So I try and balance that, and again, tricks like blocking out on your calendar, also another one is when you come in in the morning, often, and it depends on the individual, but often individuals are most productive first thing. But what do they do? They come in and first thing is they check their emails.
John: 00:49:04 When they’re checking their emails, they’re making decisions which means ultimately they become less and less and less productive and effective as time goes on. So again, one of the tricks is don’t check your emails first thing. Do a chunk of deep work first, do an hour or a could of hours of deep thinking work, and then get on to your emails. And have defined times throughout the day when you’re gonna check your emails. Maybe a couple hours after you get in the office, and then in the afternoon, and try and limit those, as opposed to using, a lot of people use their inbox as their to do list.
John: 00:49:44 So people have their email on all the time, and they’re checking it constantly to see what they should be doing. That’s the worst thing you can possibly do because you’re constantly distracted. So trying to define specific times of the day where you’re checking emails, and having that deep work. And to do that, I think for me listening to music is a key tool I use as well.
Fiona: 00:50:05 Are you a zero inbox man, John? I need to know now.
John: 00:50:09 I am a zero inbox man. I am a zero inbox man. Again, I’ve developed practices over time where I have a key set of folders that enable me, as soon as an email comes in, I immediately assign it to a folder, so I’ve got things like urgent actions, watch lists, need to speak to somebody and things like that, so that I can then filter my incoming so it keeps my inbox clean and I can then see how I’m prioritising stuff.
Fiona: 00:50:43 Okay. Agile methodology in action.
John: 00:50:46 Well actually so on that, I do manage my to do list using agile. So I use what we call a Kanban. So anything that comes in goes into a to do list, which is a master to do list. I every week prioritise that, and then move it into … so the way Kanban works is you’ve got columns, and each column is a different stage in your process. Within each column you have cards, and cards are like your tasks, your to dos. So my first column on my to dos, which is my master list, I then move everything into the things I need to get done in that week, I then have everything I need to get done in that day, and then when I do things and I’ve done it I move it into a done column so I can actually see that, just the actual physical moving things into a done column gives you that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. And then also I’ve got a column for things that are on hold or on waiting for things.
John: 00:51:47 So I personally use these kinds of principles to how I manage myself, as well as I manage teams and so forth, and it works amazingly well, I feel so much more on top of things and productive by doing it this way. Personally, like I say, I work in sprints. I work in weekly sprints. So I define what I’m going to work on that week, and I use my Kanban board to be able to do that, and I know exactly what the top priorities are because I’ve cleaned my list on a daily basis, so I know exactly the things I should be working on.
Fiona: 00:52:20 So do you use apps like Trello for example to do a Kanban board, or is there something more specific available out there?
John: 00:52:28 That is one of the challenges with using agile for marketing, because most of the tools out there have been designed for other fields. So I think one of the challenges when it comes to agile in a marketing context is understanding the tools. Trello, I do use Trello but I hack it because I found add ons that … so one of the big, so again one of the things with correcting the Kanban board like that is having swim lanes. So swim lanes are kind of horizontal lanes, so from a marketing team point of view you have a horizontal swing lane for creative, another one for social content, another one for events. It varies, it depends on how you work as your team, it can be a product line, or a market or something like that, but it’s just a way of kind of delineating the different kinds of work that you’re doing. Trello doesn’t have that functionality, but I found an add on that you can actually add it on. So Trello is great, it’s a good starting point but it can be limited when you try to get more sophisticated.
John: 00:53:34 There’s a lot of other tools out there that teams can use like Work Front, Aha!, [inaudible 00:53:40] and things like that, which you can do more sophisticated stuff with how you visualise your workflow, and again visualisation is a key aspect of working in an agile and lean way. To be able to understand how work is flowing through your team, and also where the blockages are and where the obstacles are. So that, again, is a key principle of agile.
Fiona: 00:54:05 Perfect. What is the book you recommend most to B2B marketers?
John: 00:54:12 So, building all on what I’ve spoken about, there’s a book called Hacking Marketing by a guy called Scott Brinker. Now you may have heard of him.
Fiona: 00:54:23 I have heard of him actually, but I’m not sure why now.
John: 00:54:26 So he is the editor of chiefmartec.com, so Chief Martech is probably the biggest blog out there, especially around marketing technology, and he founded that, created that, and he’s the editor for Chief Martech. He also creates the super graphic. So every year he creates this super graphic-
Fiona: 00:54:55 The Martech Landscape.
John: 00:54:57 Correct. That’s it, the Martech landscape. So he is the creator of that. He recently took a role at Hub Spot, so he’s currently still doing Chief Martech but he’s also at Hub Spot as well, but he wrote this book that’s called Hacking Marketing, and if you want to learn more about these kinds of principles I’ve been talking about, more around agile, how you scale agile, how you build more innovation into your marketing organisations, then that’s a great starting point.
John: 00:55:27 What I really like about it is he does it in a very consumable way. So a lot of what he’s talking about, he makes it very easy to interpret and understand whereas you can go very complicated very quickly with some of this stuff. So I think that’s a great book in terms of understanding how to do modern marketing, some of the concepts that are coming over into marketing from other parts of the business, and we’re seeing this increasingly in the US. So in the US there’s a study that’s done every year which is the state of agile marketing, and it’s show that 38% of businesses are currently using some form of agile in North America. With the remainder, 60% are looking at moving to agile in the next 12 months. So in North America we’re definitely seeing a movement to more agile marketing and agile ways of working.
John: 00:56:25 Anecdotally because there isn’t any hard data in Europe, anecdotally we’re way behind. And yet, you can see, I would argue there’s just as much if not more applicability for agile principles in Europe given the change that we see in European markets, and also the fragmentation that we see in Europe, that makes it much more a tool and a discipline that we should be looking at and applying, and I think coming back to what I was saying earlier, if marketing doesn’t make this big, if we don’t start going to this direction, A we’re gonna be left behind by the rest of our organisations, because the rest of our organisations have moved or are moving.
Fiona: 00:57:07 Which would then create the terrible scenario of marketing being the service within the company, versus sitting at the leadership table and potentially getting more into the board room, which is what we all want.
John: 00:57:19 Correct. And one day to point behind that, there’s a research company in the US called Altimeter, you might have heard of a guy called Brian Solis, Brian Solis is kind of their lead analyst, and every year Altimeter group brings out a state of digital transformation report, and the one data point that I always look at in that report is what’s the executive that’s leading digital transformation? And if you go back to 2014 it was marketing, it was the CMO. The CMO in 53% of businesses was the primary executive who was sponsoring and leading digital transformation initiatives within the organisation. If you fast forward to 2018, most recent report, that’s as low as 5%. So, that’s a huge decline that marketing has seen in it’s influence within digital transformation.
John: 00:58:20 Now, there’s a number of reasons for that, but I think it’s symptomatic of the danger and the risk to marketing in the role that it’s playing within the organisation, and the leadership role especially as companies are now … digital transformation’s gonna go away because you’re either digital or you’re dead. And so, I think for marketing to continue to play a primary role in innovation, in growth and things like that, we have to move to these kinds of ways of working, and that’s not because everybody else is doing it and marketing isn’t, and so therefore marketing has to move, it’s just because these have been proven to be the best ways of working, the best ways of doing it, the best operating system in this world. So therefor I think it’s down to marketing to learn about these principles, adapt them, make them relevant for the marketing context, but I think we’ve got to start doing that now, otherwise we are going to be left out in the cold.
John: 00:59:21 Like I said, by our own organisations, increasingly by US, because the US is moving in this direction and a lot of the companies over here either are facing US space competition, so there’s a competitive element here, or there’s a lot of subsidiaries, there’s a lot of European based businesses, and UK based businesses, who are subsidiaries of US companies. So these US companies, the motherships, the head offices, are starting to development these agile practices, then the European entities need to work out how they’re gonna work with them. And key to that is understanding and adopting agile.
John: 01:00:03 And, even if your competitors aren’t based in the US, your competitors will be and are adopting agile anyway. So again, comes back to the competition if you don’t want to be disrupted, if you don’t want to be left behind the curve, then it’s crucial that you start thinking in these ways.
Fiona: 01:00:21 Perfect. What parting words of wisdom or advice would you share with our audience?
John: 01:00:26 I would say don’t accept the status quo. It comes back to that advice I was talking about earlier. Be responsible for your own careers. To do that you’ve got to be proactive, don’t just accept the way that things have always been done, whether that’s from a marketing education point of view, or from the day to day way that you’re doing marketing within the businesses that you’re working for.
John: 01:00:53 I think it’s really important that you look at what’s happening outside. What’s happening in the rest of the business. What’s happening in the market. Really understand that, and then look at how you can apply those principles back into what you’re doing on a day to day basis. I think if you can do that it will absolutely further your careers because companies are moving in these directions and if you can be a catalyst for doing that, then you’re gonna be the one that’s in the spotlight, and you’re the one that’s going to be looked at in terms of promotions and things like that because the results that you’re going to be able to demonstrate, not just in terms of the, and again this is one of the big aspects of agile, it’s not just about the business results. So agile’s been proven to significantly grow market share, to grow profitability, to grow revenue generations, to grow pipeline generation, it’s also the impact that it has on the team. And agile teams have been proven to be much more engaged, much more productive, much more happier, increasing in job satisfaction, collaborative, willing to work with other people in the rest of the organisation and so forth.
John: 01:02:04 So it’s these kind of more human sides to agile I think which in some respects are the bigger gains and the bigger advantages which in themselves then deliver the business gains.
Fiona: 01:02:20 Perfect. What a note to end on. Thanks ever so much for your time, John. If anybody is interested in agile or is looking for some support, how can they find you?
John: 01:02:31 You can go to my website which is get2growth.com with the number 2, so get number 2 growth dot com, or if anybody wants to have a personal conversation then just email me at [email protected]
Fiona: 01:02:43 There we go. Thanks ever so much John.
John: 01:02:45 Pleasure. Thank you very much.
Fiona: 01:02:51 So there you have it, career advice from a real marketing expert and leader in the field. Thanks for listening, if you’re enjoying this podcast then please leave us a review in iTunes, we’d love to hear your feedback.
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