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Fortune 500 companies often try to eat the elephant all at once when launching online marketing initiatives. The effort becomes a huge IT program made up of lots of projects, which is likely to fail or be abandoned. Industry statistics show that big launches fail 80 percent of the time. Yet this approach remains dominant in the corporate world, especially in financial services.

A recent assessment of customer experience management (CEM) in financial service companies reveals that many face major challenges when it comes to customer satisfaction, profit margin, retention rates, lifetime value and other key metrics. “Meeting and exceeding the demands of empowered customers is no easy endeavor,” the report states.

Financial firms need to make implementing CEM a high priority, and they need to make data more useable for customer-facing initiatives. The more you know about your customers, the better equipped you are to keep them and sell them more products and services along the way.

That is why I believe in agile marketing and use agile development processes. As someone who leverages marketing and sales technology solutions and works with other results-oriented professionals in highly competitive industries, I have to be agile in everything I do. I do not have a choice.

In my experience, I’ve often seen that the competitive advantages most marketers hope to gain with a new marketing platform can dissipate by the time it is fully implemented and de-bugged.

When marketing collaborates with IT and adopts an agile approach to digital initiatives, they not only improve their speed-to-market, they also gain predictability and flexibility.

First Things First

With an agile approach, you focus on the core customer benefits/features that are absolutely necessary.

Information technology is a living, breathing system that is never truly final because everything — technology, marketing and consumer behavior — is in a constant state of change. It is more important to get to market as fast as you can and realize the competitive advantage than to deliver technology perfection.

Using agile marketing in coordination with agile development not only enables faster business results, but it also enables better alignment between corporate departments. Research proves that in the most successful companies, alignment is a competitive edge. By rolling out the most important features first, the team creates a channel for ongoing discussion on how the first release worked, what should come next and how the initial functionality can improve. In contrast, if the IT department spends two years doing all the groundwork to unveil a new digital system all at once, sales and marketing may have already moved on.

Break It Down

Some organizations take months just to determine specifications before they even start developing a digital solution. The specification writing process really does not focus on what the customer needs, but instead, on a company’s internal needs. Projects approached this way tend to run amok. My recommendation is to break the work down into three-month cycles. You only develop specifications one cycle at a time.

Let’s look at an example I’ve seen in the field of how an agile marketing and development approach can quickly yield results. The company, ranked as one of the top five automotive captive finance organizations in its industry, began their marketing and development process to overhaul their dealer communications operations and create an online, one-stop shop for dealer sales and marketing communications needs. The company had 34 different businesses with IT systems, spreadsheets, paper documents and other mechanisms housing information that needed to be integrated.

The first step was to focus on the most important need: making incentives easier for dealer sales people to find and use. New car incentives and rebates are a sales person’s main closing tool. National and regional incentives change continually. Reams of printed paper were mailed to dealerships every month. Within four months, the finance company was able to stop the mailings. Simply clicking a button to look up incentives was a major time saver for dealers’ sales teams. It gave them the edge they needed to close deals quickly.

Within the next three months, dealers gained more capabilities (electronic lease-funding notices, reserve statements and lead generation).

Within 15 months of the project’s inception, the Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer process was streamlined to the point that dealers were able to process $39.5 million in vehicle payoffs in hours.

If the company had waited to launch all the functionality at once, it would have taken at least another year before they would have realized any benefit. Instead, within four months, they were saving money.

This type of rolling launch allows companies to correct mistakes as they go. By rolling out the highest value pieces first, you also learn organically what enhancements will bring the next greatest benefit. Each subsequent mini launch benefits from the data and insights gained along the way. You can tailor each step so that you maximize your return and minimize any glitches.

Use Data to Focus on the User

There has been much talk about insufficient data, but studies like Aberdeen’s State of the CEM Market 2014 reveal that a lack of data is rarely the issue. The issue is a lack of insight. An agile marketing approach uses data to develop insights that drive sales and profits.

With the agile process, you do not need all the data to start. Sales, marketing and IT talk about data and its potential uses before it is collected and crunched. Then the tech team plans the collection of the right data in the right form. Then you collect your results, determine your insights and put the findings to work in the next cycle. It is Deming’s plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust philosophy. That is the heart of agile marketing.

At the end of the day, data is only as good as what you do with it.

Need an agile response? Agile marketing is the key.

Paula TompkinsAbout the Author: Paula Tompkins is CEO and founder of ChannelNet. ChannelNet delivers digital customer acquisition, retention and conquest services that are designed to create a seamless multichannel sales environment online and offline. In the last 30 years, she has helped hundreds of companies use technology to sell their products and build customer relationships. 

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