Unforeseen events can make or break a business. The benefit of following agile practices is that they take chaos theory into account, allowing you to plan with randomness and the unexpected in mind.
Following a process inspired by the Scrum framework doesn’t mean “free-for-all” and constantly changing our minds. It means replanning every short period of time (2 weeks in our case) to align with the ever-changing context, all that with having a roadmap in mind.
Emilie Berthiaume is where marketer and number-cruncher meet. From hospitality to software development, she’s had an enviably varied career.
We talked to Emilie about her work with Dialogue, Canada’s leading virtual care provider. She talks about the benefits of adopting an agile methodology, the importance of keeping aligned with long-term goals, and why failure can be so useful in a high-growth environment.
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your career?
Although I am a marketer by trade, I love numbers, data, and processes. I consider myself a very business-oriented person who always thinks about the company’s overall health and returns on investment (ROI). My approach to business is very holistic, fusing all the different parts that generate success together.
I started my career in the restaurant industry before moving to software development. I’ve always focused on things I believed would have value in the future and potential. This made me very picky about what I wanted to work on next.
I recognized the importance of data within marketing a long time ago. Since then, I’ve spent a significant amount of time developing my data literacy. Now, I am very comfortable with helping businesses drive their data architecture and reporting processes, no matter the company or industry in question.
Currently, I am responsible for demand generation here at Dialogue, in other words, bringing qualified leads to the sales team.
I also oversee paid media for lead generation. Our strategy relies heavily upon automation and personalization. By following this approach, we’ve managed to drive 72% of all marketing qualified leads through paid media over a period of 6 months. This shows that we are doing something right!
What does Dialogue do?
Dialogue is a virtual care provider based in Canada. We are one of the first businesses to approach virtual care in a B2B space. This means we’re now a genuine industry leader.
Our primary objective is to deliver online health and wellness programs to organizations that want to improve their members’ and families’ well-being. It’s extremely rewarding.
Earlier this year we launched our Integrated Health Platform, which is pretty transformational. This platform rolls primary care, mental health support, and specific Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) into one consistent experience.
As a result, we have one app with multiple wellness programs. We are loved by thousands of organizations that help millions of people improve their health.
Why should marketing teams follow an agile methodology?
Marketing can quickly become chaotic as you grapple with different tools, channels, and user segments. We implemented agile over a year ago and found that following this methodology helps us prioritize far more effectively than any other approach.
Marketing teams should use the agile approach to identify and concentrate their team’s collective efforts on completing high-value projects cooperatively, measuring the impact, and gradually improving the results over time.
If you follow the Agile methodology, the activities become more precise:
● Your team adapts to changes while having a roadmap in mind.
● They can do rapid repetitions over big-bang campaigns.
● It is more effective to test and do small experiments over big bets. Then, you roll out at scale the experiments that demonstrate the highest potential.
● Improves the collaboration between teams.
We’re a small team that’s growing quickly. This is why we need to know the next move and how to pool our resources to make the biggest impact. That said, not everything can be planned. We ensure to allocate time in every sprint for dealing with unplanned events.
What’s so great about an agile approach?
Agile is great because it allows you to be resilient and plan for the unknown. This doesn’t mean that you simply adopt an ad hoc, gung-ho approach to marketing. You still need to align your team under a clearly articulated vision, mission, and goals.
When following an agile methodology, you’re acutely aware that anything can happen at any time. While you should have an overarching plan and strategy, by following agile principles you’re never too derailed by the unexpected, no matter the challenge you are facing.
What does your agile approach look like in practice?
There are 5 primary steps we rely on:
1. Define success
Log all our work in a prioritized backlog. Spend a lot of time fleshing out the tasks that need to be executed going forward. They should have a clear definition of requirements, what success means, estimated efforts, etc.
2. Keep everyone aligned
Discuss every item on the table and expand upon them with the responsible person. Ensure everyone has everything they need to do the job effectively.
It’s much better to use one hour of everyone’s time to plan out an activity properly than have multiple follow-up meetings to align everyone individually afterward. Align first, execute second.
Alignment is about understanding the ask and the goal and then creating a tactical plan to execute. Alignment is not about brainstorming or discussing high-level strategy. While important, this comes in a different space and time in the overall cadence. After a while, it becomes second nature for all team members.
3. Plan the sprint
Clarify every priority and decide what should be done in the upcoming sprint. Make sure the plan can be realistically completed at a minimum of 80% achievement – but aiming to be as close to 100% as possible. Predictability in terms of effort is highly valuable.
Remove the items you aren’t ready to act on during this sprint. Identify and exclude any tasks that aren’t incredibly valuable to the wider business as a whole.
4. The sprint
After such detailed planning, the sprints are usually fairly simple. Work hard to ensure that your sprints are completed successfully, but also expect the unexpected. Plan a little extra time during the sprint to tackle any unforeseen events or circumstances.
5. Review it all
At the end of the sprint, review what was added to it, removed, and swapped (some in-sprint changes are inevitable). This will help you understand how the sprint went.
Then informally evaluate the team’s level of happiness, how they felt about the process in the past sprint, and how to improve during the next sprint. This will unlock key conversations that will allow you to then use an activity to identify one thing to work on in the next sprint process-wise.
Just trust in the process because it’s designed to evolve, getting stronger with each trial. It’s difficult in the beginning but as you perfect the process, you will begin to get things done quickly.
Remember: small incremental changes over time will deliver compound benefits.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Finally, I just wanted to touch on a hot topic right now and ask you how you approach failure?
At Dialogue, the possibility of failure is built into our growth process. It’s part of the journey towards building a healthy, successful business. Ideally, our failures are short-term and have low risks, but they provide us with enough data to be useful.
I use 10% of my budget to experiment with different marketing techniques, actively seeking out failure by running a ton of split tests to challenge our current ways of working. Use both data and creativity to experiment. You want to be the one who comes up with the new idea that others follow.
That being said, not all experiments bring breakthrough results. Sometimes we try new tactics, and our control group gets better results. In the process, we diligently change one variable at a time and identify which experiments to scale up (as well as which to stop altogether), and it helps us become better at what we do.
This process allowed us to reach a point where we beat all our competitor’s KPI benchmarks, (sometimes 2x and 3x better in some cases) and it’s becoming harder and harder to beat our winning tactics – but this is what you want. When you find a new winner or a tactic that is as strong as the others you have, you know you’ve hit a golden nugget.
Because then, you’re building on your winning evergreen campaigns and providing a better experience as variety comes into place for your audience. The overall effectiveness increases. But there will always be tactics that fail. You need to be comfortable with that.
This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It’s key learning where you put in low effort and budget, (low risk) and at the end of the day, the gain is way bigger than the loss. You just need to manage the message internally. Choose the story you want to tell with your data.
Never stop experimenting
Agile marketing will help you respond quickly to changes in the market. Based on that, you can produce rapid campaigns that can be tested and optimized over time. The rule of thumb is: Experiment with things but repeat the ones that succeed. That alone makes it worthwhile.
Failure is just one part of learning. It’s impossible to differentiate strategies unless some don’t work as well as others. Failure allows you to instantly identify what doesn’t work so you can quickly move on to what does work.Emilie Berthiaume, Senior Demand Generation Manager, Dialogue