Business is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. Mobile devices, social platforms, subscription services, and streaming channels have completely shifted the way businesses connect with other businesses and consumers. As soon as a company gets comfortable with updated techniques, it’s time to learn something new. And the pace is only accelerating.
It’s an exciting time to be at a startup, but it’s also difficult to plan for what’s around the corner. This is why now, more than ever, business leaders need an agile process for their marketing to quickly adapt to change and identify opportunities in any market.
While we at Torch appreciate how crucial it is for young businesses to experience early growth, we also believe growth should be meaningful and smart. Through our experience partnering with leaders of the best-known companies in Silicon Valley, we’ve developed and coined our own Agile Growth Process, using the most effective and evolving methods in the emerging function of growth.
What is agile?
Being agile simply means being able to move quickly and with ease. While we traditionally think of “agility” used in tennis matches and dog shows, the use of the word in agile software development 20 years ago marked a shift in the agility of the word itself. Beyond its use to describe physical feats, it’s applicable as a mindset, process, or approach.
Key characteristics of an agile approach:
- Results oriented
Our Agile Growth Process is an intentionally simple four-step repeatable cycle that has proven invaluable in aligning teams and maintaining the ability to grow any business in an ever-changing world.
The Agile Growth Process
Step 1: Establish North Star Goals
The most important part of growing any business is formally establishing the right growth goals, ones that ultimately capture the core value your product delivers to customers. North Star goals help align executives and team members on what matters most. They become the foundation for how you’ll determine strategy and prioritize tactics. (And the responsive nature of agile methodology allows for them to be recalibrated as necessary.)
In order to determine North Star goals, we use a model of George T. Doran’s SMART goals–that is, goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Limited. We typically shoot for 2-3 goals (no more, no less) over a 3-6 month horizon. We like to keep the goals so succinct that, at any given point, you can ask the team what the goals are and they recite them with immediacy and excitement.
It’s also important to keep in mind that teams will improve what you choose to measure. You must be able to quickly access tangible progress towards the metric so you can prioritize growth tactics (which we cover in the next section) and know how you are tracking towards progress.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
A good force function to ensure that you’re on the right track is to record data points over the past three months. This way you can measure the tactic and determine if your goals are feasible.
On that note, we recommend taking your goal and stretching 50-100% beyond your initial estimate of what it should be. By stretching the goal, the team will have to think deeper and take calculated risks to hit it: this is what sets you apart from the status quo. Remember, if you are consistently hitting your goals, it probably means you’re not stretching far enough.
Step 2: Brainstorm and Prioritize Growth Tactics
Once you have your goals, you can shift your focus to the fun part: The Tactic Backlog, which is a long list of growth tactics for future reference.
To start, we typically ask our partners what they think they “should” be doing. Maybe its Instagram ads, maybe it’s blogging, maybe its video, maybe it’s putting pink mustaches on cars… Whatever it is, we put it all on paper. It’s great to go beyond yourself and the immediate team, as well. Often times, other departments, external agencies/partners, and even customers have out-of-the-box ideas and haven’t had the forum to communicate them.
The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.
By broadly opening up this brainstorming process across the board, you generate a more comprehensive list of ideas and minimize distractions when new ideas emerge. It’s also important to remember that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. Sometimes the craziest ideas may not make practical sense, but open the door to other golden opportunities that may have been missed otherwise. It’s also not a one-time process: the tactic backlog is a living, breathing, dynamic document. If there’s ever a new growth tactic idea, it should get added here right away.
Once you have a healthy list of ideas on the tactic backlog (we often get to 20-30+ pretty quickly) it is important to prioritize them so the team can focus on the 2-4 priority tactics. To do this prioritization, we recommend generating a composite score based on three variables:
For each of those variables, we will score each tactic on a scale of 1-5, depending on: 1) the impact it will have towards the goals we defined, 2) what the financial cost will be, and 3) how much time/effort it will take from the team. We tend to use a weighted average score depending on the business’s priorities, and generally, add more weight to those that have the biggest impact. For example, say you are evaluating running public transit ads:
Public Transit Ads Tactic Scoring (Example):
- Impact (40% weight): 1 of 5 (may not move the needle much towards our goal)
- Cost (30% weight): 2 of 5 (pretty pricey, low score)
- Efficiency (20% weight): 4 of 5 (doesn’t take much time to set up, high score)
Weighted Composite = (1/5 * 40%) + (⅖ * 30%) + (4/5 *20%) = 1.3
Overall, 1.3 is a pretty low score. When you go through and do this across your list of tactics, some clear winners will rise to the top. Even with this process, choosing between tactics is still not so black and white. The point of the scoring is to identify the potential shining stars. More often than not, they’re different than what you might have thought when you started.
Step 3: The First Growth Sprint
The previous two steps should be complete after a few meetings, but the growth sprint is where the work actually happens. We typically work on a monthly cycle, holding a “growth sprint meeting” in the first week of the month with each of our partners. In that initial meeting we review the following:
- Prioritization – Spend 20-30 minutes talking through the high scoring items and ensure they are correctly grouped and ranked
- Sprint Planning – Determine which items can be tackled in the next 30 days
The important thing here is to always maintain a bias towards action, so each of the items you committed to at the beginning of the sprint get shipped in some way. As general Patten once said, “A good plan, violently executed now is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
A good plan, violently executed now is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
This is where most big companies begin to lose their stride… these tactics can become less impactful as time goes by. The last thing you want to do is take months to ship something great only to realize the product and marketplace have shifted course and your original estimates don’t necessarily hold. Meanwhile, there may be more nimble teams at your competitors shipping similar iterations in a quicker way.
Step 4: Iterate & Repeat
Your next growth sprint meeting will happen after the first sprint is complete. The first two agenda items for the second meeting should be:
- Retrospective – What did we say we were going to do in the sprint and what did we get out the door?
- Impact – Are those items having the impact we expected? (Some items may not have done well and this is fine: just record the insight you gained. If you’re not failing, you’re not learning.)
You then can layer on the planning for the next meeting:
- Prioritization – Talk through the high scoring items and ensure they are correctly grouped and ranked, but now through the lens of what you learned from the last sprint.
- Sprint Planning – Determine which items you can commit to tackling over the next 30 days. You may have a couple of items follow over from the prior sprint because you’re still measuring or they took longer than expected. This is OK, but if you find anything carrying more than two sprints, it means your tactics are too large and should be broken down to smaller tasks.
Failure is success in progress.
This agile growth process can theoretically repeat indefinitely each month for the life of your business. While some sprints will be more challenging than others, and some sprints may not be as impactful, the important part is forcing the habit and embracing the agile growth methodology as a part of your culture. It’s a short-term strategy that will inevitably drive long-term results if executed methodically.
Sustaining the Growth Engine:
One other important note to keep in mind is that as you go through sprints, certain tactics will become table stakes in your monthly process. For example, you may have identified blogging and a monthly newsletter as effective channels to improve organic growth and customer experience. Those items eventually graduate to become part of your recurring monthly process. It is important to carve out time and allocate resources to ensure your winning tactics continue to get executed so you can continue to benefit from the dividends for a long time to come.
With each sprint, your business will develop a “sustainable growth engine,” and when done correctly can differentiate your business and capture more value than you could have ever dreamed of. By embracing the agile growth mindset across your company, that engine will only get more powerful and more fine-tuned to ensure the business thrives for years and decades to come.