If you’re familiar with Inflow, you’ve likely seen our Harmonic Triangle, below, where we claim that focusing on our team’s happiness leads to better results for our clients.
So when we chose to switch to agile, we did so to improve our team’s overall happiness with their roles and Inflow’s culture — again, under the notion that this will produce a better experience and ultimately better results for our clients.
Specifically, we were looking to improve on three subtle but significant opportunities common among even the best eCommerce agencies by:
- Creating a consistent work management process. It’s common in digital marketing agencies for different teams or employees to create their own workflow processes. This occurs organically and can, for a short while, even be a good thing. If an agency is growing its conversion rate optimization (CRO) team and the new team members prefer to work in Trello, the agency will keep them on Trello so they can start working on client strategies without learning a new system. But what started as the right move eventually leads to fragmentation as the agency grows, making it difficult for teams to work together to improve results for their clients.
- Drastically reducing the number of hours spent on non-result driven management tasks. A consequence of having non-uniform workflow processes across teams and departments is that employees will need to spend a significant portion of their week on managing processes, not completing tasks. Instead of paying marketing experts for delivering awesome results with their digital marketing strategies, you’re now paying them to manage processes. It’s not that management tasks are unimportant, it’s that if an agency can streamline operational processes, they’ll free up more time for working on getting results for their clients.
- Having a transparent workweek, so clients know when an agency is working on specific tasks. One of the more frustrating aspects of being a client of an eCommerce marketing agency is feeling left in the dark about what work is being done and when it’s being done. Clients shouldn’t feel like they need to have “faith” in their digital marketing agency. Instead, we want clients that can say, “I know Inflow is working tasks as they relate to our strategic road map to hit our agreed upon target goal.” We think this lack of transparency stems from eCommerce marketing agencies not having an established way to structure their workweeks, and we think solving it goes a long way in delivering results that matter to our clients.
By switching to agile, we are looking to create a uniformed process across all accounts and departments, empower our employees to spend more time on tasks that drive results, and organize our work week into highly-efficient sprints with a client-facing backlog for increased transparency and flexibility.
We’re also excited about how these changes will improve the work we do for our clients.
Let’s go over three wins we predict our clients will start to see in the near future.
1. More Industry-Leading Solutions for Our Clients in PPC Marketing, SEO, and CRO
Marketing agencies are notorious for keeping departments and teams within those departments separate. We were in the same boat before we started to transition to agile. Our team members were using different workflow management systems based on personal or client preference. And not only were the tools different, but the project-specific information uploaded into the tools varied from client to client and team member to team member.
As we said earlier, these task organization silos formed organically to let our team members hit the ground running with a client. Still, this fragmentation eventually made it difficult to share winning strategies and delegate tasks.
By going agile, we’ve broken down the walls between team members and departments. Now all of our teams use the same workflow management tool, Jira (though we do communicate results on Trello for clients). But more importantly, all of the processes built into Jira are the same across departments.
For example, every task has eight stages:
- Ready for Implementation
- Technical Review
- Strategic Review
- Client Acceptance
These eight stages are specific enough to keep our workflow uniform but broad enough to allow project-specific customization within each stage for each client.
All the information a team member needs to know is built into the cards on Jira to make this change even more efficient. So, if one of our SEOs gets assigned to fix index bloat for a client (a technique that improves rankings for eCommerce sites by finding and removing low-quality, thin pages), the Jira task card would have a checklist specific to that process, as well as a clear “definition of done.” A “definition of done” is critical because it reduces the risk of double-work because a strategist didn’t check off every relevant task to the job at hand.
Here’s how these changes help us bring clients more innovative solutions in pay-per-click advertising, conversion rate optimization, or search engine optimization:
First, let’s say an SEO team member came up with a strategy for getting highly-relevant, contextual backlinks from major publishers with high domain authority for one of our more niche clients. That strategy is potentially valuable to other clients. Many agencies can’t easily share strategies like this across clients efficiently because each team operates like its own company. Once we could relate to that obstacle, but now, since we migrated to using one workflow management system, it’s easier for our team members to cross over and help other clients achieve similar results.
Second, we have started building our core processes into Jira, and are continuing to build out more as we transition. This helps our marketing experts spend more time doing actual marketing work, and not creating a process to solve each task. By following our agency playbook, which gives our team members general effort estimates (how long something will take) and a definition of done (how you know you’re complete), they have more time to innovate for our clients.
Finally, cross-department work will be much easier. Let’s say one of our SEO clients wanted to see how utilizing PPC in Google Search might impact their current organic rankings. We can simply assign the PPC team that specific task, and they would go through the same eight stages outlined above to complete the task. It now takes less time to “bring the PPC team up to speed” and there aren’t competing definitions of when a task is ready to get started or when it’s finally done.
2. Faster Results
Having unified processes was the first step in going agile, the next was creating self-sufficient teams that could deliver faster results to our clients.
Some eCommerce marketing agencies split up the responsibilities like this: those who are client-facing (these can be directors or account managers responsible for sending reports, hopping on calls with clients, and discussing big-picture strategies), and those who strategize and execute marketing strategies. These people are rarely ever the same person, and sometimes they don’t act like they are even on the same team.
That separation isn’t good for clients. It creates miscommunication, stalls strategy rollouts, and slows down growth. That’s why we created self-reliant structures within each team and chose to keep director-level employees off the teams.
If you’re on an Inflow marketing team, there are three roles you can fill:
- Team advocate. The team advocate handles planning, daily stand-ups, and retrospective meetings. A team advocate helps remove impediments from other team members.
- Client advocate. Our client advocates represent the client’s interest and make sure our backlog, which we use to run our sprints, accurately reflects each client’s priorities. This helps get high-priority work finished earlier, so clients start seeing results sooner rather than later.
- Implementers. An implementer is a person who is completing the task. Each team has multiple implementers, and everyone on a team is fully capable of being an implementer.
Unlike typical digital marketing agencies, these roles are not set in stone, and some team members do two or even all three. At Inflow, you don’t become Team Advocate by default; you become Team Advocate because you’re good as an Implementer but also enjoy running a team. This way, everyone working on a client’s account is fully-invested and capable of increasing the results for that account.
Another opportunity we’ve witnessed in traditional eCommerce marketing agency structures is that they sometimes run into employee-bottlenecking. This is where a team member gets stuck in a role, not necessarily because it’s what they want to do or even that they are that good at it, but because they’ve been doing it for so long that it’s difficult to change their role without risking disruption to the agency or the client. This puts an unnecessary burden on a team member and limits their potential — not to mention it limits potential results for clients, as well. Our new unified processes combined with self-reliant teams of marketing experts helps eliminate this problem, so now we can move employees towards their natural strengths, creating efficiencies that let us deliver faster results to our clients.
3. Increased Transparency and Flexibility
For many eCommerce companies, requesting a change in strategy or priorities with your marketing agency can feel like turning a large ship in the ocean.
For example, let’s say a client tells their account manager that they want to increase their maximum Google Ads bid in preparation for the upcoming holiday weekend.
The account manager types up a Slack message or emails the PPC team lead. The PPC team lead needs clarification because their last update from the account manager had them focusing on adding more strategic negative keywords to the current Google Shopping campaign, which the team spent the week completing, with about four more hours to go in estimated work. Does the client want the negative keywords strategy finished and applied to the campaign before having the PPC team increase the bid? Or does the client want the PPC team to hold off on negative keywords and only increase the bid?
This telephone game occurs because the client can’t see what the PPC team is currently doing. The client didn’t know the PPC team was so close to finishing the negative keywords task, and knowing this information might change how the client wants to proceed.
This means the process of changing strategies or updating campaigns on new information has a lot of room for improvement.
That’s why at Inflow, we are transitioning to work in client-facing sprints to increase transparency. A sprint is a set period of work (usually a week or two weeks) that ends with us having results we can deliver to our clients. Sprints are structured by a backlog, which is a list of priorities that are needed to complete a task.
By working in client-facing sprints, clients know what we are doing, and when we are doing it. This way, if a client wants us to change course, we can reference the backlog and discuss where within the backlog the new task belongs. And because the client is communicating with our self-reliant marketing teams, we mitigate the risk of miscommunication as there is no game of telephone.
Plus, by working in sprints, we increase flexibility. It’s common in traditional eCommerce marketing agencies to deliver work in batches once or twice a month. A lot of agencies like to deliver all the work when it’s finished, not piece by piece. We understand that logic — it’s arguing that an agency can finish work better without client-interruption — however, we think it’s short-sighted. We don’t want to deliver results and hope there are no changes to be made in strategy. Instead, we want to deliver as much completed work as we can — as soon as we can — so we’re on the same page with the client on what needs to happen next.
Working in sprints helps us execute work in an iterative, incremental fashion that accelerates client ROI while providing more frequent opportunities to learn and course-correct based on client and market feedback.
Note: An important bit of clarification. We strongly believe that even the best processes require some unique customizations, which is why our CRO team does not operate in sprints. CRO requires more flexibility due to the nature of split testing, so it wouldn’t make sense to require our CRO teams to work in sprints like our SEO and PPC teams. As of now, our CRO team utilizes a Kanban framework to increase transparency (our Kanban process is agile in every other way, we just don’t work in sprints). This gives our clients another perk in going agile: finding a solution that works, not just sticking with a process for the sake of it.
We wanted to switch to agile to make our employees happier and more efficient in their roles. But this change also translates to increased client satisfaction. We’re in the process of transitioning to agile now, and the changes we’re implementing are already helping us spend less time creating to-do lists and spreadsheets and more time thinking about how we can maximize marketing outcomes and produce business value for our clients. In short, our team is doing less of the work they don’t love, and more of the work they do.
As we complete this transition, our SEO, CRO, and PPC teams will have a much stronger understanding of their priorities, progress, workload, workflow, and impediments for each task they take on. This lets them plan more effectively.
We see a clear relationship between the wins of our team members and the wins of our clients, and look forward to delivering more cutting-edge digital marketing strategies, faster results, and increased transparency to all of our clients as we complete our transition into agile.