Modernizing healthcare marketing with agility: How Premier got started
The transition to agile marketing worked out from Premier, Inc. Here's how they went about it.
In the first part of this two-part article we looked at the reasons healthcare improvement company Premier decided to transition its marketing organization to an agile approach. This second part takes a deep dive into how they went about it.
As we all know, the hardest part of embarking on anything new is getting started. Before officially rolling out agile marketing at Premier, the key things they did were getting the entire department certified in agile marketing, forming cross-functional teams and prioritizing work strategically.
Kalpin knew it would be important to ground everyone in the basics of agile marketing before they could apply it at their company, so the entire department attended two days of certification training, followed by a facilitated kick-off with their pilot team. Today, any new employees are required to become Certified Agile Marketers.
Cross-functional team formation
Launching the pilot team was recommended as a way to experiment and retrofit agile to their organization, learning along the way by doing, and then scaling up more teams. The pilot team was formed by a group of marketers with most skill sets so that the majority of work could be accomplished within their team.
“Don’t think it’s just a textbook course where you go and get certified and then practice. It’s got to be customized to your organization. We got worse before we got better. When we finally learned to change culture and have a growth mindset is when we saw it working like magic,” says Kalpin. “There’s the framework and the culture, both of which are required to be successful,” she adds.
Once they figured out what worked and didn’t at Premier, they were able to launch additional teams, and now they have four or more at any given time.
Prioritizing work strategically
Before agile marketing could succeed, they knew they needed to really spend some time prioritizing work strategically.
“We prioritized what we were going to work on and what we’re not going to work on. It wasn’t a massive marketing waterfall to getting a certain number of clicks and form fills, but honing in on what we could impact,” says Kalpin.
Instead of focusing on the quantity of work they would do, they looked for ways to accomplish their goals with fewer tactics. “Say we’re measured on creating a certain amount of interest for a newly launched offering pipeline, we want to hit our goal in 20 items, not 30,” says Kalpin.
They began by working with their business partners collaboratively to understand growth goals. From there, sales helped prioritize the work that they would do and Marketing uncovered how they would help them achieve their goals.
Part of Premier’s agile marketing journey involved a change in culture, which is definitely harder to do than learning the framework and practices.
When they first began agile marketing, not all of their leaders were on board with a new way of leading.
“I think in many ways it’s a management mindset just as much as a framework,” says Kalpin. “Because I believed so strongly in it being a leadership style and having to work both top down and bottom up, my leaders know I’ll ask questions to test their agility. I’ll say, How’s it working? Have you measured it? How do we know if it’s even a problem?” she says.
Kalpin says it’s important to instill a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, and that the entire company is applying those principles today. “The expectation is we’ll always try to do what’s best for our customers,” she says.
Responding to change over following a plan is an agile marketing value that Premier has really embraced through data and quickly changing marketing messages based on how customers are doing emotionally, particularly amidst a pandemic. Since Premier works with so many hospitals in the nation, they have implemented geographic-customization based on what the hospital might be dealing with in terms of COVID at any given time.
“With the utmost respect of our customers, we are able to do a pulse check on any campaigns to providers by monitoring surges in certain areas, and adjusting accordingly to be sensitive to their current state. With agile, we can pivot easily,” says Kalpin.
How agile teams work at Premier
The marketers at Premier have a lot of autonomy to apply agile in the way that best works for their team. Some teams use the Scrum framework, while others apply a more Kanban approach to work. Almost everyone in the marketing organization is part of a dedicated agile team, with the exception of a few business people who may get deployed to help a team in need.
Scrum masters as connectors
Kalpin has found that the role of Scrum Master has been critical to their organization’s success. “The Scrum Master role is so critical for really making sure that we’re moving from one thing to the next—they’re the connective tissue,” she says.
Focusing on value, not one’s craft
In Marketing, it’s pretty typical to have team members that want to hone in on their craft and get everything perfect. Premier has found that it’s important to focus on business goals and getting marketing out the door that’s minimally viable.
“I tell my teams, we’re building a town and if you’re honing your craft, you’re building a skyscraper. We may not need a skyscraper right now. We just need to make sure our town has what it needs to keep its residents happy,” says Kalpin.
Before agile marketing, team members might take 20 hours to perfect a tactic when only an hour was really needed. They are able to save time and ultimately accomplish more.
Finding new skills
Premier used to have a fully staffed team for in-person events and when the pandemic hit, that team was challenged to work outside of their comfort zone. With an agile approach, members of that team quickly adjusted and learned new, virtual skills to adapt and deliver experiences differently.
For a company that was used to working in a shared office space, finding new and innovative ways to connect virtually has been a priority.
“We’re refining how we work together in a remote and agile way. We are exploring different ways to connect. We are constantly together virtually,” says Kalpin.
Some team members have found that keeping Zoom rooms open all day has helped improve teamwork and collaboration. They can play music in the background, and brainstorm on the fly as needed
While having cameras on during collaboration with team members is the norm, they found that giving people a little grace to turn their camera off to eat lunch or take a break if they needed one has helped eliminate the online fatigue.
Some team members came up with a fun collaboration activity they call “eating frogs”. When they have a bunch of tedious tasks to complete, such as edits or sizing updates, the team gets together and tackles those items so that no one is waiting on someone else to close out work.
Changing tools to match agility
Premier recently brought in new MarTech tools so that non-designers can collaborate and export assets, allowing everyone on the team to have access. Old workflow tools that routed things in a waterfall way, which so often got disrupted if the smallest change happened, have been discontinued as they weren’t agile enough for their new way of working.
Shortened planning cycles
Today Kalpin says she can’t even grasp the idea of creating a multi-year marketing plan. “I know what we need to achieve from a business standpoint, but what we need to do to get there changes constantly. I don’t know if customers are going to be in front of computers, traveling, or in their office. You have to be agile in order to be customer centric because you don’t know what the next day is going to hold,” she says.
“A lot of longer term planning and visibility into multi year stuff is a waste because stuff changes so quickly in the mind of the consumer. Even when I look back at multi-year plans that we created, you still pivot. The goals of the business change, the environment changes, your team dynamic changes and how people consume information changes.”
Today they still plan their work, but in much smaller cycles, and use the results from data to make smarter decisions.
Advice to other companies
Kalpin says she regularly gets asked for advice on agile marketing from other VP’s. “The biggest obstacle I hear from other Marketing VPs is that they don’t think their organization can culturally handle it and that it’s such a leap forward, but I didn’t feel that way. We did it incrementally. You need to show results,” she says.
By investing in people, embracing a change mindset, unlocking data and working collaboratively and transparently, Premier has proven that even a large company in the midst of a pandemic can modernize its culture and embrace agility.
“Agile marketing is just really working for us,” says Kalpin.
Company Website: https://www.premierinc.com/