Agile Programming and Agile Selling

In web tech, everyone is keen on Agile development.  If it's not agile (or a variant delivering similar results) most folks aren't interested.  The main themes behind Agile development tend to focus on speed, change, transparency and increased satisfaction.  Themes, in reality, can and perhaps should, be applied to most areas of customer facing business.

Everyone wants something yesterday.  Most people want improvements or changes to existing processes, standards or services.  Most people want to know what's going on  - and that is especially so when things go wrong.  So that means most people want transparency too.

One of the themes regarding agile design is that of feedback.  Good quality end user feedback is like the holy grail.  I don't mean good as in they like your stuff, I mean good as in it's quick, reliable and appropriate and can accelerate the development process with regards to identifying bugs, incorrect features or processes.

Selling should be the same.  A new market or product will not necessarily take the form of existing channels.  Understanding of the customer, their problems, the solution they require and how that should be packaged and communicated are key to any sales execution. 

How agile are you?

How is that done in practice?  Replication of existing practices is generally the normal starting point.  "If it's worked before it will work again..."  A decent thought process.  What is key, is the ability to learn quickly if that process works or fails.  That requires a metric to determine what is classified as successful, as well as a method to be able to collate and collect that metric - the feedback theme again.  How is that possible?  Metrics are all around.  Click through rates, response rates, conversion rates, attendance rates, signup rates, referrals, recommendations, cancellations.  The key is to understanding the numbers that are returned.  What is considered a bad enough result to warrant a change in direction?

Once a decision has been made to stop or alter an approach, it is then key to quickly figure out a new approach, iron out the deficiencies of the original method and run again (iterative development??).  This is just really a positive feedback loop.  The difficulty is, that the customer doesn't know they're being canvassed for their opinion.  They're simply being offered a product or service via a marketing, advertising or sales channel and either converting as a purchaser or ignoring.  As the product owner or seller, it's then key to either try and understand individually why the conversion failed or strategically if a failure occurred across a larger group.

Like in software, you can't create a product/feature in isolation from the people who will use it.  You can create the most beautifully complex piece of code in the world.  If no one uses, needs or likes it, it's not really doing it's purpose.  Conversely you'll often find the most hacked up, short term, sticky plaster of an approach is massively successful, loved and used beyond all expectation.  Both of those circumstances can be normalised if a solid feedback and rescoping process is run.