Every time I try a new recipe for a dish at a party, I try a little sample before I serve it to my guests — and not just because I’m always hungry (which I am). I do it because I would never want to serve something new to my guests that I can’t be sure actually tastes good.

How can I confidently stand there and say to my friends and family, “Go ahead and try it! You’ll love it!” when I have no idea what it’s really like?

I bet you probably do this with new recipes, too. But if your agency doesn’t use a similar process when it introduces new products or services to clients, you could be leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths.

If you’re going to sell your clients on something new, you’ve got to have a solid understanding of how it works, how well you can deliver it, and what the impact on the clients will be. You can’t confidently recommend a product or service to your clients if you don’t know what it’s like. And what’s the best way to find out?

You’ve got to give it a try.

How to Turn Marketing Into R&D

Most agencies don’t have the luxury of devoting an entire department purely to research and development. My agency sure doesn’t. What we do have is a marketing team that’s equipped to test potential new services internally before we make the decision to release them to clients.

A perfect example of this in action is Influence & Co.’s first venture into creating full-length books. One of our core services is helping turn leaders into consistent content creators, and over time, we started noticing a trend of clients asking if we could help them take the next step and write and publish their own books.

Without trying it first, we couldn’t answer that question truthfully. So we decided to test a process for writing a book on my co-founder, John Hall. The end result, “Top of Mind,” was published by McGraw-Hill and released in April.

By asking ourselves some important questions and detailing a plan in our documented content marketing strategy, we were able to transform our marketing team into a one-of-a-kind R&D department — and it’s already changed how we market and introduce new services to clients.

To turn marketing into a testing machine and create your agency’s own R&D team, start by asking yourself the following questions:

1) What exactly are we testing? 

This first step seems intuitive, but you might be surprised by how easy it is to jump into an exciting idea before nailing down exactly what your goals are. Are you testing a potential process for a brand-new service offering? Maybe you’re testing your team’s capacity?

When we set out to write our first book, our test was to determine whether our current content marketing teams had the skill sets required to produce it. The main goal was to learn whether we had the ability to create a book efficiently enough to make a profit and to explore how that process actually works.

This understanding of what you’re testing and why brings your marketing and leadership teams together and keeps them focused on your goals. With that foundation, marketing can begin transitioning into R&D to answer those driving questions.

2) How will we measure the success of our test? 

Just like you shouldn’t begin a content marketing program without matching your key metrics to goals, you shouldn’t start a test without understanding how you’ll measure its success.

For my agency, because our goal was to test whether we could efficiently and profitably create a book with our current team, we measured success by tracking how many hours each team member spent on the project. We also recorded details of the exact process we used so we’d understand how much it cost and what might need to change to make it work better for a client.

Success was measured by whether we could create and publish an awesome book and do so within a timeline and budget we thought clients would agree to.

3) What will expanding this test to clients look like? 

Imagine that your new R&D team tested this service, measured its results, and found that it achieved the goals set out from the beginning. Congratulations! Your next step, then, would be to go ahead and roll out this service offering to all clients, right?

Not yet.

When you test a new service internally, your team should constantly ask itself, “What would make this different for a client?” “How would a client respond differently than we do as the internal client?” and “What works better or worse for an external client?”

These kinds of questions will help your team avoid a stalling phase in which your test worked internally but you’re unsure what to do next. Instead, you’ll be able to expand this test to its next phase: select client testing.

This is critical because your R&D team will behave differently from your normal clients. Once you’re confident in your test and in your decision to move forward, consider rolling it out at a major discount to one client as a beta tester. This will help your team understand how actual clients interact with your new service and processes before you spend resources introducing it to every one of them.

Setting Up Your R&D and Client Services Teams for Success

Your marketing-team-turned-R&D-department will get into a groove after it’s got a test or two under its belt, and specific processes will evolve with each one. Still, there are a couple of best practices you should follow each time to set up your teams for continued success:

Track your time carefully. 

Regardless of your specific test goals, you need to know how much time you’re spending and what you’re investing in this research for two big reasons: to understand how much it costs your agency to test new services and to get an idea of what to charge your clients.

Be transparent with clients. 

When we signed on our first client to expand the book test, we told him directly that we’ve successfully completed one so far but that he’d only be the second project. We set up a system for collecting feedback and offered him a discount. Disguising your test as a totally normal full-fledged service won’t help your agency or your clients. Everyone needs to be clear that this is still a test so that expectations are realistic.

Introducing new services to your clients and trying out a new recipe aren’t exactly the same. But by giving your marketing team the resources and support to transform into your own R&D team, you might discover that the ideas and approaches that make testing successful aren’t all that different. So before you encourage clients to try your latest service, give it a try yourself.


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