The idea of marginal gains took the cycling world by storm in 2012. By embracing the idea of doing the small things right, and aiming to improve the efficiency of everything by 1%, Dave Brailsford, the Performance Director of British Cycling, had masterminded Britain’s first ever Tour de France victory and then went on to win seven out of ten available gold medals at the London Olympics.

The idea itself is pretty straight-forward. If you improve everything by one percent, those percent add up, and can have a large effect in performance. Like my mom used to say, if you look after the cents, the dollars look after themselves.

For Brailsford the formula was to catalogue anything that could be improved, then improve it. They started with obvious things, like fitness and the ergonomics of the bike. But then they moved further and found the best pillow, to increase the quality of sleep, taught the team the most efficient way to wash their hands, to reduce chances of getting sick.

The lengths they went to were sometimes crazy (Cyclists were not allowed to walk to the shops, when recovering from a gym session, for fear it would overwork their muscles), but often just common sense (finding the perfect saddle for the bike) that may have been overlooked, or not given priority by their competition.

Marginal gains can be applied anywhere, from finding the most efficient way of getting dressed in the morning, to give you 5 minutes more sleep, to having a coke instead of a milkshake when you go to McDonalds and saving 600 calories. Marketing is no exception. So why not try to improve?

I’m Too Busy Right Now!

A big problem that I’ve seen is ‘priorities’. Everybody’s busy, everybody has a long to do list every morning, and they’re focused on getting that done as efficiently as possible. This is the case in most driven company. You have targets, and objectives, and you know how to do them, so you focus on getting them done, and you don’t have much time for introspection about what you’ve done and if it can be done in a simpler way.

Data is just one example. If you’re working with Marketing Automation, a CRM or even a tool like Mailchimp, how many times do you do a ‘quick fix’ while you’re trying to complete a task? By ‘quick fix’ I mean, something outside of what is considered the optimal workflow for the software.

For example, one company I was working with sent a regular newsletter and every time they sent it (once per week) they had to go in and manually remove seven clients from the list. Why didn’t they just update the list? Or alter it? “Because I don’t have time for that.” Right. No time for that, but you can waste 10 minutes every week manually finding the companies on the list to uncheck their boxes…

Little obstacles like this add up, and as well as taking time away from the person doing the job, they also make it more difficult to give the job to somebody else. Or to train a new team member, because what should be simple has become much more complex.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

If you need to clean a list, or remove some people from one, have a simple process to follow and do it straight away, instead of waiting weeks to do it:

  • Have a naming convention for your lists
  • Don’t be afraid to remove non responsive emails from a list. You’ll probably never email them again, so get them off
  • Check your lists semi regularly (as much as once per month). Weed out any addresses that never open and try and see why (maybe they changed job?)

All those minutes you save add up, and over the course of a year you’re looking at getting almost half a day back to spend doing something more productive (or checking your Facebook).
If you apply this same principal to the rest of your day then there are lots of little things, that if you spent some time focusing on improving them, could add up to help improve your team’s productivity.

Don’t Ignore Little Problems. Fix Them.

Here’s our list of marginal gains so far for marketing:

  1. Clean your lists regularly. The same goes for your CRM and anywhere that you store customer or client data.
  2. Automate the little things. For example in 2016 you should never need to write a person’s name manually in an email.
  3. AB Test things – Don’t just talk about it. Try it. Test a new landing page layout or AdWords heading, if you can improve by 5%, it’s still valuable
  4. Train your team to understand the software and tools they use. Don’t just train them to do their task on it. More knowledge will increase the chances they can improve their workflows.
  5. Use tools like YesWare and Sidekick to help you template emails you find yourself sending often.

None of these things is a game changer alone, but if you add them all together they will have a cumulative effect. In our experience these little things are usually ignored, or put off for far too long. What I’d suggest is going through and listing all the small things you think you could improve and tackling them once a week – taking 30 minutes to get an improvement fixed, and to make yourself more productive.

Do you have any things to add to our list? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any other productivity hacks or tips that you think we should add onto our nowhere-near exhaustive list.