Editor’s note: The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is just around the corner (it’s from November 16-19th in San Francisco, and there’s still time to get your ticket!) We have dozens of excellent speakers and mentors who are eager to share their product development, entrepreneurship, and innovation stories–you’ll never see these experts all in one place ever again. Learn more about them in our ‘Lean Startup Speakers’ series.

Next up is Rishi Dave, who is Chief Marketing Officer at Dun & Bradstreet. He’ll be giving a talk at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. Learn more about him here.


Dun & Bradstreet does not exactly qualify as a startup in the traditional sense. After all, we have thousands of employees in offices around the world and will be celebrating our 175th anniversary in 2016.

But at the same time, we are rapidly modernizing, and many of our employees feel like they are working at a large startup. As part of this, I have been leading the marketing transformation, and in many places we are leveraging Lean Startup principles to drive our strategy.

Our CEO, Bob Carrigan, had joined the company five months before me and had begun aligning the organization around an aggressive growth mandate. Marketing would need to transform to be a key spark for that growth.

We would first focus on culture, working with our People team to develop a modernized brand purpose and values that rallied employees around a simplified approach to our business: It wasn’t about the intricacy of “big data”; it was about the relationships that data enables. It focused a complex business and a complex organization on what we truly did to make a difference for our customers.

But that was merely the beginning. The other two parts of our marketing transformation would build on that foundation. We had to refine our go-to-market strategy to be about people not products, so we developed a persona-based approach that let us elevate the conversation to the needs and opportunities of our customers and prospects instead of what we wanted them to buy from us.

And most importantly, we had to be relentless about focusing on the customer and prospect relationships that were most valuable for our business. That’s where we have most leveraged Lean.

Our Version of MVP

Minimum viable product is a key Lean principle, and for us, MVP became a guiding approach for how we identified and engaged a customer, learned from the customer, and began to apply those learnings to other, similarly important accounts. In this way, MVP for us could be also seen as most valuable prospect. Not valuable simply from the sense of return on relationship but also from the standpoint of what we could learn to improve our business.

We started with a small set of accounts – using our analytics to prioritize which accounts we focused on – and then rolled out a series of tactics to create a meaningful experience. Content, in-person workshops, events, and so on would be generated for that account. Based on the results we optimized how we approached the next set of accounts.

Lessons Learned

One of the main things we have learned during this process is that you can be nimble, you can experiment – be Lean –in a large, global company.

Four things we learned through this work:

  1. It’s not about scale at first. Take the time to prove strategies and ideas on a smaller level before scaling. Don’t feel pressure to get too big too fast.
  2. Technology isn’t a substitute for culture. Invest time and resources in people before other things to lay the groundwork for change. But realize that where technology can help is in keeping everybody’s attention on the most important activities. And it can help cut through bureaucracy
  3. Measure, measure, measure. To understand what to scale, when and how, you must measure every aspect of your operation – and not be afraid to act on what the analysis tells you.
  4. Communication is critical. You must actively communicate with your key internal colleagues on what’s working in the smaller-scale experiments, gaining their advocacy as you roll out the successful tactics more broadly.

There’s a lot more detail behind this. That’s why I look forward to my talk at the Lean Startup conference later this month. See you there!

Enjoyed this blog and podcast? Sign up here to stay up to date with the latest Lean Startup stories.

Announcing the 2016 Lean Startup Week Program

 (a.k.a Everything You’ll Need to Think Like an Entrepreneur) You’ve read the book. Perhaps you’ve also come to one of our Lean Startup Night meetups. You’ve watched our webcasts with the founders of General Assembly and Farmgirl Flowers and…

Running A Lean Startup within GE

As the oldest company on the stock exchange, GE might not seem like a candidate for most innovation, but to Johanna Wellington, CEO of GE Fuels, it makes perfect sense. “You don’t survive that long…