My pet peeve is buzzwords. Take “business transformation” or “digital transformation” — genuine business objectives that have lost all technical meaning from their casual overuse.

“Transformation” implies a degree of business complexity in bringing about change. In other words, identifying specific processes that aren’t being used to capacity and applying alternate solutions to optimize technology, improve efficiency, and drive business outcomes. It’s also disheartening that 70% of business transformations fail. Why is that?

Enter yet another B2B buzzword, “change management.” In order to bring about a business transformation, you also need a change management plan— how will you get from point A to B, and how will you get employees to adopt the new systems and processes?

70% of business transformations fail. An effective change management plan will include how to help employees embrace the new systems and processes put in place. Click To Tweet

I’ve seen far too many organizations talk about change management plans with little thought to the infrastructure and steps actually needed to deliver a successful outcome. Bringing about complex change in an enterprise or high-growth organization requires a structured process and precision in execution, just like any other strategic initiative.

A change management plan has plenty of considerations, too— the technology, the processes, and most importantly, the people aspect. It’s not surprising many organizations turn to agencies to help guide a business transformation project, the change management plan, and ensure a positive outcome. But even with an agency, your success isn’t guaranteed, and many marketing operations leaders find themselves in a quandary.

So what went wrong?

1. Failure to Scope

The primary goal of transformation and change management is to successfully implement new processes and business strategies while minimizing negative outcomes. The last thing you want is adverse outcomes such as staff overload, resentment from the additional work, or general resistance to the change. Yet, too often, this is exactly what happens— new initiatives fail from agency missteps in scoping the time and resources that are needed to deliver a successful outcome. A blunder early in the process— perhaps a tactic to keep the project proposal price low— results in unplanned expenses and insufficient resources later on.

Ever get an unexpected invoice for additional agency hours or told resources aren’t available when you need them?  Or the agency isn’t delivering as expected, so your internal staff has to pick up the slack? (Time and expertise your team doesn’t have and what you thought you were paying to get.) These are symptoms of scoping problems. Don’t underestimate the risk scoping errors pose to your project outcome.

How to Identify Scoping Gaps

Successful scoping begins with assessing the complexity of your project— how big is the project? Is it a large-scale organizational shift? Are specific skill sets or expertise needed? What potential challenges may arise?

You should expect any agency partner you’re considering to spend a fair amount of time understanding the breadth of your project, your current business conditions, your timeframes, and your desired results. And by this, I mean more than a sales rep gathering basic information.

An agency truly invested in your success will bring in a Marketo Certified Solutions Architect to the scoping process to evaluate the integrations you’ll need, anticipate project complexities, share similar project examples, and provide suggestions for best achieving your desired results. Once the project magnitude is defined, the next step is to begin mapping out the resources you’ll need, when you’ll need them, and for how long.

A detailed, transparent project proposal is a good sign, as it demonstrates careful consideration of your organization’s needs, expressed timeframes, and desired results. Steer clear of any agency that presents a lump sum price with zero detail, as it could be an early indicator your project wasn’t scoped correctly and may result in additional costs mid-stream.

2. Lack of Expertise

Everyone talks a good game during the sales process, but it’s when the project gets underway that an agency’s true experience level (or lack of it) shows— and then it’s too late. Technical gaps delay project progression and kill team confidence, making it harder for internal employees to embrace the change you’re trying to drive— read: a change management failure.

Complex projects require advanced Marketo expertise; be cautious of agencies who do it all and dilute their focus. You want confidence that your potential agency partner has the technical chops to drive your operational change effectively.

How to Vet an Agency’s Level of Expertise

The best way to validate an agency’s expertise is to do your homework upfront. Look at all agency websites you are considering— do they work in multiple marketing automation platforms and offer a wide net of services? If so, their expertise will be vast but not necessarily deep.

In comparison, agencies who focus solely on Marketo will deeply understand the platform’s intricate workings and how Marketo will perform under various conditions. In other words, your project will be done right the first time— quicker and with greater precision.

Be sure, too, to review customer feedback on public review sites, like G2. Has the agency done projects similar to yours? Were the outcomes successful?

Lastly, ask for customer references. Call them and ask about the positives and negatives of working with that agency. Ask questions about consultant expertise, responsiveness, attention to detail, and resourcefulness. Knowledge breeds confidence, essential in winning over your staff, creating project advocates, and championing technology changes.

3. Unclear Communication and Project Status

All organizations and employees have a limited capacity for change. When projects incur multiple delays or limp along with unknown progress and no end in sight, staff enthusiasm and productivity suffer. According to a Gagen MacDonald survey, this is known as “change fatigue” and is a top concern of CEOs.

An Ineffective Change Management Plan Results in Change Fatigue

When projects lack organization and focus, change fatigue follows. Thus, project management is another essential component to include and budget for in your change management plan.

A good project manager will be your go-to project resource, providing regular updates on the progression of work, transparency on hours billed, streamlining communication and clarifying requests, and ensuring your project is pacing according to the agreed-upon timelines. In short, it’s impossible to execute a complex project or drive effective change without strong project management.

Unfortunately, not all agencies have formal processes for managing a project. Instead, a technical consultant is attempting to both build and manage your project, which means project management likely isn’t happening at all. No assigned project management is a dangerous practice, putting your project outcomes, timelines, and budget at risk.

Addressing Concerns About Project Management

As you evaluate your potential agency partners, ask specific questions about how client engagements are managed and beware of smoke and mirror answers.

Questions to ask:

  • Tell me about your methodology for managing projects.
  • What project management tools do you use?
  • How are change requests handled?
  • Will I have an assigned project manager? What are their credentials?
  • How often can I expect status updates on my project?

Additionally, request the names and phone numbers of three current customers and ask them these questions:

  • How often does your project manager communicate with you?
  • How responsive is your project manager to requests for updates or in answering your questions?
  • Was your project completed on time?
  • Did you encounter any surprises during the engagement? Were you informed about additional costs or changes in scope in advance?

How an agency responds to your inquiries about project management will be very telling. Change occurs daily and rapidly; managing a project without a formal structure is a sure bet for failure.

4. Failure to Involve People

One of the biggest mistakes in launching a business transformation project is assuming employees understand why change is needed. If your staff doesn’t understand the “why,” then it will be hard for them to support the direction, and as a result, adoption and acceptance will suffer, and your project fails.

The human element is by far one of the more challenging aspects of an effective change management plan. In theory, involving stakeholders sounds obvious; in practice, it often falls short.

Staff Components to Look For in a Change Management Plan

Before, During, After Milestones. An effective change management plan will communicate and establish achievable milestones. For those directly impacted by the change, the goal is to show visible progress and demonstrate their efforts are worth it. Identifying pre-launch, midstream, and post-implementation milestones illustrate the progression. The best KPI discussions I’ve seen are collaborative with your staff and your Marketo agency partner— anyone involved in the change about to take place.

Team Advisory Board. What better way to get employees on board than to actively involve them in the process? Create an advisory board that involves individual team contributors! Participating in an advisory board gives employees a voice and ownership throughout the project; they can provide input on the direction and help champion the new processes with their peers. It’s not uncommon that an organization will deploy a new feature, train the team, but doesn’t validate the adoption or effectiveness of it. An advisory board can also assist post-implementation, providing a feedback loop to capture smaller issues before they create bigger problems. An advisory board is a win-win on many levels, especially if you have legacy teams who are more “set” in their ways.

Training and Staff Enablement. It’s not enough to build a new system and throw staff the keys— staff training time is an absolute must. Too often, this is an afterthought vs. baked into the change management plan from the get-go. Teaching employees how to use the tools effectively and providing them with detailed documentation on how the project was built will give them confidence and empower them long after your agency engagement comes to a close.

5. Lack of Project Continuity

Stalling out on your project is another potential risk of any business transformation. According to research by McKinsey, a leading cause for losing momentum is tied to resourcing issues. Let’s put this into practical terms.

Let’s suppose you’re looking at an agency that touts a particular Marketo champion or highly qualified individual on staff. That sounds great, right? After all, you’re getting THE best person to work on your project, no? Be careful; you may be unknowingly setting yourself up for resourcing stalls.

It’s easy to be lured by an impressive resume of a consultant or check off the expertise box (mentioned above) if someone on the agency’s staff has the title or credentials that you believe your project requires. But what happens when that person gets sick, goes on vacation, or leaves the agency? Quite often, your project loses all momentum because success is based on a single individual.

What to Look for in Team Structure

The first step to avoiding losing project momentum is to understand redundancy = business continuity. By this, I mean ask questions about who will be assigned to your project. Is it one (or two) full-time consultants? Or a team of consultants?

Many agencies will position assigning one or two key employees— the Marketo rockstars— as a benefit to you. Beware of this approach as it exposes your organization to unnecessary risk, as your project knowledge lives inside the head of a single person. If that person is out, so is your project.

Your project is more apt to succeed when a team of consultants is assigned to it. If you have concerns about how a team approach works, ask questions about cross-training, knowledge sharing, and internal documentation specific to your account. When the proper structure and redundancies are in place, a team of Marketo consultants acts as force multipliers, adding momentum to your project and protecting you against losing business continuity. The benefit to you is any team member can adeptly work on your project, even while others may be on vacation.

6. Flawed Execution

In any marketing operations project, the devil is in the details. If you don’t concentrate on a project’s attributes, you will likely run into unexpected problems. The same is true in business transformation; a failure in large projects can often be attributed to small mistakes that were overlooked.

On the surface, two agencies may be equally qualified in Marketo and approach building a project in a similar manner. But open up the hood, and it’s likely a different story. How an agency executes varies widely. The more structured the methodology, the more accurate the execution.

Evaluating Project Execution

As you evaluate your agency options, ask about standard operating procedures, pre-testing, and documentation practices. Ask what’s typical and then pose a question about tight deadlines or if a project is running behind. Are the same processes followed, or do they bypass a step?

A successful project execution model looks like this:

Marketo project workflow

Each of these checkpoints should occur BEFORE a campaign launches, or new coding is added to your instance. A thorough delivery process is never compromised for the sake of time. It exists to safeguard your brand from careless errors or having to redo work (at an additional cost to you) later on. How an agency executes is an indicator of its experience, quality, and systems to execute flawlessly.

7. Failure to Deliver Business Value

The last contributor to transformation failures is a big one: inability to deliver business value.

My colleague, Justin Norris, Director of Solutions Architecture, sums it up nicely:

“Building great systems and processes is not enough. To deliver business value, we must ensure teams understand, adopt, and are enabled to use what we've built.” -@JustinNorris Click To Tweet

There’s a lot in his statement— a successful business transformation is more than just building the requested project. Business value is delivered when a knowledge transfer occurs with your team; otherwise, the engagement is a failure.

Business Value Warning Signs

There are typically three main reasons why business value is never fully realized:

  1. The consultant was hard to work with. Whether it be a personality or ego thing, no one likes to work with jerks. You know the type— they respond with highly technical answers that make sense to no one or only answer half your question. Remember, change is hard for us as humans. A consultant with an ego is a turn-off and can create underlying team resistance to jumping on board with the new processes.
  1. The consultant was not a good teacher or mentor. I’ve seen highly technical Marketo gurus fail to articulate business value and train lesser experienced Marketo users adequately. For whatever reason, the knowledge transfer you expected never emerged. Ask to meet your potential consulting team before you sign a contract and pay attention to how they respond to your questions and the pre-engagement advice they offer. If they are helpful during the “dating” period, they will likely be helpful during the “engagement,” too.
  1. Lack of project documentation. With every project, you should expect detailed documentation of what was done, why it was done, criteria used, and the dependencies/interdependencies associated with the build. Documentation is keenly essential, as it is a tangible asset to your organization. Should you need changes to your project down the road, this documentation will save you valuable time. If staff leaves, no worries— work is documented. Documentation is a life-saver, yet many agencies do not offer this step at all. Ask about it during your vetting process— or better yet, ask to see an example of prior project documentation.

Transformation Can Be Enjoyable— I Promise!

Watching a successful business transformation and a change management plan done right is one of the more enjoyable aspects of my role. Remember, it’s not organizations who change— it’s people who drive organizational change. Make sure you’re working with the right Marketo agency partner, who has the expertise, experience, and infrastructure in place to deliver business value successfully— and elevate your team in the process.

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