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Pull marketing | READING TIME: 6 MINUTES | December 16, 2019

Excel in Project Management Across Borders

Do you feel the change? Are you constantly reflecting on how to get better or is the end closing in? We are soon entering the new year which makes it the perfect time to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we continuously can evolve. This article digs into Project Management within digital marketing and complex projects.

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”

I have for several years managed digital transformation projects within the B2B sphere. These projects are characterized by a high level of complexity. Why do I define the projects as complex in this case? The most distinguishing commonalities I can identify at the project level are:

  • Spans across several countries
  • Owned from central level (HQ), but locally managed
  • Long and evolving projects
  • A lot of internal stakeholders at the client’s end
  • Other suppliers of different services are involved in the project (external stakeholders)
  • Low knowledge of the service bought at the client’s end makes delivery very educational

What can we learn from projects to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again? How can we create solutions and project management practices that make the client journey more comfortable, but also more value-adding?

Common challenges and counteractions

I will approach the identified challenges in chronological order, from when the root cause appears. The proposed solutions on the other side can jump between different phases of the project.

Sales phase

The sales phase is defining the whole project scope and a lot of expectations are fed to the client in both formal and informal ways. Quotes from colleagues and other project managers are highlighting issues originating in the sales process.

“The sales executive has sold something we can’t deliver on. Expectations are too high ”.

“The client has a fixed budget but ever-changing expectations. On the other hand, they want us to prioritize ad hoc tasks that take resources from the decided upon scope which in turn will damage performance”.

Sales is a process that requires balance. A balance between selling a dream, and at the same time selling an achievable dream. Sales should not push the value of the deal if the client cannot meet the higher pace of development. The lean concept should be applied as a mindset to avoid bottlenecks and create a continuous flow. Counteractions:

  • Educate sales team in service offered and require them to follow and have a shared responsibility for the customer journey in the first months (skin in the game).
  • Define and agree upon the vision of the project that is long-term (3-5 years). Example: digitize and merge the sales and marketing process.
  • Define and agree upon SMART goals that are mid-term (1-2 years). Example: Increase organic traffic by 100 % and generate five inbound leads per month on average.
  • Involve agreed-upon Project Manager in the agreement signature process so knowledge gets transferred, a common understanding is established, and deviations between sales vision and product are realized and discussed.

Onboarding phase

When sales are done, the contract is signed and it’s time for the Project Managers (Client success) to enter the game. A new set of challenges appears:

  • Basic knowledge of the project scope and service provided differs between local managers at clients.
  • Prioritization differs greatly between local managers when it gets down to it. Marketing departments are generally flooded with all kinds of tasks: from high value to low-priority tasks.
  • The interest of stakeholders are not aligned when different teams work towards different goals. The typical and most critical example is the Gap between marketing and sales.

Quotes from project managers:

“ Client has too much on their plate. They (or their manager) don’t understand nor agree with the why. ”

“ Marketing and sales have different incentives and they are working towards completely different goals in the best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario: the client have contradictory goals and they can’t agree on anything ”.

Counteractions:

  • Gather all stakeholders at the client for one common onboarding workshop. Focus on the why, training (create basic knowledge and understanding), set targets and milestones, and discuss risks. Also, invite at least one representative from top management (financier) and include third-party stakeholders that will be affected by the project. The project manager needs to analyze and get confirmation on limitations from the client in terms of budget, restrictions and time allocation. Technical flexibility (what can we do) and technical resources but also Content resources (who should write and when) are two major issues generally.
  • Invest time at the beginning of the project to train client stakeholders in what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. With higher knowledge at the client end, they will be able to internally spread the word.

Delivery phase

The delivery phase is the longest in terms of time, but also the one where most resources are allocated and re-allocated. One critical challenge that the majority of projects face are unforeseen or additional tasks that emerge during the delivery. These tasks are taking resources from the initial scope of work which is lowering performance and increasing the probability of churn (it’s the initial scope that will be reviewed when it’s time for agreement negotiation). Additional important challenges:

  • Dedication and priority at the local level varies, creating skewed results between markets.
  • Performance and tangible results take time. It is hard to get funds without results (short-term focus). When results come it’s hard to get additional funds due to fixed budget cycles.
  • Dependency on a third-party partner at the client end which can demand extra funds is not included in the project scope.

Counteractions:

  • Formally dedicate resources at the client end to handle upcoming and add-on tasks.
  • Set visions and targets, but be very flexible in terms of agreed-upon tasks. Things change. People change. Markets change. Focus on shorter sprints and milestones rather than full-year plans that never will be followed. More agile practices like scrum could be used.
  • Continuously prioritize tasks that lead to better performance. Client centricity is key, but at the supplier side we are paid for a competence they do not possess.

In general: It’s very fun and easy to initiate a new project, but less fun doing the daily project management and incremental improvement that is needed. Munger’s “do something syndrome” plays an important role. Instead of doing the right thing (i.e. strategic direction), being patient (grit), and continuing to prioritize the project “we all thought was great”, we jump to new projects just because they are new. Trends and emotions are often affecting us more than we think and could be a barrier between us and rational decisions.

One interesting note is that technology is very seldom a key challenge. The client perspective is often the opposite: the client believes that technology itself solves issues. Technology is good at particularly one thing: allocating resources for new projects (easy to sign-off). However, a technology without people and a process to use it for are worth nothing.

Executive summary

If you are responsible for clients in a client success team, project management team or is a general project manager within digital marketing, this is an article for you. These best-practices are aimed at service companies in general and more specifically SaaS companies, consultancy companies or marketing agencies. I am in a transparent way trying to highlight lessons learned from project management within digital marketing and complex project management across borders.

Nine steps towards more successful client engagements:

  1. Train sales team in service offered and require them to follow and have a shared responsibility for the customer journey in the first months (skin in the game).
  2. Define and agree upon the vision of the project that is long-term (3-5 years). Example: digitize and merge the sales and marketing process.
  3. Define and agree upon SMART-goals that is mid-term (1-2 years). Example: Increase organic traffic by 100 % and generate five inbound leads per month on average.
  4. Involve the Project Manager in the negotiation process, enabling knowledge transfer. Consequently, a common understanding can be established. The gap between product reality and sales vision needs to be identified and discussed proactively.
  5. Gather all stakeholders at the client for one common onboarding workshop. Focus on the why, training (create basic knowledge and understanding), set targets and milestones and discuss risks. Also, invite at least one representative from top management (financier) and include third-party stakeholders that will be affected by the project.
  6. Invest time at the beginning of the project to train client stakeholders in what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. With higher knowledge at the client end, they will be able to internally spread the word.
  7. Formally dedicate resources at the client to handle reviews and implementation.
  8. Set vision and targets, but be very flexible in terms of agreed-upon tasks. Things change. People change. Markets change. Focus on shorter sprints and milestones rather than full-year plans that never will be followed. More agile practices like scrum could be used.
  9. Continuously prioritize towards tasks that lead to better performance. Client centricity is key, but at the supplier side we are paid for a competence they do not possess.

Reflecting on project management is critical to survive. One of the ways of creating supply-side economies of scale is to continuously learn from mistakes and avoid repeating them. If we do that continuously, the hours we spend in all our projects will be worth more than previously. Unfortunately, there is no other way around it.

About the author
Henrik Anderberg
Henrik Anderberg Chief Client Officer Changemaker with vast experience from global B2B organizations. Leads the Client Success Team and Co-Manages GO MO Project Managers in India with a focus on digital transformation within marketing and sales with pull-marketing and SEO as the primary tools.
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Reza Ghazizadeh Client Success Manager Reza has' extensive" experience in digital marketing, IT, and complex business development. Leads SEO and Google Ads projects for big and small clients.

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