Why do marketing projects fail?

Marketing and sales costs are a growing portion of your cost structure. So why do marketing projects fail so often?

  • Poor definition of project goals, role of marketing
  • Overly complicated marketing objectives
  • Marketing objectives not clearly defined and difficult or impossible to measure results
  • Little-to-no accountability for results
  • Not enough momentum

When you improve these five factors (definition, simplicity, accountability, friction and speed) and you can’t help but improve results.

ONE – Define the Objectives. Many problems start with a poorly-defined plan. The plan should include program requirements (i.e., sales objectives) and potential limitations. These requirements are often referred to by project management experts as the project charter. After the plan is drafted, it should be reviewed and discussed by representatives from all departments that will be impacted by its execution in order to gain agreement and support. Only after you gather feedback should the plan be finalized.

TWO – Decrapify it or Keep it Really Really Simple. Simplicity is related to “definition.” Simple means ease of measurement and clearly crafted objectives. Only when there is agreement on the program direction from the outset, can sales and marketing achieve a happy medium between innovative marketing and realistic sales goals.

THREE – Measurement/Accountability. Most marketers can’t tell which portion of their marketing budget contributes to sales. Ask these two questions to bring clarity to the way your organization measures results and holds the marketing program accountable: – How will the program be measured? (Will you measure hard results like the number of leads generated? Or soft results like the ability of a program to build market presence or penetrate a specific market? If you are measuring soft results, ask if these things can be accurately measured). Some frame success by winning accounts from the competition, increasing purchase volume within existing accounts and by preventing competitors from poaching your accounts. A simple objective that frames the entire marketing project portfolio (for example, all projects should improve lead flow and/or improve conversion of leads to sales) makes it easier to measure success. – If program tactics are not working (almost certainly will happen), how will the program be adapted? Is a strategy shift needed, or are different tactics needed? Link project success directly to the project owner’s compensation.

FOUR – Streamline and Remove the Friction. Integrate your marketing into the sales process. Marketing and sales should be part of a seamless and integrated process. Marketing should be designed to generate prospects ready to take the next action in the sales process. The sales process should be designed to accept those same prospects. Walk through each step in both of these processes and identify all elements that may cause a customer to slow down, stop, become distracted, or heaven forbid… that most dangerous of customer activities… think. At each decision point remove perceived risks, insert rewards, make it an unnatural act not to move forward along the path you define. Re-engineer your internal sales engineering, administrative and contracting procedures to minimize delay and customer thinking. This is especially important if your sales are complex (if they involve “complex” products and services affecting multiple departments, longer sales cycles, multiple decision makers and/or senior management approval).

FIVE – Speed and Agility. Make decisions quickly. A decision not to proceed is better than no decision. A decision to kill the project frees you up to focus on other, more promising projects. Be ruthless. Kill non-starting projects quickly. Those you keep should start with tightly defined projects framed with expected results, start/finish dates and clear ROI goals. Within a week after a product launch, for instance, there should already be results to evaluate and midcourse corrections arising from that evaluation.

If you aren’t making midcourse corrections, you are probably off course… and headed into an iceberg.

The first question…when and why do client engagements go wrong? We grouped our own experiences and also some of the experiences of a few of our clients into a collective bucket.

Overwhelmingly, client engagements go south when expectations are not properly documented. This is true in marketing professional services, this is true in marketing widgets.

Managing expectations is most difficult because often the buyer of professional services does not have a clear idea of what they want and need.

Expectations are also way too optimistic, too complicated, poorly defined, and are impossible to measure.

So the sales process then becomes a process of definition. Sales engagements need to move clients forward in their own decision-making process.

Better project definition is attained by attention to very simplistic and what may seem like naïve rules:

Definition: as a starting point, what problem are we solving? Have we designed a project to solve the problem? How quickly can we solve the problem? Take one problem at a time. Start with discrete “blocks” of tightly defined projects framed with expected results, start/finish dates and clear ROI goals.

Ownership: Who owns the project? Is the success of the project tied to their compensation? What is the intended result? Starting with the sales force, where is the most friction? Involve the customer in a recurring evaluation of the accuracy and relevance of the current message, pitch and offer.

Measurement: How will this program make money? How will we measure it? Success equals sales.

Action: Are we making decisions quickly? A decision not to proceed is better than no decision.

Quick turn around: All projects are executed and completed in discrete timeframes not to exceed 4 weeks. Each time intervals represents a small iterative milestones. Large problems are broken into smaller pieces.

Demonstrate and communicate progress: After every project, there is something to see, touch, and evaluate. There is “stuff” that is useful and measurable and working (or not working). This happens during the project, not after the project. This helps keep the project on track, on target, and on budget.

Everything is a test: Test early and test often.

Everything changes. Get used to it.