If you’ve been working with marketing automation technologies for any period of time, you’ve probably experienced a project that felt like a complete disaster: scope out of control, deadlines routinely missed, campaigns sputtering, executives slashing resources, and team members at each other’s throats!


Trust me, we’ve all been there.

According to a study last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers, more than 60 percent of project failures are linked to internal issues such as insufficient resources or missed deadlines. In other words, failure is linked to common situations that a good project manager with a good project plan should be able to avoid.

Conversely, you probably can recall situations in which the environment surrounding a marketing automation project was extremely positive, enabling success to be achieved in spite of serious shortcomings in the planning and management of project activities.

So, what’s going on here?

How important is planning and project management in marketing automation success?

The short answer: very important. However, there is more going on here than meets the eye. Just having a buttoned-up project plan, an agile methodology, and a great project manager does not guarantee success.

What is the real science behind planning for marketing automation success?

Based on our hands-on experience of implementing marketing automation solutions for companies across numerous industry segments over the past 10 years, TopRight has identified 5 key activities that must be part of any implementation plan if marketing automation success is to be achieved.


  1. Quantifying Explicit Value – There is a specific activity defined in the plan for quantifying and validating explicit value associated with the marketing automation project. The sponsoring executive and the project team have mutually agreed on a business case that is clearly defined and measurable in terms of strategic, operational, economic, and organizational benefit. These two parties have also agreed upon a case for user adoption at an individual level.
  2. Generating Full Alignment – There is a specific process defined for generating and sustaining executive alignment. The executive sponsor for the project and associated business leaders are well aligned on the priority of the marketing automation effort and achievement of intended business outcomes. There is informed understanding and intention among all of the key stakeholders about the complete journey to marketing automation results, and its many challenges and individual implications for employees in their roles.
  3. Showcasing Sponsorship and Accountability in Action – Specific activities are outlined in the plan to demonstrate how leadership is personally “at stake” and visible to the organization throughout the project. An executive leader or executive leadership team is in place with the positional authority, credibility, skill, resolve, and time to get the marketing automation implementation moving, and maintain its momentum through to results.
  4. Securing Active Commitment – There is a track of work for testing for active commitment regularly with leadership and the project team. Rooting out “passive” commitment to the project and/or passive aggressive behaviors regarding marketing automation is imperative. Marketing leaders take personal responsibility for the program, take a stand for success, and are seen to take sides on conflicts and difficult issues.
  5. Managing Performance Risk – Activities are defined in the plan to assure that team performance is routinely monitored and risks are mitigated. Scope for the marketing automation team must be appropriate to obtain the business results desired; neither so broad nor so narrow as to jeopardize success. A performance evaluation process is in place to assure that the project is appropriately staffed with high-quality, high-performing talent – representing the cross-functional expertise needed to meet the business objectives.


It may come as a surprise that these 5 key activities focus more on the management of people-related and culture-centered issues rather than process or technology focused concerns.

“Change Management” is the label we customarily give to the work activities applied to fostering the favorable work environment that is so vitally important to the ultimate outcome of marketing automation implementation. There are two significant problems with this label:

  • First, the label itself carries a connotation that is counterproductive at best. “Change Management” suggests an activity that is performed on the marketing organization (and hence is undiscussable) rather than a planned activity that is undertaken openly and cooperatively between the marketing automation executive sponsors, project team members, and the rest of the organization.
  • Second, the label is vague. There’s nothing which even comes close to an objective and tangible definition. Depending on one’s perspective, change may be “inevitable”, change may be “painful”, a little change may “do you good”, or it may even be a “welcome change”.

At TopRight, as we have accumulated greater experience in large-scale marketing technology implementation work and the associated organizational change, the notion of “conditions for success” has emerged. This turns out to be an extremely important distinction in our thinking and our language for a couple of reasons:

  • First, “creating and sustaining the conditions for success” is something that a marketing leader or executive sponsor immediately identifies with as being very important to their own personal success. Hence, that which was undiscussable and unilateral as “change management” becomes highly discussable and collaborative.
  • Second, the “conditions for success” label is a more concrete definition that implies measurability and actionability. The conditions for success are either in place or they are not. Therefore, a diagnostic can be defined to help measure the current state, to evaluate periodically throughout the project, and to prescribe specific actions to maintain the conditions for success.

Until now, there has been no explicit, formally organized, and broadly shared view of what the conditions for success include and what is involved in setting and maintaining them on a marketing automation implementation project. It has been strictly a matter of individual project management interpretation, project manager experience, and a little bit of art.

Our goal is to bring greater rigor, discipline, and science to helping companies assure that the conditions for success are in place before, during, and after they embark on their marketing automation journey.

In our next article, we will explore this subject in greater detail, and provide a concrete way of evaluating and then taking appropriate action to create and sustain the conditions for success for marketing automation implementation work.

To learn how transformational CMOs and marketing leaders are aligning their story, strategy, and systems to create memorable customer experiences, download our latest ebook Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.