The Most Important Driver to Success.
In my previous role at one of the large marketing cloud stacks, I was employed as one of many Client Success Managers tasked with growing accounts across their data management platform. I quickly realized that many clients were struggling on the day-to-day running of their new technology platform. “What we find,” the head of Customer Success told me at my original interview, “is that our products our more mature than our client”.
To me, it seemed obvious; if I was to grow an account, the client needed to be successful. If the client was to be successful, they would need to operate their technology, and operate it well. And, to operate successfully, the client needed to understand exactly what it is they invested in, to properly engage with the platform. And, if they were to properly engage with the platform, then someone would need to teach them. And that person (in this case me), needed to know their shit.
However, I soon discovered that traditional consulting services can only take you so far. It was clear there was an increasing need for deep expertise to truly support clients in the understanding of these platforms and for organizational change and ownership to take place. And so here-lies my creation of the post-implementation consulting services, or “expert services” if you like. (To be clear, when I say “created” the service, what I really mean is that I was just the first person to try and do it).
I have seen and consulted on a lot of data platform projects. Many have succeeded, yet some hit a brick wall. Why? Well, this could be a myriad of circumstances such as poor-quality data, limited use cases, client-side political turmoil, vendor side political warfare, regulations such as GDPR, lack of budget, and most recently to note, the death of the cookie.
However, amongst the successes and not so successful, there is one definitive, common underlying factor at the heart of the success story, and it has nothing to do with match rates, clean and reliable data, naming conventions 🤓, or good consultants (all, by the way, are undeniably essential), but it simply lies in strong leadership.
Let’s look at an example, shall we?
During my early days as an Expert Services Consultant, I enjoyed one of my most successful projects of all time with a huge telco in Europe. The business was witnessing every problem imaginable: politics gone wrong across vendors, limited understanding of the technology on the client side, criminal match rate issues, poorly scoped contracts, and in some cases terrible data sources. Yet, it didn’t matter; at the heart of the project was a strong leader (and a robust naming convention 🤓).
The leader had several qualities that are essential to successfully running a technology project, which included all the vital ingredients we hope to find within our clients when we start projects together.
The perfect recipe for success:
- Ingredient One: No fear of technical detail:
“If your culture doesn’t like geeks, you are in real trouble.” (Bill Gates)
What really set this strong leader apart was their willingness to ask technical people on the client side, vendor side and agency side to bring real detail to the table; document it, QA it, and then truly understand the technical importance at a strategic level.
Let’s get technical for a moment! 🤓
purchase=complete (a piece of code, and specifically a key/value pair) isn’t a mere technical nuance, it’s the vital attribute that ultimately tells the business a visitor has already logged in, browsed, added to cart, and finally purchased. Deploying this in the right way and understanding where you can (and can’t) do this, who is responsible for it, what other variations are possible, and how it fits into your overall naming convention unlocks your most valuable users. Pretty important, right?
The strong leader used this level of detail to meticulously plan with all technical stakeholders, and then extrapolated it out into a high-level strategy that business stakeholders could follow. Not an easy task, but one that made an incredible impact during the project.
Takeaway: the most successful clients are those that either have a good grasp on technical detail, or who are willing to surround themselves with technical people, welcome and trust their input and then effectively translate technicality into business practice.
- Ingredient Two: Political skills:
“A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first, and honest people are screwed first” (Chanakya)
What makes the implementation of technologies across businesses interesting is that they cut across multiple stakeholders and business units that have different, and oftentimes opposing goals. At any one point in time, IT, operations, marketing, media, CRM, BI and others can find themselves working on the same tactic or initiative, all with varied ambitions and desires. If you find synergy you will unlock a treasure trove of insights and performance. However, add in friction, and you’ll create a political nightmare.
Not only does this lead to project failure, it leaves the key stakeholder extremely vulnerable. I shouldn’t need to tell you what happens when a well-paid exec screws up by spending precious time and money on a project that delivers no value. Responsibility turns into accountability.
But, articulating ROI doesn’t happen by magic – it happens through teamwork, graft, negotiation, good governance, naming conventions 🤓, and compromise. The strong leader at the telco had this and encouraged this attitude in abundance.
Takeaway: My team and I spend a lot of time up front on our projects gathering requirements and building consensus between teams before we implement or configure anything. This process means that shared objectives can be created and agreed to and ensures that wider buy-in is fostered from the ground up.
- Ingredient Three: Salesman(or women)ship:
“Like it or not, we’re all in sales now” (Daniel Pink)
Whilst almost half of the strong leader’s time was spent in the detail, the other half was spent touring different departments explaining what the project was aiming to do, clearly defining how it would happen, and what the benefits would be. The most important quality to note here included setting expectations. From day one the project was set up to succeed through realistic and achievable ambitions articulated with precision and clarity across the entire organization.
Patience is key. You can’t expect to run an hour zoom call with a team you may not know in depth, who have limited understanding, or who may not have the time to invest in your ambitions. Building a long-term relationship with key decisionmakers will not only make the work an enjoyable experience but will inspire peers (and drive adherence across the board to your well thought out naming convention 🤓).
Takeaway: Spend as much time with key stakeholders on the detail to prepare collateral for all that can be presented back to the business in an easy to digest way. We sometimes talk about setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) here at Silverbullet, which enables buy-in from many departments, but there’s always a focus on those quick wins and smaller achievements which often keep a project alive.
- Ingredient Four: Pivotability:
“Shit goes wrong!” (Me and, deep down, every consultant you will ever work with).
In my case working with the telco, one of the key use cases ahead of the kick-off was the ability to target consumers who had read an email, visited the web store, and added to cart – all with a compelling data-driven ad creative off domain to ensure that they were reminded to return to the telco’s online shop in order to complete their purchase. The problem, however, was that the tech couldn’t support this use case. Third-party cookies, even in their heyday, weren’t setup to enable that type of convoluted customer journey at scale (especially off-domain). So, the use case needed to be tweaked and a minimum viable solution was built in its place. This dampened the use case expectations, however it delivered, and ROI was attained.
Takeaway: Technology can’t do everything, and when you are relying on so many different teams and departments, things may not go to plan. And, that is ok. There should always be a plan B, and a strong leader who is able to roll with the punches in order to progress and get things done.
Traditional consulting can only take a business so far. What we try to do at Silverbullet is grow confidence across multiple departments and try to encourage and support the main stakeholders to approach each project from a position of strength (and an excellently thought-out naming convention 🤓).