5 Deadly Stages of Dealing with Multi-channel
Marketing Solution Implementation Problems
by David Bernard, Managing Director of
DB Marketing Technologies
Let’s say your team has just purchased a new Multi-channel Marketing
solution. And let’s say your team did everything right in
selecting it (which, come on, it probably didn’t or
couldn’t, because there’s always a pencil pusher in the organization
opting for a short-cut or spending cut). But let’s say the
team got it all right: they performed in-depth requirements
gathering, developed a detailed and well-crafted RFP; took
the vendor candidates through a textbook selection process,
had stakeholders participate in hands-on product testing,
and finally chose what the team considered the best possible
solution for the company. Yet when it's time to implement
the solution, it doesn’t work well at all. What do you do?
I have seen so many CRM, Marketing, and IT executives make crazy errors
when solution implementation goes wrong – particularly when
they had a hand in the selection process.
While perfection eludes us all, many of the executive
errors were completely avoidable. And in many cases, these
executives willfully resisted making the necessary changes
to avoid catastrophe.
In reviewing these cases, I have found that an
alternate application of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “Five Stages
of Grief” helps us understand what drives executives to harm
their organizations by sticking with a decision/solution
that is clearly failing. And hopefully, as you read this,
you too will see the signs and, if necessary, intervene on
your or a colleague’s behalf.
The stages, popularly known by the acronym “DABDA,”
"Everything is working fine. This implementation failure
can't be happening, not with the fantastic solution I have
Marketing executive invests in a given solution, whether it
is engaging a Marketing Services Provider (MSP), choosing a
SaaS provider or approving a specific approach to leverage
in-house resources, a huge amount of political capital is at
stake along with significant budget dollars. Where under
normal circumstances this executive may have been rigorous
in interpreting patterns of errors and glitches that may
indicate deeper issues, with this significant investment, a
certain amount of objectivity disappears
and ego appears.
At this stage, executives more readily dismiss suggestions
of structural issues, outwardly taking a wait and see
approach but inwardly avoiding any suggestion that their
initiative may be flawed.
The Denial stage is the earliest stage, so it is also the
Corrective action taken at this point will have the greatest
impact on minimizing
the damage caused by the flawed solution, yet this is the
phase where the executive will likely bring the greatest
Remediation (making the fix)
Executives need to untether themselves from the solution.
They made a decision with the best information they had.
If the solution is not working, it’s only their fault
if they DON’T fix it. But how many of us are mature enough
to get out of our own way? So if the executive remains
personally vested in the solution and denial continues, team
members should not curtail their efforts to maintain a
forensic view of day-to-day events and errors. This is how
the team will identify the cause of the mistakes, once they
become too large for the executive to ignore.
It should be noted that a prolonged Denial phase can
cause significant harm to both the executive and the company
by preventing corrective action.
can this happen with this fantastic solution? Who is to
As errors pile up and business requirements are not met, the
executive enters the second stage, Anger. Once in the second
stage, the executive acknowledges the existence of issues
and their potential impact on the company. Feeling
personally betrayed, the executive still refuses to see a
flaw in the overall solution, forcing the assignment of
During the Anger stage, the executive is volatile, incented
to levy blame on anyone speaking against the solution,
whether they are internal stakeholders or external partners.
This is a dangerous period for the executive’s team members
- any one of them could be thrown under the bus to deflect
In addition to continuing to prevent identification and
application of corrective measures, the Anger stage inflicts
harm on the executive’s relationship with the team.
Assigning blame destroys trust which has an ongoing
effect on the executive, the team and the company, lasting
long after the issues are solved. Finger pointing also makes
the executive look weak to his or her superiors. Rather than
showing a command of a difficult situation, the executive is
Team members will need to assemble complete data that
reveals comprehensive proof of the core issues involved to
counter misplaced blame and provide context for the
executive. Here is the executive’s opportunity to once again
take control of the situation, exchanging anger for
constructive problem solving fervor. This allows the team to
go deep and develop a solution remediation plan. But most
executives won’t do this. It’s much easier to play the blame
"What can we do to make this
work? Let’s fix the
to remediate in stage two, errors become too numerous to
ignore, and the executive is starting to look bad to the
organization for backing
what appears to be a lemon of a solution and, even
worse, not doing anything about fixing it. In the third
stage, the executive begins to see that fixes
have to be made, but still refuses to see fundamental flaws in the
solution. As a
result, corrective efforts are limited to short term fixes
and not fundamental re-thinking or correction of the
third stage plays out the executive’s hope that the solution
can be perceived as a success so long as ongoing errors are
Reliance on short
term fixes is tantamount to a game of whack-a-mole.
You fix a problem, and shortly after, another problem
emerges because the root cause has not been corrected.
Executives in this stage force their team and their company
down the path of continual break-fix events, which is costly
and disruptive to the company.
Develop a Comprehensive Remediation Plan, which may include
a comprehensive review of the assumptions and decisions that
have been made (vendors and tools selected, scopes of work,
requirements relied upon) as well as an assessment of the
the executive pushes for short term fixes, comply but also
continue to propose the Comprehensive Remediation Plan. Show
the executive the time and cost-savings from a more in-depth
examination of what is going wrong and fixing the root
problem. Here the executive either wakes up and smells the
coffee or falls into stage four.
"This is clearly more of an issue than I thought. I’m in
trouble. Is there any way out of this where I don’t look
like a failure?"
By the fourth stage, the executive is pretty far down the
rabbit hole and there will be quite a bit of pain digging
out. At this stage, the executive begins to understand the
necessity of significant action, even though that action may
have negative consequences personally. This makes for one
unhappy senior manager. The Depression stage usually sets in
at the end of the Bargaining Stage.
As short-term fixes are being executed, the executive
recedes, stops attending meetings, and lets things go.
The Depression stage simply delays the implementation of
corrective measures and prolongs “Bargaining,” forcing the
company to continue to invest in throw-away, short-term
Give the executive a way out. The team should continue to
optimize its Comprehensive Remediation Plan, and continue to
council the executive on its benefits. As for the executive,
“Snap out of it!” Re-engage with your team and get on board
with the Comprehensive Remediation Plan. You still have a
job. You might not, if you don’t get ahold of this situation.
"Okay, it’s time to make a change!"
Finally! In this last stage, executives let go of their pet
solution and make the significant changes needed.
executives likely sustain significant damage to their
position in the company by the time they reach the
The solution has taken its toll on the organization,
driving up errors and costs.
In addition, the executive’s behavior through these
stages will likely have made a lasting negative impact with
team members and stakeholders.
Many will come to see that injury was avoidable had
the executive handled this project differently. This will
Implementation of the Comprehensive Remediation Plan should
Depending on the outcome, selection of new suppliers,
vendors and solutions may be necessary.
The executive who sponsored the original solution may
or may not be leading the initiative depending on the
collateral damage from his or her journey through the five
stages. If the executive is lucky enough to be given a
second chance, he or she needs to remember that addressing
problems when they arise and getting out ahead of them, will
minimize errors, keep costs down, and demonstrate
The take away here is just because you
pick a solution doesn’t mean that solution has to define
you. Say to
yourself and those on the solution selection team at the
outset, “We are all making this decision based on the best
information we have. There are no guarantees here. As
information is updated during implementation, we will revise
our assumptions accordingly, address issues immediately, and
ensure the best possible outcome for the company.” Then do
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