As technology -- including marketing technology -- becomes more robust, they also become more complex. If busy IT and Marketing departments are to avoid resource strain, they must rely on implementation partners to carry much of the load of upgrading, installing, and integrating their systems so they can continue to do their day-to-day work.
While on the surface it makes sense to engage your technology vendor to manage your implementation, that’s not always the wisest approach. Vendors focus primarily on their product, and their teams might not be able to scale (or schedule) to your needs.
Engaging a platform-agnostic partner who works well not only with your vendor but also with your business is critical to your implementation’s success.
The most effective implementation partners will:
- Consult with you vs. simply checking off tasks
- Know how to engage the right people
- Bring a variety of supplemental skills to the project
- Seek to make the technology usable
- Facilitate business system and 3rd party integrations
Let’s dig into how you can use these criteria to evaluate implementation partners.
Consulting vs. Checking Off Tasks
A good implementation professional won’t be afraid to consult. In other words, they’ll not only be willing to guide the execution of the platform installation and integration but also to offer business and process insights from their experience with previous implementations. They’ll help you optimize your new or upgraded platform in alignment with your business needs, and they won’t hesitate to ask questions about -- or even respectfully challenge -- your goals and requirements. Some things to look for:
- Do your prospective partners align with your business goals? Do they understand what you need and have the resources to deliver the right solution for your company?
- Can they help you set your objectives? Are they willing to challenge objectives you’ve already set?
- Do they understand your market -- the laws and regulatory constraints that might affect how your technology is configured and implemented?
- Can they identify the skills necessary for working with the technology and help assess where your internal resources have gaps?
- How participative will they be in the end-to-end process? Do they help define requirements? Both guide and participate in the implementation? Offer training? Provide post-launch support?
- Can they help you determine ways to scale the system you’re implementing so you’re poised for growth, without having to completely overhaul it in a year or two?
Engaging the Right People at the Right Time
An experienced partner will know who to engage, when to engage them, and how best to involve them at different points in the process. A good partner understands that buy-in is essential to adoption and compliance, and they’ll help you bring key stakeholders and influencers into the process early and often, without disrupting productivity. A few questions to ask your prospective partner:
- Do they plan to spend time gathering requirements from actual users? Involve them in configuration planning? Involve them in testing?
- Can they help identify, inform, and train champions?
- Do they have a communication plan? Do they plan to provide frequent progress updates to stakeholders? How will they present the information?
- Are they able to communicate effectively not only with developers but also with end users and, where necessary, executives? Can they help you create, compile, and deliver engaging progress reports?
Bringing Supplemental Skills to the Project
Development might not be the only place where your team needs help -- and an excellent implementation partner should be able to help you fill other key support roles to bring alignment and continuity to your implementation project. Even if you don’t feel you need these skills at the beginning of the project, consider asking the following questions, in case the need arises:
- Do they have their own project managers, or will their resources be managed by your PM?
- Are they able to train end users on the solution? Can they provide job aids or reference cards to supplement vendor documentation, if custom configurations make that necessary?
- Can they help you with change management strategies -- the “gotchas” from previous projects?
Making the Technology Usable
The ability to optimize technology for your internal users not only demonstrates proficiency with the technology itself but also indicates how well your implementation partner has listened to your stakeholders and interpreted users’ needs and processes.
- Will your prospective partner be able to customize (read: develop) configurations or features for any part of the new system?
- Will they be willing to advise you to stick with out-of-the-box functionality where it’s more usable or economical than customization would be? (Even if it ruffles a few feathers from that one user group?)
- Are they capable of working with you to (re)design business processes and information flows -- including those that fall outside of the technology itself, where necessary?
- Do they encourage you to keep things simple and not spring every bell and whistle the platform makes available on your end users right out of the gate?
The most effective implementation partners will have experience with a range of technologies and will have worked with many types of integration. A few things to consider:
- Can your prospective implementation partner help you clean up your data? Are they capable of working with your internal resources to create a data validation plan/process?
- Can they support (or quickly come up to speed on) your other business systems and third-party apps (which might require data integration)?
- Are they capable of optimizing your system’s effectiveness with the planned integrations?
- Do they know at least a little about pricing models and usage scaling in connection with your integrations?
And, of Course: Do They Have Platform Expertise?
And, yes, a good implementation partner will also keep current on the technology you’ve chosen to install. Their expertise will often be validated with certifications, specializations, and active contributions to the vendor’s forums, conferences, and blogs. Ask them about their creds and contributions to get a sense for how passionate they are about what they do.
Choosing an implementation partner doesn’t have to be hard, but you need to ensure they’re a good fit, not only from a technical perspective but also culturally. At the very least, they should be able to participate in – and guide your company with – almost every aspect of bringing a new system (or updated one) live. And they should be able to do it nearly seamlessly as a member of your implementation team.