Lee Odden

Classic Marketing Consulting Fail: “What We Got Here is a Failure to Implement”

implementation failIf you’re old enough to remember the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, there’s a moment when a rebellious prisoner played by a young Paul Newman refuses to “go along” with prison rules despite some grueling punishment. The warden, played by Strother Martin, made the famous observation about a lack of communication.

The failure to communicate is probably the most important cause of failure with client and internet marketing consultant relationships. Everything from managing expectations to performance reporting are affected. One of the most common outcomes from a lack of communication in a consulting engagement is the failure to implement.

Tweet This: What’s worse than bad social SEO advice? Failure to implement the good advice that gets results.

There are many reasons for a failure of implementation when it comes to online marketing tactics and the fault lies both with consultants and client side marketers alike. Here are a few common reasons for each. Hopefully you can identify whether your situation falls into one of these categories so you can avoid wasting time, money and lost revenue growth for all.

Marketing Consultant Implementation Fails:

  • Selling Incomplete Expertise – Not understanding what it really takes to implement a certain type of consulting can result in the agency not properly preparing the client for what their obligations are for successful implementation. “Fake it til you make it” is a common practice with consultants and agencies breaking into new areas (like all the SEOs getting into content marketing now or PR/Ad/Interactive agencies getting into SEO a few years back) and a common casualty is the inability to follow through.
    Lesson: Consultants need to develop processes for new areas of expertise, bring in outside consultants to build the practice area expertise and be up front with potential clients to ensure adaptability and to manage expectations. The other lesson is to simply not over-state capabilities and sell things you don’t know how to do.
  • Failure to Assess Capabilities – A review of both internal and client side responsibilities for successful implementation is critical. A company that says they want to develop a content marketing strategy and hires a consultant who says yes without identifying the company has no intention of hiring writers or tasking employees with content creation is a major fail for all.
    Lesson: Understand the essential processes and tasks involved with new consulting engagments and identify the capabilities of anyone at the company who may be potentially involved with implementation. Confirm in the agreement who will do what and what is expected.
  • Failure to QA & Manage Tasks – While many client and consulting engagements begin with good intentions all around, projects that take months for discovery, strategy and implementation can go off track if they are not managed properly.
    Lesson: Consultants must manage and share a timeline. They must also require time to oversee implementation and ongoing QA of content, SEO and social consulting implementation because it is inevitable that client staff or other consultants will implement partially, differently than intended or overwrite good work 6 months down the road.

Client Side Marketer Implementation Fails:

  • Lack of Consultant & Tactical Due Diligence – Companies that hire consultants will get more value for their investment when they have some awareness of how the tactics they’re hiring for actually work. Too often companies hire social media “brandividuals” or chase after a shiny social media object tactic without really having an idea of how things fit in their marketing plan.
    Lesson: Either some effort is put forth to gather that knowledge through internal efforts or education is made part of the consulting engagement.  In particular, SEO and social media brandividuals and hot social apps in the press need to be vetted for real-world expertise, experience and practical application for the business.
  • Mis-Alignment of KPIs vs Business Goals – Imagine a company hiring a consultant to grow a Facebook fan page to 10,000 fans. The consultant delivers. But then the company fires the consultant because revenue didn’t increase.
    Lesson:  A responsible marketer should identify measurement goals that account for progress AND business outcomes. Consultants can view a goal like fans, followers or rankings as easy money but the connection to business value must be made. This one is on both client and consultant. Corporate marketers must be able to answer “why” when they identify performance measures that do not have a direct impact on business objectives.
  • Lack of Influence and Internal Support – Ambitious marketing managers who have become aware and educated about the significant impact of an integrated SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing program may get budget to hire a consultant only to discover that PR, Social, Content, Legal, HR and other parties that need to be involved are “not on board” with key implementation approvals and tasks.
    Lesson: As research is conducted into what is involved with bringing an outside consultant into the mix, it’s important that client side marketers map out who they will need to work with internally to get tasks implemented. The time to grow that internal network of “friendlies” should begin long before the engagement begins.  Identify how those peers will benefit from participation and cooperation with your consulting investment. Make sure they have a clear picture of the benefits for themselves, their group/department and the organization overall.

Of course there are more ways to fail internet marketing consulting implementation than the short lists above, but the key is responsibility about capabilities, planning, managing expectations, allocating appropriate resources and most of all: communication.

It takes two to tango and if a consultant is involved it will inevitably be deemed the consltants fault. That’s why it’s essential for online marketing consultants to properly identify key characteristics of companies that are capable of implementing or able to adapt or adjust to enable proper implementation. In the end, we all want a 360 degree win and that requires better communication during prospecting, kickoff, engagement and with ongoing consulting.

If you’re a corporate marketer, what are some of the fails you’ve seen from consultants that have caused failures of marketing implementation?   Your turn consultants: What implementation fails have you experienced and how did you overcome them?


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Alex at Formator says

    Very interesting and well written post. Best regards.

  2. Interesting and great post and I agree on the point of lack communication with the customers is the main hurdle doing the marketing in a proper way and that’s the main reason that your business is not making progress.

  3. Avatar jeanii roonit says

    I surmise I have chosen an intelligent and mind blowing website with interesting material.
    New Jersey SEO

  4. Excellent post! As a part of a recent online marketing project, I recruited and hired a FT internal marketing resource for one of my clients (she starts tomorrow actually).  This has happened a few times now.  I’m used to being pulled into interviews as an SME (subject matter expert)…yet my role seems to be evolving into involvement earlier in the process.  As a consultant, I don’t consider myself a recruiter at all; yet I’m finding this kind of service to be very important in creating the right kind of internal atmosphere for my SMB clients to be successful in their online marketing efforts.  How does TopRank handle this kind of need for their clients?

    • It’s a great sign when clients want help recruiting internal staff that will support the work the consulting effort. The alignment between what needs to be done and the abilities of the person who will soon manage implementation are priceless. Clients ask us for referrals or to serve as a filter and we’re happy to be helpful in that way.

  5. Avatar Lena Scott says

    “Lack of influence and internal support” Has shown up as an issue. I reacted to understanding that this may be a problem by constructing a set of questions for myself to ask my clients; which will help me to avoid wasted time later. I have found in some instances that I am dealing with someone who presents themselves as a key decision maker, who I may have spent a good number of hours discussing their needs and who then enters into a negotiation with me, and then suddenly back pedals and drops out of sight when the other decision makers catch wind of what he/she is doing. Or after initial words of encouragement that they do have the budget for my services decide that they don’t, after all. And then someone in-house takes over what I would have been hired to do.

    The initial person I spoke to in a couple of these instances did not bother discussing what they wanted to do with anyone else in the small businesses that they owned. In another instance I was brought in to assist but the owner did not make clear that I was supposed to be working with him and what my role was supposed to be, so as you may imagine the reception given to me by those in-house employees was seen as me encroaching on ‘their’ territory. As the perceived outsider, I was not well received and only found out after the fact that the owner was not stepping up and standing by his decision to have me involved. I think it was a learning experience for all involved, but I was keenly aware of how disastrous it could have been for me had I gotten more closely involved in projects/work with the examples above, as any perceived hiccup in process or lack of clear expectations by them for outcomes would have naturally been blamed on me. Not a good feeling! I don’t think that the above examples were trying to be ‘bad’, and my way of preventing this type of thing happening in future is to ask the right questions to drill down to the potential client’s actual position. People still see socials/seo etc. as experimental or they don’t really understand it themselves, so can spend a lot of time asking questions and getting educated by me for free, which is not the best use of my time. I can put myself into educational roles, workshops, presentations and forums; that is fine. Finding clients that know what they want/need and want to know how I can help them to achieve it while having the budget to do so are ideal. I don’t mind a bit of coaching and in-a-nutshell education about how socials can work for someone, but would prefer not to spend that time in pre-proposal meeting. Having a very focused pre-qualification process will not only help me, it will help my client/prospective client. 

  6. When I worked for a management consulting firm years ago, “fake it till you make it” was the order of the day. And never, never tell the client that you’re a “green pea” brand new to the company and the business. 

  7. It’s a case of managing expectations. If it’s going to take 12 month to get a keyword on to page one then don’t say it will take 3 to secure the contract. The result it the client drops you quicker than Michael Douglas’ underpants and your reputation is 0.

    • Good point Gareth. Of course if the client or agency fails to implement the recommendations expectations management becomes moot since the whole thing is doomed to fail.

  8. I think another one of the big problems with the lack of influence/internal support issue is management barriers. For instance being assigned a point wo/man who heads online marketing but has to get authorization from a superior for every change. The problem is not necessarily that they can’t get that approval but that you have to wait for them to get that approval everytime. That’s why it’s so important to let your clients know that your team should be viewed as an extension of their own marketing team and not as a vendor. Decisions get made much more quickly when you’re in direct communication with the powers that be.

    In one case we had to (and are still waiting) for a client to redirect their home page url to their root domain. Small dup issues that have huge impacts on site authority but you have to fight months to get those changes implemented.

    • There’s definitely an opportunity to take a bigger picture view of how organizations get things done. Without mapping influence and approval processes, important changes get delayed and no matter what, it will be the agency’s fault.