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7 Key Strategies for Avoiding the ‘Valley of Despair’ in Software Implementation

A guest blog post from Brian Brownrigg, Managing Director at QuintoVate, a management consulting firm with broad experience in Marketing Operations and a singular focus on Marketing Performance. QuintoVate consultants strengthen the role of marketing by creating alignment and improving communication among marketing, finance, and IT.

Allocadia partners with QuintoVate to help our customers smoothly transition to an enhanced way of managing their marketing performance.

At QuintoVate, we believe human behavior elements are just as important as the technology elements of a great Marketing Performance Management (MPM) program. We’ve spent thousands of hours with dozens of clients configuring software, developing processes, and working with IT to source the data marketers need to support their spend management decisions. But we know the key component of every great MPM program is the people and teams that tie it together. We developed our Change Assurance program to ensure all the right elements are in place to promote adoption across the organization and protect our clients’ investments in their programs. It focuses on the organizational, training, communication, and engagement elements to work together in harmony and avoid the precarious point in the program lifecycle known as, “The Valley of Despair”.

What is the “Valley of Despair”?

The standard definition of the “Valley” is the point at which the productivity – or performance – of individuals suffers due to a change in how they operate. Much of that change comes from the normal impact of learning something new, but the deeper and longer Valleys generally result from other factors like resistance to change, fear of the unknown, and a longing for the old way of doing things. Think of it this way: if your doctor told you to start having a green juice in the morning instead of drinking coffee for your wake-me-up affect, would you willingly change your morning ritual? Probably not, even though logic tells you it would be good for you. But what if you had no choice?

In the MPM world, it’s the same when transitioning from spreadsheets to performance tools like Allocadia; once the organization has made the decision to switch, the transformation that comes along with it is remarkable. Finance data flows to Marketing line items; marketers can roll up spend for reporting; immediate spend allocation decisions are easy and trustworthy; predicting and measuring Marketing Performance is now something you can count on to guide your strategy and support your decisions. But it’s difficult to make that first step away from the trusted way of doing things, and that’s when the Valley appears: marketers are giving up something they’re used to in exchange for something that promises to be better but is still unknown.

What is the Impact of the Valley?

Let’s answer that question by comparing the shape of the Valley with and without a structured change assurance program like our Change Assurance methodology. In the image below, we see two productivity curves. Both curves are moving through time toward the deployment, or implementation of an MPM program. And both curves come out of the deployment period (post-technology go-live, training, support, etc.) and back into the regular day-to-day operating. But what happens to our curve when it hits the “Go-Live” event? In one scenario we have a lack of a Change Management program, and in the other, we have a strong program like the one we use with our clients.

In the change-enabled scenario, we minimize the negative impact of change in duration (A) and depth (B) in the “Valley of Despair”, accelerate time to competence / and new levels of productivity for end users (C), and sustain ongoing performance (D) and investment optimization. We have far greater confidence that we will achieve the expected outcomes of our MPM program and protect our investment.

How can you apply this to your program?

As the above graphic implies, a change assurance program can make or break the success of your MPM program. The ripple effect of no change assurance can result in additional unintended consequences. Whether you’re just starting out in your MPM program or you’re well underway, here are seven key considerations to avoid a long, dark Valley of Despair.

  1. Formalize a change assurance program.
    Get a team of leaders across Marketing, Finance, and IT who have a strong sense of buy-in to the success of the MPM program. They will operate as evangelists of the program and deliver communications, discover resistance, and serve as overall change agents for your program. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time every week, but a formal team goes a long way to make the change real.
  2. Define your organization’s personal Valley of Despair.
    What does it mean for your team to “be in the Valley”? What does success look like? What improvements is your organization looking for, and how does that involve people operating in the new model? Socialize these improvements by communicating in a variety of tactics. Communication is key…we’re marketers, after all!
  3. Take care that every communication and every interaction contains a “WiiFM?” (What’s in it For Me?).
    It sounds obvious that a little personal gain will motivate people, but it’s very easy to overlook and can be a complicated mission. Everyone has his or her own personal WiiFM, and the law of diminishing returns dictates that you can’t personalize every word, but it’s important to start with a solid understanding of the various teams involved. Go ahead and create personas, but don’t forget about the outliers and “squeaky wheels” that can attract a lot of attention if given the right environment.
  4. Take your show on the road.
    Show executives what their dashboards can look like; paint a picture so that all decision-makers understand the confidence they’ll have making spend decisions; demonstrate the ease of working with technology to ease the grip on Excel. Getting five or ten minutes as a guest speaker in a team meeting is a quick, but impactful, way to spread the word.
  5. Get a Governance program in place.
    This is not only a great way to control changes (your IT department would be proud!), but it’s an even better way to let users know their engagement is valuable. A good governance program will have bi-directional communication vehicles in place to push and pull critical program information for the “voice of the customer”.
  6. Find your champion.
    Who in the organization is known to be an agent of change? In the old carrot-vs-stick metaphor, change agents are great at holding out the carrot and convincing others that the change coming is good for all. Recruit that person to help you deliver messaging.
  7. Set goals and measure progress.
    We have developed a series of tools to track users’ progress on something we call the ABO Continuum, which watches the journey from awareness, to buy-in-to ownership. It’s inextricably tied to our stakeholder assessment tool and communication monitoring devices. Don’t be afraid to use practical tactics like these; you’d be surprised how handy some user-focused data and metrics can be in your program.

The Valley of Despair doesn’t have to be fraught with peril; acknowledging its existence is the first important step in avoiding the dangers that can go along with it. Putting a change assurance plan in place to address it is the next. Your user environment may not notice the absence of a change assurance program – until it’s too late – but they will appreciate the communication and interaction when it’s there.

If you would like to hear more about the QuintoVate’s Change Assurance Program, get in touch with us at or call us at (402) 392-4017.