Project management involves planning, controlling, and completing the work of a team to achieve specific goals in a specified time. Accordingly, managing projects effectively and consistently is one of the most important functions for anyone generating demand for their company. While all marketing and sales organizations account for project management in some fashion (often through a coordinator or internal “traffic manager” function), it can often be under-valued. However, poor project management carries significant business risks, due to the fact that misaligned teams and projects will inevitably lead to higher overhead costs and longer time-to-value.
When it comes to demand generation, you should typically plan to invest 15–20% of your overall budget toward this function. At New Breed, we have found over the course of hundreds of strategic and technical projects that this investment provides an effective balance of resource alignment and project efficiency.
In addition to budgeting, you’ll also need to evaluate your project management resources and external partners for the core skills and competencies necessary for effectively managing the increasingly complex functions that comprise today’s most advanced digital strategies. Doing so can make the difference between a successful engagement that drives provable Return on Investment (ROI) or a disorganized, scattershot series of tactics operating on loose timelines.
While every project is different, we have found the following competencies to be critical for defining successful demand generation project managers:
They Understand and Hold Teams Accountable to Project Goals
The first job of a strategic project manager is to establish project goals. We’ll discuss these goal categories more in sections below (KPIs, budget, timeline), but solid project management should consistently refocus stakeholders on the core targets of their objective. To start, they’ll ask, "What are the desired outcomes we want to achieve from completing this project?" At this point, it can be very helpful to use the SMART Goals framework to set your goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. The goals of your project will help you determine the quality standards of the completed work. Let’s say a client wants to engage in an email nurture campaign.
A good implementation of SMART goals in relation to that stated desired might look like this:
Specific: This campaign will target HR, education, and sales teams in mid-to-enterprise level B2B companies, with the overarching goal of having contacts convert on a MOFU/BOFU CTA to book a demo and/or speak to a product specialist. This deliverable will require copywriting, HubSpot nurture workflows, and design.
Measurable: The success metrics for this campaign will be garnering X unique Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
Achievable: Given current team capacity, this should be able to be accomplished without a need to escalate or bring in additional resources.
Relevant: This campaign supports a new feature release set to launch on X date.
Timely: This campaign is aimed at launching the nurture by the end of the month and poised to garner X MQLs by the end of the current quarter.
They Control and Mitigate Scope Creep
With cross-functional alignment on project goals, a project manager can complete the scope or specifications for the work. This scope should include a list of all the deliverables, tasks, and deadlines required for the project, each containing clear assignments and resourcing.
Once created and disseminated to responsible parties, the job shifts to one of scope management and “creep” mitigation. Demand generation projects often tie into various business units and unify a number of stakeholders, and thus shine a light on other opportunities to improve and try new things. In these (often exciting) moments, strong project managers are comfortable keeping those stakeholders focused on the objective at hand to mitigate the impacts this “scope creep” will have on budget and timeline. Nothing hurts internal and external sentiment more than over-promising and under-delivering. A clearly defined scope will strike a balance between solving for internal and external stakeholders.
A strong project manager will hold your team accountable to your scope while also maintaining a measure of flexibility. For instance, let's say during the course of a new website project, you want a new resource center to be built. A strong PM will hear the request, understand where it fits in the larger strategy, and present recommendations – perhaps a change order or a reduction/elimination of an existing scoped deliverable. In this way, they will solve for the overall project, budget and strategic plan.
They Manage Your Project Budget as if It Was Their Personal Budget
When it comes to good, fast, and cheap, you can only pick two. A good project manager will leverage the scope of the overall project and deliverables to inform how much budget is needed to complete various components of the work in a timely and satisfactory manner. Whether it’s managing partner resources, platform subscriptions, or paid advertising spend, budget-conscious project managers do more than save you time and headaches later on — they help deliver you a clear cost basis to measure the ROI on your activities.
In practice, this takes the shape of periodic budget updates clearly identifying where time/money/resources have been spent, how much time/money/resources is left to complete remaining tasks/deliverables, and proactive identification of any risks to exceeding estimates.
They Proactively Manage Project Timelines
Closely related to project budget, your project timelines also require proactive management. Timelines provide two tactical functions: they set a roadmap for where all the deliverables live in relation to one another, and clearly outline when each of these deliverables need to be completed. A robust timeline will also keep stakeholder groups accountable to their milestones, and give those groups a reference point when tasks or meetings need to be rescheduled.
Strategic project managers will include some amount of buffer time for unforeseen contingencies. For initiatives big and small, some components eventually will go off-track and need correction. It’s important for project managers to account for these unforeseen circumstances (like delayed feedback, unanticipated technical hurdles, or shifts in priorities) and build in some safeguards to ensure all goals are still met.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you plan for a piece of gated content to launch on October 20th, and everything on the timeline is just-in-time in order to get you to the due date. Then an internal or external stakeholder runs into a conflict and is delayed in completing their action.
With no buffer built in, you’re now more at risk of missing launch, delaying it’s time to value, and impacting ROI. A strong PM will build your project timelines with the expectation that something out of your control will go wrong. They will then plan and account for contingencies across project milestones en route to on-time project completion.
They Understand the Disciplines Required for Success
Building a team with the requisite skills to deliver the work on time and on budget is incredibly important in project management, particularly in the world of demand generation, where creative and operational excellence need to be in lockstep.
Project managers should align a team member's skillset with the relative importance of the tasks they will be assigned for the project. For example, if your project requires SEO work on your blog, but this work is neither complex nor critical to the project, then you may not want to assign this work to your top SEO specialist. If you have a high-profile event that requires seamless follow-up, you’d want project managers to tag in the best revenue operations resources they can find. Strong project managers do not need to be masters of any given discipline, but they should have a sense of a team’s overall composition, both hard skills and soft skills. At New Breed we account for this by embedding Project Managers within our integrated demand generation teams.
They Resolve Conflict
There are times throughout a project when certain aspects can go awry. For instance, if a critical downstream task is waiting on another team member to complete their step and that individual is behind on delivery, the potential for conflict can grow rather quickly.
A good project manager should serve as a resource to remove roadblocks and have the soft skills to know when to step in and take control. Ultimately, they own the scope and budget. With that accountability comes the expectation that they will overcome any individual- or group-level issues standing in the way of project success — whether it’s a resourcing gap, difference of opinion, or confusion around targets and scope. Good project managers will position their entire team (and you) against the conflict, rather than letting conflict exist between team members.
For instance, your project team is running up against a tight deadline. A downstream resource is antsy to start their work, yet upstream delays are causing them to have less time to work on their deliverable. A strong project manager will anticipate this potential friction and carve out time to reprioritize tasks and deliverables in a way where the downstream resource can begin their work while the upstream workflow is being wrapped up. They will also take accountability if friction does occur, minimizing the potential for interpersonal challenges to impact overall work output.
Thinking Bigger: Project Management as a Cornerstone of Demand Generation
At New Breed, we view project management as more than a component of effective revenue growth. The discipline plays a central role in the strategic and everyday work that helps demand generation professionals achieve their goals. Investing in teams and partners who value this function and provide transparency into their project management approach can lead to compounding returns: more high-impact work, increased efficiency gains, and better functioning teams across the organization.
Noel Porter is a Vermont-based Project Manager with over five years of experience managing commercialization, technical, and marketing projects, as well as process improvement/kaizen based initiatives. In his spare time, you can find Noel performing improv and stand up comedy in Northern Vermont.