BACKGROUND: Despite the availability of psychosocial evidence-based practices (EBPs), treatment and outcomes for persons with mental disorders remain suboptimal. Replicating Effective Programs (REP), an effective implementation strategy, still resulted in less than half of sites using an EBP. The primary aim of this cluster randomized trial is to determine, among sites not initially responding to REP, the effect of adaptive implementation strategies that begin with an External Facilitator (EF) or with an External Facilitator plus an Internal Facilitator (IF) on improved EBP use and patient outcomes in 12 months. METHODS/DESIGN: This study employs a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial (SMART) design to build an adaptive implementation strategy. The EBP to be implemented is life goals (LG) for patients with mood disorders across 80 community-based outpatient clinics (N = 1,600 patients) from different U.S. regions. Sites not initially responding to REP (defined as <50% patients receiving >/=3 EBP sessions) will be randomized to receive additional support from an EF or both EF/IF. Additionally, sites randomized to EF and still not responsive will be randomized to continue with EF alone or to receive EF/IF. The EF provides technical expertise in adapting LG in routine practice, whereas the on-site IF has direct reporting relationships to site leadership to support LG use in routine practice. The primary outcome is mental health-related quality of life; secondary outcomes include receipt of LG sessions, mood symptoms, implementation costs, and organizational change. DISCUSSION: This study design will determine whether an off-site EF alone versus the addition of an on-site IF improves EBP uptake and patient outcomes among sites that do not respond initially to REP. It will also examine the value of delaying the provision of EF/IF for sites that continue to not respond despite EF. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02151331.