In business, collaboration can be critical for effectiveness in most functions, regardless of a company’s size.
The emphasis for this post is on working collaboratively with marketing agencies, consultants and vendors. I myself an independent marketing consultant, but in truth this is written from the point-of-view of my previous life (in corporate marketing departments), where I often hired and/or worked with outsourced help to get important work done. In marketing (whether B2B or B2C), as with many business functions, there is often reliance on third-party resources to help come up with ideas and/or to deliver a solution or result.
In my mind, there are best practices worth considering as one outsources for the first time and/or evolves existing relationships. Outsource needs can vary dramatically across businesses, and some assignments are more complicated and expensive than others; so consider this a set of baseline considerations.
Best practices for effective collaboration with marketing agency, consulting and vendor partners:
1. Have a well-thought-out vision about what you want to achieve and/or problems you want to solve. And where it makes sense, include your outsourcing partners in the process to develop the strategic plan in support of that vision.
- Leverage those that are experts; don’t feel like you have to do all the “thinking work” yourself – make them part of the working team in the early stages (as makes sense).
2. Be crystal clear about the assignment you are actually giving them after context is set and/or some initial brainstorming and discussion has occurred.
- This can help them stay focused on a set of specific objectives, and help you stay on track with what you’re accountable for (i.e. the end game).
3. Once the work begins, create a positive working relationship that allows for open communication, including the ability to challenge and ask tough questions. Also be mindful of their workload and competing priorities — don’t treat them like order takers or put them in constant reactive mode just because you are paying them.
- Remember they have other clients and schedules to stick to; it’s not all about you. A great agency will make you believe it is in fact all about you — but that doesn’t mean you should take advantage; be courteous and considerate of what’s happening on their side.
4. Be a good listener when they raise issues or questions that are challenging; respect their knowledge and insights during the process. Trust that they know what they’re doing — don’t micro manage. But at the same time….
- Be a leader and a manager; address issues or gaps real-time and be direct. Just as with paid staff, you want to discuss barriers as they come up (not let them fester).
5. Proactively keep them up-to-date on the big picture, as well as other tactics that connect to and/or have implications for what they are doing.
- For example — shifts in broader strategies, new insights from the sales team, budget changes, related projects, etc.
6. Schedule visits at their offices and yours.
- This may help deepen the relationship and provide greater insight into each other’s “working worlds”.
7. Once the work is finished, consider a post-mortem discussion as you would with in-house teams.
- You could also give them a formal review and have them give one on you.
The point is: outsourcing for marketing support, brand strategy, campaigns, creative design, research, technology, automation, etc. — is becoming increasingly common and/or imperative, and a plethora of resources are out there to help almost any type of business. Therefore, as you engage in these opportunities, get your ducks in a row and think through what it will take for everyone to deliver their best work and drive meaningful outcomes.
This article originally appeared on Lydia’s Marketing Blog
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