There is plenty of great advice out there on hiring and building great teams, but you won’t find much on vendor selection and management. In either case, the goal is to leverage the talents of people to grow your business. And there are strong cases to be made for both in-house employees and agencies/contractors to get the job done.
We won’t use this post to make a case either way, but if you are planning to hire an agency or contractor, we can help you get great work out of them. We know it seems simple—you give a vendor money, and they give you a service in return—but in reality, it’s never that simple.
At Animalz, we’ve been on the receiving end of great vendor management . . . and not-so-great vendor management. We’re sharing a few things we’ve learned in an effort to help all marketers understand how they can get more for their dollar.
Outsourcing Never Works, But Collaboration Always Does
The #1 mistake companies make when they hire agencies is that they think they’re outsourcing the work. And to a degree (though a very small degree), they are. The agency will ultimately be responsible for a deliverable that the company would otherwise have to do themselves.
The problem is that for a third-party—a group of experts on marketing, accounting, design, or development—to excel, they will need a lot of context. Remember, these people haven’t sat in your weekly meetings for three years or soaked up the conversations happening in your Slack channel. They’re experts in their field, but not experts on your business. Never give an agency money, then sit around waiting for them to impress you. If you hire them, it is your job to help them succeed.
Never give an agency money, then sit around waiting for them to impress you.
Here’s how we handle this at Animalz. First, we try to set the right expectations during the sales process: We do our best work when we collaborate. Next, we run each new customer through an extensive onboarding process. There’s a questionnaire, a call, a presentation, another call, etc. Our intake process collects a lot of the context we need for the relationship as a whole to be successful. This process (plus our own research and expertise) is how we formulate a content strategy for each customer.
The next bit is where the rubber meets the road. Our first deliverable could be an article targeting a high-volume keyword. To write this piece, we’ll do plenty of our own research, but we may also ask to interview people from our customer’s sales, support, or product team. We want to speak with people who know this subject matter and who deeply understand the end user’s pain, confusion, intrigue, or excitement around the topic.
This approach sometimes takes people by surprise. Isn’t it just an SEO article? It is, but if you want it to be great—not just another regurgitated Wikipedia article—we need to dive really deep. These details inform the first article, but also inform every future article. It’s an investment that yields returns over the life of the engagement.
If you’re thinking of hiring an agency, this may feel like too much work for you. If so, don’t hire an agency. You’ll be better off hiring a full-time employee who can absorb all this context passively, then create really solid content.
Bring a Vision, Then Let the Agency Figure out the Details
Content marketing is hard. It’s nuanced. It takes months (and sometimes longer) to bear fruit. When companies only want to check the content marketing box, we know that company is not an ideal customer for us.
All agencies prefer working with customers who have a vision and a conviction that their vision is powerful and meaningful. Not only is a vision easy to rally around, but it provides an obvious path forward. The agency and customer can scope it out, agree on roles, budget, and timeline, then get to work. We love turning marketing dreams into reality.
Here’s a real but anonymized example of this. A company approached us about working together. The point of contact was able to clearly and concisely articulate a vision for content. In this case, they wanted to use content to drive more demo requests. They expected it to take about 18 months to see the results they hoped for. They had a few ideas on how to execute but weren’t interested in being involved in the nitty-gritty details. Instead, they wanted to scope the project, then let us figure out all the nuts and bolts.
This relationship was a massive success for both parties. That doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing from day one, but it does mean that both parties were deeply invested in a common goal and ready to withstand some turbulence along the way. They got the results they wanted long before 18 months and never had to micromanage us.
Vendor Management Is a Skill—and It Can Be Improved Upon
If you plan to source and manage any vendors at all, we’d highly recommend that you read this post from founder and exec Auren Hoffman. Here’s an excerpt:
Vendor management is THE SKILL . . . yet no one is talking about it.
Not only is vendor management and selection the most important skill . . . it is also the skill least likely to appear when you poll business people about “What is the most important skill?” It likely won’t even appear in the top 50 skills from a poll from top business people.
That is going to change . . . and fast.
The premise is that vendor management is a highly useful career skill. Developing it helps you manage your current vendors but, more importantly, helps you get better results faster. And that helps you level up your career. If you can do the same work as a large team, thereby saving your employer headcount, time, and money, you become a very valuable asset to any business. In the same way services like AWS help companies launch and scale quickly (as opposed to building their own server farms), companies can leverage agencies and contractors to accomplish work that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to do.
Here are just a few things that our best customers do:
- They provide timely, candid feedback. It’s our job to create a workflow that makes it easy to collaborate with us, but we do ask that our customers give us feedback regularly so that we can keep work on schedule and deliver the best possible final product.
- They focus on 1-2 goals at a time. We work with our customers to gain consensus on a narrow goal. This is a win-win because our team can focus on creating great work, and your team can clearly measure progress.
- They nurture the relationship. It’s our business to build great relationships with customers, and we love working with people who are also invested in a great relationship. Just like all strong partnerships, it means clear communication, mutual respect, and empathy for the other party. It makes the work better, but it also makes working together a lot of fun.
Hiring an agency is a big investment of both time and money. And while it can be a great way to bring on expert support, it’s definitely not a silver bullet. Want to chat more about working with us? Use the contact form, and we’ll make it happen.