Tips on Collaboration: Working Effectively with Marketing Agencies, Consultants and Vendors
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.
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:
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
Schedule visits at their offices and yours.
- This may help deepen the relationship and provide greater insight into each other’s “working worlds”.
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. 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.