Successful Outsourcing Best Practices: Managing Relationships With Third-party Vendors
By Taryn Elliott
July 15, 2022 | 6-minute read
Marketing Management and Leadership Consultant and Vendor Management Content Type Article
The pace of digital marketing is changing and one person cannot be expected to successfully do everything. Even in the largest law firms with the biggest marketing departments, chief marketing officers, directors and marketing partners are constantly having to prioritize, reevaluate and modify the allocation of their time, team resources and expertise.
Most law firms cannot afford to hire full-time employees to address all of the necessary skills and experiences needed to execute the wide range of marketing disciplines required to complete day-to-day tasks while simultaneously overseeing new marketing initiatives. However, bringing in an outside vendor or contractor to handle one — or several — projects can be an effective way for law firms to continue turning out innovative marketing projects with the latest industry knowledge while still being a cost-effective and time-efficient solution.
Below are tips for how to let your people do what they do best and how to best manage relationships with third-party vendors that you may hire to handle the rest.
When to Decide to Outsource
Early in my career, I did not know that outsourcing was an option. I thought I had to know everything, do everything and be everything. I felt if I were to ask for approval to outsource a project, I would appear incapable of doing my job. It was scary. It was also wrong.
Over 20 years into my career, I realize there is a myriad of reasons why outsourcing work is practical and possibly the smartest decision you can make to achieve your project goals.
A good starting place is to ask yourself three questions:
- Do I have the time to take on this project? Some of the best projects I have worked on with clients are from firms with big teams full of smart people with great ideas who know what they need to do. They just need more manpower to do it.
- Do I have the knowledge? There is nothing wrong with admitting that you do not know everything. No one does. With the rapidly changing pace of digital marketing, it is not practical to expect that everyone knows everything. Bringing in an outside expert can often save you time and money. The less room for error in a project, the more likely it is you will want to outsource it to someone with the expertise to handle it.
- Do I need some outside inspiration? Sometimes we are just stretched too thin or are too burnt out to be creative. An outside perspective can be what you need to get you over the hump and move forward with your marketing plans.
For marketers like me who wear many hats, our knowledge is pretty broad but not as deep in certain areas. It saves time, money and unnecessary stress to outsource a project in an area where I don’t have that deep level of knowledge. —Jaime Lira, Director of Marketing, Cohen & Malad, LLP
Choosing the Right Vendor
Choosing the right third-party vendor for your project — and your team — can mean the difference between success and failure.
The best time to start sourcing vendors is not when you have a project, but well before. Cultivating your network, meeting new people and learning about others’ businesses should be an ongoing effort. Once the need arises, you can leverage your network of known vendors.
In your first meeting with a vendor, be organized and clearly articulate your goals. Explain what it will take for this project to be a success, including objective metrics to define success. Use the potential vendors’ experience, as they have worked with countless other firms. They should offer their insights, suggestions and markers for success based on that experience.
As part of this process, ask yourself:
- Did the vendor ask the right questions and understand this project?
- Do they understand your business needs, both to successfully complete this project and for any larger strategic team goals?
- Does their team have the appropriate experience necessary to gather the necessary information, including working with key firm stakeholders?
Choosing the right vendor means choosing a person or a team that will be easy to work with and function as an extension of your internal marketing department. Remember, you are hiring a vendor to partner with you, not just work for you.
A great third-party vendor will continue to invest in your partnership long after the paperwork has been signed. They understand that you are more than just a continuing source of revenue; you are an ambassador for their brand and the most powerful sales tool they have at their disposal. —Noel Watkins, Marketing Technology Manager, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.
Managing the Relationship While Managing Expectations
Once a vendor is selected, actively and intentionally managing the relationship by managing expectations is of primary importance.
First, work together to formalize the scope and goals of the project. Make sure you and the vendor agree, ideally in writing, to goals that are specific, measurable, attainable and relevant. Both quantitative and qualitative measurements should be established to monitor the success in the project. Include milestones, dates you expect to reach them, what could cause delays and potential roadblocks.
Second, take detailed notes and request meeting summaries to ensure everyone from the firm and the vendor are on the same page. This is especially important in the beginning when you are shaping the direction of the project. If you have a question or a concern, voice it early to avoid confusion down the line.
Third, a regular communication schedule needs to be established. Both parties should know what will be discussed at each check in. Expectations around the timeliness of responses should be established and communication preferences should be shared. Do you work best asynchronously over email because you are in meetings all day? Do you prefer the active discussion of regular phone calls? Also consider using collaboration tools like document sharing and project management software to help keep all of your project resources accessible and organized.
We are very selective in who we bring into the fold, as we consider the vendors we do use as an extension of our team. And like all team member interactions, communication and honesty are two critical keys for a successful relationship. —James J. Whelan, Chief Business Development Officer, Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP
What It Takes to Make the Relationship Succeed
At a minimum, any successful third-party vendor relationship will require articulated common goals, an active communications plan, and ongoing sharing of expertise and feedback.
It is also essential that the person managing this relationship understands the big picture — the project, its role in your overall marketing strategy and the impact the project’s success or failure might have on the firm. The project manager needs to understand the firm culture, stakeholders who need to buy in and who needs to be consulted to sign off on decisions.
The member of your marketing team managing the vendor relationship should have the experience and skill set to do so confidently and successfully. In fact, assigning a team member to manage a vendor relationship is a great professional development experience before they take on directly managing people. Legal marketers that are detail oriented and deadline driven do well in this role. Being a good listener, asking thoughtful questions and not making assumptions will also be key. Most importantly, someone who is unafraid to be honest with themselves, firm stakeholders and the vendor is absolutely essential to this role.
When I set up a long-term engagement with a service provider, I always set expectations on how the relationship should work. If you set expectations on the front-end around who is driving the project, communication styles and deadlines, then a lot of the typical problems go away. I also will occasionally provide feedback sessions with my service providers, whether good or bad, as it can only help. —Michael Blachly, Chief Marketing Officer, Gray Reed & McGraw LLP
Outsourcing to a third-party vendor is not relinquishing control of a process or the project’s outcome. For many firms, the decision to outsource is not taken lightly and the pressure to succeed by showing a concrete, positive return on investment can be high. Successfully outsourcing a project goes beyond just project management and demands a highly skilled communicator to manage the people involved as well. Detail-oriented legal marketers with strong communication skills that take the time to source the right vendor for their project and firm often find an outsourced relationship the right addition to their marketing plans.