Master The Management Of International SEO Services Vendors
Today, I’d like to address an increasingly significant and treacherous topic for global marketers, a topic which I believe is insufficiently discussed — vendor management.
The issues surrounding vendor management are principally related to cost, quality and control. First though, we need to put the situation into its wider context. No global agency vendor actually has infinite resources available around the globe. An organization with 500 offices employs a lot of people, has a large overhead and must find cash to fund those people on a daily basis.
So, when the CMO says, “We need this implemented within a week,” it doesn’t always quite happen that way. A colleague of mine in a former life used to respond to such requests by saying, “It’ll be done by Tuesday.” Of course, he never specified which Tuesday.
So, the largest agencies always have a need to outsource some of the work. Sometimes this is done in a transparent way, and sometimes it can get a little opaque.
In other cases, clients are managing multiple agencies and trying to deliver a coordinated campaign despite having multiple briefings, different forms of contract, flexible and less-flexible forms or working different time zones and different operating languages. Sometimes, it can get a little interesting — I remember one client’s global search manager who had to fly several hours to a meeting just to fire the agency!
Outsourcing The Vendor Management?
It may seem a little odd to outsource the outsourcing (which is effectively what vendor management is), but it can be a significant part of the solution. There are a number of options for doing this. You could approach your existing lead agency, select a company managing outsourcing projects, or select a new vendor in a pitch to become the lead outsourcer.
The benefits can be significant, but it is important to first have a clear vision of why you’re doing this.
Putting The Cost Driver First Could Be A Bad Idea!
It seems that for many agencies, the motivation is to drive down cost and to increase profits; similarly, client managers are often interested in stretching their budgets as far as the eye can see. These motivations contain an inherent danger, which is that the actual value of the service delivered may be less for a variety of reasons.
We’ll touch upon the quality of the actual deliverables in a moment — but a key component of outsourcing costs is the hidden cost related to communication. Communication is at the heart of marketing services, and any lapse can cause a reduction in the value of the service received.
Communication itself is costly. If you’re the Head of Marketing, should you be briefing yet another agency, saying the same things you’ve said many times before? Or should you be listening to customers in focus groups and learning more about what makes them tick?
The key to successful outsourcing of your own vendor management, then, is having solid project briefing systems and progress tracking in place. You want this to be at your fingertips, not be at your wits’ end.
Managing Internal & External Bureaucracy
Did you know that the average marketing person spends three years of their life just reading contracts? (Actually, I made that up… but that’s what it feels like to me…)
Seriously, though — how many contracts have you read? How many times have you skimmed terms and conditions because the phone’s is ringing and you’re under pressure? Managing internal and external bureaucracy, dealing with lawyers, turning Track Changes in Word documents on and off… it gets old.
If your internal lawyers are prohibitively difficult to work with, or if you think outsourcing the terms and conditions of contracts is something you can get away with doing once — then vendor management will probably work for you.
It’s not only more satisfying to be deploying your huge intellectual capabilities to developing the strategy (rather than the nitty gritty legal stuff); there is inherently greater ROI in strategy than terms and conditions. (So far, I’ve never heard a lawyer talk about ROI in connection with their hourly rate!)
Remote Control Of Quality Means Many Opportunities For Error
The biggest potential downside of outsourcing the management of international SEO services is the lack of control which results. I’ve often heard clients say that the level of knowledge of their local SEO agencies around the world varies considerably — as it does for in-house staff.
When it comes to outsourcing work for international SEO (or SEM, or social media), you need to have a way of ensuring that the strategy is delivered consistently down the line. Unfortunately, this is where opaque outsourcing falls down. If the intermediaries don’t want you to know they’re working together, then you’re certainly not going to all be able to get on a call and discuss things.
Staying In Control & Relevant Is The Goal
My strong advice is to look very carefully at how you structure your approach to global search services, especially for SEO. A mixture of centralized management and distributed outsourcing is probably the ideal for most. But for execution to go smoothly, you’ll want to ensure that everyone knows the goal, the rules of the game and the strategy.