The Ad Ops Guide to Outsourcing

It never fails. At nearly every PubForum event, either IRL or virtual, the topic of outsourcing is something the AdMonsters Community wants to talk about.

The topic gets added to the agenda as either a breakout or workshop session and is always well attended. We cover all the bases, and as people share their experiences we also identify the potential benefits of outsourcing like enabling your staff to focus on higher-value activities, extending your team’s capabilities and support hours, supporting peaks in your business, benefitting from an outsourcing partners’ breadth of knowledge across tools and processes, and most importantly, lowering costs.

But unfortunately,  there never seems to be enough time to cover all of the intricacies that go along with determining whether outsourcing is right for your business, how to choose the right partner, or how to manage the relationship once you’ve decided it’s a go.

Thankfully, we have a few members in the AdMonsters Community who have been implementing outsourcing practices successfully at their media companies and who want to share their experiences and best practices in a guide. 

Thanks to my collaborators, Pilar Prassas, Global Head of Revenue Operations, Thomson Reuters, and Brittany Warren, Associate Director, Client Services – SMB, SiriusXM, for sharing their expertise to The Ad Ops Guide to Outsourcing.

Table of Contents

Best Practices for Outsourcing Ad Ops

Determining Your Outsourcing Requirements

Evaluating Potential Outsourcing Partners

Onboarding Your Outsource Partner

Managing Your Outsourcing Partner Relationship

Top 3 Takeaways

Best Practices for Outsourcing Ad Ops

There are four distinct phases of outsourcing we will cover. You can use one or more of them, depending on where you are in the process.

  1. Determining Your Outsourcing Requirements 
  2. Evaluating Potential Outsourcing Partners’
  3. Onboarding Your Outsource Partner
  4. Managing Your Outsourcing Partner Relationship

Determining Your Outsourcing Requirements

When you begin your outsourcing journey, the first question you need to ask yourself is: “Why am I considering outsourcing?” 

This is an important question and one that is often overlooked. However, the answer to this question will inform which partner you select, the business relationship structure, and what will be the relationship KPIs that should be captured and monitored.

A few common reasons to outsource:

  1. Lower your revenue operations cost.
  2. Staff for wide fluctuations in workload volume.
  3. Staff coverage outside of local business hours.
  4. Staff backup coverage for your internal team.
  5. Shift internal team’s focus to higher-value activities.
  6. The team is taking on a new responsibility.
  7. Challenges with hiring internal staff.
  8. The current staff doesn’t have the skill set necessary.
  9. Your current staff doesn’t like some specific tasks.
  10. Staffing needs are less than 1 FTE.

Once you determine the reason(s) you want to outsource, you can start to narrow down your requirements. 

The following questions can help you determine your requirements:

  1. Do you require support for specific business hours?
  2. Do you require support for particular times of the day, week, month, year?
  3. Do you require specific SLAs?
  4. Do you need to supplement your existing staff? 
  5. Do you need to pick up a new responsibility and want the outsourcer to take it on? (Or maybe you want to have the internal team take it on and shift an existing task to the outsourcer.)
  6. Do you need to cut costs?
  7. Do you have a part of your business that is not ROI positive? (Think deals under a certain revenue threshold.)
  8. Is the work you need to do a part of your traditional revenue operations tasks?
  9. What systems will your outsource partner need to support?
  10. Who will the outsourcer interact with? Revenue Operations? Sales? Advertisers?
  11. Which languages do you need to be supported across the globe and who will your outsourcer be interacting with? Will this interaction be written, spoken, or both?
  12. What type of metrics do you want and when do you want them? 
    1. You likely won’t nail this down at this point, but giving it some consideration prior to engagement, gets you closer to getting what you want, not just what they provide out of the box. This can vary considerably, but some items to consider:
      1. Weekly or monthly burn report, showing tasks completed, hours spent, errors. Forecast of work for the upcoming week.
      2. Monthly task report, showing all tasks or tickets, with details including ticket type and time spent. This could come with the invoice to reconcile the invoiced hours to the ticket hours.

Evaluating Potential Outsourcing Partners

Evaluating potential outsourcing partners will vary based on your organization’s requirements. There are no right or wrong answers here. 

Talk to at least a few potential partners. Each conversation will help you hone what you want and what is industry-standard.

  1. Where are their staff located?
  2. What time zones do they support?
  3. What are their SLAs?
  4. What is their average tenure for employees? (You want to understand their turnover rate.)
  5. What is their accuracy rate? How is it measured?
  6. What KPIs or metrics do they typically publish and on what schedule?
  7. What is their process when an issue or live-site error happens?
  8. Do they have experience with the systems you want them to use?
    1. Talk to a current client that uses the same system. Especially if it’s not a common tool.
  9. Onboarding
    1. Do they have a project plan for onboarding?
    2. How long do they expect to take? They may need to know more about your business to answer this question accurately.
    3. Who will your organization interact with? Are these people doing the work? Or overseeing the work?
    4. How will your organization interact with the potential partner?
    5. What training will be needed?
    6. What documentation is required? Can they help you if you don’t have things well documented?
  10. Ongoing, post-onboarding
    1. Who will your organization interact with? Is there a single point of contact or are you dealing with individual team members? Multiple single-level contributors? Are they assigned to your organization or do they operate out of queue?
    2. How will your organization submit work tasks? Ticketing system, phone, email, IM, slack, etc. If you have your own process, are they open to working with yours? Talk to another client whose system they adopted.
    3. How will your organization interact with the potential partner? Ticketing system, phone, email, IM, Slack, etc.
    4. What is the turnaround time for responses?
    5. What is the escalation process and the turnarounds?
  11. How is workload monitored and confirmed?
  12. How do they manage team performance?
  13. How is their team structured?
  14. Do you get to be part of the talent sourcing process? Do you want to be?
  15. What is the level of written and verbal communication skills in the language(s) you need supported?
  16. What is the business model? Pay for FTEs? Pay by the hour? Pay by the task?
  17. Are the resources shared or exclusive to your organization?
  18. How is backup coverage handled, PTO, unplanned staffing changes?
  19. Are there regular meetings? Who is involved? What is the agenda?
  20. Are there quarterly business reviews (QBRs)? Who is involved? What is the agenda?
  21. How long have they been in business?
  22. How large is their team?
  23. What type of outsourcing support do they provide? Ad ops? Creative? Email marketing? Social? System migration?
  24. Who are their current clients?
  25. How many clients do they have?
  26. References. The references should use the potential partner similar to your expected use, best if they use the same tool(s) you use. Talk to two or more. Everyone’s business is different and people have different expectations.
  27. Will they provide you some amount of time as a free evaluation?

Onboarding Your Outsource Partner

  1. Get your documentation together. Even if it’s not complete, pull together what you have. Start this before you select an outsource partner, as the health of your documentation and the time you have to dedicate to revising your documentation, could impact who you select.
  2. Determine an internal point of contact to manage the outsourcer. Without a good point of contact in your organization, outsourcing can be very challenging. This person will not touch all the work but will manage the relationship: 
    1. Identify and address issues while they are minor.
    2. Escalation point for internal and partner resources.
    3. Process development and optimization.
    4. Drive forward and be involved in all relationship meetings.
    5. Introduce and train on new products and processes.
    6. Ensure documentation is kept up to date, regardless of who does the updating.
  3. Start with smaller tasks. There are lots of different ways to break things up: If you have 10 brands, have them start with one. Have them start with one task type. Have them work with one internal team out of the gate. Think of how you would train an internal FTE. Give them smaller items to start with and then ramp up.
  4. Check-in often. It is much easier to correct problems when they are speed bumps and it helps keep confidence from dropping into the danger zone. You can add in more tasks and increase the cadence as both teams get more comfortable.
  5. Hold them to the same expectations as you do the internal team. Don’t expect less from them — you won’t find them valuable and your internal team may resent it. But don’t hold them more accountable — just because they specialize in outsourcing, doesn’t make them magicians. Expecting them to have an onboarding project plan and best practices about onboarding make sense. Expecting their one resource to do three times the work of your one resource, is not.
  6. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. What is done internally, by whom, and what is done externally, by whom? Make sure the handoffs are documented and clear.
  7. Keep your partner in the loop as to the workload forecast. This allows them to get in front of workload staffing, which is ultimately good for your business.
  8. Develop scripts if your partner will be contacting sales or clients. Your business will help drive if those scripts are a guideline or a hard and fast process and what should be done if the scripts available don’t fit the scenario.
  9. Your partner should develop the processes to monitor, report, optimize, and publish the KPIs and metrics you both agreed to during the contract process. Start monitoring right away. There should be some leeway early in the process as the relationship is ramping up, but performance should be monitored closely, you want to address performance concerns quickly.
  10. Build people relationships. Your outsource partner has a whole staff of messy, quirky, and wonderful people just like you do. Don’t let a different company, time zone, country, or background hold you up from developing relationships. Be mindful of time zones, holidays, etc. during your interactions.
  11.  Leverage your outsourcer’s experience. One of the benefits of an outsourcer is they use a lot of different tools and follow a lot of processes for a lot of organizations and support a lot of different types of relationships. They should have best practices and can identify issues in your processes. Encourage them to provide you proactive feedback about your processes and even products. While some things you may not want or be able to change, they may be able to identify areas you want to optimize.

Managing Your Outsourcing Partner Relationship

Manage your partner, like you would manage your own team. Notice the use of the term partner, not vendor. Partner implies partnership, partnership is important to everyone working together to support the advertising revenue of your organization. 

Treating our outsource partner like part of your internal team provides: 

  1. More reasonable expectations — sometimes we tend to think that the other person, team, company isn’t holding up their end of the deal, but the expectations are actually unreasonable. A true partnership allows honest discussion about what is possible and realistic and how things are progressing.
  2. Build relationships — celebrating team birthdays, weddings, babies, etc. are a nice way to remember everyone is human and we all have lives outside of ad ops. It’s a nice way to build a bridge for people working in different locations, time zones, and countries. Trust is built on top of relationships and trust is important to a well-running process and relationship.
  3. Establish evaluation and assessment processes — When an error hits the live environment, an evaluation and process assessment should be done. Make this a formal process. You can call it a post-mortem, incident report, or cause and cure. But regardless of the name, it should include an outline of the issue, why the issue happened, and what steps will be taken to minimize risk of the error in the future. Generally, the latter is implementing a new process or optimizing an existing process.

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. Have good documentation. Whether you provide it at the outset, or your partner creates it as part of onboarding. Good documentation makes for good processes, more efficiency, and less mistakes which can impact revenue.
  2. Onboarding an outsourcer successfully takes time. Especially if you are a larger shop, have multiple brands, have lots of products, or don’t have well-defined processes.
  3. Be active in the relationship. You get what you put into it, have an internal point of contact, have clear and reasonable expectations, have regular and effective communication.