Your Outsourcing Partner Could Be the Consultant You Didn’t Know You Needed

Nowadays, many businesses—including publishers—enlist outsourcing vendors to extend their business hours, fill technical knowledge gaps or even manage day-to-day tasks, freeing up full-time employees to focus on more high-value activities.

The reasons, no doubt, are endless. But more than a temporary salve, the right outsourcing provider can move from simply being a bolted on quick fix to becoming fully integrated with your team—ultimately transcending into a consultative partner who contributes to business growth and helps streamline operations.

With the right practices in place, you can fully untap your outsourcing providers’ true value.

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Scaling Up the Workload

Before engaging with an outsourcing provider, there are three things you should keep in mind. First, it’s ok to take baby steps until the provider has proven their mettle. You’ll also want to make sure that your documentation is in really good shape. And finally,  you’ll want to understand your expectations and the KPIs you’ll use to measure their performance.

In the early days, at least until you build trust, it makes sense to farm out low-level or smaller tasks, maybe starting with only one task type or having them work with only one team. What would you do if you were training a new full-time employee?

Gather all of your best practices and start documenting them right away. “Working with outsourcing partners forces you to be more buttoned up on documentation so that you can take a playbook approach,” says Hannah Livianu, a seasoned advertising operations leader.

With solid documentation for best practices and onboarding, you’re already half the way to building a successful relationship with your onboarding partner. Since your outsourcing partner works with many other companies, you can also look to them to fully author these for you—or with your guidance.

A great partner can set expectations for themselves and will often fully bear the financial burden when there’s a learning curve involved. During ramp-up, outsourcing providers—who think longer-term over quick wins—may be open to providing training phase discounts or provide additional capacity as a value add.

It’ll take some time, maybe a year or more, to build out all of the processes and KPIs together and fully stabilize the business. But you should lean on your outsourcing partner to develop all of the processes related to monitoring, reporting and optimizing performance. The best ones are really qualified to accomplish this.

It’s important to make sure that you and your partner agree on performance metrics. Then you’ll want to set up frequent check-ins and quarterly reviews to ensure that all revenue and efficacy goals have been met. This is also necessary to determine when issues arise, so you’ll be able to address them right away.

“Hold them to the same expectations as you do your internal team,” says Melissa Chapman, Founder & Principal, Part Two Consulting. “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 magic.  Expecting them to have an onboarding project plan and best practices about onboarding makes sense.  Expecting their one resource to do three times the work of your one resource, is not.”

Ramping up your partner’s workload should only happen once they’ve guaranteed accuracy. Once your partner can manage the process flow and the playbook, knowing which play to turn to and when then you’ll know they’re ready for more.

From Pen Pals to BFFs

One of the major issues with outsourcing is that your full-time employees are going to be wary of your outsourcing provider. You’ll have to assure your team that your partner’s agents aren’t competing for their jobs.

But how do you build up trust?

“You have to make an effort to humanize team building,” says Livianu. “Before you can make your partner an extension of your team, you’ll have to allow time for your associates to buy-in.”

One such ad operations team put a few strategies in place to achieve this, including administering customer satisfaction surveys and setting aggressive targets with real metrics in place to improve quarter-over-quarter to get more buy-in and more readership support to fund the partnership. To better integrate the team, leaders from the team also traveled to India to meet with their outsourced agents and vice versa.

When Chapman was Director of Digital Operations at Crain Communications, her team celebrated her outsourcing partner’s birthdays, weddings and new babies just as they would anyone working in-house.“It’s a nice way to build a bridge for people working in different locations, time zones, and countries,” she explains. “Trust is built on top of relationships, and trust is important to a well-running process and relationship.”

Your outsourced team needs to be viewed as an extension of your own team and not as a threat.  It’s important to clarify roles and responsibilities and document what is handled internally vs externally.

Another publisher looking to fully integrate their outsourcing partner decided to set up a mirror image of their team: at the lowest level were agents and then there was one manager who sat above the team of agents. At the top, there was an engagement director who was a director equivalent.

For that publisher, setting up this mirrored image really got their partnership off the ground. Their outsourced manager became like an overall manager for the team, limiting the need for the director of operations to continue overseeing the partnership any longer.

Transcending from Outsourcing Partner to a Consultative One

Once performance and trust have reached a really high level, an excellent outsourcing partner will easily move into the role of strategic partner.

“One of the benefits of an outsourcer is they use a lot of different tools, follow a lot of processes for a lot of organizations and support a lot of different types of relationships,” says Chapman.  “They likely have best practices and can identify issues in your processes.  Encourage them to provide you proactive feedback about your processes and even products.  They may be able to identify areas you want to optimize.”

Your outsourcing partner has visibility into what others in your space are doing and can advise on best practices, or metrics you haven’t even considered and will be able to provide you with solutions to your challenges.

“Our outsourcing partner helped us run our business better, even when not touching our work. We are stronger leaders because of them,” shares Livianu.