Every organization, at some point, outsources part of their B2B sales or marketing activities. Sometimes it's just for a specific deliverable. Other times, it's for a more sustained engagement such as lead generation,web design, inbound marketing, etc. For those of us who have been there, the selection of the vendor can rest on many variables. Are they the cheapest? Are they local? Were they referred by a peer whom I trust? Do they have the skills? Do I trust them? Can I work with them?
In my experience, it's the last two questions that are the most relevant: do I trust them, and can I work with them.
Let's be honest with one another. We're always going to want, and negotiate for, the best price and the fastest delivery. Most of us don't mind paying a small premium for good service. After all, we're all business people and we understand nothing is free. The best phrase a vendor ever shared with me was " Your options are you can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick two!" I think that sums up nicely the tradeoffs that always come with working with vendors. That being said, most marketers are constantly having their budget, and their effectiveness, scrutinized. As a result, you want to make the right vendor selection.
With that said, let's assume you'll negotiate for a reasonable price with a reasonable delivery. If the vendor can't do that then they clearly don't want your business.
So what does that leave to influence your vendor selection? Ah yes - the peer referral or the vendor location. Let's start with peer referrals. I love referrals. Most of my friends, professional and personal, understand my idiosyncracies. They appreciate that I have high expectations and that I don't always have patience. They value my single-minded focus on lead generation and measurable results. As such, when they refer me to someone, I can usually assume they believe the vendor's approach and personality will match my own. In turn, I can assume they've done work together and my peer truly has experienced great things from this vendor. My peer's very integrity rests on the results this vendor will deliver to me. I may be somewhat overstating it, but not by much. This is why word-of-mouth remains the most powerful lead generation tactic today; because we trust our peers.
But should a referral be your number one influencer in your decision making process?
Finally, the last thing to consider is location. Is the vendor local? Are they on the same time zone? Do they speak the same language? In the age we live in, telecommuting is the norm and long-distance project teams are typical. With that said, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting between client and vendor. It's one thing for me to say something to my vendor, but it's another thing for them to see my body language. It takes the relationship to the next level. It creates alignment.
So is location a prominent influencer on your vendor selection?
Alright - let me cut to the chase. I'll tell you what I've learned to be true. I've learned price is critical. I've learned integrity is paramount. I've learned referrals are a good way to short-list vendors. And I've learned to never sacrifice success to save a few bucks on my vendor.
But most of all, I've learned that my vendor selection comes down to trust and relationships. Do I trust this vendor? Can I work with this vendor? Does my gut tell me that I'll be successful with this vendor? Do I believe this vendor is earnest and engaged? Do they understand me and my requirements? Can I be brutally honest with them? And will I be okay if they are brutally honest with me?
The truth is that every sale starts and ends with trust and relationship. Look at your own sales cycles and you'll see these issues often play the largest role in why your customers choose you or your products or services. Everything else is important, but secondary.
So. Do you agree? Go ahead. Be brutally honest with me.
Not sure you realize this, but Valentine's Day will soon be upon us. Being a total non-romantic (at least in this post), the day is significant solely as it represents a milestone date that you, as a B2B Sales and Marketing expert, should be leveraging. In other words, whether it's Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, or any other significant event in the eyes of your audience, you should be planning well in advance to launch a campaign around it.
We've all been there. Trust me when I say, based on my past track record, I should probably be the last person to write this post.
So what's your plan? Have you already created a lead generation campaign that will leverage this milestone event? If so, congrats; you're now excused and no longer need to read this post.
Still here? Welcome to the club. Alright, let's make sure this doesn't happen again.
Folks, it starts with a Marketing Calendar. I know we talk about it. We mean to do it. We may even have an Excel spreadsheet of the major events we're doing (i.e tradeshows). However, used properly, a Marketing Calendar becomes a critical tool in your strategic planning. Before you do anything in your annual marketing plan, look at the calendar, pick the dates out that are opportunities to leverage (i.e. Valentine's Day, or Thanksgiving), and then enter a Campaign launch date that is days, or weeks, prior to that date. Once that major milestone is in place, you can reverse-schedule your supporting tasks to ensure you actually launch on time.
Of course, when that's done, you should enter your events next. Those dates are often fixed and not controlled by you. Following that, you can add in your news releases, your blog posts, and your newsletters. What we're doing here, if you haven't picked up on this, is staggering the marketing milestones so that they don't overlap. We want to optimize our campaigns with our financial and people resources. When you have multiple campaigns happening concurrently, it's a recipe for team discord. Avoid this at all costs!
Now that your schedule is layed out, you can start adding additional marketing campaigns to supplement your activities. For example, a tradeshow may be an opportunity for promotional emails and incentives to drive event attendance.
Sounds easy enough, eh? Almost common sense. So...how many of you can not only show me your marketing calendar, but also claim to invite others in your extended organization to participate and contribute to direction, content, and measurability? How well do you actually meet your deadlines?
It's not easy. It's hard. I understand. But a marketing calendar that's shared by, and visibile to, the entire organization is a Marketer's best friend. You eliminate the question of "What does Marketing do?". You actually create morale because staff feel like Marketing is making noise and generating revenue. The conversation moves from "We need new leads." to "We need to close the leads we have."
So how do you make this mythical marketing calendar? For years I used MS Project or MS Excel and simply posted it outside my office. I updated it weekly with my team and shared it via email to my executive peers. When people asked me what we were doing I'd simply walk them over to the posted calendar (they soon stopped asking!).
These days, I prefer technology to create and manage my calendars.
For years I used BasecampHQ. It's a great product for simple project planning. That's all we really need. It is great for transparency because team members can be both internal or external. The subscription fee is relatively low. It's a good investment.
Currently we're using ManyMoon. We love it. We made the move because our email and team collaboration backbone is all built upon Google Apps (GA). Unfortunately, BasecampHQ didn't have great integration with GA but ManyMoon does. Being able to update projects and milestones and tasks seamlessly between your email, contacts, and projects is very efficient. The reaction from our clients is overwhelming. In fact, while we may be engaged to deliver a subset of their marketing activities, we encourage our customers to use our ManyMoon instance and update the shared calendar we have with them to include all of their marketing activities. It works well for both of us. We can see what they have coming up on the calendar - even if it doesn't involve us - and we can plan our campaign dates such that they don't create conflict for our clients. Conversely, our clients now have a single place to go to see their entire marketing calendar.
So what's your plan? Do you have one? Are you planning for success, or failing to plan?