November 9, 2014 Jason Penrose

The grass isn’t always greener, especially if your own backyard is a mess…

A mixed metaphor probably doesn’t make for the best blog headline, but surely it beats the ubiquitous “Top 5 tips for…”, however that’s a rant for another day.

Many times when a client or prospective client facing challenges in their marketing services supply chains briefs me, the blame is directed at vendors. Their service is poor, their creative has lost its punch, they’re too expensive, they just don’t get our brand.

As for any troubled relationship, it’s easier to point the finger than critically examine your own role in dysfunction.

Jamecam Consulting often begins projects with a client intent on “shaking up the vendors”, but this regularly evolves to focusing on processes, practices and behaviours that are typically owned and managed, largely or in part, by the client.

Additionally, the time, effort and risk associated with vendor change is regularly underestimated. As is the value of IP that can be lost when marketing partners are kissed goodbye.

Here are some things to consider.

Are vendors’ capabilities and scope well understood, and is there a fit?

It’s not rare for me to talk to marketers working side-by-side who have a very different perception of the strengths of the same agency, and contrasting understandings of the scope of services it provides to their business.

The delivery of marketing services is a complex and ever changing beast. If there’s confusion within your team on what a particular vendor offers or what their role is across your brands, optimising this relationship will be very difficult.

Don’t assume…ask the right questions. Establish a clear scope of services with each key vendor and ensure your marketers are buying the right things from the right providers.

Do your marketing service partners know where they stand?

As for your marketers, if your service providers are unclear on what their role is or what the business’s expectations are, ineffective supply relationships are likely.

Without some clarity of scope and activity volume it’s very tricky for an agency or other vendor to resource your account appropriately. Likewise, any agency that’s just getting scraps of work isn’t going to add strategic value to your business.

Collaboration between marketing vendors is critical to success. Unlike many other categories of spend, marketing suppliers rarely work in isolation. Creative content development and deployment almost always moves through a number of external partners to get to your customers. When all service providers understand the part they play in this supply chain, and are not battling over territory, they are far more likely to play nice and deliver synergy.

Are your suppliers being managed effectively?

All relationships require nurturing, sharing of objectives and open communication. They also need regular check-ins and assessment.

We commonly find vendors frustrated at still not being fully on-boarded six months after being engaged or others who attempt to facilitate regular review meetings only for key buyers to not show up.

Effective vendor management is fundamental to driving desired supply outcomes. Clear KPIs and SLAs must be defined, reviewed and updated; vendors should be assessed formally against these regularly and in real time. Supply partners are often the best source of innovation for your marketers; provide them a safe forum to deliver this.

Most importantly, for each key marketing service provider, understand who is responsible for managing the relationship. Whether this resides in procurement or marketing, uncertainty will breed inaction.

Is there waste and inefficiency in your marketing supply chains?

Marketing projects are often complex, involve multiple parties and, almost always, time critical. Yet documented or automated processes to support these supply chains can be non-existent or inadequate.

“I didn’t know which suppliers we used when I started, so I just contacted the agency I’d used in my last job”…we hear this more often than we should. Or from vendors that “we’ve explained the lead times repeatedly but everything we get is urgent”.

If corners are cut or planning insufficient, it will inevitably cost you more. That promotion budgeted to go by road freight that now has to be sent by air will blow out your distribution costs by three or four-fold.

Map your processes, identify and eliminate waste, plan effectively and leverage technology (marketing to procurement…”Help!”). There are some fantastic marketing workflow systems available, and they’re getting cheaper.

Show me the money…are vendor commercial parameters driving the desired outcomes?

Self-interest generally trumps all other motivators. No doubt your marketing service providers like working with your business, they probably have great relationships with your marketers. However, if the quantum of their remuneration isn’t somehow linked to driving the outputs and results you need, then you’re unlikely to get optimal delivery of the results you need. Revelatory!

And here is where procurement can play a pivotal role. Have meaningful conversations with your marketing stakeholders and truly understand what they are aiming to achieve with their programs, and what role each key vendor has to play in this. Then examine the remuneration models in place with each of these. If they don’t support or incentivise the business’s desired results, get creative.

Going to the market and changing vendors isn’t necessarily wrong…sometimes it’s essential. But, more often than not, a clear-eyed examination of your own backyard can deliver significant benefits.


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