- Simon Boardman
A to Z: Choosing an Outbound Agency Part 3
Last time we looked at two characteristics starting with "A" when selecting an Outbound Agency. Here in Part Three, we're going to skip the B's (couldn't think of any that were that interesting) and go straight onto the C's. We'll talk about Culture (more Cultural Fit) and Core Competency. Hey, that's three C's!!
We've written about culture's importance in many blog posts on this site and LinkedIn. I've asked whether prospects are looking at culture as a differentiator that provides them more distinction in this age of similar companies selling homogeneous products and services. I've also written about the importance of culture in enabling growth. Although the real point there is that bad cultures or cultural vacuums impede growth. Culture is hugely important, and cultural fit is at least as important as ALL the other factors in determining a successful engagement with any partner. So that's a good place for you to start when looking at outbound companies - at least look for the visible signs of cultural deficiency.
Outbound work is tough, and it always has been. Back in the day, people used the phrase "dialing for dollars." Some still do. I hated it then and hate it now. It trivializes how difficult a job prospecting is. It also implies that no matter the outcome of "the dial" - you still get paid. We actually, you don't.
Nowadays prospecting has become more diverse. Successful outbound agencies see themselves as prospectors and business development experts first and foremost. They'll use modern methods and technologies. There's a variety of outreach, efficiency and research tools that make the agents more effective AND efficient. We'll talk about technology in another episode, but because outbound work is repetitive and full of rejection, beware the Agency ownership or management that tell you how much their people "just love" what they do. This statement is obviously crap.
Life would be perfect if all of our jobs involved us doing exclusively enjoyable things, all of the time. The truth is, they don't. It's OK that certain parts of our jobs don't get us leaping out of bed in the morning singing "Oh What a Beautiful Day." Even all those celebrities spend hours in the gym and hours rehearsing and practicing – repetition, repetition. They don't LOVE that either, but they do it. It's that perseverance and "grit" that often determines success. So, the lesson here is to look for companies that acknowledge the difficulty of the job and make efforts to either outweigh, or at least recognize and work around it. Search for agencies with leaders that are realistic about what they do and what their role in the chain of business. Look for companies where leaders appreciate the inherent difficulty of outbound prospecting and who run their businesses with more carrot than stick. Walk the other way when someone does the old "they love making all those calls, sending emails, and getting told to drop dead" routine.
You'll find that most Outbound Agencies include some Inbound methods. The whole distinction can get confusing, and pointless. For the record, Inbound is when you are encouraging prospects to come to you. Outbound is when you are initiating the contact via some form of outreach.
There's always some cross-pollination of outbound and inbound, and that's OK. Outbound agencies will use some elements of inbound to drive response for them to qualify. However, if they're not real SEO experts (for example), don't cut them loose on trying to optimize your web content. Sure, they can leverage it, but it's your job to get all those programs and activities working together in harmony.
Other than executing the outbound activity, look for Agencies that use applications, tools, and methods to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. Look out for applications and tools they have either developed themselves (or implemented) to boost their performance qualitatively or quantitatively. See if they can add value to your data accuracy or have important advice on data practices and hygiene.
Pay attention to how they train their teams. Outbound agencies should have opinions on messaging. Not so much at the strategic level, but more how to take your messaging and maximize its effectiveness in the outbound environment.
The "Verto Verdict"
Wait for it…drum roll, please…
1. Cultural fit can be subjective (it depends on your culture as well). But having a positive culture is NOT subjective. You need to look for the signs. Reward companies who invest in creating positive cultures with your business. In my old agency, I recall when we had a visit from a large ERP software company who were looking to add an outbound agency to their roster. We won the contract and months later one of the leading decision makers told me one of the reasons they went with us. He said they preferred companies where the CEO didn't take themselves so seriously. While in our office they'd seen the photo wall (it was physical as opposed to digital in those days) showing some pictures from a "Back in the Day Party" we had. I was the CEO, and I was dressed as Elvis. We had a cultural fit. That may sound like a trivial example but look for companies that are natural and transparent. You can trust them. By the same token watch out for the culture of fear. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to sniff it out, just pay attention.
2. The point about "Core Competency" is to find an agency whose priority is achieving success in Outbound. They may have other skills and services, but those other skills, services (and technologies) should be there to improve the outcomes of the outbound activity. Pick an agency that adds value to you from their core competencies. For example, they might share advice on how to improve performance by combining tactics. Remain open minded as good agencies can teach you how to be more innovative, and add new twists to your approach.
Good luck team. We'll be back next week with more "A's, B's and C's (and D, E, and F's) of Choosing an Outbound Agency"...Feel free to chime in with any I have missed so far and make sure to check out part 1 and part 2 of this series as well.