You know your business better than anyone. But your content marketing vendors don’t.
So whether you’re working with an agency or contractor, educating third-party vendors on your business is a crucial step in building an effective and lasting relationship.
I’m sure a lot of startup leaders like yourself see this primarily as the vendor’s responsibility. After all, if you’re hiring someone to free up your time, why would you want to create more work for yourself?
But your relationship with your vendor is a two-way street. Just as they have a responsibility to you, you have a responsibility to them. Here are some of the pitfalls that arise when you don’t:
- Because your vendor doesn’t always know the specific questions they should be asking, they may think they have a better understanding of your startup than they actually do.
- If you don’t take the initiative, your vendor may not think deepening their understanding of your business is a priority for them.
- When there is no concerted effort on both sides to deepen the relationship, it stays at the surface level, so your vendor is less effective in creating content on your behalf.
This can only happen if you take some initiative in educating your vendor, letting them know that you’re just as committed to making this work as they are. Here are five tips to educate third-party vendors on your business.
1. Invest significant time upfront
Before you even sign the contract with your vendor, the first thing that usually happens is a discovery call. During this period, they get to know your business and learn about the various ways that they can help you.
Throughout this period, the vendor is in a learning posture, inquisitively asking questions about your company, your products, your customers, and your market. If you aren’t taking advantage of this hyper-focused time of learning, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run.
Your vendor will start executing against your marketing strategy fairly quickly. It’s during the execution phase where mistakes happen and the waters get muddied if there hasn’t been significant groundwork that’s happened in advance.
For example, your vendor may not understand that a major publication carries a lot of weight with your customers, and that using them as a negative example is probably a bad idea. Or, they may not know that your customers lean toward the conservative side of things politically, so making jokes about conservative politicians in your social media content probably will set them off. Or, your primary customer may be aged forty and over, and they’re making jokes about pop culture references that would just go over their heads.
Not every mistake is going to be instantly harmful to your brand. But each mistake is a missed opportunity to get it right, which if it happens too often, will end up hurting you as they pile up.
Instead of waiting until the pile-up happens, be proactive about engaging your vendor up front:
- Stay in touch with your point of contact, reaching out via email multiple times a week or over the phone. Engage them in conversations to address things that you think they should know to aid them in their role.
- Proactively explain pitfalls you’ve had in the past (whether with this startup or in a previous role) and common confusions you hear before they arise. You have the best handle on your business as anyone; use that to help your vendor avoid mistakes so history doesn’t repeat itself.
- When a problem arises, don’t use it as a judgment on them. It’s likely a misunderstanding that is best handled as a teaching moment. If the same problem persists over time, then you should do something more serious about it.
You may feel like you’re leading the relationship. Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of bringing them on board? Didn’t you hire this vendor to decrease your workload, not add more to your plate? Well, yes and no.
While it’s true that a vendor is going to reduce your workload over time, you can’t expect them to operate in sync with your startup immediately.
They won’t know all the right discovery questions to ask, especially the ones that are highly specific to your niche. When you guide the process and proactively educate them on your business, you help them learn the “unknown unknowns.”
The more you do this up front, the quicker your vendor will get up to speed on your business, making the relationship a whole lot easier over the long haul.
2. Describe your customers’ problems first, products second
When asked to describe their business, a lot of companies go straight to talking about their products. Of course, products are important.
But, ultimately, products are just a tangible representation of how you solve the problems your customers have.
Your products may change over time. What you specialize in now, in the startup phase, is likely going to look different in ten years.
But the core of your business, the problems you’re helping your customers solve, shouldn’t change. If you want your vendors to get up to speed on your business faster, start there.
When they understand the problems your products try to solve, they can better and more directly craft the right content that speaks to your customers:
- They’ll have an idea of the subject matter that your audience is interested in, particularly when they’re engaged in an active buyer’s journey.
- They understand the questions customers are asking along that buyer’s journey, so they can respond directly to them.
- They can proactively come up with better, more substantive topics when it’s time to figure out what to write about.
- They can create content that isn’t a sales pitch, but rather speaks to the specific needs of the buyer in an authentic, not opportunistic, way.
- They can start communicating with customers long before they enter the active buyer’s journey by understanding the steps they take as they become aware of their problem.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explain your products to your vendor. It’s a question of context. Your products will make the most sense to your vendor when you can help them understand the problems the products are there to solve.
That way, when they start creating content, they’ll be able to easily do so in a way that’s both authentic and intuitive.
3. Explain common misconceptions
“[Our brand] is not…”
And you can finish that sentence any number of ways. No matter what market you’re in, or how well you communicate what you do, there are going to be common misconceptions that come up.
Some are going to be innocuous, just people who haven’t done their research or misunderstand. Some will be more hostile, like a competitor who frames your company (even if they don’t call you out by name) in a negative light.
You probably have an idea of the misconceptions people have around your business already:
- Big Data startups are often characterized as having secretive, less-than-ethical information on people and industries
- Tech startups can be seen as trying to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist
- Marketing services startups are seen as making over-the-top promises that they just can’t deliver on
Regardless of your industry, you know the misconceptions or critiques that people are going to have of you. As someone who’s aware of that, it’s incumbent upon you to share that with your vendor so they can help you anticipate responses to those critiques.
It only takes a short paragraph to address a misconception that could explode into a comment war on LinkedIn.
When your content marketing vendors understand what misconceptions they should be aware of, it’ll deepen their knowledge your brand, improving their ability to write content on your behalf.
4. Make your expectations clear
One of the biggest ways you can hurt the relationship with your vendor is by having misaligned expectations. In fact, this is one of the biggest mistakes that companies make when outsourcing their content marketing.
Your vendor may have a single discovery call and then feel like they know your business based on a few questions they got answered. This may be enough information to get them started but it isn’t enough to make them successful over the long run.
But if you don’t establish the expectation of growing and expanding their knowledge of your business or industry, they’re likely going to stagnate.
If you make it clear that you expect them to grow, then they’ll understand that continual business with you is going to rely on that expectation being met. It seems crass, but your vendor wants to keep your business. Make it clear to them that growing in the relationship means growing in the knowledge of your company.
Earlier I talked about how you have to take responsibility with the vendor by over-communicating with them. This is the flip side. You should make it clear that this relationship isn’t a one-way street. Both of you have to come to the table ready and anxious to make this work.
Otherwise, they’re not going to be able to provide value to you at the level you need to justify a long-term relationship.
5. Remember that this is an ongoing process
Startups are all about growing fast. The business moves at breakneck pace, trying to get as much done in as little time as possible.
While this mentality is great for achieving rapid growth and getting to a place of financial stability fast, it’s a death sentence for a relationship with a vendor.
Simply put, your vendor won’t get that deep understanding of your business overnight.
And why would you expect them to? You certainly didn’t. How long did it take to research your market? Even if you were able to come up with some assumptions that you could act upon quickly, how often have those assumptions been challenged? How much have you had to change to things you didn’t know that you didn’t know?
The same is true for your vendor.
So be patient with them. Proactively work to close the knowledge gap. Start executing now, but understand that a truly “in sync” relationship won’t happen right away.
But little by little, your vendor should grow into a trusted asset of your company that you won’t ever want to let go.
Do you have a third-party content marketing vendor that focuses on deliverables, rather than billings? Here’s an overview of FEARLESS’ services, so you can select the plan that’s right for you.