Marketing Process Offshoring: Waiting for the Robots


Has process offshoring jumped the shark?  CIO.COM (and many other commentators) think so.


IT Robots May Mean the End of Offshore Outsourcing

The argument is a powerful one. A decade ago, Western companies embraced the labour arbitrage model (offshore = cheaper) for many of their marketing processes.  Market research, CRM database hygiene, creative design, website management, and email marketing are among the processes outsourced to vendors in India, China, Vietnam and other low-cost jurisdictions.

What’s happened since then? In a word, development. Currency fluctuations, increases in living standards, and competition for skills have eroded vendors’ cost advantages.  Labour arbitrage isn’t working the way it used to. In the future, we won’t have any offshore headcount – intelligent robots will do it all for us.  Or so they tell us.

Well, maybe (I’ve seen this movie before). But for the next few years at least, we’ll need human beings to perform process oriented marketing work, and we’ll be able to reduce costs if some of those human beings are offshore.

So, what do we do while we’re waiting for the robots? If you’re considering or just getting started on marketing offshoring, here are seven critical considerations…

        1. It’s not just about cost. Even though offshore labour costs are higher than they once were, there’s still enormous value in many offshoring projects. Why? Because when you offshore a process, you will first optimize it – documenting it in detail, and re-shaping it to run as efficiently and effectively as possible. The best offshore vendors know this, and they have skilled business analysts who will help you optimize a process before they take it over. Take advantage of their expertise.
        2. Select your processes carefully. It’s tempting to see offshoring as an easy solution for the stuff that nobody else wants to do. But simply throwing work over the transom to the offshore team is a recipe for failure — and even chaos. Instead of offshoring “work” and “deliverables,” think about end-to-end processes. What are you doing today that is repeatable, standardized, and high volume? If the work meets those criteria, chances are it’s a candidate for turning into a process – and for optimizing it offshore.
        3. Account for management. An offshored marketing process will never be “set and forget.” You will always need to invest time in managing the vendor relationship – meeting with account execs, assessing performance, addressing service issues, clearing up misunderstandings, training on new tools. And you’ll also need to invest real money in regular site visits – at least once per year, preferably more. It can add up fast. When calculating the ROI on your offshore processes, don’t forget to include these critical costs!
        4. Break it down. You won’t be ready to offshore a process until you’ve broken it down into its component parts. To do that, work with your offshore vendor to examine every work step that goes into a particular deliverable. Clock the time it takes your team to complete each step – then challenge the vendor to do better. By understanding your process at a very granular level, both you and your vendor will quickly highlight points of weakness and inefficiency – and find ways to do it better.
        5. Set performance standards. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a wonderful thing. It’s a contract between you and an offshore vendor that documents what inputs you will provide, what the vendor will deliver, to what standard, and on what timeline. It also includes consequences – the penalties that will automatically apply if a particular standard is missed. Invest in getting your service level agreement right – it will pay off in the future by removing ambiguity from discussions.
        6. Measure what’s relevant: In my experience, offshore vendors have reams of data available on their teams’ activities. And so they should – it’s their business to do so. But as an offshoring customer, my performance data requirements are focused on relevance, not volume. I need Key performance Indicators (KPIs) that line up with my business objectives and service level agreements. So, challenge your vendor to provide you with a focused dashboard of truly relevant performance metrics. Use these KPIs to set performance goals and measure progress over time.
        7. Look to the future: Yes, the robots are coming – and your vendor knows that. The best offshoring vendors are leading the way in developing robotic process automation (RPA) solutions for their clients’ needs. Talk to your vendors about this. Find out what they’re doing today, and what their RPA roadmap looks like. Work with them to challenge your current offshored process and find possible RPA candidates. If a technology-based approach seems feasible, try a low-risk pilot.

In future, robotic process automation will complement, not replace human work. It will allow marketing teams — whether onshore and offshore — to focus on creating insights and making decisions. In a great offshoring partnership, you and your vendor will collaborate continuously to find the right solutions – whether human, machine, or a combination of both.