Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2004


With all the noise about outsourcing, there's been a deafening silence about one issue.  The Big Elephant on the Table that nobody talking about is, in this case, an Indian elephant.  Carrying a payload of marketing talent.  

This "Indian Summer" issue might have been devoted to the hot, humid days in September.  Instead, I'll be discussing this summer's lessons in working with marketing's Big Elephant.  Cutting to the chase:  it's not easy, but it really can work. 

The Two Sailing Routes to India

As you've read here and sensed everywhere, the level of Marketing spend is always an issue.  And the spend issue is usually the wrong one.  The key is to lower the cost of customer acquisition -- if you achieve that, any marketing spend level is a bargain.

That said, it never hurts to get efficiencies.  

If your company already has an engineering operation in India, you can embark on the direct sailing route to Indian marketing.  If your Indian engineering operation is working well, it will have infrastructure in place, local employees, and a manager who (typically) has a history and ties with your US engineering team.  Assuming the engineering manager is flexible, it can be quite natural to add product management to the Indian engineering group.  If that goes well and the product manager has some people-management skills, the next step is to add some local "marketing service" talent such as graphic arts, web design, demo creation, market research, or competitive analysis.  These roles often have to interact with engineering anyway, and do not involve a lot of business savvy or finesse in language skills.  

But for this strategy to really work, the local manager must be your employee that oversees the whole overseas operation.

If your company has no operation in India, you need to choose the indirect route:  finding, recruiting, and managing a US-based agent to be the project manager.  While a bunch of companies are in the "business process outsourcing" arena, you must be very selective.  The company must be capable of US-based project management:  designing the work, selecting in-country talent, monitoring progress, and being "editor in chief" for all parts of the project.  The project manager must work with you on a daily basis (at least at the beginning), so (s)he must be local.  Make sure your project manager has no more than two other clients:  overload is a frequent cause of problems.

Since you'll live and die by the performance of the project manager, (s)he must be a trusted partner from the beginning.  Even if (s)he is a terrific person, they must have access to a network of quality marketing talent in India.  Test them on this before you sign then up. 

The starting point for your Indian team can be market research, competitive analysis, statistical analysis (such as SFA or CRM crunching), graphics, web design, or telemarketing.  Each of these things can serve as your pilot project to make sure your measurement and management are up to snuff.  From there, if you're lucky, the outsource work can grow into drafting marketing documents.

Picky, picky, picky:  persuasiveness, quality, and finesse

Looking at this from the perspective of headquarters, the offshore resources are service organizations to the main marketing department.  They are managed and measured just as you would an agency -- with tighter controls and dramatically less cost.  However, unlike any agency, you must invest time to interview and evaluate the in-country personnel.

Realistically, you have to adjust your expectations about finesse.  Marketing is, at bottom, all about the art of persuasion -- with a special emphasis on listening and adapting to customer input.  While India can offer plenty of brainpower and brute-force talent, it is very rare to find people who understand our culture deeply enough to create persuasive communicators for the US marketplace.  Further, their education system encourages a writing style that is understated or even unassertive (by high-tech standards).  While it is possible to do some outbound marketing / customer persuasion with Indian marketers, it requires perfection in recruiting and is still less effective than you'd hope.

To be effective, all outsourced marketing, regardless of country, must be "architected," guided, and polished by seasoned marketing leadership back at headquarters.  Expect to have daily (nightly) phone calls and document review sessions: you will need 100% quality control for a while.  If you work with a very short leash, the low costs of Indian talent let you achieve quality by doing more revisions.

That said, don't drive yourself (or your team) crazy with perfectionism.  Of course quality is important, but it doesn't really matter if there is a stylistic error in a webinar invitation email.  Given the choice, I'll take 90% quality with double the output for the same cost -- because I'll get more prospects and sales cycles that way.  Always watch your schedules -- as with any remotely managed resource, you can't take the calendar for granted.

With that, I have to return to my opening argument:  saving money on marketing in and of itself isn't good business.  Even the most well-managed Indian marketing operation by itself will not lower the cost of customer acquisition or improve the fortunes of your business. 

Instead, you need to optimize for overall business leverage...with the resources working wherever they are.  

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