Managing an outreach team can be a daunting task, as you are essentially in charge of people browsing who-knows-what websites and saying oh-no-not-that to influencers on behalf of your business' brand. It's a scary thought, knowing you're incapable of monitoring each and every detail of whom and what they are pitching.
Besides being scary, outreach teams are a breeding ground for inefficiency and poor practices. If you aren't careful, you could be leading a team made up of members who spend all watching TED talks or annoying Wall Street Journal journalists with guest post pitches.
Effective outreach is only as good as its management. To ensure you're leading a winning team, consider implementing some of the below actions.
Hire the Right People
First, you need to have an outreach team that is built for success. Not everyone is suited to conduct outreach. There is a certain combination of characteristicsthat come together to enable a person to be effective at pitching strangers daily. These include traits like:
- A tendency to sleuth and not take no for an answer (which unites to form "hustle").
- Extreme adaptability and enthusiasm for change.
- A penchant for improving processes and an intrinsic motivation to want to make things better.
- Persuasive writing and verbal skills.
- Extreme, near obsessive-organization.
- An inclination to be an individual learner.
- A collaborative and can-do attitude.
Note, not every team member needs to have every single one of these characteristics. A strong team can definitely be built on some individuals exceling in some of the aforementioned traits and other individuals balancing out the rest of the necessary skills. The key is to make sure you have a team made up of members who have a predisposition to succeed so as not to waste time on training people who may never truly get (or enjoy) it.
Train…Then Throw Them in the Deep End
Outreach is a very personal learning process – it is impossible to prepare someone for every single response he/she will receive. However, throwing a team right into the deep end isn't effective either, as green outreachers are inefficient and without guidance could spend hours perusing the web on the company dime.
Training will thus be a combination of providing new members guidelines for success, and then throwing them right into it and giving them the opportunity to fail in a safe space. Failure is inevitable in outreach – all outreachers fail daily. However, giving new outreachers the opportunity to learn from their failures in an iterative process will teach them how to bounce back quickly.
So what should training look like? Here is a checklist of topics to consider teaching:
- SEO 101
- Why companies conduct outreach and what it is
- Types of outreach methods and the goals each addresses
- Introduction to tools and any organizational systems, such as the moz bar or Buzzstream
- Overview of outreach metrics, such as moz's domain authority and linking root domains
- Prospecting: what it is and ways to do it, such as using advanced search queries or tools
- How to qualify a potential partner, using those aforementioned metrics
- Stalking Finding contact information
- Pitching best practices (a.k.a. how to not get your emails published) and how to be persuasive
- How to construct an outreach email and examples
While the above list isn't exhaustive, it covers most of the topics you should cover when training new members. As you go through each, give assignments that you can use to not only test their understanding but also to give constructive feedback.
For example, when you get to the prospecting phase, have members find 10 sites for a fictitious type of project (or a real one so they can hit the ground running when they are ready to pitch), including the appropriate contact details for who they will pitch. Provide feedback. Then, when you get to the writing emails part, the members can use this prospecting list to craft pitches, which you should then edit.
When you're ready to push the team into the deep end, each member should have at least 10 people and some emails to start with (if you used the suggested assignments). Make sure to meet often to monitor the members' progress.
Define and Clearly State Goals and Expectations
To ensure your outreach team doesn’t flail around just "getting links" and conducts outreach to actually achieve business success, you need to make sure your expectations and the project goals are clearly communicated.
For example, if your company uses outreach to build links toward product pages, your outreach team needs to know this because the types of sites it will target and how each member will pitch them differs drastically depending on the desired outcome.
Besides defining how your outreach team will do its job, goals and expectations keep outreachers focused. If there are no goals, and thus urgency to earn placements, it fractures each team members' time and leaves each doing whatever he/she wants. Particularly if you're trying to make a case that your outreach team is valuable, ensuring everyone is working toward common goals will provide you with the metrics you need to prove success.
So how do you define goals and expectations? One idea is to clearly outline actions and metrics each member can reach individually. Work with members one on one to achieve these personal goals; and make sure they are all written down somewhere each of you can access them, such as Trello or on Google Drive. Also, make sure these personal goals are specific and measurable. "Get good at outreach" isn't very actionable, but "improve response rate by 15 percent" is.
In addition to personal growth goals, clearly define project goals across the team by meeting well before the start of each campaign as a group to go over the desired outcome. Then, make sure these goals are written somewhere, such as a white board or Google Doc. Visit these goals often and communicate team wide the progress made toward achieving them.
Hold the Team Accountable
Clearly defining goals and expectations is a big part of holding your team accountable. Following through and ensuring each member actually achieves the goals is how you guarantee this accountability.
"Following through" means consistent communication about your expectations. This communication should take the form of praise when goals are reached and constructive criticism when goals are not met. Regular monitoring is important to ensuring your team is reaching goals, such as through bi-weekly checkpoints and an end-of-month number crunch to see just how efficient each member was from a macro level.
How you specifically monitor your team and provide regular feedback is up to you, but know that this monitoring process is essential in creating a team that doesn't goof around on the Internet all day or spend hours crafting that one perfect email.
Get Them Invested By Involving Them in Strategy
Outreachers are essentially selling ideas all day. In order to truly be effective at persuading a publisher to work with them, outreachers need to believe what they are selling.
Involving the outreach team in strategy development for the projects it will be pitching makes sense because its members know what will work (they do this every day after all). But more importantly, getting them involved in the strategy will also most likely make them feel invested in the project's success.
The outreachers become more emotionally tied to the outcome, and as a result are intrinsically motivated to do what it takes to succeed. Involvement in the strategy gives outreachers the opportunities to take ownership of the project, and that ownership is what will ensure the project doesn't fail once it gets into this team's hands.
Touch Base Frequently
Outreach is a very individual process – outreachers sit on the Internet all day pitching different publishers. It's very easy to create a team culture that is heads down and uncommunicative.
Besides creating a team that is a drag to be a part of, this lack of communication can mean you, the manager, has no idea what the team is working on – which results in you noticing problems too late – and create a black hole, where successful outreach tactics are lost because no one is sharing his/her successes and failures.
Meet with your team frequently to create a culture of communication and teamwork. Some ideas for doing this include:
- Adopt agile methodology, a process used by software engineers that encourages constant communication and a flexible-enough workflow to allow for sudden changes to "the game plan". The added bonus of this is it encourages teammates to help each other out when one is struggling by leaving flexibility in their schedule to do so.
- Create a private Google+ circle among your team, in which ideas, wins, failures, etc. are posted frequently.
- Schedule regular brainstorm and project planning sessions.
- Host team lunches, watch industry-specific webinars/videos together, or any other type of bonding/learning activity that will encourage your team to keep talking.
Create Streamlined Processes
Outreach can be messy, and if there is no system in place for consistency and efficiency, all hell can break loose. Think about it: an outreacher spends all day contacting different publishers. When outreachers doing this en masse come together to form a team, each one of them contacting hundreds of people…that's a whole lot of contact details that need organizing.
A workflow process is needed in order to avoid…
- Lost publisher contact details – which if lost could result in your team prospecting the same site over and over again.
- Outreachers duplicating contact efforts – which could not only damage the relationship but make your company look unprofessional.
- Outreachers forgetting to follow up with a contact, which could lead to a placement not going live or missing out on potential opportunities (as it's not uncommon to get a response after a 2nd or 3rd follow up email).
This workflow could be as simple as collaborative GDocs or more automated through the use of relationship-management tools like Buzzstream or Raven Tools.
This streamlined organization doesn't stop at just keeping contacts organized. Processes will need to be in place to ensure articles are created and shipped in a timely manner (for guest posting) or that there is an efficient product-ordering process (for reviews or giveaways).
Regardless of the type of project, make sure there is a clear process in place so your team spends its time actually outreaching and not getting bogged down in administrative busy work.
To create a fun, effective outreach team culture, you might want to play around with different forms of gamification, or "competition". Friendly competition can be a lot of fun, and when done inconsistency can create an unexpected but welcome break to the monotony of the team's typical workflow.
Besides being fun, gamification can also instill a sense of urgency among teammates, which will result in more wins for your outreach projects. Some ideas for this type of good-natured competition include:
- Organize team "ship days", in which everyone sits in the same room (upbeat hip hop music optional) and works on the same project for 6 hours straight.
- To up the ante, consider a "prize" for the first member(s) to reach a certain goal.
- Keep track of goals reached by each team member on a whiteboard that is visible for the whole team to see. Sometimes just seeing that other people are "ahead" is enough.
- Give a weekly/monthly "award" to the member who does or has the best "X".
Note, gamification in excess can turn sour if not done carefully. For example, bad blood could form between team members or the metrics for success could turn into a quantity vs. quality game. However, this is typically only true if competition is done regularly and in excess – and at the expense of a dire consequence (like someone will lose a job). Keeping it lighthearted and infrequent can help ensure your team looks at it as a fun way to "level up" rather than a fight-or-flight working environment.
Manage Your Own Expectations
The last piece of the puzzle to managing an effective outreach team is managing your own expectations. If you want to manage an effective, but also happy, efficient, and brand-appropriate team (you don't want a brand reputation nightmare because your team demands links in pitches), know that outreach can never be a pure numbers game.
Measuring your team solely by the number of links or mentions it earns and not taking into consideration factors like the strength of one relationship over another or understanding just how much time it could take for a high-value publisher to convert will result in a stressful team dynamic.
This isn't to say you shouldn't pay attention to numbers at all.
If you see that an outreacher is averaging one win a week, that is a problem. However, taking numbers with a grain of salt and looking at factors like percentages (response rates vs. conversion rates), efficiency rates (how many sites can he/she find in an hour?), and the quality of each members' relationships (is so-and-so reaching out to less people, but converting really well on big media sites?), you'll have a more realistic standard to compare your team.
Taking these other factors into consideration will also give you a more detailed view of each member's day-to-day activities, which can reveal some telling areas for improvement.
Managing an outreach team is difficult because you are constantly balancing the expectations of your supervisor for results with the knowledge that outreach is a marathon, not a sprint. However, with these ideas and tips, you should be able to lead a team that consistently kills it in outreach and brings long-term benefit to your business.
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