Though we aren’t quite experts in the space, we’ve had quite a bit of experience outsourcing bits of our sales development process to cloud workers in the US and in developing countries around the world.
In short, we’re taking small steps in the sales development process and turning them into online tasks that workers can do in exchange for money. Most of the tasks are very, very simple — like Does this person meet this criteria, yes or no? — while others are very complex, like Research this person and provide a specific bit of information. Every worker in our stack earns a (locally adjusted) fair wage and has the opportunity to earn money with a very flexible work schedule.
Humans are actually a big part of our software stack and have been one of the most efficient ways for us to scale what we’re doing. We trigger these tasks with software and receive the data outputs back into our web application, so the process is incredibly automated. We do 10s of thousands of these tasks per month and the volume is growing quickly.
We’ve had to throw some stuff against the wall to figure it all out…and obviously not everything stuck. Here are a few things that have helped us along the way:
Break the process down.
The work that you outsource needs to be very simple and easily translate-able in another culture. For us, this might mean turning a 3-step job into 3 completely separate tasks for cloud workers. If the work is distributed, it probably won’t take that much longer, and if you happen to get back any crummy results, it’ll be easier to pinpoint and fix the issue. The more “micro” you can make the tasks, the better.
Create comprehensive instructional tools.
The cloud workers that we’ve worked with have been incredibly smart and trainable, but what we’re asking them to do is often very different from what they’re used to working on. Proper training has been a make or break thing for us. We’ve put a lot of time into creating instructional materials, and into working with our remote management team to make sure that we’re providing the right tools to give our workers the chance to succeed. It’s not been easy and we’ve had periods of slow ramp-ups, but extra effort on the front end = higher quality results.
Set reasonable expectations.
For us, outsourcing a new task isn’t something that we can spin up in a 24-hour timeframe. Our first step is to spend time doing the work ourselves before we send it to someone else — we look for patterns, time how long each step takes and make sure that what we’re asking is doable. Once we’ve handed the work off, we also give ourselves time to test and refine before we actually start depending on the results. On the other hand, it’s important to realize that not everything is going to fit the model that you’re working with — it’s okay to try some things and then pull the plug if you feel like it isn’t working.
Spread the work out.
If you can, build a workforce that consists of more than just one-two people — ie, don’t bottleneck yourself by putting all your eggs into one basket. We got burned this way and it was rough. We spent a lot of resources on one person (hoping that they would be able to then train up a team of people), but then circumstances that were out of anyone’s control got in the way (lack of stable internet, shotty transportation, internship offers, school, etc.). Start by training a handful of people at the same time — if you have to let one go, or if you lose one of them, it won’t be as painful.
Love on your team.
This is probably the most important piece of the puzzle and we think it helps with retention/engagement. Our cloud workers are a huge part of our process, and thus our team — we try our best to make them feel it, even when they’re halfway across the world. Some of the ways we do this? We use Slack and Basecamp to encourage banter with the whole team (not just the person in charge of the extended workforce), we’ve sent t-shirts (any kind of schwag will do) and we send frequent “thanks for everything you do” notes — we’re also sending our longest FTE in Nepal to a nice dinner with his family, but he doesn’t know it yet, so shhh!
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had any experience with this type of thing — what’s worked and what hasn’t?