Virtual teams: An option for today's small business

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Is your company using virtual teams?  Here's a post that I wrote for a blog that requested hearing about others' experiences with virtual teams.  What are your experiences?

Technology creates options

Today, technology advances have made it possible to work virtually--and with virtual teams.  For small businesses like mine, this is a tremendous boon. 

It means that companies can assemble the team that best meets their current needs on a project-by-project basis.  Moreover, because consulting companies like mine can choose resources that are "best of breed", and because virtual teams often require less overhead,  we can often offer clients higher quality deliverables at an attractive price. 

BB Marketing Plus: a case example

My company, BB Marketing Plus, works with B2B companies that sell complex solutions.  Typical clients include companies that sell technology or professional services to other organizations.  

BB Marketing Plus works with these companies to accelerate sales.  We do so by pinpointing their most promising prospects and determining what it will take to induce them to buy. 

Then, we work with clients to incorporate what we've learned into developing products, contents, and processes that give their prospects and customers exactly what they want--the way they want it.  Clients hire us because in today's competitive market, the only way to capture their prospects' interests and engage them is by anticipating and squarely addressing their needs.

Marketing execution:  It takes a team

Executing the marketing strategies and tactics we recommend often requires expertise in content creation, production, placement, and measurement.  Some clients have in-house staffs that can provide these services. 

Smaller companies generally require outside help with some or all of these functions.  We, therefore, offer clients a team of professionals that can create content in various media, specialists that can optimize that content for search engines, and publicists with relevant industry expertise to secure the right placements. 

Since companies now operate in a digital world, the team often includes one or more technical experts--often with experience applying a particular technology.  Examples include individuals skilled in web analytics, marketing automation, and development of content management systems.

The team varies from project to project

When BB Marketing Plus sells the work, we select and manage the team.  When others sell the business, we take direction from them. 

The team is only as successful as its members

The client's needs and industry drive the criteria for selection of team members.  For example, it's important to have a publicist who knows the industry and its points of influence.

Nevertheless, there are other essential criteria.  For one, each member of the team must be individually competent. 

As Managing Principal of BB Marketing Plus, my company's reputation is on the line.  Therefore, I tend to select people that I've worked with before or with whose work I'm familiar.

I learn about potential team members through their work or recommendations from mutual colleagues.  I may become familiar with their work through direct experience or by reviewing examples. 

The members are only as successful as the team

The ultimate quality of the deliverable, however, requires a coordinated effort.  As with physical teams, it is important to set common objectives and expectations. 

This requires defining deliverables, responsibilities, due dates, and success criteria upfront.  It also helps to share a common vision, approach, and vocabulary.

Collaboration tools need not be complex

Team members often collaborate on projects using phone and email.  Often one person will draft content and others will comment on it, increment the revision number, and send it back. 

Virtual teams require structured communications

Ongoing, frequent communication is essential to the success of any team.  Virtual teams, however, often depend on voice and documents, without the aid of body language. 

It is especially important, therefore, to provide a communications framework.  Weekly status reports, and sometimes group phone calls, are a must for ensuring that team members are aware of the project's status and for alerting others of impending issues. 

All projects require trust

 All projects require change; and all change requires trust.  That said the level of trust you need to build depends on the magnitude of the change you are trying to effect and the number of people the change will impact.

Our projects tend to require shifts in investment rather than wholesale change.  Clients' exposure, therefore, to personal risk is minimal. 

Nevertheless, we still need to earn their trust.  We also need to engender trust among team members--since everyone's individual success depends on that of the team's.

We build the trust through frequent communications.  We establish credibility by breaking projects into phases, honoring our commitments, and keeping everyone abreast of the project status and next steps.  We also build trust by responding quickly to internal concerns and client issues.

Virtual teams provide a good alternative

I don't find working virtually that different from working face-to-face.  Either way, the quality of the ultimate deliverables depends on the leadership of the team, the expertise of individual team members, and the quality of interactions among team members and with the client. 

Depending on the nature of the work, a virtual team may be a good alternative.  The key to success is developing the right structure and adhering to best practices for project management and communications. 

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