This is a question many businesses ask themselves at some point and it’s something I’ve had to ask myself in the past. When should you make the decision to outsource your marketing department? It’s easy to make the wrong decision (I’ve done that too!) so this article should help you decide if it’s the right decision for you.
Many companies wish to keep a tight control over their workflow and processes, so when it becomes apparent that extra help is needed, the preference is often to hire in house. Outsourcing a marketing department (or a part thereof), especially if you already employ marketers, can be a scary prospect for your in-house team even if they admit they need help.
Letting an outside agency in who may potentially criticise what employees have been working on and potentially “expose” them as being deficient in knowledge or experience is a real fear. This fear should be unfounded. External agencies are there to support in house employees and their company, helping them do an even better job. The insights that external agencies gain from working with multiple companies at once keeps them on the bleeding edge of growth marketing. These insights, skills and tools should be regularly shared with any in house team helping an in-house to upskill and keep learning. Everyone should be on the same side and ultimately looking to achieve the same goals.
Whilst I was CMO at one of my first startup ventures, I made the mistake of trying to do almost everything in house as I thought this was the best long term solution. This stretched the team and meant that I was spending too much time creating reports and not enough time spent on strategy. I wasn’t able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. At that time I couldn’t see how an outside agency could have helped us get back on track and focus on the key areas that would determine success or failure. Now, being part of an external marketing team has made me understand that most of what I thought about external teams, I had wrong!
What is an outsourced marketing company?
There are several different types of external marketing company and many will often specialise in certain areas of marketing such as growth, social media or SEO. It’s rare that a company will outsource its entire marketing function unless it’s an early stage startup or a very small company of 1-5 employees. Usually an outsourced federal marketing company will come in to take the pressure off an internal person or marketing department, or provide learnings and direction to feed back to an inexperienced or stretched marketing department.
An outsourced marketing company will handle all or just some of the functions of a fully equipped internal marketing department a good example would be Addiction Marketing. Outsourcing doesn’t have to mean there are no marketing functions in house. How you outsource your marketing is dependent on the needs of the company and what you want to achieve from your marketing efforts.
At Creative Tinge, for example, we specialise in growth marketing. This means that although we have the skills of a complete marketing department, we won’t perform any marketing function such as design, PR, social media or content at all – unless it’s specifically pinpointed at growing a predetermined area of a business. All the services like Lead Generation which a subset to the growth marketing are handled by us.
Outsourced marketing teams should be flexible in fitting in with your current setup, although goals and parameters should be set up at the get-go to make sure there’s no confusion later on. Any internal marketing team need to understand the role of the external team, their goals and how the internal team will (if at all) play a part in reaching those goals. This is really a team effort between your internal and external teams, so it should feel like one from the very beginning.
When to outsource your marketing department?
There are definite advantages of hiring in house but there can be distinct disadvantages too. Outsourcing a marketing department or a marketing function isn’t always a good idea for a business. It greatly depends on the business, what problems you’re having, what resources you already have and the goals you need your business to achieve.
The last thing you want to do is hire an external marketing team unless you’re 100% sure of what you want to achieve. If you’re not sure, you’ll just end up wasting the time and money. Before even getting to the stage of hiring an outside agency you should be able to answer some simple questions like:
- What are the goals of your business and how is your marketing currently not helping you reach them?
- Which aspects of your marketing are you dissatisfied with, or think could be better?
- Which marketing functions can you perform in house, if any?
- Are you looking to out-source any products to increase your brand awareness, i.e. loyalty cards from ?
If you can’t answer these – don’t bother looking for an outside agency yet, you’re not ready! You need to be able to provide some level of direction and have a good sense of what your company can and can’t achieve on its own. An external agency isn’t like a magic wand you can wave to make all your problems go away. It’s a tool that must be used with precision, only in the places it’s needed.
Another reason not to go with an outside agency is if (as we’ll mention later in the article) you have no one who can manage their outputs. An external agency will need a contact and cooperation from someone, or several people working within the company.
In our experience most businesses have common problems when they look to hire an outside agency. From having an overworked marketing department to needing more experience in a variety of marketing channels, the usual suspects are:
You don’t know where to start with marketing
Some companies that we’ve worked with have an absolutely brilliant product but just don’t know how to find and take it to their target audience. For example, maybe all you have is a well formed idea but no knowledge on how to test the market. Marketing companies should know exactly how to search out target audiences. They can experiment quickly in lots of channels finding out what works and what doesn’t, helping to formulate a solid marketing strategy.
You’re young but need to grow, fast
This is another really common problem and one I had at a previous startup as the CMO. For startups on a limited budget, finding the people with the experience and knowledge needed to compete at the level needed is often impossible. With the amount of marketing channels available and highly specialised skills needed to work within them, it makes it an extremely difficult task for any inexperienced in-house team to perform effectively.
A young startup that is growing will often require access to skill sets for a period of time only as the business goes through phases of growth. Therefore, it’s a poor choice for a young cash strapped business to invest the time, effort and money to recruit qualified people only to not need them a few months later. It should be noted that hiring takes a long time too, and time is something many young businesses don’t have. Therefore, if you need access to highly skilled marketing technicians for a limited time only think twice about hiring internally and evaluate what you can access in the market via an outsourced marketing company.
Hiring an experienced external team to run systematic testing in all marketing channels to find the ones that work for you can be invaluable and important. This can help you determine which marketing skills you should eventually hire in-house. Often startups may still have an internal CMO who will work with and monitor the efforts of the outsourced marketing company. Don’t hire an external marketing team unless you, or someone else in your business, has the time to manage them and their outputs.
Your in-house team is stretched
If you’re CMO at a startup you’ll recognize this problem immediately. I’ve seen it countless times and it’s hard to avoid. For smaller companies and startups, marketing teams can easily become stretched. The role of marketers can stretch from branding to SEO, PR and email to UI/UX. Growing a company whilst keeping on top of the day-to-day marketing functions can be impossible for small internal teams or often just one CMO! The choice is – like the one I had all those years ago – to hire a dedicated growth team member or internal markets or hire an external team. However, there’s always the risk of hiring the wrong person.
If you run a larger established business, you may want to outsource some marketing functions such as social media, content or SEO. This can take a lot of pressure of already overworked in house teams. But if you do this, make sure you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities and well understood metrics that act as KPIs for the project.
You’re missing key targets and goals
If you’re disappointed with the results you’re achieving despite your best marketing efforts, often it’s just because energy is being expended in the wrong places. When you’re spending money on things that aren’t working it leaves less money in areas that your business really needs it.
Companies will often employ an external marketing agency to work alongside their current marketing department. In fact, it’s not uncommon for larger companies with sizable marketing departments to outsource an external growth marketing team to focus solely on growth and nothing else. This can be a highly effective (and cost effective) way of growing a company without the need to drastically change any internal processes, structure or current roles.
It’s worth noting that you should own the strategy internally, as you have access to more data than anyone (both qualitative and quantitative) whereas external teams just don’t have the context. However, you can leverage these external teams for aggressive tactical testing providing key insights that should guide your strategy.
This solution allows an external team to really find out what is and isn’t working for your business and gives great insight to internal teams on where to focus their efforts. This solution doesn’t have to be permanent, as most good marketing agencies will come in, offering insights that enable internal teams to focus on channels and tactics that work.
Tasks get in the way of strategy
Often marketing departments have so many tasks, it becomes difficult (if not impossible, mentally and considering time constraints) to take a step back, analyse the data and take time to focus on the bigger picture. Outsourcing those tasks and data analysis can be a great way to find the time to analyse your marketing efforts and spend time creating the solid strategy you need.
Limited knowledge of channels
A lot of companies get into the trap of only concentrating on a few marketing channels. This can happen for several reasons:
- Your marketing team have limited experience or expertise.
- You’re sticking to the usual channels traditionally used in your industry.
- You haven’t had the time to experiment in other channels.
- You’re not sure what other marketing channels are out there.
- You’re not confident measuring ROI when testing channels.
Getting stuck in a routine is easy but it’s important that you know the channels you’re using are delivering the most ROI. Just because you’ve been using the same few channels doesn’t mean there aren’t any others out there that could get more results for your money.
Benefits of outsourced marketing
Outsourcing a marketing team can give you access to a range of specialist and experienced marketers who are experts in their field. This makes it much easier for them to rapidly test various different tactics and channels to find out what works. Good outsourced marketing agencies will also be like a well oiled machine and will have really robust process that enable them to move fast on your behalf.
Marketing agencies already have a list of tried and tested tactics and will be best placed to use their experience to pick and choose the ones that will deliver results for your business. You’re tapping into a range of talents and skills you couldn’t afford to hire in house. This is a great way to reap the benefit of an agency’s single and collective experience of marketing many different types of businesses. This variety of experience is useful as many marketing tactics used within one type of industry can cross-over into other industries.
New marketing channels are emerging all the time. In house teams don’t have the time or often the knowledge and expertise to try out the latest channels, but marketing agencies do. It’s their business to know about any new channels and platforms that could be worth experimenting with. You don’t want to lose out on some huge opportunities just because your in house team aren’t ahead of the curve.
External marketing agencies understand how to gather and interpret important data from your customers and also from your business. If you’re not already gathering data or correctly calculating your ROI, LTV or CAC for example, an external agency can help.
Finally, outsourced marketing agencies will need to be testing all the platforms that are available to ensure they have the edge in the marketplace. You therefore get access to their quality control process, and can avoid many of the pitfalls I have seen small businesses fall into when selecting what technology to use. This will help you design and implement the right technical marketing stack on day one, rather than onboard new products to only find out they are not relevant for your business or don’t deliver on the job.
If you’re not seeing the results you want it’s much easier to get rid of an external marketing team than to let go of an employee (especially if you’re a small business). Hiring in house is an expensive and time consuming process so why not try out an external agency first?