Should I outsource my marketing?
It’s a question we often get asked: “Should I outsource my marketing to an agency, or do it in-house and do it myself?” While the obvious answer is “both” – as in, you should have both an internal marketing management function and an external implementation partner, that’s usually not where many companies start.
So if you have to choose, how should you navigate that decision? The tips below are based on our experience working with SMEs to create sustainable marketing functions.
B2B versus B2C
Businesses focused on serving other businesses (B2B) typically offer more complex offerings that require an insider to handle the marketing. Few outsourced marketing providers will be able to properly immerse themselves in industrial, professional, or technology service offerings and communicate it properly. For this reason, we recommend that in B2B, SMBs first start with an internal marketing manager and then gradually strengthen it with the addition of external partners.
Unlike B2B, in B2C (i.e. end-user driven consumer markets) it is often easy to understand the product or service and much more feasible to outsource marketing to a third party . As the product is often consumable, it is even possible for outsiders to try it themselves, which greatly facilitates the role of communication.
Small vs medium
This is obvious – but also misunderstood. A small business should do its own marketing not only because of budget limitations, but also since the marketing function is always part of the founders overall role in building the business. In other words, marketing in a start-up is not yet an independent role – it is still part of the overall function of entrepreneurship. Even if budget is not a concern, the role of understanding customers and learning what messages resonate should not be outsourced.
Particularly within startups, the founder is directly responsible for promoting the business using a small selection of support services, such as website development and copywriting. Communicating with customers is a critical learning opportunity that allows the owner to fine-tune the business and therefore should not be outsourced.
Within small companies (known as lifestyle business) or established medium-sized companies, the marketing function can be dissociated from the role of the founders, and it becomes possible to outsource it to a third party. A so-called product-market match has been established, and a precise brief can be provided to the marketing supplier around the target markets, messages and creative angles.
What is the size of the sale?
Marketing must enable sales, and the type of sales determines the marketing function needed. When a transaction is of high value and cost to the customer, pre-sale marketing activity must be much stronger than a low-cost, low-risk purchase. You’ll struggle to sell a luxury consumer product or essential piece to an industrial buyer because of shoddy marketing communications.
The higher the quality of marketing required, the more specialized the implementation becomes and you need to start working with professionals – an accomplished graphic designer, copywriter, social media manager, search marketer and relationship agency public. You may even need a boutique agency to help you create impactful campaigns. At a certain point, marketing activities become too specialized for a generalist within the company and outsourcing much of the implementation becomes necessary.
Marketing is not optional
To be fair, regardless of the state of a company, even the smallest marketing effort will likely require input from insiders and outsiders. The main concern of this article is the day-to-day management of the marketing function, and in our experience the answer to this depends on the factors above.
Ultimately, marketing isn’t an optional feature for an ambitious business – it has to happen. The only question is how you implement it so that it becomes an integral part of the business. Too often we see companies take a haphazard approach that doesn’t generate lasting results. The key is to intentionally and incrementally move in one direction, starting with either an internal function or an external partner.