The pandemic has prompted businesses to put longstanding assumptions to the test. Quarantine has revealed that many operating principles were more like unquestioned habits. Companies are reconsidering everything—including where they get the marketing help they need.
Below are key considerations. This post is a general guide to the questions you should be asking to determine whether to outsource, and how to go about it.
WHY OUTSOURCE MARKETING?
Here are the top four reasons this makes a lot of sense, especially now.
1. Access to a complete spectrum of expertise.
You can get top-level support in branding, marketing strategy, web development, analytics and creative that would be impossible to hire on staff. Even a talented in-house VP of marketing has a limited skill set compared to a full outside team.
2. Budget flexibility.
An in-house marketing person has a fixed salary. A good marketing partner will help you establish a realistic budget and you will have the flexibility to adjust as needed depending on your business needs and plans for the coming year.
3. Your staff can focus on what you hired them to do.
Too often a salesperson or other internal employee is tasked with doing the marketing in their “spare time.” It results in frustration and spotty marketing efforts.
4. No extra internal headcount.
For the cost of one mid-level employee you can get access to a team of marketers versed in the various disciplines and you have better HR flexibility.
HOW TO OUTSOURCE YOUR MARKETING?
1. Identify what type of outsourcing you need.
Outsourced marketing needs fall into three general categories. There are specific, time-limited projects such as preparing materials for a trade show. Second, there are ongoing tasks such as website maintenance, content creation, SEO and so on. The third category is full service, which could be characterized as a combination of the other two categories. Depending on what you need, you might want to hire a team in the short term to complete just one project—or you might want a continuing relationship to cover ongoing needs. Before you begin your search for a marketing partner, think about the type of service that will work best for you.
2. Identify your business objectives.
A smart agency will ask a lot of questions about your business before they commit to marketing tactics. The better you can explain your business goals and the obstacles that marketing could help resolve, the better they can help you. For instance, it’s not unusual for a business to come to us saying they want to increase sales. We will ask them what that means. Do they have an established customer base with big up-sell opportunities? Are they experiencing incursion threats and need to shore up loyalty? Or are they lacking presence in the marketplace and need to improve effectiveness at the top of the sales funnel? Before recommending any tactics, it’s important to understand the specific problem to be solved.
If you aren’t sure where to start, be transparent and look for a partner with the experience to help you map your business strategy and create your marketing plan. Note that “experience” does not necessarily mean experience in your category. Some businesses think they need to hire a marketing firm that specializes in their industry. This often results in cookie-cutter marketing that deploys good tactics but lacks the strategy or expertise to engage meaningfully with your company’s unique audience.
3. Determine your budget.
This can be difficult because it’s often hard to know how much you need to spend to be effective. But if you have some idea of how much you can budget, your prospective marketing team can provide counsel for the smartest ways to allocate it. You can also use this as a technique to discern the transparency and integrity of the company. A good one puts your needs first. They’ll work with you to figure the smartest way to achieve your goals based on the budget, and they’ll make you feel comfortable with the process. If you have no idea what you should spend, they’ll work with you to figure it out. It’s often an iterative process, beginning with a ideal plan and then revising it to get the real-world plan that optimizes budget, time and resources.
4. Evaluate a potential marketing partner by the questions they ask.
A major value of outsourcing marketing is fresh thinking from experts who don’t share your established frame of reference. Look for a partner that challenges you’re thinking and asks plenty of “what is”, “why” and “what if” questions.
5. Get a feel for the company’s values and culture.
Just as with hiring employees, look for a company that shares your values and chemistry. You want to be comfortable working with them. And when a marketing agency has the privilege of an authentic partnership with your company, they feel empowered to deliver their best efforts.
6. Be clear about what you want: partner or vendor.
Be honest with your prospective marketing partner about how you want to conduct the relationship. If you’re looking for a vendor that will take your instructions and execute as cheaply as possible, you’ll want a partner that fits that model. Conversely, if you seek expertise to establish and maintain a best-in-class marketing effort for the long haul, you need a firm that knows how to do that. Either way, marketing firms can only be as good as their clients allow them to be.