In my last column, I wrote about the signs that suggest it’s time to outsource your marketing. But while outsourcing is a perfect fit for many small and mid-sized B2B companies, it isn’t right for everyone.
When I talk with company owners about how they handle their marketing, I don’t always recommend my company’s outsourced marketing services. I’ve learned through hard experience that outsourced marketing doesn’t make sense for every company.
Here are three situations in which outsourced marketing is probably the wrong way to go:
Walking over to chat is the norm
If your company culture requires that people be in the office every day, you need an in-house marketer. Your team is used to the convenience of being able to stop by someone’s desk or office at any time to talk about an idea. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach to work, it makes outsourced marketing difficult to manage. Even my company’s embedded outsourced’ model—in which our marketers are on-site at clients’ offices for a portion of every week—can be insufficient for a company that is accustomed to having MondayFriday, 95 access to its employees.
I’m speaking from recent experience. The client was a 50-person manufacturer of building products, a second-generation company with a great team of engineers and salespeople. The company wanted to take their marketing to the next level. Outsourced marketing was supposed to enable them to get a higher skill level than the in-house manager they’d had, while keeping the marketing budget at an affordable level.
But after four months of working together and struggling to get things done, it was apparent to both them and us that a system where our team wasn’t on-site every day simply wasn’t going to work. They’re now on the hunt for a full-time marketer.
MORE HIRING QUESTIONS: Do You Really Need a Marketing Manager? »
You can’t stick to the plan
An inability to follow a set strategy can be a function of how quickly things change in an industry, the stage of development of the business, or simply how a particular management team likes to work. But if you’re making decisions on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis and don’t want to have a plan in place for the upcoming year or quarter, then outsourcing your marketing becomes extremely difficult.
Marketers, particularly outsourced marketing companies, will want to put a plan in place and execute against it. That doesn’t mean they won’t make adjustments as they go, but in general they will need a framework in order to be able to measure success, and also to plan resource allocation. If it’s not in your company’s DNA to put a plan in place and execute against it, outsourcing your marketing is probably not the right fit.
Many years ago I met a team of executives who were a lot of fun and whose business seemed to be doing well. They wanted an outsourced marketing team, and they hired Mezzanine. In our first month of working with them, we developed a plan.
The problems started the next month. The company’s executives had new ideas about marketing through contests, events and other flavour of the month’ tools that they were much more excited about. They felt their new ideas were much better than what was in the plan, to the extent they didn’t want to even look at the plan anymore. You can imagine how this relationship ended.
MORE CHANGING PLANS: 4 Signs You Business Plan Needs Changing »
You’re still perfecting your product
Brand new companies who are still working on their first product or service need to have basic marketing in order to be credible in the market and have effective sales conversations—think website and collateral. But things change so rapidly with a new business that marketing in a serious way probably won’t deliver enough bang for your buck.
If you are in product development mode, focus on talking with customers, learning what their key pain points are, and selling them your product and service—not on lead generation campaigns. You need to turn customer feedback into product features and sales meetings, and then repeat that process. Adding an outsourced marketing team will just complicate the situation.
I had a fantastic meeting with a technology start up last week. They are in product-development mode and really want to use marketing to gain exposure and kick-start sales. But sadly, I can’t help them. They need salespeople to do the hard work of connecting with potential buyers, pitching them and securing pilot deals. Marketing won’t do that heavy lifting for them.
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Outsourced marketing works well when a company has a good handle on what it offers and to whom, and is comfortable (and keen on) operating against a plan. But if those factors aren’t in place, think carefully about whether outsourcing your marketing is the right solution for your business.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a company on PROFIT’s ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
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Do you outsource your marketing, or do it in-house? Share your experiences using the comments section below.