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Crossroads

When to Outsource Marketing

With so many specialist consultancies, agencies and outsourced services available for marketing operations, do we really need a marketing department?

In fact the only things you can’t readily outsource are vision, strategy and good ideas and there are many examples of great brands being developed by relatively few people – most of the execution work being outsourced. Admittedly this is an extreme view, and not appropriate for many companies, but there some aspects of marketing that lend themselves to outsourcing and others where outsourcing introduces risk. Let’s examine some of these in more detail.

Telemarketing

The telemarketing question has come up in every one of the marketing teams I have worked with. Outsource, or build our own team? Having tried every possible combination I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t one solution to this. Much depends on the nature of the solution being sold, the availability of appropriate telemarketing skills, local management and size of team.

As a general rule, I have found that a specialist solution requires more knowledge in the telemarketing team and this is difficult to achieve with an outsourced team. Conversely, managing a telemarketing team is a skill in itself and it is not easy to create an in-house telemarketing function without a good telemarketing manager. That means the team must be large enough to justify the cost of a manger of that calibre, and the gotcha here is that many IT companies selling a specialist solution only require one or two telemarketers. I have been fortunate enough to find knowledgeable, self-motivated and highly organized individuals to fill these positions but they are not easy to find. If the solution is not complex, and if the requirement does not justify a full team of six or more full-time telemarketers, I would outsource to a good specialist.

Creative Design

This makes the difference between brochure, presentation and web site content that looks OK, and that which looks great. Large companies have the resources to support in-house creative teams. Smaller companies may not, and this is where luck comes in to play. If you have individuals in your marketing team who have creative talent, you are doubly fortunate. More commonly, you won’t have and it is well worth cultivating a relationship with an external creative team who are prepared to take your content and improve it visually. Outsourcing an entire creative project might be justifiable for a corporate brochure, but for smaller projects where you can manage your own content, some outside help with the visual arrangement will be a great help without punching a hole in your marketing budget.

Web Sites

This is a huge and vital subject, worthy of an entire book rather than a brief mention. Web sites have to be dynamic, constantly changing and reflecting the culture and soul of the company. That is very difficult to achieve without hands-on involvement. However, making the web experience great is a highly specialized skill, as is search engine optimization (SEO). Unless you can justify a full time, highly skilled in-house team, it is better to partner with a good web development team who can work with you on a daily basis to implement the changes you want made. Total outsourcing is difficult to achieve, but if you can have a great web site, developed with content management tools provided to allow you to make those frequent changes, you could have the best of both worlds.

SEO is a different matter. You almost have to be a SEO boffin to keep up to date with the constant changes that come in and although every web developer will give you the impression they are SEO experts, I don’t believe them. True SEO experts are dedicated specialists and they are worth finding. You won’t need them every day but frequently enough to have someone on a retainer to make sure your web site is working as well as it can.

Public Relations

Should your marketing (as opposed to investor) Public Relations (PR) be outsourced? I am biased, because my experience had been in the software market where solutions are specialized, technically complex and applicable to niche markets. Having tried many PR agencies and learning a lot along the way, we ended up building direct relationships with specialist publications, journalists and analysts. We learned to write press releases and the mechanics of distribution. It was low overhead, and an agency did not represent great value for money.

However, I fully accept that for products with a wider market appeal where there are far more routes for your messages to reach the market, an experienced and knowledgeable PR agency can be a great help. Similarly, if your needs include investor relations and political lobbying, that will require specialist knowledge and contacts. If your brand has a high profile and could potentially require help in damage limitation, then definitely have some outside help on tap.

Market Research, Surveys and Win-Loss Reviews

In theory, these are functions that can be relatively easily accommodated within an in-house marketing team if you have the capacity and knowledge available. However, another aspect comes into play here and that is objectivity. It is very difficult for your own team to conduct completely un-biased reviews of the market as there will inevitably be an awareness of what the desired outcome is. Similarly, win-loss reviews after successful or unsuccessful sales campaigns conducted by an independent third party will elicit information that may otherwise not be forthcoming. Market research and surveys tend to be ad-hoc requirements and can be outsourced without significant cost or risk. Win-Loss reviews should be regular activities but these can be outsourced on a retainer basis and there are specialists that provide this service.

Conclusions
In conclusion, there are many aspects of marketing that are candidates for outsourcing to specialist agencies and consultancies, and this article touches on only a few of them. There are no hard rules, as the context, skills, company culture and even opinions of the management team will have a direct influence on what can be outsourced and what should remain in-house. My recommendation is to be dispassionate about this, and look at the relative merits of both alternatives regardless of cost before making a decision. The practical solution is often to have a blended approach, but whatever you do, think about it first and avoid trying to do it all yourself – or outsourcing everything. Effective marketing influences the future of your business, and you have to be in control of that.

Neville Merritt is head of advanced university, Advanced Computer Software Group PLC. This blog is courtesy of TechUK.

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