When You Should (and Shouldn't) Outsource Your Marketing

    by Corey Eridon

    Date

    December 17, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    baby jugglingintermediate

    Marketing departments, whether one person or one hundred, have kiiiind of a lot of balls to juggle.

    Lead generation, PPC, SEO, website design, social media, PR, content creation. Yeah, I'd call that a lot of balls (and that's not even all of them).

    It's no wonder that sometimes all of it can't get done with just the people you have in house. Maybe your current team doesn't have the skills to do it, they don't have the time to do it, or you don't have the budget to hire more in-house staff to do it. And that's why we outsource.

    Thing is, outsourcing's not always a good idea. Then again, sometimes hiring someone in house is way more trouble and cost than it's worth. So how do you know which route to choose?

    We're going to break down all those marketing tasks that are on your plate that can be successfully outsourced, and help you decide in which scenarios it's better for you to keep it in house, and when it's better to outsource it to an agency or contractor. And if you have some of these tasks covered already, feel free to scroll to the specific function(s) you need help with.

    Lead Generation

    Wait, you can outsource lead generation? Sure can. Let me explain. Ideally, most of your leads are coming from inbound marketing -- people who raise their hand to say they want to hear from you by doing something like filling out a form on your website. So to say that you're outsourcing lead generation as an inbound marketer is kind of like ... outsourcing all of your marketing. The thing is, a lot of the people who outsource lead generation are really talking about outsourcing cold calling or appointment booking, so it's aspects of the lead generation process that are being done outside your office's four walls. Here are some instances where outsourcing lead generation might make sense, depending on the structure of your sales organization and the product or service you're selling:

    • Verifying Contact Information: If you have a high volume of leads coming in and a problem getting quality contact information, you could outsource this function so your sales organization only works with verified contacts.
    • Qualifying Leads: Similarly, organizations with a high volume of leads don't have time to qualify all of them manually, and sometimes, your marketing team isn't sure how to go about it. Working with a consultant or agency that can help with your lead qualification might be worth it to improve sales efficiency.
    • Booking Appointments: There are plenty of services out there than can handle appointment books for your sales team, whether they're in-house or field sales reps. This saves them from the more tedious up-front work that takes time away from closing deals.

    Pointclear interviewed one Karen Hayward, EVP and CMO for CenterBeam, who had a great quote on this idea of outsourcing that should help organizations vetting good service providers. "It’s no longer enough for a provider to be experienced in a single area like teleprospecting or telesales. Best-practice expertise in all areas -- market identification, database management, process management, recruiting and staffing, training, program management, and data analysis and content -- is now the key to a program’s success." That means if you don't have a solid lead generation and qualification process already, and your prospective service provider isn't capable of helping you sort it out, you might not be ready for outsourcing quite yet. For outsourced lead generation to work, the process has to be rock solid both internally, and with your vendor.

    And, of course, you need to ensure that outsourcing this work really does increase sales and marketing efficiency, and the revenue you generate is still significant enough to warrant the cost of outsourcing. In fact, keep that caveat in mind for all the processes you experiment with outsourcing.

    PPC Campaigns

    A lot of marketers make the mistake of thinking that, once you set up your AdWords or social media PPC campaigns, it's like a light switch. Just turn it on when you want leads, off when you're done, and you're good to go. It's an oversimplification of the process, though. Proper PPC campaign management takes consistent monitoring, otherwise you can find yourself wasting money really fast.

    If you don't have the 1) ability or 2) time to do what it takes to manage PPC -- and paid lead generation is of significant impact to your marketing strategy -- I think it's worth the investment to outsource it to an agency that knows what they're doing. Keep in mind that many agencies have minimum budgets you'll have to invest in the campaign, as well as the additional cost of maintenance that comes with agency work. So if PPC is critical to your marketing strategy, this additional cost to maintain your campaigns could be worth it -- especially because you don't want a novice managing big PPC budgets.

    Whichever way you opt for, make sure the in-house or external PPC pro is actually a PPC pro. If you're having trouble figuring it out, reference this blog post that has some questions you can ask to help you differentiate PPC pros from PPC posers. Or if you're trying to tackle PPC yourself, take a look at this template that should help you manage your campaigns more effectively.

    SEO

    Where most companies go wrong when outsourcing SEO -- or frankly, when hiring an in-house SEO professional -- is focusing just on keywords. SEO is about more than just creating content around specific keywords; you need someone, or a team of people, who understands on-page SEO, technical SEO, and even has a flair for co-marketing to help you build quality inbound links.

    So whether you're outsourcing or keeping SEO in-house, it's critical you really vet your provider to make sure that:

    • They're not selling you on rank. If a potential hire or service provider is building value around SERP rank, they're not up to date on SEO best practices.
    • They have a comprehensive skill-set, in both on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.
    • They definitively do NOT have a comprehensive skill set, and you are knowingly hiring them to only focus on one particular area of your SEO.

    And if you even look to outsourced link builders, tread extremely cautiously. If there is absolutely any talk of black-hat tactics, like link farming or link buying, run for the hills!

    Social Media & PR

    Social media has to be, duh, social. In my opinion, the best social media accounts are handled in house, because there's an in-house community manager that "gets" the organization's personality in a more intimate way than any outsourced service can. Is it possible for you to outsource social media management to an agency or consultant? Sure. But you need to have a solid grasp on your brand's personality in order to do a hand-off to someone who isn't involved in the daily minutiae of your business that typically helps paint a more complete picture of what a company thinks like.

    It's also critical to establish terms and best practices up front if you're outsourcing social media. For example, what's your stance on social media automation? Are you okay with someone automating your updates? We've seen it go haywire in the past -- you might recall AT&T's debacle with outsourced social media automation in which automation actually turned into outright SPAM. That's an all too common instance of outsourced social media turning into a PR problem (hence my combination of the two in this section), that it's critical you've set up damage control scenarios for. Be really clear about 1) what you want in terms of voice, personality, content, and methods of connecting with fans and followers 2) what you unequivocally don't want, and 3) how to handle PR problems that arise in social media with either your in-house or outsourced community manager.

    Content Creation

    Content creation is one of the easiest things to outsource if you're looking for a high volume of pretty good content. There are plenty of content marketplaces out there with freelance writers that you can pay pretty nominal amounts of money to create relatively good content -- the kind that wouldn't get you dinged by Panda or Penguin for using.

    But what about if you need A+ content? You can certainly outsource it and get premium results. But you're going to have to pay premium prices for it, and you might not find your writers as easily as you did for your "pretty good" content. Similarly, to get an extremely high volume of A+ content while outsourcing, you'll still need to hire in-house staff to recruit, train, manage, and edit the freelance writers, not to mention lay out the content strategy and methodology used to scale your outsourced freelance writing program.

    So, what does this mean? It means you could easily outsource content creation if you don't need the cream of the crop for every single piece of content you publish. If, however, you view your marketing content creation more like a publishing house, you could certainly outsource the content creation -- but you'll still have to have at least one person, if not an entire editorial team in house, to help you manage the outsourced writers and the content creation process.

    Visual Content Creation

    Similar to written content creation, it helps to have a brand strategy already sussed out if you're going to outsource your visual content work. It's much less time consuming for you to hand over a visual brand and style guide to a designer with things like preferred fonts and hex codes than to ask them to figure it out on their own. But I do think outsourcing design work makes a ton of sense, because keeping a creative team in house can be pretty cost prohibitive if you're not in need of their expertise on a daily basis.

    Either way, make sure the person you choose knows how to not just make things look pretty and on-brand, but also function correctly. For example, your website shouldn't be in flash -- it'll look pretty, but your organic search rankings won't. Or maybe your email template looks mighty fine, but no one reading it on a mobile device can render it. These are the kinds of things you should consider when outsourcing ... if you can't find people to make your marketing beautiful, functional, and at your price point, I'd say it's better to have something that's done in house and functions than outsourced and breaking your bank. Even if it's pretty :-) and right at your price point, it's better to have something that works and isn't beautiful than beautiful and isn't functional.

    And remember -- there are always things you can do to be your own little designer! Here are some resources and templates that can help you DIY:

    Video Production

    This can overlap for visual content creation in a lot of respects, but video production is different enough from design work that I think it warrants its own section. People are often scared to create videos because they think they have to be perfect, and perfect costs a lot of money. But video content creation doesn't have to be cost prohibitive, because it doesn't have to be lit like a Hollywood movie set. Thus, I think it's easier than many marketers think to create their own videos using free or cheap tools like Final Cut, iVideo, and Camtasia that are also very user-friendly.

    I also think, however, that there comes a time in the growth of your business when you need to step up your game. Perhaps you're an enterprise organization that's selling to high-profile B2B clients, for example. They might not find your unsteady camera hand so professional, nor will they be so forgiving of it. In instances like this, you might want to hire a professional to shoot, say, case study videos to help enable your sales team. Whether it's worth it to hire a professional or keep it in house for things like this depends on whether you're creating enough video content on a consistent basis to warrant it.

    So, do you see your video needs only increasing from here on out? Do you already have an in-house creative or design team on which it would make sense for them to join? Do you have a brand style guide already created that those in-house designers are following? It probably won't be too hard to integrate a video professional into that team, and will be more efficient -- if the volume of video you're creating warrants a full time hire -- to bring someone in house. If you're still sorting all of these things out and don't need a ton of video support, or alternately, don't have an established brand style guide to which a video person will adhere, an outsourced creative agency could help you do all of that so you kick off your high-quality video production the right way.

    What parts of your marketing, if any, do you outsource? Are you happy with your outsourcing decisions? Why or why not?

    Image credit: StockMonkeys.com

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