Outsourcing is incredibly big business. Recent studies by Deloitte indicate nearly half of certain technology-driven business sectors are outsourced. The vast majority of organizations who rely on contractors or agencies can appreciate flexibility, cost-savings, and the infusion of expertise.
Recent studies of the US labor market reveal sharp increases in job creation and hiring in professional segments. For some organizations who choose to outsource marketing, it's a matter of being unable to fill digital marketing seats. For other companies, outsourcing provides immense time-saving potential. Hiring the right agency can nearly negate the need for an internal marketing team, especially for organizations who lack the budget or need for a full-time graphic designer or web developer.
All that said, there are certain aspects of marketing that shouldn't be outsourced. Really and truly. Harvard Business Review HBR) writes that while outsourcing can provide organizations with important access to execution, organizations really can't outsource their marketing strategies. While it's certainly well-advised for organizations to seek the outside perspective of thought leaders and experts, losing touch with your brand's public messaging can have negative repercussions. Join us as we review six areas of inbound and traditional marketing that are probably best kept in-house.
1. Marketing Strategy
Marketing consists of several components, per EAG. It's strategy, technology, and creativity. You can certainly outsource every aspect of your technology and creativity. However, the world's best marketing strategies are built on deep customer understanding. If you completely outsource this functionality, you risk losing touch with your customers.
There's certainly a difference between seeking strategy advice and completely handing strategy management over to another organization. Optimally, your leadership team has years or decades of experience satisfying your customers. This contextual knowledge is critical to shaping your marketing plans for the future. If your leadership team is positively befuddled about your customer's preferences and priorities, it's likely time for an internal culture adjustment and a crash-course in your buyer personas.
2. Customer Understanding
Many of the world's most effective organizations outsource some aspects of customer understanding. Many satisfaction surveys, research panels, and studies are performed by expert third-parties. However, it's important to distinguish between research and customer understanding. Outsourcing quantitative information-gathering or interviews is certainly fine. You cannot outsource being a visible resource to your customers, however.
HBR recommends that your executive leadership team "regularly spend face time with customers." Your leadership, sales, and customer service team represent your organization to the outside world. However, leadership also plays a role in shaping internal culture and understanding. If your leadership fails to invest in face time with customers, your entire organization could become disconnected.
3. Cultural Development
HubSpot has one of the most visible examples of leadership-lead cultural development in recent years. Co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah published a slide deck titled "HubSpot's Culture Code," which earned viral social sharing and sparked discussion throughout the startup and marketing realms. Shah's investment in building a company that attracts top talent and delights customers is an inspiration to many.
Your company's culture cannot be separated from your marketing, even though these two factors are very different things. Prospective new hires will Google your brand, and a negative company culture almost always has a way of being leaked onto the internet. Employee satisfaction is undeniably connected to your ability to recruit new people. Furthermore, unhappy employees are very unlikely to go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service.
It's certainly possible to seek outside help in developing a positive company culture. For some organizations, this may be a necessary step in reputation management. However, if your leadership team isn't committed to building and maintaining a great culture, your marketing will suffer.
4. Maintaining Customer Perspective
Maintaining the customer's perspective doesn't come naturally, especially for employees who don't interact with your end-users on a daily basis. Making the shift to a client-focused culture requires continual reinforcement and education. While your organization can certainly contract with consultants to better understand your customers, you can't outsource being a customer-focused company.
5. Customer Relationship Management
Once again, it's important to differentiate between customer relationship management technology tools (CRM), and the art of managing relationships with customers. Hiring a consultant to implement HubSpot, Salesforce, or another tool can be a powerful step towards better customer service. If you lack the internal talent to implement CRM tools, outsourcing is likely the right approach.
However, you can't outsource or replicate the relationships your employees have with your customers. If your long-term account managers have been working with the same clients for years, relationships will be established. It's these kinds of relationships that may sustain your company financially. Your happiest customers are ultimately your best marketers. Any outsourcing activity that damages well-defined relationships between employees and clients probably shouldn't occur.
Some marketers envision the concept of branding as a strategic pyramid. At the top is brand vision, or the definition of what you want to stand for to your customers. If you were BMW, your vision may be "luxury." If you were McDonald's, your vision could be "convenience." Ultimately, your brand vision should shape all other areas of your marketing strategy, right down to physical attributes like logo.
An inbound marketing agency can help your organization translate your brand's vision into personality. Content marketing consultants can transform your brand's personality into messaging. Vision is the ultimate driver for your organization's strategy, and it should likely originate internally from direct knowledge of your customers.
When it comes to making the decision to outsource your inbound marketing, it's important to understand the difference between strategy and execution. Ultimately, your organization can outsource the vast majority of your marketing needs. It could even yield better results and cost savings. However, any outsourcing activity that damages customer relationship or culture should probably be kept in-house.