In-house or outsource marketing – what’s best for B2B SMBs?

Deciding how to staff your company is a decision that can cause managing directors and business owners many sleepless nights. There are roles that you must fill for operational reasons, for example you can’t do without someone in finance issuing invoices, chasing payments and managing payroll. There are roles that directly drive revenue such as your sales and business development team; you can see the value of these employees by whether they’re hitting target or not. And then there are jobs that should give you a return on investment but might not because of the cost of salaries and lack of budget available to support that role.

Marketing is a prime example.

Why in-house marketing fails – sometimes

There are two key problems with employing an in-house marketing team, and they both revolve around money:

1. Salaries consume too much of your marketing budget leaving too little left over for actual marketing activities (creative, copywriting, print, PPC, social media advertising, etc.)

2. Effective marketing requires expert skills, generalists are great at managing the big picture but not at driving results in specialist areas like SEO, web forensics etc. In-house specialists are prohibitively expensive.

A marketing director doesn’t come cheap and you can easily spend your marketing budget on their salary alone. That means they might have limited budget available for additional marketing services like running PPC campaigns, using freelancers or employing a marketing assistant to help them action marketing campaigns. Many companies are paying highly experienced marketing directors to do what could almost be termed ‘menial’ marketing jobs such as scheduling social media updates or sending out email newsletters – it’s not a good use of their time and an expensive way to run your marketing function. The result is a poor ROI and an unhappy marketing director.

Alternatively, you might consider hiring less senior marketing professionals, such as a marketing manager or marketing executive, but then you might lack the strategic vision and experience needed to develop truly effective marketing campaigns. Again, you won’t get the desired ROI and chances are morale will be low and you’ll see a high employee turnover rate.
Even when you have enough budget to have a small marketing team, they may struggle to deliver value. Marketing has become a highly specialist area, which is constantly evolving. It’s unrealistic to expect a marketing manager or executive to have comprehensive skills in all areas, or to be able to keep up with developments and changes within each specialisation.

Don’t sack your marketing team!

I’m not advocating that you sack your marketing team, and outsource the function to us at Grow+ or another marketing agency. It’s important to have at least someone in-house who understands your company, your culture, your brand identity and business objectives, and has a handle on all the marketing activities your company engages with.

That person, or team, could include a marketing director who has the big ideas, pulls the marketing strategy together and delegates activities to other members of the team or to external providers. Alternatively, you could have a marketing manager or assistants who can do some of the work – playing to their strengths – who can help steer the marketing strategy with support from specialists.

The benefit of outsourcing marketing is that is solves some of those money problems. You get access to specialist skills that would be too expensive to hire in-house. Conversely it also frees experienced staff up to focus on what they’re good at, so they’re not doing jobs like scheduling social media posts that fall way below their paygrade. Ultimately outsourcing some or all of your marketing should deliver that elusive ROI.

What should outsourcing your marketing look like?

The perfect outsourcing partnership is exactly that, a partnership where the marketing agency embeds themselves in your company and works with your team to achieve common goals.

Our approach is to support companies in the areas that will deliver the best results, helping your team generate revenue from specific marketing activities aligned with your sector, business objectives and target customers. That could mean plugging any skills gaps you have such as content writing or SEO – specialist areas that require expert skills. Doing the jobs that are a waste of your marketing team’s time and your money – social media management can fall into this category although it also benefits from specialist skills. Or developing and driving your marketing strategy and helping your team understand where they can get the most ROI from marketing activities.

We aim to become an extension of your marketing team and help them be more successful.

Of course, if you don’t have a marketing team, outsourcing to a marketing agency is a good short and long term solution. For many B2B companies an agency can kick start your marketing activities and then support your growth as you see results. For example, you might not have a marketing department now, but in the future it may be advantageous to have some in-house marketing professionals (see my thoughts on why you shouldn’t sack your marketing team.)

The right agency should not see this as a threat to their retainer – instead it’s an opportunity to support the in-house team and grow with your company, refine the marketing strategy and deliver more value from the activities they are involved in.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title of this article, I don’t think it’s a choice between in-house or outsource. For most SMBs a balance of both is required, whether you’ve got a full complement of marketing professionals in-house, or just one lonely marketing director or assistant heading up the function. You can have the best of both worlds.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the subjects covered above or just fancy a coffee and chat.

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