Running a marketing department has become a more complex endeavor over the past couple of decades. With the introduction of the Internet came dramatic changes in consumer behavior, followed by dramatic changes in the way companies market products and services, followed by dramatic changes in the structure of a marketing department and the people inside it.
This, along with other major business shifts such as the advancement of technology and the proliferation of small businesses, drove the birth of the concept of outsourced marketing.
For the sake of this exercise, when I say "outsourced marketing," what I am really referring to is an "outsourced marketing department." An outsourced marketing department is an entirely different concept than outsourcing portions of your marketing effort, possibly farming out different pieces to various contractors, freelancers, or firms; hiring an agency, contracted primarily for project or campaign work; or the outsourced CMO concept, where you're getting fractional senior-level leadership.
This is not the post that will dig into the myriad benefits of the outsourced marketing department, but it's safe to assume that those benefits are similar to other outsourcing situations: cost savings, access to better talent, time efficiency, and scalability.
If you're considering this type of arrangement, don't be blinded by all the glamorous benefits without understanding that there are a number of characteristics that must be in place inside your organization to make this work.
Answer these six questions before you start to make sure you are truly ready for the outsourced marketing relationship.
Do you have a strong, but open-minded leader to own marketing?
To achieve success in an outsourced marketing scenario, you're going to need a point of contact, preferably someone at the executive level, to own the function. This person does not necessarily have to be a marketing expert (after all, that is one of the reasons you are outsourcing to begin with), but he or she must start with the mindset that marketing, when done well, can be a growth driver for the business.
Additionally, this person must have the authority to make marketing decisions. If your marketing leader has to run every piece of website copy or every landing page design up the flagpole to the CEO, and your outsourced marketing team does not have access to that CEO, the relationship will start to feel inefficient quickly.
Does that leader have the requisite time to own marketing?
Sure, you bring on an outsourced marketing firm to save you time and allow you to focus on the areas that represent your highest and best use. Unless you're willing to empower your outsourced marketing firm to run with everything without your approval, you're going to need to make some significant time for marketing. This includes time to contribute to planning, time to meet and discuss priorities, and time for things like approvals and editing.
Is that leader willing to cede some level of control over marketing?
So while I just finished saying that your marketing leader needs to be strong, open-minded, and must make the time to participate in marketing, at the same time he or she has to be willing to let go of control. This may take some time as the marketing leader and outsourced marketing department get to know each other, but once a comfort level is achieved, some of the control-especially over the more tactical decisions-has to be relinquished so execution can move at a reasonable pace.
Are you willing to plan, prioritize, and stick with it?
Small, growing companies are often shifting, pivoting, or evolving - pick your word. That's the reality of being a part of that type of business.
That being said, if you're the type of company that is going to change directions every week, approve something one day and then disapprove it the next, or blow up major plans every month, that's a recipe for disaster in working with an outsourced marketing team. Frankly, this one holds for both internal teams and outsourced teams - it's demoralizing and confusing when your team feels like they just can't get anything across the finish line.
Are there only a couple of cooks in the kitchen?
While it's certainly reasonable to have a couple of people involved in your outsourced marketing relationship, decisions should come from one person, and that person should be responsible for getting buy-in or approval from others in the organization. Asking your outsourced marketing team to deal with three or four different people in the organization, ranging from manager level to CEO, simply won't work.
Specifically, it's critical to avoid "swoop and poop" situations - a C-level leader sees something for the first time (website designs, major content pieces, etc.) after your marketing leader has already issued approvals, swoops in with negativity, and sets progress back by weeks or months. It's the organization's responsibility to empower your marketing leader, and his or her responsibility to know how to navigate internally - that cannot be handled by your outsourced marketing firm.
Can you articulate what marketing success looks like?
If you cannot explain what success will look like three months, six months or twelve months down the road, rethink your decision to go the outsourced marketing route. While all team members, internal or external, like to be aware of the vision for success, it is especially important in an outsourced marketing relationship.
Answers like, "Just put your heads down and work, and I'll let you know what's working and what's not," or, "When you create something great, we'll know it," are unacceptable answers for the outsourced marketing relationship.
Outsourcing your marketing department is a critical decision for companies in growth mode. The good news is that there are tons of outsourced marketing success stories you can learn from, and plenty of options to consider. Before you're bowled over by a fancy portfolio or successful case study, though, make sure you look inside your own organization using the six questions above to ensure that you're ready for an outsourced marketing structure.