Insource, Outsource, or Both?

Insource or Outsource DecisionIn your business who is responsible for marketing?  Do you have a marketing team, a marketing person, a salesperson who is also charged with the marketing function, someone who “does marketing” among other administrative tasks, or perhaps it’s one item on your own long list of other responsibilities?  Or maybe you’ve decided to hand the marketing keys to a well-qualified, external vendor?  Many small businesses question how to handle their marketing function.  Hire a person or people to do the job, call on outside professional resources, or some combination of both?  The answer is different for each business.  And the answer will likely change over time as a business evolves.  However, if you are currently creating your own answer, here are a few thoughts for consideration.

Your products/services, sales & distribution model, and, probably most importantly, revenues and profit will likely make the decision of whether or not to hire a person (or persons) easier.  Don’t confuse hiring a marketer with hiring a salesperson whose impact can be quickly seen on the bottom line.  For example, while leads generated can be measured, other responsibilities, such as brand development, may be less tangible.  And even lead generation campaigns take time to show results if started from scratch.  Consider also the nuts and bolts tactics that you need to execute.  Do you need someone to drive brand awareness, lead generation, product/business development, and/or distribution partnerships?  Or do you need graphic design, web design, copy writing, etc.?  Some periodic task oriented needs may be better outsourced considering the time, money, and energy investments required in hiring staff.

There are many external resources available, from freelance designers, writers, and programmers, to consultants, to full service agencies, who are ready to help with the marketing function.  And many are happy to act as your de facto head of marketing or complete marketing department.  When choosing to outsource the marketing function completely, ensure that you put your dollars where they count.  If you don’t need all the services of a full service agency, then don’t go that route.  It may be difficult to obtain a positive ROI.  Be direct, internally and with the external resources you interview, about what you need.  Make it clear to whom the external vendor reports within your organization and what the communication flow should be.  Depending on the pricing structure, costs can quickly escalate if sales reps, HR, etc. are pulling your vendor in different directions with various requests – “we need a new brochure!”, “we need a new company newsletter!”  And make sure you are receiving regular reporting on the outcomes of the marketing work your vendor is doing.  Just as you expect results from all internal resources, an outsourced function should be no different.

This has potential to be tricky.  And it is a very common scenario.  Often you’ll need someone to hold the marketing reins (and the responsibility and accountability) within your organization , but hitch them to different horses depending upon the tasks at hand.  The challenge here can be twofold.  First, as with purely outsourcing, make sure it is well understood from whom the outsourced vendors take direction.  Simple if there is only one person internally charged with the responsibility…trickier if there is an internal marketing team.  Second, make sure everyone knows who is doing what.  It can be easier than you might think for internal and external team members to duplicate efforts, or (usually worse) presume the other is handling something only for it to slip through the cracks.  Another consideration here is that sometimes it may be necessary for internal personnel to “report” to an external partner for a particular project.  If this case arises, make it crystal clear to everyone involved.  You don’t want to risk damage to internal morale because of unclear communication.

Whatever you choose, don’t be mistaken – there is a right and a wrong decision.  Marketing is an important function, so this one can’t be chalked up to “there’s no right and wrong answers”.  However, the answer, and it’s suitability, is dependent upon the nature of your business.  What works for people in your professional network, partners, or competitors may not work for you.  And your answer most likely will change over time as your business evolves.  While it may be a difficult decision, investing the time and energy to create your answer will pay off now and in the future.

Let me know what you think!  I always welcome your comments and feedback.


About jmichaeldunn

A self-proclaimed "dental geek", I am passionate about the dental industry, oral health, and dental technology marketing. I have spent the last decade in various marketing capacities for dental technology companies. I enjoy talking about dental marketing with just about anyone and helping companies grow through developing innovative and integrated marketing communications campaigns.
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8 Responses to Insource, Outsource, or Both?

  1. Darin Throndson says:

    Lots of great food for thought Michael. Very valuable and useful information for any entrepreneur and/or small business. It’s my favorite thing you have written. Thanks!


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