Outsourced Marketing That Works: Finding the Red Flags and the Right Fit

Outsourced marketing is powerful tool for building a lean, efficient and competitive business, but it remains an option, not a necessity. Outsourcing won’t have the same impact on different companies with different goals, and sometimes it is simply the wrong approach to take. But when done properly, outsourced marketing can transform an organization. 

Benefits of Outsourcing Marketing

Here are some benefits of outsourcing your organization’s marketing functions: 

Focus on the customer. Marketing campaigns are designed to be customer-oriented, but in-house marketers feel the pressure to be corporate-oriented, shifting the focus to the brand. When you outsource marketing, there is a buffer between management and marketing staff, keeping the focus of the campaign where it belongs’ on the customer.

Better prepare for emergencies. Marketing service providers are prepared to handle contingencies. They have systems in place to deal with emergencies and can bring together people, resources and the appropriate technology quickly and efficiently. The outsourced marketing firm can thus be more dynamic and flexible than the in-house team in terms of adapting to changing needs.

Access to integrated disciplines. When you hire a single provider to handle multiple marketing functions, you benefit from an integrated approach. Having several marketing specialists on one team that works together all the time fosters a shared marketing philosophy and unified objective. Instead of dealing with discrete functions like direct mail, PR and advertising, the outsourced marketing team is able to look at the whole process objectively.

Free up resources and share risk. By outsourcing a marketing function, companies can divert resources to activities that add value to the firm and enable them to focus on the customer. And because financial, market, and economic risks are shared between client and provider, the organization can be more flexible.

Speed up reengineering. If internal marketing processes are not working as they should or keep producing poor results, reengineering may be necessary. Reengineering takes time, and the best way to speed up the process and realize benefits as quickly as possible is to work with a third party provider. 

Access to resources. Many companies outsource marketing to gain immediate access to funds, technologies and facilities required to perform these functions efficiently. While this is a sound solution for short-term needs, long-term or strategic decisions to outsource marketing should be based on a cost/benefit analysis.

Control costs. Marketing service providers have the knowledge and processes to perform certain functions more efficiently and affordably. Because these vendors have gained economies of scale, they can share the benefits to others and make a profit.

Reduce HR-related issues. When you work with a third party marketer to source marketing talent or hire marketing consultants/freelancers, you don’t have to deal with HR problems such as staff disputes, worker’s compensation, sick leaves and termination issues that come with hiring full-time, permanent onshore employees.

Flexible staffing. Service providers understand that organizations may not always need full-time marketing specialists. Providers develop custom, flexible staffing plans that change based on business need and market cycles. You can hire one or two people, build a team or an entire marketing department. Outsourcing makes perfect sense if you want the job to be done well, but it does not require full-time attention.

Access to specialized marketing expertise. Can’t find the marketing talent you need locally? Working with an offshore provider may be the best solution. If certain marketing expertise tends to be hard to find in one location, the service provider can easily source these talents elsewhere and bring them to you.

Save on recruitment time and expenses. Traditional recruitment is time- and resource-intensive, requiring someone to write and post want ads, review applications, screen candidates and make follow-up calls. The whole thing can be impractical if all you need is one marketing specialist. It’s better to work with a third party marketer either for sourcing talent or performing the marketing function.

Red Flags when Outsourcing Marketing

There are many ways to market your brand, product or service. There is the traditional way of building a marketing department from the ground up and hiring full-time marketing specialists. Another way is to delegate some marketing activity to staff that you already have in-house. The third method, outsourced marketing, is hiring a third party to do some or all of your marketing activities. 

Some companies prefer to keep everything in-house, including brand promotion and traditional advertising. There are many reasons for this; executives may believe that the best work can only be done in-house and hiring an outside expert is simply ineffective for the campaign they want to undertake, or that marketing is one of the company’s core strengths. 

For companies that have outsourced marketing before and experienced less than stellar results from a problem provider, it makes sense to be wary of farming out promotional activities. If your organization has never outsourced marketing functions before but you are aware of the potential benefits, keeping an eye out for red flags can save you from major outsourcing headaches:

  1. Unrealistic expectations in terms of return on investment (ROI).
  2. Some service providers promise the world, and some companies are inexperienced enough to believe them. When you outsource marketing or any process to an outside party, it’s best to keep your expectations realistic. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to think that outsourcing will solve all of your problems and magically improve the bottom line. Building a solid customer base, maintaining good customer relationships and increasing revenues take time, whether you outsource or not.

  3. Poor management of the outsourcing project.
  4. Outsourced marketing is a partnership with shared responsibilities, and you are expected to pull your own weight when it comes to marketing decisions and other important activities. Outsourced marketing staff manages their own work, but they can’t be expected to manage your business. In fact, experienced firms assign top-level CMOs to manage and constantly monitor external marketing projects and outsourcing campaigns to ensure that they get the most out of the partnership.

  5. Outsourcing every marketing function too soon, including core activities.
  6. Outsourcing can slash operating costs, so some CMOs decide to outsource every marketing function at once and often without careful planning, leading to problematic outsourcing relationships. CMOs should start the outsourcing process gradually with non-core marketing functions like telemarketing or digital marketing, and set clear and quantifiable management goals. If the initial project is a success, you can start outsourcing parts of your higher-value marketing activities, like data analytics.

  7. Picking the wrong location.
  8. Companies looking to offshore marketing functions may think that all low-cost locations are the same. As long as there is high-speed internet, they reason, it’s all good. However, cost and connectivity are just two factors. You have to consider language and cultural compatibility as well. It’s no good to work with a marketing team that you can’t communicate with properly.

  9. Focusing on cheap labor.
  10. Outsourcing won’t work if your virtual team is unhappy, or you see outsourcing as a cheap way to shore up your in-house team during difficult times. Hire both external and internal staff based on the same basic principles and be responsible for their personal growth.

  11. Being inflexible. 
  12. Being rigid with budgets, expectations and management can sink your outsourcing project. CMOs should adopt a dynamic outlook and plan for contingencies. For example, don’t assign a person who is insensitive to cultural differences to manage your virtual team. While the outsourced team will always try to adapt to your situation, success depends on mutual respect. 

Marketing Process Outsourcing: Finding the Right Fit for Your Business

The key to a successful outsourced marketing project is to treat the service provider as a partner to long-term success, instead of someone who happens to provide a necessary service during an economic downturn or a corporate cost-reduction initiative. The ideal marketing outsourcing partnership aims to improve long-term quality and efficiency rather than just reduce overhead costs. When looking for the right outsourced marketing partner, consider the following factors:

Solid Case for Outsourcing

Understand why you need to outsource marketing in the first place. Is it because you need to cut costs, bring in marketing expertise, revamp your marketing campaign, or all of the above? Examine your current marketing setup, including the number of employees and who performs what. Determine whether outsourcing a certain marketing function will improve quality over the long term. Once you have built a solid case for outsourcing, gather support from the higher ups and start your search for the right service provider. Ask for recommendations from your networks and do your research before making phone calls. You should be able to narrow down your initial list to a few companies you feel would be a great fit.

Long-Term Value

While it’s important to stick to your outsourcing budget, remember that you usually get what you pay for. There’s a reason why some marketing firms charge more than others. They may have been in the business for a long time and have proven a track record with multiple companies in various industries. The company may also specialize in a particular marketing function, like research and analytics, that requires a higher level of expertise. Consider the value the service provider is offering over the long-term and not simply short-term gains.

Sound Marketing Strategy and Processes 

The right marketing service provider has a clear strategy and established processes to engage prospects and promote your brand, product or service through whatever channel you need. This is especially important if your internal marketing process delivers poor results and needs to be reworked.

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