Outsourcing Marketing: A Good Move for Your Company? Part 1 of 2

Collaboration – 25 October 2011

“Outsourcing” has emotional connotations, but, like many emotionally-loaded concepts, it’s surrounded by misconceptions. For the general public, the word may have them imagining a shutdown factory, with all its jobs exported across the world. But for many busy company executives, especially at smaller companies, it suggests a way to “import” expertise from outside the company walls as well as to rein in costs. And it does not usually involve “labour” from any further than the local area or region. Already, outsourcing is practically the norm for functions such as payroll processing or IT. Marketing is another business function where outsourcing is becoming more commonplace.

The drive to outsource

According to the government figures, 96% of businesses in Quebec are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs). How is marketing traditionally handled at such companies? The executive in charge of sales, whose job title may be anything from Sales Manager to CEO, is usually also tasked with “doing marketing.” Time is often the very first obstacle. Smaller companies often lack even one individual whose sole responsibility is marketing. A dedicated marketing team is even less likely to be found.

The Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) suggests that when an executive has several competing job functions, some of them will necessarily command less than 20% of his or her time, and those functions will suffer as a result.

Since most businesses are very sales-driven and oriented toward “closing the deal” the lead-generation and lead-nurturing side of the coin – commonly known as marketing – will often get short-shrift.

So, not surprisingly, the time-pressured executive will often hire outside help – outsourcing! In most cases, this is a big step forward, and it often marks a turning point in the development of a business. But not all marketing outsourcing is created equal.

The drawbacks of the traditional marketing model

When outsourcing occurs in the traditional marketing model, it usually takes the form of hiring an advertising and branding agency. In many cases, this is a step forward, but it is not the same as truly outsourcing marketing – especially not for a Business-to-Business (B2B) company. It is more akin to outsourcing the creation of the company’s marketing materials.

What is often missing is the guidance of an overall strategic vision, backed by thorough research to guide the creation and distribution of those materials, along with the integration of sales management functions. Especially for B2B clients, who necessarily operate within a narrow, targeted niche, this can pose problems.

Another issue for B2B marketing as practiced by traditional agencies is that their client – the executive who contracted with the agency – will most often be their primary or even their only source of information, especially when it comes to strategy. That may work if strategic planning happens to be that executive’s particular strength, passion, and natural talent – but that is not usually the case.

In Part 2, we will cover the role of the non-traditional integrated marketing firm. Please stay tuned!

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