Small and midsized companies struggle with how to staff an in-house marketing department.
- Should the internal staff handle everything?
- Is it better for the internal staff to handle some marketing tasks and outsource others?
- Is it less expensive to handle marketing in-house?
If any of these questions are running through your mind, this article may help you sort out things.
What’s Your Marketing Scope?
The first thing to consider is what you want your marketing efforts to accomplish. There are three general levels of scope a marketing function can have in your business.
- Level One. Your goal could be very modest, such as maintaining a more or less passive presence on social media and sending occasional emails to your customer mailing list. Other typical tasks for this level of marketing can include things such as making occasional updates to the website, distributing occasional press releases and ordering promotional items such as coffee mugs and T-shirts.
- Level Two. Efforts can become a bit more proactive by adding work to draw in prospects (inbound marketing) and/or work to go out and find them (outbound marketing). Since more work is involved, more cost is involved, and it becomes more important to put measurements and management in place to judge whether the efforts are paying off — and, of course, this additional layer of work adds more cost as well.
- Level Three. Finally, you may want to market aggressively with a concentrated marketing campaign or a mix of several. For online marketing options such as email, SEO, PPC and social media, campaigns are quite complex and require a lot of expertise. They are often expensive. However, they can also generate enormous ROI if successful.
Which level of effort is right for your business? There are no cut-and-dried answers, of course, but in general …
- Companies that rely on the sales department to find leads may be fine at Level One. However, if the lead pipeline is trickling, or if the cost of prospecting is crushing margins, then it’s probably time to ramp up to Level Two and see if marketing can generate leads more efficiently either by taking over the prospecting assignment or sharing certain aspects of it.
- Companies at Level Two should have a sense of whether and how much their marketing efforts are paying off. If results are mediocre, several reasons could explain why. It could be the competition is outmarketing you. It could be that your staff needs more training. It could be the work requires some specialized assistance from outside sources. It could be that you have good tactical execution but the wrong strategic plan. In our experience talking to small and midsized companies, we often find a combination of two or more of these flaws is to blame. A thorough review of your marketing function should reveal whether you need to make adjustments and stay the course at Level Two or ramp up to Level Three.
- A similar state of affairs applies to Level Three companies. Presumably, they have an in-house staff in place and are doing all the work internally or working with outside specialists. If results — and the main focus should be lead quantity and lead quality — are flat, then one or more of several issues could be the cause. Most often, the issues we see standing in the way are:
o Working with the wrong outside specialists — that is, freelancers or agencies that are a bad fit, do inexpert work or take shortcuts
o Internal personnel who lack necessary training
o A lack of internal guidance and leadership — for instance, leaving it to the marketing team to figure out goals and metrics
o A lack of internal communication between marketing and other departments, particularly sales and IT (web development)
o A lack of communication between the company and marketing outsources, at both the tactical and strategic levels
In-House Marketing Solutions
At Level One, the scope is small enough that the work can be handled by one or two people internally, or instead turned over more or less entirely to a small agency or freelancer. A lot of small businesses simply don’t have the staff for someone to monitor social media for an hour a day. On the other hand, if you have someone on staff ready, willing and able to do this kind of work, it’s an advantage to keep the marketing in-house. The communication will seem more natural to customers and prospects, and it will be easier for you to manage because you can see what’s going on.
At Levels Two and Three, the distribution of work done in-house and done through outsources can get extremely complicated. In general:
- SEO and PPC require an extraordinary amount of training, experience and skill to pull off. It is very, very difficult for an internal marketing staff to stay current on these rapidly changing marketing specialties — and using outdated techniques not only can stifle progress, it can also damage your standing with Google and your brand image.
- Email can be handled internally more easily than SEO and PPC, although great skill and training are still needed. Email platforms make it fairly easy to manage even highly complex email campaigns. So, if you are contemplating email and SEO, for instance, as your primary marketing efforts, it could make sense to outsource SEO and handle email in-house. However, if you feel a big-time email campaign will pay off, getting professional copywriters, designers and list managers involved may be what it takes to move the dial on lead generation.
- Social media, in our experience, is best handled internally in the trenches. Outsources can be extraordinarily helpful in strategizing campaigns and establishing metrics and budgets, but when it comes to engaging prospects on social media, there is no substitute for actual staff members handling the communication. Social media is a good area to consider handling in-house.
- Whenever your marketing efforts involve outsources, you must give those outsources a focal point for communication. There must be a single person within your organization who is accountable for marketing performance and who can communicate high-level goals to agencies and freelancers, as well as manage day-to-day communication for ongoing campaigns. We have talked to many companies whose marketing campaigns crumbled because the left hand (the agency) didn’t know what the right hand (the client) was doing.
- If you are working with outsources, or if you feel you will obtain better results by doing so, then your main focus for the staffing issue is making sure you have the right team in place to support the agency. This means:
o Having people in your IT department who can work with the outsource to make website changes necessary for the marketing campaign(s) — and make those changes without delays. Marketing campaigns almost always involve tweaks to the front and back ends of a website, in order to create and configure the right kind of content, repair technical problems, and collect appropriate tracking and visitor behavior data.
o Having people in your executive, sales or marketing area who can work with outsource copywriters to guide them on the key talking points, provide factual input for articles and new website content, and then in some cases edit the content for accuracy and tone.
o Having people to hand off leads from the marketing campaigns to your internal sales department. Once a lead is captured — a form submission or a phone inquiry — what happens next is critical. If the lead is fumbled because of slow or inappropriate follow-up, then all the money and time you’ve invested in getting that lead has been wasted. However, if your in-house customer service/sales team includes people who manage lead handoffs like pros, you’ll turn those leads into customers — and that’s where the ultimate value of marketing is.