So you’re considering investing in outsourced marketing services? You’re not alone! Many tech companies have opted to utilize outside resources to support and supplement their marketing needs. There are a number of clear benefits to outsourced marketing, but it’s important you structure your engagement appropriately to get the most value for your money. Outsourced marketing can be a lot like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get… But hopefully during the selection process, you do have a good idea of what kind of marketing you’re going to get.
Tech companies have a lot to consider when deciding on outsourced marketing partners. What kind of agency do you want to hire? Who will serve as the point of contact if you don’t have a dedicated in-house marketing manager? Do your potential partners understand your business – and your industry? All of these questions should be answered before you embark on a new outsourced marketing engagement. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices and selected an agency, how you manage that relationship will often determine the success of your program.
When you’re drowning in the sea of budgets and planning, it’s easy to forget the first couple of months in the relationship is a “building” phase. Your marketing program will run as smoothly as the foundation you lay in the beginning of your engagement. So how can you be sure you’re setting up your program for a lifetime of marketing happiness rather than a year or or so (depending on your contract) of marketing regret?
Just like relationships, working with outsourced partners can be a difficult task without the right commitment, communication and respect from both sides. I may be a little late for Valentine’s Day, but here’s my list of 5 important tips for making the most of your outsourced marketing relationship.
1. Tinder for Agencies: Finding the Right Fit
So far the RFP process has not evolved to the point of a simple swipe – but we’re not that far off (next million dollar business idea?!?). It can be easy to be entranced by fancy presentations and proposals that hide deeper seeded organizational issues that may make an agency a bad fit. When you’re going through the process of deciding between agencies, you should focus on the way the engagements make you feel.
Are you excited and empowered after every call – or anxious and feeling belittled? Does it seem like your goals and the voice of your brand are being heard? Is the agency discussing how they can build on the work you’ve already completed, or telling you everything you’ve done is wrong? Most agencies have the ability to put together an impressive presentation, but if you allow that piece of work to dominate your decision, you may miss out on an even better fit.
There are two critical types of “fit” to consider. The strategic fit and the cultural fit. BusinessDictionary.com defines a strategic fit as:
“A situation that occurs when a specific project, target company or product is seen as appropriate with respect to an organization’s overall objectives. Most business managers seeking to expand their company's operation through a merger or acquisition will look for another company that makes a good strategic fit with their own firm.”
While you’re probably not going to acquire the agency, you should treat the RFP phase as if you’re considering “purchasing” the team and their resources. If you had to fold this agency into your internal team, would they be able to work within your existing processes? Are they flexible enough to compromise when you have differing ways of approaching a task? Does their personality work well with your existing team?
Cultural fit is just as important as strategic fit, and it’s too often overlooked. To be clear, I’m not saying that to be successful your company and your selected agency need to have the same company culture. There will always be differences in the way things are done – anything from dress code to PTO policy – but it's important that your companies culturally mesh when it comes to your respective values. How do you handle competition and conflict? What is your preferred method of communication? How do you want business meetings to be managed? On the bigger cultural issues, your agency’s and your internal polices should align.
2. Post Engagement Bliss: Defining Responsibilities & Setting Protocols
Once you’ve chosen the right agency and all the necessary paperwork is signed, the hard work isn’t over! Now is the time to determine who owns what and to set the protocols in place to make your engagement successful. If you have an internal marketing manager, this process may be simple, but if not, be prepared to answer these questions:
- Who is the main point of contact internally for your new marketing program?
- How many levels of edits/revisions are necessary before something can be signed off on and “shipped”? i.e. does a blog need to go through you, your manager, and legal before being posted?
- Who will manage the revision process for the creation of that new content? Will your agency go through one key contact or will they have a contact in each department?
- Who will be your backup contact when your point person is out of the office?
- At what point does the agency hand a piece of work off to you? Do you want final say on everything posted, or does your partner have the ability to hit “send”?
- How often do you want to set up calls or meetings with your agency?
- How frequently should your marketing contact reach out to you?
- Do you have any other communication preferences they should know about?
- Should your agency be introduced to other departments so they have everything they need to be successful? (For example, IT, HR, and Legal…there could be any number of departments or team members)
- How often do you want to be reminded of upcoming projects? Account Managers will be determining how much communication is too much during this process. If you’re forgetful and you don’t mind a few extra emails – let your account manager know! Likewise, if you find reminder emails annoying, politely request that your AMs contact you only once about projects.
There will always be a few bumps in the beginning of an engagement, but if you openly express your needs with your marketing team you can make sure that clear expectations are understood moving forward.
3. The Honeymoon Phase: Setting Realistic Goals
After your first 90 days, you’ve probably created a few new projects and laid the groundwork for the remainder of the year. This is the point when you're hoping to see the needle start to move – but if you haven’t clearly expressed your goals to your marketing team, you may feel as if they’re falling short. Be as specific as possible with your goals for the marketing program. For example:
- X number of event attendees is considered successful.
- By this point next year, I want our website to have X% more views.
- Therefore, by Q4 we need to have X number of views.
- By next year, I want to grow our social platforms by X number of followers.
- By Q4, I want to increase our number of new customers by X%.
Agencies can never hit goals that are too loosely defined! That said, they also might be able to provide additional insight into what’s realistic when it comes to your marketing metrics. Be clear about how your company determines success so that your agency can keep you updated on these measures. If you’re not sure what you want out of a marketing program, every agency will fall short of undetermined expectations.
4. Commitment Issues: It’s All Fun & Games Until You Get Invoiced
Ah, the dreaded money conversation. Even the best relationships can be brought down by financial issues and outsourced marketing relationships are no different. Before you begin an engagement with an agency, it’s critical to understand their billing practices and their average cost for projects. If you want to publish two blogs per month, but you’re not willing to spend more than $200 on blogging, that’s something you’ll want to discuss with potential partner agencies.
It doesn’t hurt to give the agencies a monthly budget and then see what they put together that falls within your price range. You may find that some agencies are far too expensive for you to complete larger projects… meaning you would have to find another outside partner to supplement certain projects or you may need to reevaluate your yearly budget. Again, be transparent with your partner about your budget limitations before you begin the engagement to make sure that you’re able to allocate enough funds to reach your goals.
5. Relationship Maintenance: Keeping the Magic Alive
All relationships take some work, even business relationships. Over time, marketing programs can become stale and, in some cases, growth may stagnate. This is often a result of a well-established program needing a good shake-up. But if you’ve selected your marketing partner well, you shouldn’t need a new company all together, so much as a new plan. Your agency may be hesitant to push for new projects for a variety of reasons. But it often helps to give them the opportunity to create a “blue sky” presentation, meaning if budget wasn’t an issue, what would they do or recommend? This presentation should offer you a few options at different price points that will help keep your program fresh over time.
Blue sky projects can be as big as a website redesign or as small as a new social advertising campaign. Giving your agency free reign to think creatively can provide fresh ideas for all budgets and timelines. If you think that your strategy has run its course, don’t automatically start looking for a new partner; instead look for a new perspective. What new marketing technology has emerged that you can incorporate? What projects have been successful in the past? Go through your ideas with your agency and give them the time to prepare a few of their own for you. Your combined efforts may breathe new life into your program.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment. Marketing is always a mix of both science and creativity. And while there may be data to bolster your ideas, that won’t completely eliminate the risk. You have to be willing to try new initiatives and develop alternative programs that will work for your business.
Cheers to Years of Marketing Success
You're not alone in your search for outsourced marketing services! We’ve written a number of resources to help you decide on the best marketing option for your tech business, including:
- How to Ride the Tide with the Right Outsourced Marketing Resources
- The Healing Powers of Outsourced Marketing for B2B Company Owners
- Outsourced Marketing Solutions for Marketing Manager Superheroes
- The Real Scoop on Outsourced Marketing
And of course, don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions! We may not be able to give you relationship advice, but we can certainly help with your marketing.