Do I grow the skills needed to manage marketing operations in-house, or do I partner with an agency/consultant? This is a never ending debate for marketing teams and business leaders looking to leverage marketing automation to take their business to the next level.
The answer is that… it really depends. I’m a marketing technology consultant, so you might expect that I’d stand firmly in the “outsourcing” camp. But in many cases, I don’t. Let me explain why.
The case for “insourcing” marketing operations work
Prior to becoming a marketing technology consultant, I worked “client side” for several companies with small marketing departments. Wherever possible, my approach was to either hire a new employee who had the skills we needed for major marketing initiatives, or designate someone on the existing team to run point on knowledge and execution of the new tool or channel.
1. Internal politics are hard, yo.
Agencies and consultants have their place. But there is nuance and internal politics in every organization that can be difficult to explain to agency partners.
2. Marketing automation requires an internal champion.
Marketing automation requires CHANGE — in process, in philosophy, in team member behavior. (This is one of the frequent sources of burnout.)
An effective marketing automation program requires support across several different departments – marketing, sales, IT, legal, and more. You need someone who can stand up and be the change agent within your four walls.
Can an external consultant play that role? Maybe. But an in-house evangelist who has the respect of their peers has the upper hand here, in my opinion.
3. It’s an investment in the future.
Dependency on external consultants can quickly get expensive.
Training someone to manage your marketing automation is a long term investment in that person. Assuming it is the right person… that can really help hold the line on total costs.
4. It’s useful to have an internal SME who can train others.
Having an in-house subject matter expert means you can train others on your team and continue to grow your program. They can help provide continuity and leverage institutional knowledge as you scale up your efforts.
The case for outsourcing marketing operations work
All that said, external consultants exist for a reason: there are major advantages to hiring an outside expert for help.
1. Partners keep your team focused.
Giving highly-specialized work to highly-specialized consultants frees up your team to stay focused on their sweet spot skills and initiatives. (What my former boss would call “the highest and best use of your time.”)
2. Partners bring speed & agility.
If you’re trying to move quickly, turning to outside resources can augment existing resources and help you be nimble.
Consultants and agencies have team members are ready to hit the ground running and can help you staff up to support a big project. It’s much easier to ask a partner to scale up or scale down number of hours as needed than to try that with an employee.
3. Partners contribute an outside perspective.
With an outside consultant, you’ll get someone that’s “been there, done that.” The right consultant can share a perspective on best practices and how other organizations are approaching similar challenges. Visibility into this can be incredibly useful as you’re looking for different ways of addressing the challenges you face.
4. Partners have a track record of results (SOMETIMES!)
There are pros to bringing in an outside consultant. But that said…. one of my frustrations with agencies is the lack of “real world” experience that many of them have.
Sure, they’ll know the technology really well. But it’s one thing to pitch a big idea or preach about a best practice. It’s a wholly different thing to be accountable for implementing said idea, working with the team day after day to make it happen, and managing the messy stuff when the “best practice rubber” inevitably meets the actual “‘in-the-real-world road.”
If you’re going to work with an outside partner, make sure they can point to actual results and share stories of the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve invested to achieve those results. In my opinion, that’s what separates the good from the great in this space.
(This actually one of the things that makes the Sercante team unique. Our consultants have deep client-side experience, and we specifically recruit for that — it empowers them to be better and more holistic advisors!)
What do you think about insourcing vs. outsourcing marketing operations work?
What’s your philosophy on in-sourcing vs. outsourcing marketing automation and campaign management?
What parts of the marketing pie do you keep in house vs. outsourcing to agencies/consultants/partners?
Let me and your fellow readers know in the comments!
Would add: consultants can set up a mess and walk away from it relatively unscathed, whereas an internal employee is much more motivated to build long-lasting processes (after all, they will have to continue to work with them) and to curb the amount of time it takes to complete said projects. They also are better enabled to push back on the setup of poor processes, etc, whereas consultancies are incentivized to do whatever the client requests. Obviously there are exceptions to each, but worth thinking about. 🙂
I challenge your assumptions here. I strongly believe that’s more about the person who is doing the work and less about the role they are in. For example: I am VERY motivated to not jack up a client’s org and to make sure myself and my team are doing solid work to set our clients up for long term success. That’s a personal pride to me, just like when I was client-side and I worked my ass off for my employer to be successful.
To suggest that just any full time company employee would do better simply because they’re an employee doesn’t shake out. I’ve fixed plenty of stuff that employees after half-assed. Also, an internal employee is just as motivated to just do whatever their boss asks so they can make their boss happy, be a ‘good’ employee and not get fired.
On the other hand, a really good employee will do what you said above and do good work. So, again, it’s about the person and the motivation, not simply that a consultant can just blow stuff up and walk away. Because an employee can too. Either way, neither of them is getting paid by the company they screwed.
@Mike well said! There are strengths in different roles as @Sara points out, and strengths in different types of people. I’ll add another level of cake to this stack we’re creating… there are analytical people and creative folks. There are also marketers who kick ass at creating something new but get bored optimizing- likewise some of the best optimizers I’ve ever met prefer to start with something they can perfect.
I think we all agree we want people with marketing sense and objectives involved with Pardot!
Some very good perspective.
I’ll add that it depends on the maturity level of the Pardot installation. If it is a fresh implementation (or older but not well set up or optimized) then I would suggest using a Pardot Consultant to get things going with best practices.
Then typically at a later stage in the lifecycle of the marketing automation implementation there should usually be cross-training by the consultant of internal team members to hand off some of the routine admin tasks, standard campaigns, and defined processes.
Ideally the consultant can remain engaged with the client beyond that point to continue to optimize the platform, to provide advisory guidance to internal teams, and to handle edge cases.
I think this type of mixed scenario would provide the best overall short and long term strategy and ROI for the company in terms of resources and investment by achieving an optimal implementation initially while allowing for transition to internal stakeholders over time as the processes and platform mature.