How to Balance Marketing Consultants and Internal Staff

What’s the best way to balance the use of internal staff and outside consultants to handle a company’s marketing function?

That was the topic of an interesting discussion I had with a small business owner this weekend. The issues we discussed are fairly common in the small business community, so I thought I would share them here. If you have experienced these issues yourself, I would love to hear how you addressed the situation – please leave your comments below.

The discussion had to do with how to hire for marketing when marketing is not a full time position and how to best use outside marketing expertise. Like most small businesses, they are used do doing things themselves; however, they also realize that sometimes it makes sense to get some outside help. Our discussion revolved around how to best balance outside and inside resources.

Just as small business owners wear many hats, so do their employees. Not every role in the company can be filled by one or more FTEs. It is a common scenario for someone to be assigned marketing tasks in addition to the other roles they fill. Sometimes an administrative person may assigned marketing duties. In a professional firm, it may be one of the partners who is assigned the marketing duties (and quickly delegates to his admin staff <g>).

This scenario can lead to a lot of frustration when a conscientious, hard worker, because they don’t have the knowledge (they are not a marketer) or direction (their boss is not a marketer) ends up in a role where they don’t know what “doing a good job” looks like. This frustration from their marketing role can also effect attitudes and performance in the other roles.

So what is the right approach for a small business? Should they hire for marketing experience but only if that person is willing to also perform other roles? Should they hire an admin who is willing to also learn to perform marketing tasks? Should they outsource? If so, what should they outsource and what should they keep in house?

Of course, every business has different needs and resources, but here is a scenario that many small business owners have used to their advantage:

  1. Work with an outside consultant to create a strategic marketing plan. This should be done using a collaborative approach. A marketing professional knows about marketing, but you know your business and your market. Be wary of consultants who want to interview you, go off and do some work, and then come back with a completed plan for you to follow. Doing something is better than doing nothing, but I’ve never seen this method deliver meaningful results.
  2. Use the strategic plan to create an action plan for the marketer(s). Your marketing tactics should support your strategy.  Your strategy should also help you filter your tactical choices. Without a strategy, every tactic sounds like it could be a good idea. Make sure your tactics help you reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time.
  3. Make sure the marketer has the tools to collect and report key metrics back to management. One of the benefits of being a small business marketer in today’s digital world is how easy it is to track the results of our marketing efforts. Incorporate reporting key metrics into your regular (I prefer quarterly) marketing planning and review sessions and you will start asking better questions (and finding better answers) about how you can improve your marketing efforts.
  4. Give the marketer access to the consultant to answer questions, provide recommendations on tools and resources, and learn about best practices. While this may be done on an ad-hoc basis, many businesses find it helpful to establish a coaching or mentoring relationship that includes an accountability component as part of the relationship.

In this example, “marketer” refers to internal staff assigned to marketing, but can equally apply to vendors to whom you outsource marketing activities.

In my experience, this scenario above works well because:

  1. Management is involved with the development of the marketing plan and strategy. They are then in a better position to delegate (vs abdicating) responsibility for marketing.
  2. The marketer now has a clear idea of what the goals are, what they should be doing to help reach those goals, and the support they need to achieve those goals. In other words, they now know how to do a good job.
  3. When the system provides feedback (and a regular planning process), management and the marketer tend to have a more collaborative relationship than when reviews are only conducted during performance review or contract renewal time. They are able to make better, data based decisions about what is working, what isn’t, and what to do about it.

Do you outsourced part or all of your marketing function? What has worked well for you? What lessons can you share with our readers?