Until recently, many B2B companies haven't had to devote serious attention to their marketing. To get their message out to their target customers, attending a few trade shows and designing a brochure or two would do the trick. But buyer behaviour is changing and many firms are scrambling to keep up. Now, all of a sudden, B2B companies need to market themselves, and it's hard to know where to begin.
One crucial thing you'll need to figure out early on is whether to build an effective marketing team in-house or to outsource the job. Many companies don't even realize that outsourcing is an option. But once you try it for yourself, it quickly becomes clear that marketing is tougher than it looks. At least, marketing effectively is. To achieve that, you'll need an integrated, strategic approach that's more complex to execute than most people think.
So which option is right for you?
As the owner of a company that provides outsourced marketing, I deal with a lot of B2B companies that have tried to do their marketing in-house, but simply don't have the resources or the knowledge to do it right. For them, outsourcing is an efficient solution that costs less than hiring full-time employees and brings all the benefits (and results) of having experienced marketers and strategic thinkers on staff.
However, in the 10 years I've been working with B2B firms, I've also come to realize that outsourcing isn't right for every company. Building up your in-house team may, in fact, be the right option. To determine which model is right for you, answer Yes or No to the 12 questions below.
1. Is marketing a core competence of our business?
2. Is there enough marketing work to keep a full-time senior staff member (strategic) and junior staff member (operational) busy?
3. Do we know which types of marketing tools we should be using, from traditional to digital tactics, and, therefore, which marketing skills we need to hire for?
4. Is our volume of marketing activity fairly consistent over the course of the year, rather than having peaks and valleys in which more or less activity is required?
5. Have we achieved effective marketing in-house in the past?
6. Do we have enough bandwidth on the executive team to manage and direct marketing in-house and ensure that it's accountable for results?
7. Will we be able to keep pace with changes in buyer behaviour and marketing tools over the next three years through internal resources?
8. Is it extremely difficult for us to put a marketing plan in place, given the pace of change in our business and the uncertainty of the target market and competition?
9. Do we have a culture that would be negatively affected by outsourcing?
10. Will it be difficult to find an outsourcing partner that has more marketing expertise than we do internally?
11. Does the size of our marketing budget make outsourcing financially unfeasible?
12. Would the consequences of outsourcing be extremely difficult to reverse if we were to decide to change course in future?
If you answered 'Yes' to 8 or more questions, marketing should be an in-house function for your business. You have the internal expertise, resources and demand to drive an effective program.
If you answered 'No' to 8 or more, outsourcing is probably the right option. A lot of B2B firms have a gap between the level of expertise they need in marketing and their ability to pay for it. For companies that can't employ both a senior strategist and a junior operational person in-house, outsourcing can be an affordable way of getting the best of both worlds.
If you fall somewhere in the middle, explore outsourcing as an option to see if you can find a partner that will deliver better results than you can achieve internally—or can complement your in-house efforts with expertise you may not have on hand.
Whichever option you choose, remember this: good marketing isn't just about having a strategy and a plan; it's also an execution question. If you don't have the people and budget to develop and properly execute a strategic marketing plan, you likely won't end up with a good result. Whether the resources you choose are in-house or not, make sure they're a fit with your needs and will take your company in the right direction.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a PROFIT 200 company in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
More columns by Lisa Shepherd