As an SMB leader, you can’t always do it all by yourself… as much as it may seem like it on some days.
Even if you have internal team members to support your business operations and marketing efforts, they may not have the bandwidth nor expertise to optimize your investment.
But, before you enlist external help from marketing service providers, there are important factors to consider. As an overarching word of caution: marketing service providers often make promises they can't always fulfill.
Here are four considerations to keep in mind when hiring a marketing service provider.
1) Vendors typically have one core expertise
When I look at the vast range of marketing service providers—some of whom I compete with and many of whom I collaborate with—it looks as if we all do the same things. In fact, on the surface, it may appear that we all do everything.
Peel the onion. Ask the right questions. Understand a provider's single area of true excellence… the heartbeat of what they do. If you talk to half a dozen companies and explore their in-market experience, you might find that one is a remarkable creative shop. Another is skilled at brand identity. And still, another is a paid channel ninja that has an intimate knowledge of shifts in the Google algorithm at the moment they occur.
Part of the complexity of partnering with a provider is knowing what you need for your business. The trap we fall into is we meet with providers before we have decided what skill set we truly need to drive traction where growth potential lives.
Takeaway: Make sure the core expertise of the marketing companies you’re talking to is exactly the kind of expertise you need.
2) Just because you build it, doesn’t mean buyers will come
Certain kinds of marketing work best for one thing—but might also have some spillover into others. Let’s say you run a robust paid search program that puts your name out in the universe in conjunction with a very active LinkedIn promotional plan. The result may be that direct traffic to your website increases. Yet, it will be difficult to attribute success to one or the other, because they’re essentially working together to drive awareness and curiosity.
I’ll overuse the “spaghetti against the wall” warning: You’re not alone if you’ve spent thousands of dollars and yielded nothing against your goals. Testing is good. “Trial and error” is just sloppy.
Just because you’ve had good results with an email engagement campaign for lead gen, doesn’t mean you’ll see similar success cold emailing your LinkedIn network. One distribution channel will not necessarily drive results across the entire buyer journey. Instead, it’s helpful to look at the role of any one solution in doing the job it’s intended to do.
Awareness and engagement and nurturing… while they're all effective strategies, they may not all be worth the resources to support at one time. Be frugal. Be specific.
Takeaway: Align your marketing strategies to specific business strategies—not only outcomes. The strategies are the Gorilla Glue that holds it all together and yields the efficiencies you need with limited budgets.
3) You bear the responsibility to help a vendor tell the story you want to tell
“Content marketing” can feel like such a massive undertaking, it’s no wonder you’d want to offload that task. But, you do bear some responsibility in helping a marketing service provider tell the story you want to tell—and in which way you want to tell it.
So many businesses look to marketing agencies and consultants to come in swinging with a magic wand that can predict the future. The future is yours. Own it. Make hard decisions. Know what to pursue and what can wait till next year.
Peel the onion. Ask the right questions.
If you don’t do this, you’ll get a marketing plan you probably cannot afford–or one that will take you three years to assess.
Takeaway: The most efficient, cost-effective way to hire services is to build out a manageable list of discrete strategies that map to your business goals–and not your wish list.
4) Tech won’t solve everything (so budget for the rest)
Marketing technology is great. It’s a shortcut for processes that used to take eight times as long. But, the truth is, very few martech solutions work by simply pushing a button. There’s always a need for an expert to make it happen.
Let’s take my own experience. After struggling with different kinds of marketing automation systems, I finally signed on to Hubspot. I love Hubspot, I’m a Hubspot partner. But I needed help creating sales dashboards—and I had to hire to get that done the right way.
My best advice is if you do invest in martech, budget 15% above the cost of the technology itself for the service/support you’ll likely need. If you can find a company that provides both—that crosses the tech/service divide—it will be more expensive but typically worth the money.
Takeaway: Appreciate tech for what it can do, but know its limitations, challenges, and hidden costs when it comes to execution.
Before You Sign the Dotted Line…
As much as we’d like, there is no marketing witchcraft, no magic beans that will suddenly grow your business. It’s so important to temper your expectations so you take a strategic approach in enlisting external help. That’s the way to onboard a true ally to bring your growth plan to life.
If you’d like some more information about identifying and determining growth objectives before you hire marketing support, here are some resources:
See our entire YouTube channel, Marketing Air-Cover, for additional guidance on marketing strategy for small businesses.
You can find more about the Marketing Strategy Lab for small businesses here.
Learn more about hiring a fractional CMO here.