While marketing isn’t easy at the best of times, SMB marketing in the early stages can be the biggest challenge of all. According to a recent “SMB Routes to Market Study” by the SMB Group, the top two challenges for SMBs in 2015 were attracting new customers and growing revenue. Both are of course highly dependent on marketing. At a point in the evolution when a business needs marketing most, it’s usually in short supply.
Why is SMB Marketing so Hard?
In many companies these days, people wear several hats. However, having multiple roles is the norm in a smaller business because the resources simply aren’t there. Like most things, you can’t gain traction from marketing if you only dabble in it when the mood strikes.
SMBs know they need marketing to grow, but sometimes just getting started is a problem. For others, sustainability is the key issue. These companies start many activities that quickly fall off the rails as other priorities take over. Hence, frustration builds as marketing keeps getting pushed out.
Budget is the real culprit in most cases since hiring a marketing staff, or even the first full-time resource can be out of reach for a while. Also, the investments needed to effectively market frequently play second fiddle to other areas of the business. Finally, the impact of marketing takes time. You need to build a solid foundation and most business leaders at this stage don’t have that kind of patience.
Outsourcing Comes to the Rescue
Even companies with large marketing teams outsource at times because they need added bandwidth or specific skill-sets. But SMB marketing is when outsourcing can play a significant role in filling the gap until a company grows enough to justify bringing the work in-house. Here are some of the key advantages of working with an outside firm.
Most who work in marketing services or for an agency have been around the block. They bring extensive knowledge and get the big picture through years of formal education and experience. As a result, you substantially benefit from decades of someone else’s learning and wisdom.
Marketing is a multi-disciplined field that requires a variety of unique skill-sets. These talents can be difficult to find, nurture and retain internally. Whether it’s SEO, digital marketing, social media or graphic design – few small to mid-sized companies can do it all.
If a business owner, their receptionist and the HR manager share the marketing function, chances are they will always be distracted and pulled in other directions. As a result, consistent, high-quality marketing never happens. It takes on-going effort to plan and execute, and outsourced marketers do that all day, every day.
Another aspect of focus is staying on top of current trends. Marketing changes so quickly that even a few months out of touch can have a noticeable effect. As an example, rules around SEO and social media change almost monthly, so what you’re doing today likely won’t work tomorrow. Serious marketers barely have time to keep up, so it’s nearly impossible for others.
Companies that market for a living see a broad spectrum of approaches and tactics across a variety of clients. Bringing these insights into your business can pay off with better results in less time. Some of the thinking that comes from this diversity can also help differentiate you from competitors stuck for years in the same mindset.
The key to effective marketing is having a series of sound and proven processes. From strategic planning and metrics to frameworks to editorial calendars – building a solid foundation takes time, creativity and experience. Outsourcing just this part of the equation can jump-start a languishing marketing program.
7. Best Practices
Services firms only thrive and grow by knowing what works and how to repeat it quickly. Agencies develop in-house best practices based on the collective knowledge of their teams, and also borrow shamelessly from what they see their customers doing. Applying ideas that prove useful with one client usually works well with others.
Marketing tools come in all shapes and sizes. But most are pricey and come with long learning curves. For example, buying a marketing automation system that costs $2,400 a month is out of reach for most SMB marketing teams. But leveraging one an agency owns can be affordable. When a provider invests in a piece of software or expensive subscription, they can usually share it across clients. Therefore, smaller companies get a chance to leverage some great assets they can’t afford on their own.
If you have a decent sized marketing team in-house, they still need help once in a while. It may be temporary bandwidth, or missing internal skills. The ability to augment your team with services when and how you need them is a definite benefit.
Outsourcing tends to fluctuate in the both the types of services required and scope. Sometimes you need a little, other times more. Maybe, you just need a specialized expert for a single project. In any scenario, a customized solution is easy to find.
Also, if a partner you chose isn’t working out, it’s easy to change. Swapping out under-performing employees is time-consuming, costly, and emotionally draining. Finding a new agency is a more detached decision and comes with far less commitment, depending on the situation.
To be fair, outsourcing SMB marketing can be expensive if not looked at in context. However, in the beginning, it’s certainly more cost-effective than hiring people you can’t quite afford.
Also, if you find a reliable and proven partner, the productivity for the dollar is almost always higher than doing it yourself. Factor in what you can save by leveraging the vendor’s resources as discussed in point eight above and the cost-quality ratio looks even more attractive.
Some clients leverage Marketing-as-a-Service where the partner becomes their “virtual” marketing team. In this scenario and others that involve multiple external parties, the services company usually takes care of vendor management so they can control the process.
An agency has the experience needed to coordinate third-party activities such as trade show management, printing, PR, paid advertising, etc. Good ones will work seamlessly with your internal resources as well. This added value saves clients tremendous amounts of time and aggravation.
As SMBs evolve and grow, increasing their in-house marketing begins to make more sense. They can save money in the long run, and arguably gain higher degrees of control and responsiveness. That said, unless you provide marketing services for a living, it’s simply not a core competency. Whether you fully outsource during a transition period or bring in added bench strength or expertise as needed – working with a firm specialized in SMB marketing should provide great value and superior results along the way.
Randy Fougere | Founder and President I have helped companies grow faster for more than 25 years. With deep expertise in marketing, sales and leadership, I started Think2Grow to help mid-sized B2B clients accelerate sales with thoughtful, results-driven marketing services and programs.