The choice of whether or not to outsource is common in business, and when it comes to marketing automation the question often applies. Is it more advantageous to develop in house competencies, or is it best to team up with an agency that specializes in the technology? The objective of this post is to share some of our experience in order to help marketers make an informed decision when confronted with this issue.
Essentially, the depth of resources required to run a marketing automation initiative are determined by two considerations – the first being the complexity of the platform and the second being the depth of use.
As one would expect, not all marketing automation platforms are created equal. Entry-level platforms are biased towards a broadcast mode of operation. Their primary job is to deploy marketing messages via email. Moving up the ladder, the more sophisticated platforms augment email deployment capabilities with interpretive functions that enable complex database segmentation and deep integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) products.
The second variable to consider is the depth of use, or reliance on the platform. Is the technology being used in a minimal capacity, say for sending out monthly emails, or is there a commitment to utilizing the full spectrum of what platform can deliver? In general, companies that employ the higher-level tools tend to make proportionately greater use of them, but that’s not always the case. Some marketers really dig into the entry-level products and work hard to get the most out of them.
Depending on the mix between platform sophistication, and degree of use, the advantages of outsourcing nets out differently at varying points. The following chart illustrates the interplay of these two factors.
Merits of Outsourcing Marketing Automation Assistance versus Reliance on In-House Resources
Commentary by categorization:
a). High Platform Sophistication / Lite Use – these scenarios usually involve larger corporations that are becoming acquainted with a platform, or are not making extensive use of it. As the learning curve associated with these platforms is quite steep it makes sense to outsource assistance. If a dedicated in-house person is not available, an external team can jump on operational tasks and get things done. The higher-level platforms are also expensive, so from a return-on- investment point of view it’s worthwhile to start utilizing them as quickly as possible. Additionally, it is useful to have access to a seasoned expert who can share knowledge with an in-house team and accelerate platform adoption.
b). High Platform Sophistication / Heavy Use – as a vendor of consulting services, you might have expected me to advocate for consultancy here. It does, however, take time to become familiar with an evolved and heavily used marketing automation platform. In these instances, the learning curve favours the in-house team. It is therefore best to have a full time person, or team, on site to stay current with the system. Consultants, however, can still be useful in the face of unfamiliar technical challenges, or to assist with staffing shortages.
c). Medium Platform Sophistication / Lite Use – in situations where the tool is slated for only Lite use, say for a monthly newsletter deployment, it is reasonable to appoint an in-house marketing resource to administer the platform. When demands are moderate, longer learning curves can be accommodated, and more testing can be afforded to catch mistakes based on operational oversights.
d). Medium Platform Sophistication / Heavy Use – here, breadth of knowledge is as important its depth. Projects can easily require across-the-board familiarity with areas such as HTML development, database work, and platform expertise. It’s a challenge for even the sharpest of people to stay on top of the range of skills required to manage a campaign from end-to-end. A consulting agency, however, can draw on a variety of staff members and plug in the right person as required. When you hire a marketing automation agency, you are actually hiring a diverse number of people, each with highly-developed areas of specialization. If your digital marketing initiatives are mission critical, it is advantageous to have a talent pool to draw off of, in contrast to one or two people who may not have the time to research issues as they come up.
e). Low Platform Sophistication / Lite Use – this is the least demanding of all scenarios. In general, it is characterized by the need to send out a monthly product update or newsletter to a list of standing customers. If requirements are lite, then it makes sense to tap in a consultant who can quickly affect the necessary deployment without breaking the work rhythm of other employees. This model is frequent employed by solo entrepreneurs, or companies with small staff counts who cannot spare the time to step outside of their normal routines.
f). Low Platform Sophistication and Heavy Use – again you might think that I would favour consulting as an option here, but if the platform is basic and the demand is heavy, the chances are the work involved will be fairly repetitive. In such instances, there is seldom a need to onboard a highly skilled consultant. If the volume of work warrants it, then there is a strong argument to be made for retaining a staff member dedicated to this flow of work.
Real world considerations can provide a lot of colouring that cannot be accounted for in the above framework. Additional points of consideration may take into account the following:
Type of Platform
As one would expect, the more sophisticated the platform, the fewer the number of trained experts who specialize in it. This, in turn, affects wages. A quick survey of the job website Indeed, revealed that administrator’s wages for an enterprise level platform can be double that of an entry-level marketing automation platform.
Ability to Project Plan
Does your organization methodically plan marketing programs in advance, or is your mode of operation more spontaneous? If your organization’s needs are likely to change or scale up on short notice, then an alliance with a consultant may help you stay on track with your objectives. Conversely, organizations with predictable and more cyclical rhythms might find themselves better served with an able in-house resource.
Interconnectedness of Applications
As companies build out their technology infrastructure across multiple applications, job descriptions evolve accordingly. At some point, however, the diversity of required skills exceeds what one person can bring to the table. If your company’s tech-stack is growing faster than your brain trust, then an outsourced consultant can fill in the knowledge gaps.
Although consultants generally cost more by the hour, they can be employed on an as needed basis, thereby costing less in the overall picture. Fortunately, the choice between the development of in-house talent and outsourcing assistance is not mutually exclusive. An alliance with a marketing automation agency can supplement your company’s resources by contributing a depth of expertise beyond the average marketing team. So, although it’s always good to have qualified personnel in-house, it’s equally valuable to maintain a relationship with a trusted marketing automation agency.