Mass High Tech

Is outsourcing the marketing function your key to rapid growth?

By Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson Edwards

The single most important driver of growth for emerging technology firms is having the right people in place. Even worse than having a mediocre technology is failing to hire the experts required to aim the firm in the right direction and build a strong foundation for future client relationships and sales.

All technology firms have the same basic marketing needs but varying levels of available resources. One strategy that startups might consider to accelerate their growth and compete with larger, better-financed companies is outsourcing some of the marketing functions to seasoned professionals.

The challenge is looking at the entire marketing function and determining which pieces are best outsourced to experts. Companies can easily make outsourcing decisions by answering these basic questions:

1. What is your marketing budget? Can you keep costs down and achieve a higher level of quality by outsourcing certain functions such as marketing leadership, public relations, graphic design, web site management, direct marketing, market research, etc.? Many of these resources are required only on an as-needed basis. If that’s the case, consider outsourcing these functions.

2. How important is having a marketing professional on-site full-time? You don’t necessarily need a full-time marketing professional in front of you to ensure high levels of quality. Do you have outsourcing professionals who you can trust to maintain your standards of quality and brand consistency? Clear communication about expectations, deadlines and budget is critical to making outsourcing a success.

3. Which functions must be staffed by dedicated, full-time professionals? What skill sets do you require but not on a full-time or permanent basis? Consider outsourcing to marketing professionals who have:

• Unique backgrounds that fill particular short-term needs. Hire a market researcher to probe buyer receptiveness to a new product concept or a strategist to develop and oversee launch plans.

• Fresh perspectives for your marketing and management team. An outside expert can galvanize a team with creative new ideas, in-depth advice and specialized experience in a particular area.

• Hard-to-find skills that you need. If you’re planning your first trade show or user conference, think about outsourcing the work to a skilled professional. If you’re considering launching direct-mail campaigns to appeal to a specific vertical market, hire someone with industry experience on a short-term basis who can develop your strategy and monitor your initial results.

4. Can your current marketing team execute all marketing projects? Consider all marketing tasks and priorities. How realistic are project deadlines? If the marketing team needs assistance in completing its work, examine which pieces could be done by outside resources.

5. Do you really need a full-time vice president of marketing? The level of knowledge that experienced marketing professionals offer is critical to setting direction and developing strategy. But while strategy takes time to formulate, much more time is required to create and execute the actual programs. Consider the relative expense of hiring a full-time marketing vice president versus outsourcing this important role to an experienced consultant and hiring a mid-level person full-time who can manage projects and execute.

Ten years ago, there were few good options outside of hiring full-time professionals. Today there is a plethora of highly qualified outsourcing professionals with specific industry expertise. During the technology boom, agencies popped up that specialized not only in particular functional areas, such as public relations and direct marketing, but also in specific industry segments, such as data communications and supply chain software. As a result, companies interested in hiring outside expertise can easily find highly qualified agencies in their particular industries. Moreover, due to all the layoffs in the past few years, you can opt instead for a consultant with exactly the expertise and industry experience that your company requires.

Finding high-quality outsourcing marketing professionals is relatively easy. As always, start with personal references and recommendations. Next, consider online consulting exchanges and contractor groups that specialize in your industry or the particular functional area. For programmatic activities, use advertising and public relations agencies, direct-mail companies and market research organizations. For marketing leadership on a consulting basis, check industry list-servs for professionals who know your industry and will know your competition, technology and trends.

Outsourcing marketing functions — and strategically placing experts, rather than generalists, in each function — can give firms a competitive edge. Hiring the right-level resource for just the number of hours needed helps maximize return on marketing dollars while accelerating overall firm growth. The keys to success lie in understanding when and which pieces of the marketing work make the most sense to outsource and contracting with those experts.

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