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We often get a question: “Should I outsource my marketing to an agency or bring it in-house and do it myself?” Although the obvious answer is “both” – as in, you should have both an internal marketing management function and an external implementation partner, this is typically not where many companies start. So if you have to choose, how should you navigate this decision? The below pointers are based on our experience working with SMEs to build a sustainable marketing function.

B2B vs B2C

Businesses focused on serving other businesses (B2B) typically offer more complex offerings requiring an insider to understand and handle the marketing. Few external marketing providers will be able to properly immerse themselves in an industrial, professional services or technology good and be able to do it justice. For this reason, we recommend that in B2B, SMEs first start with an in-house marketing person and then gradually build it out with the addition of external partners.

Contrary to B2B, in B2C (i.e. end-user-focused consumer markets), it is often easy to understand the product or service and much more feasible to outsource marketing to a third party. Since the product is a consumable, it is even possible for the outsider to try it themselves, making the marketing communications aspect much easier.

Small vs medium-sized

This is an obvious one but also misunderstood. A tiny business should do its own marketing not only because of budget limitations but also because the marketing function is still part of the overall founders’ role in building the company. Put differently, marketing in a young business is not yet an independent role – it is still part of the overall entrepreneurship function. Even if the budget is not a concern, the role of understanding customers and learning what messages resonate and how they react to products and pricing should not be outsourced.

Particularly within startups, the founder is directly responsible for promoting the company with the help of a small selection of marketing support services, such as website development and a writer to help with the occasional content. Communicating with customers is a critical learning opportunity that allows the owner to refine the business.

Inside established small businesses or medium-sized companies, the marketing function can gradually be separated from the founders’ role, and it becomes feasible to consider outsourcing it to an outside supplier. So-called product-market fit has been established, and a precise brief can be provided to the marketing supplier around target markets, messages and creative angles.

How big is the sale?

Marketing must enable sales, and the type of sale determines the marketing function needed. When a deal is of a high value and cost to the client, the marketing activity preceding the sale must be much stronger than a low-cost, low-risk purchase. You’ll struggle to sell a luxury consumer product or critical part to an industrial buyer on the back of low-quality marketing communications.

The higher the quality, the more specialised the implementation becomes, and you need to start working with professionals—an accomplished graphic designer, copywriter, social media manager and public relations agency. You may even require a boutique agency to help you create impactful marketing campaigns. At a certain point, marketing activities become too specialised for a generalist inside the company – and outsourcing becomes necessary.

A combination of in-house with outside support

To be fair, no matter the state of a business, even the smallest marketing effort will likely require input from insiders and outsiders. This article’s primary concern is where the day-to-day management resides, and in our experience, the answer to this depends on the above factors.

Ultimately, marketing is not an optional function for an ambitious business – it must happen. The only question is how you implement it so that it becomes an ingrained part of the business. Too often, we see companies take a haphazard approach that does not generate lasting results! The key is to intentionally and gradually move in a direction, starting with either an internal function or an external partner.