There's a debate going on amongst professional services firms on whether to outsource or insource marketing strategy and execution.
The debate is basically an either-or proposition: either you fully outsource your marketing to an agency or you do it on your own.
Venture capitalist Arthur Lee makes a compelling argument for a DIFM (Do It For Me) approach for companies executing non-core business functions like marketing and accounting. The basic premise is that you purchase a software platform like Salesforce, HubSpot or Quickbooks and hire a certified partner to execute the business function.
I'm not sure this is the right approach for professional services marketing. You are essentially your message and the reason customers buy from you. In my opinion, you lose a little bit of your message when you fully outsource your marketing.
If you outsource your marketing to an agency, you're likely to have a young professional managing your account. They know marketing pretty well, but they don't have the business acumen that comes with experience. You will find that you're spending a lot of time teaching them about your business. And the marketing agency has salaries and bills to pay; their incentive is to sell you more services whether you need them or not.
As for completely insourcing marketing, that's not a good idea either. The reality is that it's highly unlikely that you have someone on staff that has the specialized knowledge to develop and execute an effective marketing strategy.
So what should you do effectively market and sell your services?
It all starts with strategy
The biggest mistake professional services firms make in their marketing is not investing sufficient time and resources into an effective strategy.
I talk to executives all the time that jump from tactic to tactic and are disappointed with results. They talk to one of their peers who tells them how well pay-per-click advertising (or fill in the tactic) worked for them, so they look for someone to help them execute the tactic and inevitably are disappointed with results. They then chase after the next shiny object.
The reason they fail is that they don't have an effective marketing strategy that they can measure and optimize.
Marketing strategist Ed Marsh summarizes it perfectly: "I always start with strategy. Sometimes that means helping craft it and in some cases, it's not as refined as it ought to be. And in other cases, they've got a very strong strategy, we just need to use that as a base that we can build on, and then build the framework for success around it."
The bottom line is that you shouldn't execute tactics until you have a strategy in which you have a high confidence level. Even if you're confident in your strategy, it's a good idea to have an experienced professional lay a second set of eyes on it.
A framework for effective professional services marketing execution
The trend in purchasing marketing services is moving away from a fully-outsourced retainer approach to hiring experienced consultants to help flesh out strategy and fill in the gaps to execute marketing strategy. This is evidenced by the fact that the big management consulting firms are adding digital marketing to their repertoire of service.
This makes a lot of sense for professional services firms. A trusted consultant who knows your business can help you craft or refine your marketing strategy to set you up for success. This is much more valuable than hiring a young marketing expert that you have to bring up to speed. Look for someone who not only knows marketing, but also knows your business.
Once you've developed a strategy, it's time to choose a growth stack technology platform on which to execute it. We're a HubSpot Certified Agency Partner and highly recommend HubSpot. HubSpot has integrated CRM, marketing and sales platforms that are basically plug and play. However, it's extremely important that you use technology to automate your processes. Don't build your processes around technology!
Your consultant can help implement your technology so that it:
- measures and optimizes your tactical execution
- provides insight to key stakeholders
- automates your sales and marketing processes with context
You likely have someone on staff who can help execute your marketing strategy. A good business development consultant can help identify which tasks you can execute internally.
There will be tasks for which you don't have the in-house skills or knowledge to execute. If you're an SMB professional services firm, you probably don't have an internal web developer. Your consultant can help you deploy these types of resources on an as-needed basis.
There are tasks for which you don't have the in-house skills, but have a person who could learn them and execute them on an ongoing basis.
As an example, consider the task of sending out an email to your customers on HubSpot. A good consultant can train your team member on email marketing best practices and how to create and send an email with the HubSpot software.
Your consultant should also set up a measurement and evaluation protocol and lead monthly meetings to review results and optimize tactics as data dictates.
For professional services marketing, neither a completely outsourced approach nor a completely insourced approach will produce the results you need. We recommend a "right-sourcing" approach in which you hire an experienced consultant to help you craft and refine your marketing strategy. This consultant can either provide resources for tasks that you can't handle in-house or train your team to execute them. In a "right-sourcing" approach, your consultant will help you set up measurement protocols and review performance with you to optimize results. In this approach, you hire knowledge, experience, and resources you don't have. You also build up your internal knowledge to bring more of the processes in-house over time. In our experience, this is the approach that is most effective.