The question we're going to examine in this post is whether it is better to outsource inbound marketing services to an agency with that specialization, or to satisfy that need with internal personnel.
We are regularly challenged to justify our rationale behind recommending that clients spend $10,000/mo. on a HubSpot Partner for 80 hours ($125/hr. bill rate) instead of $7,000/mo. on a full-time (we'll call it a $50/hr. bill rate after benefits) marketing employee who whose primary responsibility would be managing HubSpot.
In short: Why would a company want to pay more money for fewer hours? On the surface, it seems like a no brainer, right?
If the answer was that simple, I suppose agencies like Salted Stone would be hard-pressed to stay in business, which just isn't the case. So let's think through the variables at play. In our experience, there are multiple reasons (from standpoints related both to finances and results) why it makes sense to skip staffing for the position in-house in favor of outsourcing your inbound marketing program.
Here are a handful of reasons why outsourcing makes more sense in most cases:
- A full-service inbound marketing agency brings multiple disciplines to the table.
- Inbound marketing does not require 160 hours per month of any single person's skillset.
- An inbound marketing agency has the benefit of lessons learned across dozens or even hundreds of client accounts.
- An inbound marketing agency requires efficiencies, and as a result has likely developed processes that your average marketing employee just won't have been forced to develop.
Many Parts of One Body
One of the reasons why Salted Stone has been able to grow so quickly within the HubSpot ecosystem is that we had already (and inadvertently) assembled the team structure required to provide "full service" inbound marketing.
- Marketing strategist - someone who is capable of seeing the big picture, and crafting the overarching game plan that is aligned with company positioning and target buyer personas. The program and campaign mastermind.
- Marketing technologist - someone with a deep understanding of the HubSpot platform who has the ability to leverage the platform in support of the campaign. This is a critical role that ensures faithful translation of the marketing blueprint into actual marketing campaigns.
- Content marketer - someone who understands how to write persona-aligned content across multiple mediums, from content offers and blog posts, to landing page copy, etc.
- Social media marketer - someone who understands the various social channels, has a working knowledge of the tips + tricks of the trade, and who can identify the appropriate channels to leverage (and how best to leverage them) in the promotion of persona-aligned content.
- Graphic designer - inbound requires a fair amount of creative work, ranging from content layout, to landing page design, CTA graphics, site elements, etc.
- Frontend developer - as inbound campaigns rely heavily on cultivating ideal persona engagement with a website, at some stage a frontend developer will be required to integrate campaign components.
- Project manager - whenever a project requires coordinated efforts amongst multiple team members, where there are dependent activities and workflows, someone needs to be responsible for orchestrating those various workflows around timelines and resource budgets.
There are at least seven distinct skill sets required to produce the individual components required to run a successful inbound marketing program.
Of course it is possible that certain team members would possess more than one of these skill sets (e.g., content marketing + social media marketing, for example), but it is highly improbable, and possibly impossible, that a single team member would possess all of the skills required to execute from concept to completion.
As the operator of an agency where inbound marketing services are a core piece of our offering, I can attest with firsthand experience that quality and results are directly proportionate to (a) the degree of specialization that team members possess in each of the identified skill sets and (b) the extent to which those team members are accustomed to working together as a part of an integrated whole.
While it is possible for a single resource or team member to satisfy the latter criteria, it is simply not possible for a single team member to satisfy the former.
Too Much of a Good Thing is, Well... Still Too Much
The notion that 160 hours of a full-time employee's bandwidth is inherently more productive than 80 hours of an agency's bandwidth is easily dismissed via metaphor.
Imagine a construction business that builds homes. In that business, one person designs the homes. One person does the wood framing. One person runs electrical wiring. One person runs plumbing. One person hangs drywall. One person does flooring. One person paints and does finishing work. And a foreman makes sure that all of these interdependent team members are working in unison and with efficiency. (There are actually several more skill sets required, but let's use this as a working example).
Now imagine that you're the owner of that home building business. You need to build a house. Which of these two scenarios would you prefer?
That home building metaphor is a direct parallel to an inbound marketing program. Just as the house will never get built without all of the required skill sets, an inbound marketing program will never kickoff or function properly if it relies on the limited skill set of a single team member.
That team member will have more capacity than could be effectively used within the purview of an inbound marketing program. This is not to suggest that the team member couldn't be effective doing other, non-inbound marketing related activities, but there'd be excess capacity for what the team member could do, and a shortage of capacity for what the team member could not do, as regards inbound marketing specifically.
The Lessons of
It's probably not an exaggeration to say that at least 50% of our development and evolution as an agency is directly attributable to mistakes that we made that we were determined not to repeat. The other 50% is fueled by anecdotal and experiential learnings whereby we're able to extract best practices through trial and error.
Agencies have an unmatchable benefit when it comes to perspective fashioned through experience. We have the ability to access data from - literally - dozens to hundreds of client programs and can determine by way of both quantitative and qualitative measures the probabilities of success for specific hypotheses and campaign ideas.
This experience, gained across verticals in both the B2B and B2C spaces--and subject to trends and fads that change over time--is at the heart of the difference between familiarity and expertise. An agency then becomes an evolving and expanding knowledgebase, or brain trust, of marketing experience.
An agency absorbs the collective lessons, findings and learnings of its many members. At any given time, an agency is an amalgamation of everything that it has ever produced, of every failure, and of every success.
It's just not possible to replicate this knowledgebase with an in-house team member.
We Have a Process for Building Systems That Enable Process
We have micro-processes for each of the various deliverables associated with our inbound marketing programs, and a macro-process that includes all of those micro-processes.
- We have a process for defining what success looks like for our clients.
- We have a process for creating a Strategic Buyers Insight Report.
- We have a process for crafting a Marketing Blueprint.
- We have a process for developing our Marketing Scorecard.
- We have a process for managing production according to the Blueprint in light of the Scorecard.
And so on. And we have systems that we use to manage our processes and enable efficiencies therein. We have these processes and systems out of necessity. They've been developed over the course of many years in response to the need to maximize client results, and to ensure efficiency around deadlines and budgets.
Through the aforementioned trial and error, we've learned that program or campaign success is significantly influenced by how a problem or opportunity is approached, as opposed to the nature of the problem or opportunity itself, and our processes have been designed to ensure that our approach is consistently aligned towards the achievement of optimal results.
A seasoned marketer off the street will certainly have established some processes over the course of his or her career. But he or she will not have had the same impetus or imperative as an agency, if simply because the marketer has fewer moving parts. But as we've already addressed, a successful inbound marketing program has many distinct moving pieces, and thorough processes and systems necessarily must account for each of them.
From this standpoint, an agency often requires fewer hours to produce higher quality output than a team of in-house employees or freelancers assembled ad hoc.
It's Sort of like Comparing Apples to Rocket Ships
There's an exchange that occurs in the movie Sicario between Benicio del Toro's and Emily Blunt's characters:
Kate: Anything I should know? [She's asking for context or details around their assignment]
Alejandro: You are asking how a watch works. For now, just keep an eye on the time.
The response to the question is great because it shows a sense of respect and appreciation for complexity and for nuanced landscapes. It implies the challenge and difficulty associated with distilling simplicity from a wide body of experience. It communicates the futility or inherent inadequacy of summarizing richness and depth into bite-sized, digestible conclusions.
In some sense, the watch is akin to inbound marketing. It has cogs and wheels and springs and all varieties of mechanisms that make it work (or not work). Its function and performance requires each of those various components working together, just as inbound marketing requires a variety of skill sets all working together.
Which is why from this perspective, we often end up working with marketing directors, CMOs and business owners who understand that hiring a single person to produce an inbound marketing program would be similar to thinking that cartel operations in Juarez can be summarized in a 30-second answer to the question: "Anything I should know?"