Hiring a Dedicated Marketer vs. a Consultative Digital Marketing Agency

If you are looking for a marketer who can execute at a high level, across multiple tactics, with a knowledge of KPIs and strategy, you are looking for a T-Shaped Marketer.

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Should I Hire a Dedicated Marketer or a Consultative Digital Marketing Agency?

Hiring a Marketing Director or VP?

One of the things I love about my job is that I have the opportunity to talk to new companies every week. There is truly something great about speaking with a dedicated owner or executive and learning about what their company does and why. I get to hear about their passions, their products, their goals, and their challenges…and I get to help them.

It’s a great gig. Truly.

In the course of my conversations with these various companies, of varying sizes, across dozens of verticals, a full 50% of the companies I speak to say the same thing:

“We are looking to hire a Marketing (INSERT TITLE HERE) to take control of these things.”

It’s a common refrain, stating a seemingly obvious solution to a difficult problem. But what if it’s not the best solution?

The issue is that as companies grow and products mature, the marketing reach needs to increase, as does the level of execution. In addition, as digital marketing evolves and improves, the tech stack and skill set grow continually more complex.

The need to expand your marketing is a natural, normal phase of growth and you are not alone. Many companies experience this very thing.

Let’s break down why.

The Next 5 Percentage Points

In the beginning of a company or product, big growth can happen quickly.

Please note (before people start screaming), I’m not saying it’s EASY, just faster. Getting traction with a new company or product can be very hard, particularly in a crowded segment. Most companies that launch never achieve it, however, for the sake of this conversation, let’s assume that you’ve achieved traction and have a viable product or entity.

Now, back on task.

If your initial sales are 10 units (clients, downloads, or widgets) at launch, then adding the next 10 units DOUBLES your annual sales. Big percentage increases occur when you’re dealing with small numbers. Pretty obvious, right?

Now, let’s fast forward a bit…say 24 months.

At this point your sales are steady, your team has expanded, a competitor has entered the field, and the water is a little redder than you remember. Your offering is more mature and your world is much bigger.

If your sales are now 5,000 units, an increase of 5% calculates out to 25x your initial launch numbers. Many find that next 5% challenging.

Here’s why.

Companies always launch with a limited tactical set. Founders, entrepreneurs, and early stakeholders have too much going on at the beginning, and frequently not enough funds, to launch a full marketing strategy.

The common early arsenal is P.R. and word of mouth, which are great tactics but they have a shelf life. P.R. goes stale with a news cycle. You can coax it a bit, but unless you’re Tesla getting more than 24 months of sustained P.R. engagement is an oddity.

Similarly, word of mouth is inherently Decision stage. It’s only going to hit for prospects who are actively looking for your solution.

Social media, as an element of word of mouth, can add a lot of legs to this tactic and expand networks, but sustained growth in social channels gets more complex as products mature and fields get increasingly crowded. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the number of people liking your company has seemed to slow over time.

The next tactic companies deploy once the launch phase starts tapering off is outbound sales, which is another great tactic.

To be fair, you probably deployed outbound sales before 24 months, with stakeholders and founders taking sales calls and closing deals. Maybe you formed an actual outbound team with one or two SDRs awhile back, but they are not closing deals as quickly this year and you are starting to hear a lot about “lead qualification.”

Is this the end of your company’s growth?

No, just the doldrums.

You built this company in the Decision stage, aka buyers who were looking for your product and ready to buy.

You saw that pain point and knew how to fix it, which is why you launched. Your initial clients liked it, so they shared it with others. The people who needed it saw it in the press, or read about it in their feeds, then reached out.

The bad news is that typically only 3% of buyers are in the Decision stage; the good news is that your universe of buyers is far from depleted.

It’s time to begin the real marketing work. It’s time to formulate an actual growth strategy and expand your tactical arsenal. It’s time to build the full funnel to generate qualified leads.

In short, it’s time to hire a marketer.

Wearing Too Many Hats

Wearing Too Many Hats

There is one other element at play here that I’ve been hinting at, but haven’t nailed down yet.

Your initial marketing team can’t handle the need and scope anymore.

In a startup environment, everyone wears a lot of hats. The founders were probably doing everything from product development to sales to cleaning the office.

As velocity and need increased, someone gravitated to the growth functions, effectively owning the sales efforts and the marketing tactics at play. It probably isn’t their main job, but they are better at it, and have more time for it, so it is their responsibility for now.

I have seen these tasks fall to an amazing range of positions from CFOs, to General Managers to Community Coordinators.

However, as stated above, the need for growth is bigger and the tools to achieve that growth are more complex and require a higher level of execution.

In addition, the complexity of the other jobs being done day to day in your firm has increased as well. So you now have one person, doing two jobs that require their full focus.

It’s no wonder you’re not seeing traction on any of your marketing efforts.

You need a marketer…

But, first a word of warning:

Hiring Marketers Is Hard

Hiring Marketers Is Hard

I’ve sat on the other side of the table and I can tell you from experience that hiring people is difficult.

In business, you’re frequently trying to hire a person who knows more about a specific skill set than you do. Honestly, this is USUALLY the case and a sign that you’re doing your job well, but it doesn’t make it easy.

So you do your homework, you get advice, you vet candidates, but it’s still possible that the hire won’t work out. That is a risk we take and the cost to play the game.

It’s even harder with marketers.

Most bad hires in other areas will fail faster than a marketer. A programmer who can’t write solid code will be spotted sooner than a marketer who is executing poorly because their outputs are more immediate and easier to qualify.

Throw in the fact that marketing ability is very difficult to quantify and that the jargon is easy to learn, and you start to understand why elements of the corporate world have a negative opinion of marketers in general.

Then there is yet another pitfall: you might hire a decent marketer who can execute on some level, but they may just not be an expert in a given tactic that you need to produce optimal results.

Today’s marketing tactics are challenging and require vast expertise; one person who can master them all is as rare as a unicorn, which is why there are marketing agencies.

Don’t get discouraged.

Let’s get you up to speed on what to look for.

Vocabulary

The T-Shaped Marketer

The T-Shaped Marketer

If you are looking for a marketer who can execute at a high level, across multiple tactics, with a knowledge of KPIs and strategy, you are looking for a T-Shaped Marketer.

The crossbar of the T represents their breadth of knowledge while the body represents their depth of knowledge in a given area.

I’ll use myself as an example because I am, quite honestly, pretty close to what you want to hire.

I have knowledge of:

  • Strategy
  • Personas
  • Triggers
  • Keywords/SEO
  • SEM
  • Digital advertising
  • Content marketing
  • Funnels
  • Sales Enablement
  • Customer service
  • Copywriting
  • Team management
  • UX
  • Social Media
  • PR
  • Nurture
  • KPIs
  • Event marketing
  • Traditional media: print, TV, radio
  • Programming
  • Graphic design

All the tactics and skills I have cultivated as a marketer over the last 20 years is my crossbar.

From that group, I have a deep knowledge and expert-level executional ability of: Strategy, Personas, Content, Copywriting, Funnels, SEM, Nurture, KPIs, and Digital Advertising. Those tactics are my skills that make up the body of my T, my deep expertise.

I have knowledge of the others and could deploy them, develop them, and probably even generate solid results with them, but I’m not among the top operators of those tactics.

So with that breakdown in mind, know that if you can find a good T-shaped marketer, they will have the capacity to take charge of most aspects of your marketing. They will even be able to execute certain tactics and needs at a VERY high level, while there will be other areas they can’t do as well and will require training and or support.

So, let’s look at some of the support staff that will come into play.

Different Marketers to Hire

The Outsourcer Marketer

This one is quick.

An outsourcer is, or at least should be, a specialist in a specific tactic that you contract to execute elements of that tactic more efficiently and effectively than your in-house staff.

The most common are graphic artists, media creators and programmers because those specialties require intense commitment and usually preclude developing deep skill sets in other areas.

You’re probably using an outsourcer or three now, but you should know that even with a good marketing hire you won’t be saying goodbye to them. In all likelihood, you may be able to bring one or possibly two skill sets in-house, but it’s probable that you’ll just be handing off the management and communication point of contact.

The Marketing Consultant

The definition of consultant varies dramatically across industries, but in general, this is someone you hire to provide expert advice.

In marketing, a consultant is normally contracted to solve a problem or accelerate a specific component of the marketing machine.

They have the ability to provide specific insights and benefit from an outside perspective, deep expertise, and the bandwidth to focus on areas that you are usually too busy, or too entrenched to address.

It’s also worth noting that they have a mixed reputation.

Some can rightly be accused of providing direction without details on the hard work of implementation. There are many cautionary tales about “Seagull Consultants” who fly out from their plush offices, circle you a few times, drop a load of strategy on you…and fly off.

In some sense, your new hire will bring some consultative ability to the table. Similarly, your outsourcers should be able to provide some advice in regards to their specialties, but there may still be the need for a consultant in your future.

The Digital Marketing Agency

Agencies are a great tool for your marketing arsenal. They can usually do the work of several outsourcers and the more structured, partner-centric approach means that they will learn about your business and execute at a higher level than most tactic-specific outsourcers.

Basically, they have more people, who can do more…in one place, so they have more vision on how everything interconnects.

An in-house T-shaped marketer combined with a good agency can be a very potent combination.

The downside is that many agencies are expensive and some don’t actually have the depth of knowledge that you want for top-level tactical execution.

The bigger concern with an agency is that they are too focused on implementation and most of them adopt a “Customer Is Right” attitude that makes them inefficient strategists. You may need someone to tell you, or your new hire, that you are doing things wrong and most agency agreements don’t benefit from speaking truth to power.

The Consultative Digital Marketing Agency

For the sake of full disclosure let me state that UHURU is a consultative digital marketing agency, so it is natural that I am fond of this structure.

A consultative digital marketing agency combines the best of the worlds…if you have the right kind of problem. You have the strategic view of the consultant combined with the implementational efficacy of the agency. These are the people who will lay out the path forward, tell you the blunt truth, and then work for you—and with you—to actually implement those recommendations.

A consultative digital marketing agency is going to generate better, faster, more consistent results than a regular agency or a group of outsourcers.

It is also worth noting that they are usually competitively priced against a regular agency.

So Which Option/Combo Is the BEST Choice?

So we’re agree that it is time to expand your marketing function, tactics, and ability, and you’re up to speed on the vocabulary and the various players that may be needed to augment your marketing hire.

The next step is determining the BEST combination for achieving your goals.

BEST in this sense is going to be focused on three factors:

  1. EfficacyWill this hire achieve the goals of the company?
  2. InvestmentIs this hire a good investment of funds for the return?
  3. Scalability – Will this hire continue to grow and evolve to ensure expansion?

So let’s break it down:

The T-Shaped Marketing Hire

Efficacy – Can this hire achieve your growth goals?

Yes, they can achieve them. The caveat is that they are going to need time, training, and support in those areas that they do not have deep executional ability in.

Investment – What will this hire cost and will they produce ROI?

A T-shaped marketer is going to cost you $60 – $120k annually, depending on your location, and should definitely be able to produce ROI within 12-24 months.

That salary range is a real number. If you’re looking to spend less, plan on tapering off the skillset and the anticipated results accordingly.

Also, if they are claiming expertise in a wide range of tactics and willing to take less than the salary I’ve suggested…consider that a red flag.

To that salary range add another $5 – $50k annually for outsourcers and support, depending on the size and composition of your team. If you have in-house graphics and programming ability, that range should stay on the lower side of the spectrum.

Scalability – Will this hire continue to grow and evolve to meet your needs?

Your T-shaped marketing hire SHOULD be able to expand and evolve to meet the needs of your business. The caveat is that you have to give them room and opportunity to do so.

If someone is too busy, one of the first things they tend to sacrifice is personal development. Incentivizing growth, learning, and development is to YOUR benefit, as is the willingness to part ways with outsourcers to seek better results. So be sure to cultivate that for your new hire.

So is this the BEST solution?

The unfortunately not-so-simple answer is: It can be…if given time, resources, and support.

The Consultant

Efficacy – Can this hire achieve your growth goals?

Maybe. Consultants, as we’ve discussed, have a huge range of abilities and the bandwidth and expertise to really push elements and tactics.

The “maybe” is based on you.

Will you give the consultant the authority to discover the real problem and the resources to make the change? Trust is key to a successful consulting engagement. If you have ANY doubts about the consultant’s ability, don’t hire them.

The next question you need to answer is: Are you ready for hard change?

A lot of companies and marketing experts aren’t. What if your consultant wants to reduce your team, change your tools, and call your baby ugly?

If you’re not ready, and even somewhat eager, for that possibility then a consultant isn’t your best option.

The final element of “maybe” is the most important. Do you have the capacity and ability to execute on the consultant’s recommendations? If you’re a small team, or an overburdened team, or possibly even a low-functioning team (see ugly baby above), you will not be able to enact the changes EVEN if you agree with them.

Realistically, if the consultant is executing way above your team’s ability, you will not be able to sustain the improvements.

See, a whole lot of questions…

Investment – What will this hire cost and will they produce ROI?

A consultant also comes with a wide range of costs. That range will extend from $1,000 for advising on a single to tactic or issue all the way up to $500k-plus for longer, more involved, engagements.

For most companies struggling with the issues we are discussing, the costs will be in the range of $2,500 to $10,000 a month.

So will the consultant produce ROI? Well, again the answer is…maybe. If you’ve addressed all the “maybe” concerns we’ve mentioned above and have a clear plan for the engagement, your odds are better. If you haven’t, I wouldn’t engage a consultant with the expectation of great results and quick ROI.

Scalability – Will this hire continue to grow and evolve to meet your needs?

This one is actually easier to consider. A GOOD consultant will always be pushing their learning curve and expanding their skill set. So yes, as long as you’re paying, they should be expanding and improving.

Is this the BEST solution?

It can be…but for most of you, as you’ve probably figured out, it probably isn’t, at least not yet.

If you’re considering hiring a marketer to corral and improve the marketing function, you’re not ready for that kind of involvement at this point.

In addition, the concerns around trust, bandwidth, costs, ROI, and capacity will rule this out as a good hire for most companies.

With that in mind, if you’ve considered the difficulties, are willing to make a change, and have a team in place to secure the gains, a consultant can be effective, but will probably not be better than other options we’re looking at.

The Agency

Efficacy – Can this hire achieve your growth goals?

Yes. An agency with clear guidance and good interaction from you and your team should be able to help you achieve greater tactical function and push your digital marketing efforts toward your goals.

An agency should be able to execute in a more structured way than outsourcers and should remove some of the burden of management from your side.

Investment – What will this hire cost and will they produce ROI?

Again, the agency fees vary dramatically from firm to firm and the level of their of involvement.

Most “full-function” agencies that are addressing multiple tactics and executing at some strategic level are going to run from around $3,000 – $25,000 a month.

Will they produce ROI?

Probably, but it may not be hard bottom line increases. By bringing on an agency you are going to increase your functionality by expanding tactics and improving execution. You are also going to expand your bandwidth, but you may not see hard dollar returns.

Traditional agencies provide some light consulting on tactics they have expertise in, but their focus is going to be at the campaign level, which might not be enough to push you into high levels of return on your investment.

Also, to be effective, agencies require a knowledgeable point of contact. You might be able to avoid hiring a marketer by hiring an agency, but you should still plan on spending a significant chunk of your time supervising the marketing function.

Scalability – Will this hire continue to grow and evolve to meet your needs?

Again, the short answer is “maybe.”

A good agency, like a good consultant, should be constantly expanding their skill set and improving their abilities. However, many are locked into a rut courtesy of their past successes and staff skills.

If you are looking to hire an agency to make sure to ask them about their training. If they don’t have a comprehensive, detailed answer…keep looking.

Is this the BEST solution?

It can be…but it is sort of the reverse of hiring a consultant. If you don’t have a strong marketer on staff, hiring an agency is going to be risky and will most likely not produce the gains you want.

Many agencies will tell you otherwise. Many will claim that they have enough marketing expertise in-house, but if they aren’t addressing your situation strategically and willing to speak truth to power you HAVE TO HAVE someone with experience to manage the engagement.

So, if you have that T-shaped marketer on board already, an agency is a viable choice that will produce results, but don’t look to them to replace the time you’re spending and your need entirely.

The Consultative Digital Marketing Agency

Efficacy – Can this hire achieve your growth goals?

Yes. A consultative agency should be able to help you achieve your growth goals. More importantly, they should be aggressively pushing new goals and possibilities to you.

Consultative digital marketing agency doesn’t wait for instruction from you. They have the consultant’s ability to provide expert advice and fix problems, with the agency’s ability to expand your tactical execution.

The bad news is that many of the “maybe” issues come into play here too. Be prepared for hard change, and challenging advice.

The good news is that the difficulties around initiating and sustaining change are eliminated. The consultative agency’s team has the experience and executional ability to maintain a high level of execution as long as they are engaged.

Investment – What will this hire cost and will they produce ROI?

Pricing for a retainer varies vastly from agency to agency and vertical to vertical, but plan on $60,000 – $180k annually depending on the need and scope of the engagement.

Another point of savings is that in most cases a consultative digital marketing agency can replace your T-shaped marketer.

Don’t get too excited about that yet. Let me add some clarification.

A consultative digital marketing agency will still want a dedicated point of contact with the bandwidth and knowledge to interact, and the capacity to provide feedback, but the need for a top-performing in-house marketer is reduced. AT Uhuru, we LOVE when you have that person, but it is not a prerequisite.

The best news is that you will definitely be able to say bye-bye to most of your outsourcers. A good consultative digital marketing agency brings a full team to play, and like a typical agency, they will be executing in a more cohesive way.

Scalability – will this hire continue to grow and evolve to meet your needs?

Yes.

Consultants, as mentioned above, have to keep improving their abilities. A consultative digital marketing agency is no exception.

In addition, they have to keep that drive across all of their functionalities so that they can provide expert level execution across the breadth of available tactics. The other surreptitious benefit is that they will most likely be training your staff as they interact with them.

Is this the BEST solution?

Well, naturally I am biased, but it does seem to be one of the better options.

For every type of engagement listed, you were stuck with an in-house hire + another augmenting player. Engaging a consultative agency is really the only way to narrow the number of resources needed to achieve the goal. Consider the following:

  • You may still need an in-house marketer to take over supervision and communication function, but that person won’t need the depth of knowledge across tactics.
  • You won’t need a consultant.
  • You won’t need outsourcers.

ROI is more easily achieved, in part because the hidden and supplemental costs are reduced. The goals are at the forefront so the efficacy and the scalability is inherent in the solution.

A consultative digital marketing agency is a pretty good option…but don’t just take my word for it.

Determining Your Actual Needs and Best Option

Determining Your Actual Needs and Best Option

It is remarkable to me how hard it is for people to determine what they actually need. They always know what they WANT, but vision on the actual NEED is harder to acquire and maintain.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

So here are a few more questions to ask before you determine the best option that meets your needs.

What is your goal?

You think I’m repeating myself…I mean didn’t we talk about this already? Well, yes, but now it’s time for you to evaluate it in more depth.

To REALLY determine your best option, take a look at your Goals, Plans, Challenges, and Timeline of GPCT. This is a great self-assessment tool that I’ve talked about before.

Sit down and write them out. Share them with your team. Get feedback.

The important thing is to make sure you have them clarified and viable BEFORE you engage with any of the options we’ve discussed.

If your goals are easily achievable, or your challenges are few, you might not need expert execution, which would negate a lot of the options we’ve discussed as the best course of action for you.

Conversely, if your timeline is long, you have time to hire and train, so agencies, consultants, and T-shaped marketers aren’t as vital at this stage of the game.

What is your desired output?

This ties back to what you actually NEED vs. what you want.

Everyone thinks that bringing on a dedicated staff member for 130 hours a month makes more sense than hiring an agency for about only 60 hours a month. The cost is comparable between the two and you get more than twice as many hours for your investment. Right?

The key consideration isn’t hours, it’s output.

To gauge this question accurately we need to compare apples to apples, or in this case functional levels. Remember that there is a big difference between doing something at best practice levels vs. just doing something.

As an aside, this is why I love when someone says, “We already have someone doing that.” Sure, but do they know if they are doing it at the best possible level.

Anyway…

A high-functioning consultative digital marketing agency team will produce more in a month, with more depth of expertise, and at a higher level of execution than a traditionally functioning single marketer could do in six months.

Now, if you have a skilled T-shaped marketer, with excellent organization, that individual is high functioning.

So how does that compare? Chances are that they still can’t compete with the output of a consultative agency because they are just one person.

This is particularly true if that agency happens to be Agile. An agile agency won’t just do it at a best practice level, they’ll do it fast.

So with that in mind, REALLY consider what your desired output is. If it’s hours, a hire is probably your best choice. If it’s results, an agency or other configuration might be more appropriate to your need.

So What Do I Do Now?

First off, thanks for sticking with me through this conversation. We covered a lot of ground and discussed a lot of concepts and options.

My actual hope is that you leave this article with feelings of confusion and uncertainty because I want you to sit down, do your GCPT analysis and think hard about your actual NEED.

If you want more information on how to hire a marketing agency feel free to use our business assessment format HERE.

In addition, I’m happy to help you, so feel free to reach out to me by requesting a Strategy Session. My goal isn’t to sell you on UHURU, or any one option, but to help you find the real need and discuss the best option for your particular situation.

AND…

As we’ve discovered, probably in more depth than you hoped, you definitely have options.
Liam

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