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In-house or Agency? 3 Factors to Consider

Published: December 9, 2013

Author: Molly Shotwell

Let’s say you’re a CMO or VP of Marketing, and you’re intrigued by the idea of doing your online marketing in-house because you feel more in control of your destiny. Succeed or fail, you are responsible and accountable.
Of course, doing everything in-house means you need the necessary people, with the necessary skills and proper tools (Technology), right? You can only go so far with Excel and freeware. Between finding and hiring and training and retaining, getting good people is challenging and time-consuming. (Really time-consuming.) And technology? If you vet 3 of the top solution providers for a given application (e.g. Marin, Kenshoo, or SearchForce for Paid Search), their value propositions all sound the same and the vendors all make the same claims. Really evaluating and confidently selecting ‘the best tool for the job’ is also very complex and time-consuming. And figuring out their pricing models is like trying to do a cost comparison across 3 airlines to fly a family of 4 to Disneyland with 5 pieces of checked luggage. (Don’t get me started on luggage fees, change fees, weight limits, carry-on rules, cancellation fees, etc.)
My point: If you don’t already have the people and the technology, think long and hard about how much time and energy it’s going to take to secure them…..while still staying on top of your day job.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re intrigued by the idea of outsourcing your online marketing to an agency because real work, by real experts, armed with best practices, utilizing best-in-class technology, can begin virtually immediately. If you don’t get the results hoped for, you can blame them, then fire them, right?
Of course, you have valid concerns here too: How do you know you’ll get the best people from the agency? What if you have an awesome team, doing awesome work, but then a key member of the team leaves the agency? Will their process and best practices survive the departure of a key contributor? It’s your job on the line. And selecting the right agency is no easier than selecting technology. The runway to productivity liftoff is much shorter than building an in-house capability, all right…if you choose the right agency.
After many years of selling software, selling to agencies, and selling agency services, I thought I’d share my main considerations in the in-house vs agency dilemma:

1) Software doesn’t do anything.

There, I said it. Software doesn’t do anything by itself. There is a lot of really great software out there, but none of it does a thing for you unless you have smart people, with the proper training, the time, the motivation, and possibly the management mandate, to become proficient enough to extract full value for your organization. One of the more frustrating challenges faced by software vendors is that companies buy their application, install it, and then either 1) use 10% of the functionality available, or 2) simply don’t log in and use it at all. If you decide to invest in software and in-house talent, remember that proficient usage won’t happen by accident.

2) Agencies are people AND process.

Providing outsourced services is more than just providing people. Make sure to understand your agency’s process. If the process is solid and institutionalized, then the potential impact of someone leaving your agency team is minimized because another capable person can step in and execute against the process.

3) It’s about time.

A very clear advantage of outsourcing is the short runway from decision to productive work being done. Buying and implementing software and getting to the desired level of proficiency simply takes longer. It just does. If you need to show progress NOW, spend your precious time selecting an agency and spend your energy holding your agency partner accountable If you have the luxury of building a longer runway, perhaps bringing software functionality (and talented people to use it) in-house can work for you.
Of course, there are other elements at play here: your existing resources, any possible connections you may have in the world outside of your office walls. But the above considerations are a good place to start in determining your next step forward in the world of digital marketing. Good luck!

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