To Build or to Partner, That Is the Question

Marketers need a complex and diverse set of skills to meet business goals. When should you partner for marketing and technology support and when should you bring those skills and talents in-house?

Hammer, screwdriver, wrench, tape measure, paint brush construction tools on wooden backgroundMarketers need a complex and diverse set of skills to meet business goals. When should you partner for marketing and technology support and when should you bring those skills and talents in-house?

This critical question touches many issues including the organization’s historical leaning, how that function will benefit (or not) from brand access and proximity, how able are you to recruit the right talent, how effectively can you manage those resources to their optimal capabilities, how integrated are they with other key functions in partners, how sensitive these skills are to constant update and access to other subject matter inputs, how committed are you to this effort long term. Whew.

It’s not just more headcount for all the kingdom builders out there. It’s additional functional responsibility for everything from hiring, training and development, to vetting and maintaining the best tools and resources, all the way to organizational integration and reporting and analytics. Most importantly, it is an extension of the core mission of your team. Is it the right one?

To answer this complex question, work through these three steps:

Review Your Core Mission First

Even if it is a high profile project or sounds like a blast, you might be better served by outsourcing to a consultant, agency or other expert partners if this fills a need far different from your group’s current role. There may also be a competency gap if this is requires a set of a complex, specialized or rapidly evolving skill sets that aren’t currently in residence in your team. Using outside help allows you to keep your focus in your areas of key contribution instead of getting ramped up in unfamiliar territory and distracting your team from their critical initiatives. It also takes advantage of the specialists who have put in their 10,000 hours and who by virtue of their specialty stay current on trends, tools and best practices that will ultimately support your success.

However, if this function or effort is an extension of your core activities and is skills compatible with your current team, then adding new competencies with training is great for morale and for team development. Make sure you are not overloading your teammates and allow them realistic training time and access to materials and education to help you collectively to succeed. If you do bring in new talent to expand your overall capabilities take the time to onboard them with the existing team so they can function as a cohesive unit working against that core mission together.

Examine Your Motivation

Do you believe this would be a boon to business goals if this were an in-house function? If it is boredom or competition or resume building that is the motivating factor behind your recommendation to bring something in-house then don’t do it. Build your team only if you are convinced that the critical brand insights that come from working inside are key to success or that the efficiencies, time or budget savings more than offset the risk, overhead and labor costs that building new teams and capabilities entails.

Look at Your Time Horizon

If you’re just testing a channel or approach, now is not the time to make a long term investment. It makes good sense to rely on and learn from your expert partners at least until you have a good enough understanding to be able to assess your ability to manage this successfully in-house. Is this a regular and critical part of your company and departmental mission or is it an intermittent activity? Will you have a long term commitment from your organization to keep this team in place? It may be disruptive and ultimately unfair to both the existing and new teams if the decision is reversed. Don’t underestimate the time to ramp up to reach your goals.

Sometimes a mixed approach is in order. You may need a high powered thought leader to help guide your direction but can execute internally. Or, you may need help in some highly specialized areas or infrequently to help your group complete their tasks.

In some cases results suffer when you split the locus of certain functions. Be hyper aware of creating gaps or obstructions for information sharing and collaboration. For instance, don’t create a barrier between functions that share a budget and need to optimize together or, when feedback loops inform decisions in other teams like social listening or management and social content planning and development. They may be different skill sets and teams but they need to work closely together for the best impact. If you disconnect the feedback loop you lose something precious. It is still possible to create that feedback between an internal team and an external partner but it’s hard to keep it as close or as seamless.

When external partners begin to seem expensive or divorced from the brand goals make sure you have the right partner and that you are sharing the resources, insights, info, access and time that allows them to truly deliver before you consider building internally. If you still determine that a new hire or new team are the way to go, make sure you factor in all the things you take on when you bring a new function or team in house and that you have a solid and defensible rationale behind the decision.

Author: Robin Neifield

With over 20 years of online experience Robin Neifield serves as the CEO of Netplus, a top interactive agency, and as the trusted digital guide for CMOs. She has been widely published and quoted on digital strategy and has been a frequent speaker and panelist at industry events like Search Engine Strategies, OMMA, Ad:Tech and others where her insights are sought on varied marketing topics such as digital strategy, behavioral targeting, social media marketing, search engine and conversion optimization, localization strategies and proximity marketing, mobile gaming and email marketing. You can find her on LinkedIn, or reach her by email or phone, (610) 304-9990.


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