Build or buy? It’s the question of the hour for many B2B marketers. Do you build your own campaigns — your own content, creatives, landing pages, ads, drip programs, analytics — or do you pay for outside help?
I think we all know, instinctively, that the answer is both. It’s admirable to own your own media and channels, and to have direct visibility into campaign performance. But it’s also smart to supplement your efforts with help from a B2B marketing agency, especially when that agency has more experience driving results and more available resources. You may be surprised to know, for example, that 61 percent of enterprises and 46 percent of small businesses use an external source for lead generation.
In many cases, these outside partnerships can be precisely the competitive advantage a company needs to grow from an SMB to a market leader. But the world of agencies can seem foreign, even occult, to the untrained demand gen manager. Where do you begin your search? How much should you spend? And, perhaps most importantly, which B2B marketing strategies should you trust to the care of another?
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Expert Interview with Howard Sewell
To help demystify some of this process, we sat down with Howard Sewell, the president Spear Marketing Group, a full-service B2B demand generation agency. In addition to his leadership at Spear, Sewell has worked in high-tech sales and marketing for more than 25 years and been named a “Top 50 Influencer in B2B Marketing.”
“More than 90 percent of our clients are B2B high-tech companies,” Sewell said. “Everything we do revolves around demand generation. About half our work is top-of-the-funnel lead generation, and the rest is lead nurturing, customer marketing, etc. Plus, we’re heavily involved in marketing automation and martech in general.”
Sewell told us that the question is not whether or not you should “outsource” marketing, but whether you want to gain a strategic partner. “I have no problem with our firm being an on-demand resource, if and when people need us. But I do think that we add more value in those engagements where we’re more of a strategic partner involved across a range of demand generation activity.”
Where an Agency Can Help
If you decide to work with agency, the next step is to define the scope of the relationship. Knowing your strengths and limitations will make a big difference here. Maybe your lead nurturing programs rock, but you’re struggling with pipeline volume. Maybe you have an exceptional content team, but limited organic reach.
Most agencies can build a flexible program designed to fill gaps where you have them or maximize spend in channels you already manage. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are four areas — based on our conversation with Sewell — where an agency partnership tends to yield the highest return.
1. Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing (SEM), sometimes broadly referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) or simply “paid media,” is anything but easy. If your organization doesn’t have a lot of experience with this channel, you can waste a lot of time and money trying things that don’t work. It doesn’t help that the public has developed a numbness, even a simmering hatred, of online advertising. According to a study we ran last year, 79 percent of internet users almost never click online ads.
SEM is tricky, and if you’re going to do it, you need to do it right. That probably means getting some help. “I’ve seen very few companies, at least on the B2B side, manage SEM in-house effectively,” Sewell told us. “One, it’s pretty much a full-time job. Secondly, the benefits of managing multiple search accounts (as we do) is that you evolve your best practices very quickly, and you can cross-pollinate successful techniques across clients.”
2. Content Syndication
Marketing teams often create content with beatific visions of “going viral” and raking in thousands of new contacts. But your ability to make content succeed is only as big as your audience. Chances are, unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, that audience is middling.
Don’t underestimate the multiplying effect that working with a syndication partner can have on the success of a single asset.
Sewell suggests that content syndication, especially paired with other strategies, is designed to multiply your investment in content development. “In my experience, it’s the rare B2B client for whom content syndication should not be a foundational part of their demand gen mix. Syndication is a great complement to other inbound strategies like SEM and social media, helping ensure that qualified prospects who are researching a particular category find and engage with your company.”
3. Lead Generation
Lead generation is the lifeblood of B2B success. As long as your salespeople have a full pipeline of qualified leads to develop, you should see pretty consistent revenue growth. The key to lead generation isn’t just capturing contact info; it’s about connecting with the right people — people with decision-making power who work for companies that match your ideal customer profile. Much easier said than done.
According to a report published last August by the B2B Technology Marketing Community, 80 percent of marketers said their lead generation programs were only “slightly” or “somewhat effective.”
The key to selecting a lead generation provider is to find out how that company runs their programs. “Transparency is important,” Sewell said. “How are the leads generated? Where will be content appear? Are leads shared or resold? If answers to those questions aren’t crystal clear, you may be better off putting your dollars elsewhere.” He also said it’s important choose a provider with a proven ability to drive quality leads at volume.
If you find a provider who can target high-value prospects with purchase intent, even a small handful of conversions can yield a lot of revenue. Beware of list wholesalers that don’t guarantee data quality or can’t match your targeting requirements.
4. Lead Nurturing
You might be surprised to see lead nurturing on this list, but yes, many agencies can provide strategic and technical support for lead nurturing programs. Read the industry blogs, and you’d think every B2B company is nurturing their own leads and using a full-blown marketing automation suite, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Based on VentureBeat’s last industry report, only five percent of all businesses are currently using marketing automation.
Still new. Still expensive. Still difficult.
And yet, it’s an invaluable tool for managing the modern buyer’s journey. “An effective lead nurturing program enforces prompt and systematic lead follow-up (even on those days when sales is ‘too busy,’” Sewell said. “It will also help ensure that you get maximum value from demand generation. The rise of marketing automation technology has given rise to a ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality when it comes to lead nurturing, but technology can’t do everything. Lead management strategy, campaign workflow, email frequency, segmentation, offer/content strategy, email creative — these are all areas where an experienced partner can make a huge difference.”
When to DIY
After all this talk of outsourcing, you might be wondering if there are any B2B marketing strategies that should stay in-house. Sewell says that depends on the scale of your marketing objectives and your budget. “However,” he added, “I do believe that outsourcing even some of your programs to the right partner gives you flexible bandwidth, collective expertise, and a pool of knowledge that you’ll probably never be able to hire for.”
He also makes the point that managing every program and channel in-house can lead to stale, insular marketing. “Sometimes it just makes sense to shake things up.” The short answer? It’s your call. Where your own team is strong, double down and focus on consistency. Where you notice discrepancies or challenges, evaluate what level of resources you could invest in order to get help. To learn more about outsourced demand generation, visit our vendor resource page.
Howard J. Sewell is the president of Spear Marketing Group, a full-service B2B demand generation agency, and has worked in high-tech sales and marketing for more than 25 years. He has been named one of the “Top 50 Influencers in B2B Marketing” and one of the “40 Most Inspiring Leaders in Sales Lead Management.” Howard is an acknowledged thought leader in demand generation, lead management, and B2B marketing, and the primary author for Spear’s blog, The Point.