Big or small, every business looks to their marketing team for a variety of functions from defining the brand, driving demand, and expanding customer relationships. As more and more businesses increasingly turn to digital marketing over traditional marketing tactics, it’s common for these existing teams to lack the requisite skills to be successful. Since digital success rarely happens overnight, the journey into digital marketing requires good digital teammates at all levels of your organization.

So when your business moves into digital, what resources should you hire versus outsource? For those looking to accelerate digital marketing success, here is my take.

Working Group

First of all, don’t approach your transition into digital marketing as an initiative to be handled off to the side in a mainly outsourced fashion. Too often companies leave the answer to all their digital marketing success to a non-strategic individual with a small budget and an outsourced team doing the best they can. That’s a good way to get everyone frustrated, waste money, and get the people involved fired.

I recommend setting up a digital working group that meets regularly and is collectively charged with seeing the success of the digital transformation. The people in this group should be comprised of decision makers and budget holders in sales, IT, and marketing. The working group should also include a mix of internal and external resources.

The Strategy

Your executive team will need an accomplished digital leader to be a part of all marketing and sales decisions going forward. In addition, this digital leader should be involved in every major IT decision going forward.

Wait a minute, IT? I thought we were talking about digital marketing? We are. Successful digital marketing relies on a little four letter word called ‘data’, and almost all of your IT decisions will impact the way to collect, store, process, and ultimately use and analyze your data. This data will be fed into every digital marketing campaign and the quality, accuracy, and availability of it will underpin your digital efforts. Without this you’re flying blind. Therefore, your digital leader should weigh in on these things and ensure the IT decisions meet the marketing needs of the future.

The leader you choose for your executive team will likely not come from inside your business. In terms of sourcing this resource, in my opinion this can be a new FTE or outsourced digital strategist / part time Chief Digital Officer on contract. It can be beneficial to outsource this function in the beginning as it provides an unbiased third party who likely won’t be involved with the internal politics of your business. And yes, every business has politics – sorry. If the existing executive team can get onboard with a senior resource under contract, then go with that to start. However, long term (and once the group feels confident of the person they need) this role should be full time in the business.

Content and Content Strategy

Most organizations we talk to struggle in the area of content creation and content strategy. Let’s start with the content itself. I feel very strongly that content needs to come from inside the business. This doesn’t mean hiring your own video production team, let’s leave directing, shooting, and editing video to the pros. Having said that, it does mean that someone inside the business should be the driver of great content – content that helps your customers use the products and services you sell. This person should know the problems and needs of your customers and should know your products and services inside and out. Someone (or a team of people in some cases) that knows your value proposition and can generate good content for all channels (website, product data, emails, blogs, social media, video). Ideally this role should not be outsourced – or if so not for long.

What about the content strategy? This is an area I believe it will make sense to outsource. Content strategy is different than creating content. It means strategically attacking content in terms of topics, volume, cadence, and distribution channels in a way that will help you achieve your goals. The output of content strategy are personas, a competitor matrix, the content calendar and KPI reporting. These things are easier to outsource in the beginning and allows you to focus on the content.

Paid Search and Content Distribution

Now that you’re pumping out content and have a working website, you need to amplify it and attract an audience. This is done through paid media. From SEO/PPC to running LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Ads, paying for traffic is a bit of an art and science. Since this involves real dollars being spent (and easily wasted), I recommend leaving this to the professionals. Over time, you may hire folks internally but if you’re starting from scratch or making a larger investment, you can skip a lot of mistakes by outsourcing.

There are two types of outsourcing scenarios here and it’s important to know which one applies to your business. The first case involves hiring a team to optimize your existing campaigns that have been running for over a year. We say at least a year (ideally two) to account for seasonality. The idea is you already have a baseline to work with and you’re asking someone to help take your campaigns to the next level. If you’re looking to reduce your Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) or drive more customers, the company you hire will analyze what you already have and set out a new plan with targets. In this scenario, much of the painful process of learning was done already (messaging, ads, targeting, keywords, landing pages, etc.).

The second case is when you’re starting from scratch and don’t have a baseline. Maybe it’s a new product or service, or experimenting with paid media for your lead generation programs. This is often much more of a challenge because you’re creating the baseline along the way. You’re having to learn what works, what doesn’t work, make lots and lots of course corrections – this takes time. I like the phrase ‘if it was easy, everyone would be a millionaire’. In addition to having a healthy test budget, getting to a consistent level of paid media success takes the right people, the right tools, and time and patience. Hiring a firm you can trust to take you through this process will be important.

Marketing Automation and Technology

Marketing Technology (or MarTech) is now an entire industry, with several thousand vendors in it. In any MarTech category, take email for example, there are over 100 technology platforms. This is a recurring theme across all categories of the MarTech from Search, Paid Media, Social, Content, Marketing Automation, Tracking, Optimization, Personalization, Design and Development, and Reporting – with well over 4,000 technologies to pick from. To be successful at digital marketing, your business will need to utilize around a dozen subscription tools! Given the complexity around MarTech stacks today, I highly recommend outsourcing some of the runnings of these systems. Let’s talk about a big one, Marketing Automation.

Once you graduate from a basic email system, a Marketing Automation Platform will be the next important piece of technology. Having in-house skills to perform functions inside this platform are important. We do not recommend going with a provider that makes this technology a hidden black box. Having said that, do not go at it alone. I realize we are biased here, but we’ve seen what happens when companies try to adopt this technology. According to, 85% of B2B marketers using marketing automation platforms feel they are not using their systems to their full potential. In fact, that same survey indicates only 26% of automation users have fully adopted their system. Given the importance of this technology to your digital marketing success, you will drive more value from your investment and accelerate results by having a implementation and maintenance agreement with a firm that specializes in this technology.


The idea here is for businesses to be self aware and approach the decision on insourcing vs. outsourcing in a way that plays to the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Some of the points condensed here:

  • Create a strategic working group of multi-faceted individuals (inside and outside the business) who are charged with seeing digital marketing success.
  • Find and hire a digital leader to sit on your executive team and weigh in on all major marketing, sales, and IT decisions to help ensure you’re considering all angles.
  • Keep the content close to home. Become good at owning your content creation and how to communicate the value your company provides to its customers across digital mediums. Consider outsourcing the content strategy if you don’t have that skill set.
  • The journey into paid media takes time and can be a long, challenging process. Be cautious of having internal staff take this on who are not experienced or certified in handling paid programs. There are lots of trustworthy agencies that can help you take your campaigns to the next level or start from scratch.
  • Marketing Technology (MarTech) is an entire world that you need to be aware of. You’ll need a dozen technologies to see success and amplify your daily efforts. Find a good partner to help you run your Marketing Automation Platform, but make sure it’s not a black box so your team can learn from the pros while still maintaining control.