When Should You Hire a Digital Marketing Agency?
Digital Marketing

When Should You Hire a Digital Marketing Agency?

Zaki Hussain
April 18, 2024

Don Draper is dead.

Here’s what I mean.

Marketing no longer hinges on smartly-dressed Madison Avenue execs, swirling their glass as they look dreamily out the window, pondering the next ad campaign.

Marketing is data. It’s numbers. It’s technology. It’s integrated platforms. It’s A/B testing. And you’re right to feel nervous if you don’t have analytics at work, dictating your marketing efforts.

A well-oiled digital marketing machine sounds great. “Sign me up,” you say. As an executive you know digital, analytical, technical marketing chops are important. It’s just that… you and your team are so busy. No, really. So busy. Couldn’t be busier.

You have what feels like billions of competing priorities. As sure as the day is long, the to-do list is longer.

A typical day for your team might look something like this:

  • drumming up new business
  • making the sales team happy
  • managing website updates
  • the never-ending churn of social media posts
  • conferencing with the product team
  • content creation and promotion, email marketing
  • employee delegation of projects and tasks
  • running organic and paid efforts
  • reporting up
  • measuring results
  • shifting gears as needed
  • considering your long-term business goals

Then, you’re supposed to find the time to experiment and discover new optimization strategies. And I probably didn’t even cover it all.

So, everyone is working hard. It’s all hands on deck over there. Is it time to lean on a digital marketing agency?

I won’t tell you that you need an agency, full-stop, no questions asked, whoever you are and wherever you are.

Instead, let’s consider some common marketing challenges and where an agency would come in. I’ll bet one or more of these situations is plaguing you right this moment.

Situation 1: A New Project Has Arisen!

Remember the days when you thought finding leads was the hardest part of your job? Those naive, care-free, innocent days that are gone forever and that you’ll never get back?

Now that you are seasoned, battle-tested… you understand that it’s not about finding any old lead. It’s about finding the right lead. It’s about nurturing the lead. It’s about understanding user priorities, over-communicating and over-delivering. Meanwhile, of course, you still need to keep finding leads.

The Challenge: You need someone to project-manage like a superhero. Your team should understand the needs of all stakeholders, and quickly. When a project is externally-facing, you need to keep up the veneer of excellence and professionalism while turning in timely deliverables. You need to motivate your team while assessing what’s working and what’s not. If you’re doing your job properly, this project takes on a life force of its own.

  • Scope of work – requirements vs. nice to haves
  • Deadlines
  • Experience with channels/tools
  • Reporting
  • Budgeting
  • Metrics
  • Pulse checks
  • Stakeholder responsibilities
  • Digital acumen
  • What does success look like?
Why Hiring An Expert Can Help In This Situation:

Your in-house marketing arm is busy putting out fires, managing multiple priorities and doing the behind-the-scenes legwork of a marketing team. By contrast, digital marketing consultants can be laser-focused where you need them, for however long you need them. You can say: “We need you to focus solely on creating and implementing a marketing funnel for three months and come back to us with results and recommendations at the end of that period.” Your team is suddenly free to get back to what they do best: their core work. You’re freed up to oversee them and move onto your next objective.

Real-Life Case Study:

WeDo Technologies hired Hubspot to implement a new email marketing software to overcome reporting and lead conversion challenges. They specifically used Hubspot’s “lists” and “workflows” functionalities to track email performance and speed up previously manual processes. As a result, they increased customer conversion from email by 6.3x, and experienced a 62% increase in new contacts generated through the software. Their click-through-rate is more than 20% for email campaigns, which is high for the industry.

Situation 2: You Are Scaling A Marketing Channel

You and/or your team have identified a marketing channel that needs to get bigger, better, and faster. Maybe you’ve had some success in the area, and you’d like to double your efforts where you know you’ll see an ROI.

The Challenge: You are outside of your comfort zone. While you’ve been managing a team, chasing new leads and coordinating executive priorities, the world has spun madly on. You need to scale this marketing channel on pace with the latest industry strategies and digital marketing opportunities. You know a growth marketer with innovative chops can tackle it best, and you want to be certain you can deliver internally.

  • Technical know-how
  • Expertise needed
  • KPIs vs. vanity metrics
  • Timing/little room for error
  • Measuring
  • Reporting
  • Scaling spend
  • Success metrics
  • Delegation
Why Hiring An Expert Can Help In This Situation:

Someone who knows what they’re doing can bring in 10x the value of what you pay them. Maybe it’s as simple as recommending a tool and integration that would have otherwise taken you months to find and conquer. An expert can set up these systems and derive maximum value from them. You’re cutting to the chase, saving a lot of head-scratching in the process. For example, a digital marketing agency might create a landing page that improves conversion by 25% on your ad campaigns. This engagement has just paid for itself, and then some.

Real-Life Case Study:

Neil Patel, one of the most prominent digital marketers in the world, hires digital marketing experts to help his businesses. In 2012 he spent a total of $252,000 on conversion rate optimization consultants. It’s not because he’s bad at marketing – in fact, he’s one of the best. But he wanted to work specifically on conversion rate optimization, with the ultimate goal of figuring out how to turn visitors into customers. He outsourced this niche expertise to people who do it day-in, day-out.

Situation 3: You Need New Acquisition Methods

In the example above, you’ve identified a successful channel and need to scale. But what if you really need to find new, innovative methods of acquiring new customers? The top of your funnel has been well-established, but you’re wondering if there are new strategies you should be pursuing. You don’t necessarily have the internal bandwidth to endlessly experiment. You need a high chance of winning if you’re pouring time and resources into something.

Dropbox offers free storage when you refer friends. EatClub gives away free food in exchange for a meeting. What is your acquisition tactic? Ranking highly on Google organic search isn’t always possible, and with paid search, you can be outbid by someone else’s deep pockets. So where do you go to get eyeballs from qualified folks looking for what you’re selling? How do you stand out in a crowded industry?

The Challenge: Moving around procedural red-tape to experiment with new channels to take risks. You need to experiment while keeping your budget intact. You’re working with existing marketing assets and a well-established toolkit to come up with new results and drive the business forward.

  • Existing assets
  • User personas
  • Audience development toolkit
  • Past successes and failures
  • Budget
  • Team capacity
  • Timelines
  • Long-term goals

Why Hiring An Expert Can Help In This Situation:

Growth-minded marketers will dig for untapped avenues. Maybe for you, that’s Quora – in three months your team could be one of the top-rated Quora experts, driving constant traffic to your website. Maybe it’s through LinkedIn Groups, or Facebook Groups, or advertising in a specific sub-reddit on Reddit. And maybe it’s through writing authoritative content on Medium. Someone who has the expertise to uncover uncharted channels can save you a ton of time. If you end up with a massive traffic-driver, it will all be worth it.

Raise your hand if this sounds like you:

You start a Coursera/Khan Academy/YouTube video/webinar/lecture/workshop/course on digital marketing/SEO/content marketing/CRO/PPC. Somewhere between 5 minutes in and halfway through, you hit pause and you never unpause again. You had the best intentions, but you just couldn’t stick it out. You were too bored/busy/tired/confused/frustrated. Or some combination of all of them.

You’ve done this. Admit it. You have. I see that guilty look on your face!

It’s okay. Aspects of digital marketing are very dry. Most people find it boring. The micro details are time-consuming and difficult to understand, especially if you’re a “big-picture” type. All the buzzwords and acronyms! The vast sea of tools and software! It’s a full-time job just to stay on top of it. Then when you revisit something you were learning, you realize the rules have all changed.

Furthermore, you won’t have to fumble to wrap your head around something that’s new for you. You may not be the person who loves to talk about marketing automation on weekends (we are rare but we do exist).  But you can get a helping hand in a needed area of your business from someone who lives and breathes it. While you’ve had your eye on priorities, someone has been keeping up on all the latest industry developments. Find that person.

Real-Life Case Study:

The company Autopilot knew that they wanted to pursue landing pages as a marketing channel to convert users into signing up for a free 30-day trial. Autopilot used Instapage, a landing page platform, to create an optimized landing page tailored to their specific needs and goals. Results were fruitful: a 254% increase in conversions and a 50% cut in cost per conversion..    

Situation 4: You Are Building Out Email Automation

As you scale, you’re scaling your email marketing. Statistically speaking, tests show that for every $1 spent on email, users see a return of $44 in revenue. Of course you want to build out your email… 1:1 communication! Where once there was a casual newsletter, you now have something else underway: A/B testing, dedicated drip campaigns, segmentation, experimentation and meticulous analytical tracking. Make sure you’re getting the most out of it.

The Challenge: It’s one thing to create personas, but another to track website stats and understand it clearly. Right away, you need to draw insights from your personas and their behavior and product interest. Understanding this piece of the puzzle is the key to your future success. You need immediate feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and that means coherent strategy and execution.

  • Design
  • Creating email nurture tracks
  • Segmentation and sequences
  • Testing
  • Authorship
  • KPIs
  • Branding
  • Tone of voice
  • Social coordination
  • Partnerships
  • Competition
  • Content buckets
  • Cross-channel campaign experience

Why Hiring An Expert Can Help In This Situation:

A marketing expert can let you borrow their years of experience. Wins they’ve had in the past? Those turn into your wins. There’s no substitute for experience with email automation, marketing operations and a high-level knowledge of email campaigns. How can you accurately say you know how to direct a user’s path to purchase if you’ve never done it?

Sure, you might have the skills to work on all these strategies internally. But how long will it take? And how many mistakes will come before you get it right?

A growth partner works in tandem with you, so you’ll cover twice as much ground in a given time period. Hopefully a lot of their mistakes have already been made, and gotten out of the way before they were working on your dime. That type of expert partnership can offer game-changing insights that will benefit your team for years to come.

Real-Life Case Study:

The Hear and Play Music team attained a 416% increase in customer lifetime value. How did they do it? They launched in 2009 with a five-message email automation approach. Today they’re using over 170 automated emails. When you take into account that most of their products cost less than $100, you can see the mileage they’ve achieved.

Along with the increase in emails, they’ve seen a 67% increase in click-through rate from their most promising leads (an increase from 24.73% to 41.28%). They’ve also seen an 18.4% improvement in lead-to-purchase time.

The best part of this success story is the baked-in automation. The more they automate, the better results they see, and the more they are freed up to focus on more manual and humanistic work. Automation is a time-saver, and not doing it may be blocking you from earning higher revenues.

Situation 5: Your Team Is Over-Extended

Your business opportunities are growing (good) but science hasn’t yet figured out that whole cloning thing (bad). You are faced with a choice: hire and train a new employee, stretch your already-stressed team even further, or bring on a digital marketing consultant or agency.

The Challenge: With an ever-growing list of projects, your team needs to maintain focus. You need to motivate them while making sure that tasks are complete and the reporting chain is working. And, there’s that b-word again…you’re all so incredibly busy. You don’t have time to train employees or learn a new subject matter yourself.

  • Institutional knowledge
  • Turnover
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Resource allocation
  • Budget
  • Career trajectory
  • Chain of command
  • Measuring
  • Overall enterprise goals
Why Hiring An Expert Can Help In This Situation:

Aside from taking pressure off your busy team, a digital marketing agency provides a chance for you to gain new perspective. You’re in the weeds every day; being too close to your product gives you a self-serving bias. The right experts take a fresh look at the challenges you’re trying to solve. Plus, they don’t come with the same strings as a full-time employee.

By hiring an agency you’ll often have access to several peoples’ worth of expertise, all in one place. Is it SEO you’re working on? There’s a person for that. Social media campaigns? Another person. Maybe the agency is 100% dedicated to search and display advertising, allowing you to go very deep on that strategy. A good agency will fill in the gaps on your team with expertise. At the end of the day, this makes you look smart to your higher-ups, and clients have a more customer-centric experience with your online brand.

Real-Life Case Study:

Superdrug Online Doctor hired the agency Fractl to improve their off-page SEO. The Fractl team brainstormed ways to create viral, broadly-appealing content and then pitched it to a number of platforms. This type of work would normally take an internal team months, plus several dedicated resources. Because Superdrug was able to outsource, they saved time on creative processes, pitching and testing. They eventually achieved placements in CNN and The New York Times, and saw a resulting 238% increase in organic search traffic over 16 months.

Pros and Cons

Digital marketing expert Noah Kagan says, “Focus on moving one metric at a time. This simplifies every single decision you make and helps prioritize which actions to take.” It’s up to you to decide whether you can do that in-house, or whether you’ve got too much going on. You have to ask yourself – what is it costing you in time and opportunity not to bring on a digital marketing agency?

In summary, let’s list some pros and cons of agency collaboration:

Hiring the Right Agency

Some quick factoids for you on hiring the right agency:

  • Big agencies tend to come with more expertise and a higher price tag; small agencies may not have as much institutional experience, but your business is probably more important to them – there’s a high chance they’ll care more about your outcomes.
  • Make sure their record proves experience, expertise, and positive results. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.
  • Put your potential agency to the test – play “20 Questions”. Ask them difficult questions. Ask them about their vision for your marketing. Do they have a solid understanding of the challenge you’re trying to solve? Do they add smart insights? If at this point the communication already feels like pulling teeth – cut and run.

In Summary…

  • Marketing today is less Don Draper and more combination of Data Nerd and Innovator Extraordinaire.
  • You’re juggling several priorities.
  • You might call on a marketing agency if you’re:
    • Embarking on a new project
    • Scaling a marketing channel (like when Neil Patel spent $252k on CRO consultants)
    • Need new acquisition tactics (like when Autopilot used Instapage to increase conversions by 254% and cut cost-per-conversion in half)
    • Building out email automation (like when Hear and Play Music kept building on their automated email approach to increase customer lifetime value by 416%)
    • Giving a reprieve to your already-busy team (like when SuperDrug hired Fractl to increase organic search traffic by 238% in 16 months)

Hiring an expert is not admitting defeat, nor does it mean that you’re not a good marketer. It’s one way to scale your team and delegate in the best way possible. A smart digital agency will uncover hidden opportunities and help you with quick wins, and supply a fresh approach based on their expertise.

Not sure you need help? Get in touch for an audit.

Where could your marketing use a boost?

Zaki Hussain
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