Last updated 29 September, 2020.
You’ve got a band of happy customers and some lofty growth goals, now what? It’s the question that many B2B companies face: build a marketing team in-house or hire a growth marketing agency?
What is a growth marketing agency, you ask? It isn’t your typical marketing agency, but I won’t spend too much time on that since we have a previous growth marketing 101 post that you can check out.
I’ve worked on both sides of the marketing spectrum, and I’ve had to make the same choice. I’ll shed some light on how they compare and (hopefully) help you decide which option is better for you.
Here’s what I’ll cover:
- My experience working in-house and at an agency
- In-house marketing team vs a growth marketing agency: How do they stack up?
- Brand, product, and culture familiarity
- Available skillset
- Focus and control
- Speed, data, and results
- Scaling and costs
- Expertise with software, tools, and industry
Working in-house vs an agency
I’ve spent most of my career as an in-house marketing manager for various B2B companies. That’s over a decade of experience, spanning five different companies, so I think I know a thing or three about what it’s like to build an in-house team.
When I worked for startups and smaller companies, I was either the sole member of the marketing team or had one other person on my team. In those scenarios, I had to be a Jill of all trades but was a master of none. I managed all aspects of marketing, such as the website, social media, product marketing, reseller programs, PR, advertising, trade shows, content creation, plus much more. I constantly had to figure things out on my own (a.k.a. lots of Googling and YouTubing).
I often lacked the time (and expertise) to measure the success of all the projects I was juggling. It was more about taking orders from the sales team, rather than working together to create growth. Back then, I didn’t understand how important it was for sales and marketing to not only be aligned but to work side-by-side.
But I did learn a crapload, especially in regards to the inner workings of every department. This gave me perspective on how each person and team could contribute to growth. Not to mention, I had the chance to dabble in most facets of marketing, which gave me a holistic understanding of marketing and helped me figure out what I'm genuinely passionate about.
When I worked for a larger company, I was able to have a more comprehensive marketing team, which included specialists in e-commerce, social media, graphic design, web development, public relations, etc. Even with a big in-house team, we still outsourced certain aspects of our marketing like video production and paid acquisition.
In my experience working with bigger companies that have more substantial marketing budgets, I learned that you can't be — and don’t need to be — an expert in everything, which is one reason to hire an agency.
Now that I’m working for an agency specializing in growth marketing, I realize that I didn’t fully understand the difference between growth marketing, growth hacking, digital marketing, inbound marketing, and content marketing. I also didn’t know that growth marketing agencies could help with things like customer success and sales and marketing alignment.
There is so much I wish I knew as an in-house marketer, and now that I have the inside scoop of what it’s like to be on the other side, I’m spilling it all.
In-house marketing team vs a growth marketing agency: How do they stack up?
Brand, product, and culture familiarity
✅ Ability to work closely with in-house teams (product managers, sales team, etc.)
✅ High personal investment and attachment
✅ A deeper understanding of the product, brand, company culture, and direct competitors
⚠️ Risk for marketing myopia
✅ Potential for broader market expertise, especially when working with businesses from a similar industry
✅ An unbiased and fresh vision of a market
The available skillset
✅ Generalist – As I mentioned earlier, marketing managers are often expected to do everything marketing related (and even things not related to marketing, am I right? 🤷🏽♀️). This doesn’t mean that in-house teams don’t have experts. At one of my previous in-house roles, I was pretty badass at developing product launch marketing plans and building partner reseller programs. Most growth marketing agencies don’t have any experience with the latter skill.
⚠️ But in general, smaller in-house marketing teams have a limited set of skills.
✅ Specialized – Agencies have a diverse set of skills, with each person specializing in certain areas of marketing and required to keep their skills up to date. Take me for example, I’m a Content Marketing Strategist, and at my agency, I work with growth marketers, paid acquisition specialists, data analysts, CRM consultants, graphic designers, web developers, video/podcast producers, and sales consultants.
⚠️ Boils down to: Can you afford to hire multiple people with different skillsets for your in-house marketing team? Or should you contact an agency that has a diverse team already assembled?
✅ In-depth product and brand knowledge allows in-house marketers to see many angles
⚠️ Creativity can get stagnant as in-house teams are only working with one brand (tendency to get bored)
✅ Agencies work with and are challenged by various accounts daily – this increases the likeliness to continually sprout fresh ideas
Focus and control
✅ You get all of the focus and creative control
⚠️ In-house marketing teams are often juggling many other marketing-related projects such as trade shows, public relations, product marketing, etc.
✅ Strategies can be quite equal, but with a growth marketing agency, the strategy and workshops focus strongly on the customer (ICP) and sales. Agencies can prioritize and focus on specific customer groups, even if the company has many different (and important) customer groups.
⚠️ Agencies split their time with other clients, and sometimes the client doesn't have as much creative control.
Speed, data, and results
✅ An in-house team can quickly get answers and decisions from internal stakeholders
⚠️ Often focused on outputs instead of outcomes
⚠️ Lack of processes in place for defining and regularly tracking KPIs
✅ Agencies already have knowledge and experience with getting results from other clients. At our agency, we work in an agile model where we prioritize, experiment, and pivot when things aren’t working. We aren’t afraid to fail because it’s inherently part of our agile and experimentation model.
✅ Needs to prove their value every month
✅ Data-driven with a regular cadence of reporting, typically done during scrums and retrospective meetings
Scaling and costs
⚠️ Time, expenses, and difficulties of hiring. Good talent is hard to find, especially when companies are often looking for a unicorn in-house marketer who can do it all (e.g. content, paid acquisition, SEO, etc.)
⚠️ Salaries, facilities, equipment, software
⚠️ Little flexibility –this month you may need some graphic design work, and next month you probably have other needs. It’s difficult to scale if you take it all in-house and managing freelancers can also be a burden.
✅ Pays for own software, equipment, and training – which eliminates tons of extra costs.
✅ Scalable – Because agencies tend to have an entire army of experts with loads of experience working with various clients and strict deadlines, a growth marketing agency can help you scale your marketing efforts.
Expertise with software, tools, and industry
⚠️ Typically only familiar with in-house software and tools.
✅ Agencies have access to many tools and expertise using them (often with certifications, too). Technology plays a huge rule in today’s marketing, so it’s crucial to have the right software to support your targets. Agencies have already done the dirty work of comparing different options to find the best solutions, and they know how to manage their tech stack.
✅ Stays on top of technologies, trends, updates, and industry news. This is especially true because, at a marketing agency, I get to work with all marketing pros that I’m constantly learning from. When I was an in-house marketer, I often didn’t have other marketers to spar with.
When does it make sense to hire a B2B growth marketing agency?
If you’re a startup that doesn’t have a product/market fit but needs rapid results, then it may be better to hire an in-house growth hacking team who can quickly get you results.
Growth hacking works for startups because they have a short runway, high expenses, and everything to prove. In this situation, it makes sense to experiment with the product, pricing, and different audiences.
Once you have a handful of happy customers and are ready to strategize for the long run, a growth marketing agency is a better option to help accelerate your growth.
I recommend meeting with several marketing agencies, along with potential in-house employees. Many companies end up having a hybrid of an in-house marketing team and an agency.
For me, the best option was always to have a mix – a core in-house marketing team and a growth marketing agency that acted as an extension to my own in-house team.
It’s often a safer bet and easier on your wallet to work with an agency rather than hiring a full in-house team. If an agency doesn’t deliver results, you can challenge them or hire another agency. But hopefully, it doesn’t have to go to that extreme. If employees don’t deliver, it can get trickier.
How to choose the right growth marketing agency for your B2B company
🚀 They can deliver
A full-service growth marketing agency is like a box of crayons. They should provide you with a plethora of services like the ones below:
- Growth marketing
- Content marketing
- Sales consulting
- Paid traffic & customer acquisition
- Website design & development
- CRM consulting & implementation
- Marketing analytics & data science
- Brand marketing & employer branding
- Email marketing
- Search marketing and SEO optimization
- Social and community management
- Testing and conversion science
- Conversion funnels & customer value optimization
💌 They have great client references
- Do they work with prestigious clients?
- Do they know your industry?
🤩 They have an excellent website and reputation
You don’t want to invest in a marketing agency that’s struggling to promote its own work.
- Do you understand what they do?
- How do they present their services?
- What is put forward?
- Is their blog interesting, relevant, and qualitative?
- Are they known in the industry?
💪🏽 They have solid processes in place
- Agencies have strict project management and resourcing processes in place. As mentioned earlier, our agency utilizes an agile method which includes a regular cadence of weekly scrums, retrospective meetings, and strategy reviews.
- Agencies use the latest tools and technologies for reporting metrics and results.
⚖️ They can measure the results of their work
Successful growth marketing agencies are data-driven. They measure outcomes, while many agencies measure outputs.
🙅🏽♀️ They aren’t afraid to say “no.”
The right agency should listen to what you need – but should also be able to say “no” if they cannot deliver on a project and/or believe that a project is not going to work.
🥰 You have a good feeling about them
You’ll be working with these people a LOT. If you don’t have a good feeling about them, nor enjoy their company, walk away. 🚶🏽♂️
Don’t despair, you don’t have to choose between an in-house team or a growth marketing agency. Why not have both?
From my experience working in-house and at a growth marketing agency, I highly recommend building a core in-house marketing team and working with an agency that can be an extension of your team to help accelerate your growth.
The in-house marketers can manage the high-level marketing strategy, along with projects that make more sense to be taken on internally, such as social media, trade shows, and partner/community management.
A growth marketing agency can provide you with all the expertise you need without having to individually hire each person. I’m talking content marketing, paid acquisition, CRM consultants, website development, SEO, testing/conversion science, and a boatload more. And did I mention you get to take advantage of an agency’s artillery of tools? This will make it easy to scale your marketing efforts.
If you want to grow, you need to have a budget for it and understand what you are and aren’t capable of. As a marketer who has been in the biz for a while now, I often feel like I need to be an expert at everything, especially when you have a small team. After many years of beating myself up, I’ve learned to double-down on my strengths and lean on others for their superpowers. And so, if I could leave you with one piece of advice, it’s this: you don’t need to know everything.
Psst! If you need an army of marketing ninjas to help grow your B2B tech or SaaS company, you know what to do. 👇🏼