No matter the size of your organization, chances are the perception is that you and your marketing team can handle it all. From redesigning the website, to launching a new campaign, and from generating industry buzz to developing compelling customer content for the sales team to use. But when should you look at bringing in outside help? This is a question that comes up a lot with our clients – as they try to stretch already thin budgets. Based on working as both a client and a consultant, here are my thoughts on when you should consider outsourcing your project:
1. Does the project require specialized skills & expertise?
The best reason to bring in external consultants is for their specialized skills. Many consultants have spent decades perfecting their craft – whether they are organizational experts, marketing strategists, web designers or advertising gurus. Because of their in-depth experience, they can quickly and easily see things that others miss. For example, I worked with one organization that was trying to develop in-house expertise around messaging and content development. After a couple of years of producing un-engaging and ineffective content, they realized that, while they had the internal competencies to execute (their materials always looked great), they lacked the competencies to strategize and plan (the content lacked substance and purpose).
In addition, consultants often have unique and proprietary methods, processes and tools to walk your organization through – which takes the pressure off of your internal team to come up with a method to get the project done. And consider those with specialized industry, product, or service expertise, which isn’t easily duplicated. They can bring a unique perspective (including a view on your competitors) as well as access to specialized databases and reports which your organization won’t have to spend money on for potential 1x use.
2. Are you trying to create lasting change?
Let’s say you are trying to introduce a new process to get the marketing and sales team to work together to develop content. On the surface this looks like a straightforward initiative. You may call an internal meeting, introduce your ideas on how the teams can better work together to create content, and even follow-up the meeting with a new written process based on your discussion…but then nobody follows through. What happened? Well, we all know how hard it is to change. It is especially hard to get a group of your internal peers to change. That’s why an external resource can be valuable when it comes to helping to get people to go along with something new. Creating lasting change within an organization takes vision, communication and strong leadership. Often it seems that firms underestimate the scale of a change program they are embarking on. For example, moving the organization from a product-pushing sales and marketing approach to a value-led approach.
People also need a validation point. Think about parenting a child…we can tell our kids something and it feels like we’re talking to a wall. But if they hear the same thing from another parent, teacher, coach, therapist, etc. then it finally resonates and validates your point all along, causing the change to occur. The same is true within your organization. Sometimes just bringing in a 3rd party to provide support and endorse your approach is all it takes to get your initiative to take off.
3. Do you lack internal resources?
Does your internal team have the bandwidth to take on more projects? Think about the number of initiatives that are already on their plate. We see this happen over and over again. The team is too stretched to take on more work – especially strategic initiatives that are a “top priority”. Unfortunately piling more on to already full plates is a sure-fire way to lead to employee frustration and burnout, causing all work to come to a screeching halt.
When you bring in someone to work on your behalf, the project will also come to fruition much sooner than it would if you were to tackle it on your own. It’s amazing how many internal projects are delayed (by multiple quarters) because of the lack of focus and availability. The benefit of having external help is that you know your project is being worked on – without straining internal resources.
4. Are you looking for a neutral recommendation?
If the project owner of your strategic initiative is also filling a full-time role within the organization, it’s hard to believe that they would be able to maintain a neutral view. For example, the product manager for a specific product would likely never admit that their product is irrelevant in the marketplace or recommend that it be put to rest. Their recommendations could be perceived as self-serving, which is especially dangerous when it comes to interpreting customer data (and looking only for data that reinforces your current assumptions). But a consultant can take an agnostic view and make a recommendation based on themes or patterns within the data, as well as drawing on what they’ve learned from working with past clients.
We know that any time an outside consultant or vendor is considered for an internal project, the question always arises about how to measure the benefits. While some things are hard to quantify, ask yourself what value the 3rd party brings to the table – whether you are seeking unique skills and expertise, a neutral perspective or just lack the bandwidth to handle the project yourself – sometimes calling in for help is the best path to success.