Marketing agency vs. in-house: which is best for your B2B start-up?

Blog Start-Up Tips

The B2B industry is currently valued at $6.7 trillion, and that’s only in the US. Globally, the B2B e-commerce market is expected to reach $18 billion by 2027.

This growth means more opportunity for B2B start-ups, but it also means more competition. So how can they position themselves for success? 

That’s where marketing comes in. Without excellent strategic marketing, start-ups blend into the sea of competition. So they have two choices to choose from when building brand awareness and bringing in relevant leads: hiring a marketing agency or an in-house marketing team. 

In this article, we’ll review the benefits and drawbacks of both options so you can make an informed decision for your start-up. 

Here are the questions you need to consider when deciding which option is best for you.

What is your time frame? 

The fact of the matter is that hiring in-house takes time, as does creating a brand, crafting appropriate messaging, and building marketing materials and content. 

Let’s start with hiring. If you go in-house, that means: 

  • Crafting and disseminating a job description 
  • Waiting weeks/months for the resumes to come in
  • Conducting multiple rounds of interviews
  • Narrowing it down and choosing somebody
  • Teaching them about the ins and outs of your company and industry
  • Setting up all the necessary tools they need to conduct your start-up’s marketing. Some of the in-house marketers are more into digital marketing, some are more into content, some are more brand-oriented and some are more strategic driven thinkers. It’s hard to find “one fits all needs”
  • Usually an in-house CMO will need to recruit vendors and internal team members for help with the daily tasks and the different skills needed

Long story short, hiring in-house can be a very lengthy process, especially if you are set on finding the “perfect” hire. By the time this in-house marketer is able to set up the basic marketing necessities, like a proper website, CRM automation platform, content, and brand, months and months have gone by. If you are a more established start-up and have the time and money for this, then this might be the better choice for you.

However, if you are an early-stage start-up with investors pressuring you for return on investment and a million things on your to-do list at all times, it is likely that you would rather not spend so much time hiring for your marketing needs.

You need someone who:

  • Can start ASAP
  • Has proven knowledge and expertise in start-up marketing
  • Is familiar with your industry & best practices
  • Already has all the top-notch, required marketing tools (and a team of other agency experts covering whatever they miss)
  • Has a portfolio of start-up marketing success and benchmarks to inform what best practices work well for other companies like yours 

If this is the case for you, a marketing agency might be the better choice. Marketing agencies can bring added value within days of starting. They have experience conducting marketing for a wide range of start-up industries and have established relationships with vendors for all the marketing activities your start-up may need, from graphic design to SEO, PR, branding, content and messaging, social media to PPC. 

So if you need a marketing department ASAP that can hit the ground running and get your message out there, a marketing agency might be more well-suited for your needs.

Have you hired marketing employees before? 

Next vital question: do you have experience hiring marketing professionals?

If you’ve never hired a marketer before, it’s possible that you won’t know which candidates are the most qualified to run your entire marketing department, scale up your business, and go about setting and meeting aggressive KPIs. 

It’s very easy to believe that someone with perfect English and an impressive resume is fit for the job. But these qualifications don’t guarantee someone is fit to run your start-up marketing. And if you do hire someone who doesn’t end up being fit for the job, you’ll have to go through the hiring process all over again.

The great thing about marketing agencies, on the other hand, is that their portfolios speak for themselves. You can check any agency’s customer success stories, referrals, and portfolios to see exactly what they’re capable of delivering, and whether or not it fits what you are looking for, simplifying the hiring process and greatly increasing your chances of hiring somebody fit for the job. 

Do you know what marketing activities you need most? 

Another important question to ask yourself is: do you know what qualifications are top priority for your in-house marketer to have? Are you familiar with the best practice marketing activities for start-ups and for your specific industry? 

These days, many start-ups think they have to take on everything at once in order to succeed. This causes them to cast too wide a net – Facebook, LinkedIn, content creation, lead generation, branding… the list goes on. 

The reality is that it’s best to choose the most effective and appropriate activities and focus on those. Quality is more important than quantity, but knowing which activities are right for you requires experience and vast knowledge of start-up marketing.

The great thing about marketing agencies is that they are composed of marketing professionals with years of experience in the field and a variety of niche expertises, and can therefore identify the top priority activities to hone in on from the get-go. 

Agencies are also familiar with the entire range of marketing services a start-up needs to succeed, so it is A-okay if you are unfamiliar with your start-up marketing needs, because your agency will have you covered.

And let’s say that your account manager believes a certain marketing activity would be beneficial that they are less experienced with. The good news is that they have a built-in support network of colleagues and vendors at their agency who can immediately be there to support them. 

An in-house marketer, on the other hand, has to juggle everything on their own, without a support system of other experienced marketers and niche experts to assist them. Furthermore, they might have a harder time identifying how best to prioritize the various marketing activities, especially if they don’t have a start-up background. 

What does your budget look like? 

No matter what kind of start-up you’re running, all of them face the challenge of how to make the most of their budgets. Especially if you have a limited budget (which, let’s be real, most businesses do), a B2B marketing agency means you get more talent at less cost. 

How? Firstly, as mentioned previously, although you’re technically paying for one marketer, you’re actually receiving an entire team of experts. This is automatically more pay-off than paying one person’s salary and receiving just that one person’s work in return.

Second, hiring a marketing agency means that all the marketing tools you require are already paid for. It also saves the time and headache of weighing the different options of marketing tools.

If you go the route of hiring in-house, not only are you paying for the person’s salary, but you will also have to cover the cost of any marketing tools they may require. From analytics to content creation to CRM systems, these subscriptions and software can add up quickly.

And speaking of budgets, you may also be unsure how to allocate your marketing budget. Luckily, marketing agencies have years of experience with this and can ensure that you are getting the most for every dollar you spend.

Is your start-up evolving? 

Last but certainly not least, is your start-up evolving? Do things change rapidly? Is growth imminent? 

Hiring a marketing agency means the ability to scale quickly. Agencies always have more employees ready to jump aboard and ramp up marketing efforts if, say, you raise more money and want to dedicate more budget to marketing or if you decide to change strategy. And again – you can count on the fact that all of these are knowledgeable marketers with experience in start-up marketing.

If you go the in-house route and want to scale, you run into the issue of having to go through the hiring process all over again, every time. 

Now That You Asked…

So, there you have it. These are the questions we recommend asking yourself when deciding which route to take in kicking off your start-up marketing journey.

The agency route is better for you if you’re working with a tight budget, are pressed for time, and aren’t 100% sure what marketing activities your start-up needs to reach its goals.

Hiring in-house might be a better option if you have time to cherry-pick the best candidates and know a lot about start-up marketing activities and marketers. 

If you’re looking for a marketing partner to help your start-up reach its potential and be with you along every step of the way, contact us.

How much money should B2B startups be spending on marketing?

Blog Budget Start-Up Tips

I always answer this question with another question: “What do you want to achieve?”

HMMM…easy enough, right? This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s actually one of the most difficult questions for B2B startups to answer. The typical answer I get is “MORE”

More customers. More brand recognition. More profits per deal. More users.

And of course, my all-time favorite,  “Lower spend.”

Marketing starts with goals

PPC, SEO, trade shows, webinars, PR, and content are some fundamental elements of a successful comprehensive marketing approach, but they are just tools. In order to use your budget wisely, you need to start with goals and KPIs.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) –  the best-kept marketing secret

KPIs help CEOs measure marketing resources and marketing efforts invested in various activities.

KPIs should reflect the short-term business strategy as well as the long-term strategy. They should be specific, realistic and perhaps most importantly, measurable.

KPIs are all about what marketing attempts to accomplish, how it should be measured, what impact it will have on the business and when.

Once KPIs are achieved it will be easier to show ROI to the board and explain the correlation between marketing spend and success.

Revenue Goals vs Brand Goals

B2B startup marketing goals should always include two tracks: the short-term (revenue goals) and the long-term (brand goals).

The Short-Term: Revenue Goals

Revenue is easy to measure. In a SaaS company, for example, the goal might be to increase software subscription by 15% or convert 20% of free users to paying users.

The Long-Term: Brand Goals

Brand goals are harder to measure, but extremely important. We always assume that even if your company is the most innovative startup in its field, there’s competition out there and your potential customers must be able to trust your brand and eventually choose it. Therefore it is essential that you become the go-to expert in your industry. Your goals can be press coverage in relevant magazines, building a qualified database of potential prospects, increased social media engagement, receiving industry awards, getting speaking opportunities at conferences relevant to your industry etc. The list goes on and on.

Working both tracks in parallel will set your business up for success.

How to measure your results

Once you’ve got both tracks covered, the next step will be to establish what you consider a positive outcome to be, and to then measure the results of these efforts.

Revenue goals are fairly straightforward:

How much is a marketing qualified lead (MQL) worth? How much money are you willing to spend assuming 30% of MQL’s will convert into sales opportunities (SQL)?

For example:

A yearly software subscription in a software company is $20,000.

Are you willing to invest 10% i.e. $2,000 in marketing in order to bring MQLs knowing that approximately 1 out of 3 MQLs will convert into a sales opportunity?

When it comes to brand awareness and trust, sample goals to measure might be:

  • %  increase in social media engagement
  • Decrease in website bounce rate
  • Amount of press coverage in relevant publications

Are you focusing your marketing efforts in the right places?

One company’s MQLs are not going to be the same as another company’s MQLs and therefore it is critical to define what an MQL is for your business.

In order to set the right measurements for marketing, you need to intimately know your buyer persona. Who are your prospects? Who are the people marketing should be targeting?

  • What are the relevant job titles?
  • Which organizations are relevant?
  • Which verticals are relevant?
  • In which countries?

The more specific your MQL definition, the more focused marketing can be in its targeting, which of course could translate to less budget, more impact.

Time is money

True. We all want our efforts to show results ASAP. This is perhaps most obvious in the startup world where there’s often an aggressive need for time-to-market. Startups must raise funds in order to do so, they must be able to show business results. However, at the end of the day, you have to be smart about it. If you instruct your marketing team to spend money on campaigns before understanding the essentials and making sure all your marketing foundations are in place, you are just wasting time and money.

Think about it this scenario, for example: You started a Google AdWords campaign to drive traffic to your website, but the website messages are not aligned with the campaign messages and the Call To Action (CTA) buttons do not lead to an actionable activity to allow capturing the prospects’ contact details. This is poor planning and a perfect example of why it’s important to lay the groundwork before dashing ahead.

Another great example is marketing without having proper sales tools for the sales team. If your marketing team is bringing leads, and you have no references, testimonials or success stories to send when they ask, you may just lose a potential buyer. It’s like fishing without bait.

A B2B marketing timeline

Every startup should design the marketing timeline according to the level of its marketing fundamentals maturity. Sometimes it is necessary to spend the first 30-60 days conducting market research and building a unique, appealing company story based on the technology and pain points in order to create an inspiring value proposition. Sometimes it is also important to take time to analyze the company’s CRM, optimize assets and set the foundation for development of sales tools.

It is always recommended that while doing all of the above, the marketing team work in parallel to prioritize small short term victories too. These are victories that can be achieved right away in the short-term – successes that will help the marketing team work towards accomplishing the larger, longer-term goals.

Getting set up for success

The startup world is dynamic, and therefore we recommend evaluating KPIs on a quarterly basis. What does this mean? Analyze the results achieved so far. Look at what is working and what needs to be tweaked. There’s always going to be a need to learn from the actions taken, make adjustments and refine. There’s always a need to work on new challenges.

As long as the CEO communicates with the marketing team, keeps them involved in the business challenges, and aligns goals and KPIs accordingly, the company and the marketing team is set up for success.

The important thing to remember is that B2B startup marketing is a constantly evolving journey that requires assessment, analysis, and adjustment while on-the-go. Having a plan with milestones and measurable short-term and long-term goals is vital, but remaining flexible and able to adjust is also important. 

With B2B marketing for startups, for the most part, you get what you put in. But of course, it ranges. If you hire an expert marketing agency to do your marketing for you that understands best practices and how to get the most out of your money, you will be able to maximize what you spend on your marketing efforts and create significant revenue increases from leads that come in. If you hire someone who is less experienced in the startup marketing field and is unsure how to set the appropriate KPIs and measure them, it is unlikely that you will be making the most of your money. Agencies will also be able to help you allocate your budget for the best results.

How to create a winning digital marketing strategy in 5 steps

Blog Marketing strategy Start-Up Tips

Long gone are those days when your Sales team would hit the trade shows floor to meet prospects for a friendly chat. While we’re certainly sharing the nostalgia of those happy days… the show must go on! So how do you build your pipeline and secure demo calls in the new world, where Zoom pilates is a totally legit thing? Obviously, digitally too. 

Brand awareness, lead generation, thought leadership and virtually any part of marketing have become extremely complex. So naturally, building and executing a company’s digital marketing strategy can be completely overwhelming. Which tools are the absolute must-haves for your business? Which vendors should you hire? Should you invest in Salesforce or Hubspot or both?!

And then there’s always that fella.. Let’s call him Gary. Gary likes to come up with ideas. And Gary just told everyone loud and clear that you need to re-design the whole website. Because, you know, your conversion rates… suck. Well, thanks, Gary! So, as the days go by, figuring out your priorities seems harder than a solo climb to Everest. Next thing you know you’re looking in the mirror at the Jedi of Procrastination, rather than a Startup Pro. YOU NEED HELP!

Luckily, SAGE is here to give you some clarity. We’ve worked across countless clients’ campaigns over the years, in almost every market you can think of. And we’ve achieved stellar results even for the toughest ones, so we know this process works!

Here’s how to create a successful digital marketing strategy in five steps. And you can tell Gary you don’t need to hire Gary Vaynerchuk yet!

Number 1: Set Your Marketing Goals

Knowing where you want to go is the right first step of any journey. To begin with, you need to set some measurable and realistic marketing goals for your business. 

Some CEOs we’ve met over the years would take an overly careful approach. “Let’s start small and see how it goes” kind of thing. It’s a double-edged sword though, because when you start small, it’s easy to miss out on the potential opportunities. Others would jump in it full-on: high budgets, ambitious goals. Pressing the gas too hard, however, is also not the ideal approach as what you need is to A/B test first and see what channel works best for you. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

If you’re an overachiever and aim to get 25% conversions and 500% social media channels’ growth, you need to (thank your parents?) take a look at the market benchmarks and what your business is generating today in terms of website leads, sales revenue etc. This way you can decide on the right goal for your startup given your current budget, of course.

You want to start with identifying your 12-month goals and then move on to a more granular level with a 3-month milestone target.

Number 2: Get 200% Clear on Your Business’ Core Message

You’d be surprised to know HOW MANY companies aren’t sure about their key messaging and positioning. You might be one of them, and that’s OK, there’s no shame in that (well, maybe just a little.) This is going to be the basis of everything that you do, so it’s really crucial that you identify the core elements and align on everything with the rest of the team, including Sales, who might get slightly carried away sometimes.

Messaging should be as granular as possible. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Here at SAGE we’ve demonstrated over and over again that the more specific we get, the better results we bring. You always want to target different buyer personas with personalized and laser-focused value propositions. Look at your content, and ask yourself: is this message for end users? Or decision makers? Are you positive you can use the same messaging for all verticals? Maybe different industries pay attention to different features of your product, and therefore the tone and voice of your communications with each segment should be different too.

Number 3: Learn How to Drive Organic Traffic to Your Website

Believe it or not, your website is absolutely central to all of your digital campaigns, so improving its performance is your top marketing priority. If Gary is right (I know you’d hate to admit) and your website sucks, it’s probably because of inconsistent messages, lack of case studies or missing CTAs (Call-to-Action buttons.) And no amount of paid campaigns’ – aka PPC – dollars will be able to help you. You simply can’t out-market a bad website. 

Once your website has been professionally revamped – trust me, you don’t want to do it by yourself – you need to start driving traffic to your business. There are two ways to do it. First, you need to maximize organic traffic by focusing on your website’s content and the content your company is putting out there. Have you heard of Quora marketing? It’s a part of that strategy, for example. Stage two is optimizing your content to rank high on the search engines. In most cases, organic traffic is the most quality traffic you can generate, and the best thing is – it’s totally free!

Number 4: Boost Your Paid Traffic Sources

This is basically running ads. Before anything else, you need to identify which channels are the right ones for YOUR business, and this depends on a whole lot of variables. Same goes for your organic social media, by the way. Twitter might be still big with the US folks, but isn’t that hot anymore when it comes to European audiences. 

Yet, running ads just for the sake of running ads won’t do anything to your bottom line, unless you have properly invested in creating quality content assets beforehand. Pouring thousands of dollars into demo ads is a losing strategy, it simply doesn’t work with savvy audiences that expect valuable information in return for their contact details. So make sure that some lines in your budget spreadsheet are dedicated to content writing, SEOand design without which it’s impossible to create quality gated content for your advertising campaigns.

Number 5: Prioritize And Build Your Plan

The fifth and the final step is when you’re going to take a wide angle, look at all of the above and identify everything that needs to be done. So if Gary suddenly turns up at your doorstep and announces that you really need a bunch of one-pagers for your Sales team in the US, you will know exactly when the right time to tackle this one is. This way you can always rest assured you’ve got your top priorities covered and you know what your next move needs to be.

Besides some essentials we’ve covered above, there’s plenty more you need to do as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy for your SaaS company. If you want to make it in the increasingly competitive marketplace, you must invest in a handful of B2B digital marketing activities including brand awareness and PR, build thought leadership campaigns, organize educational webinars, produce white papers, apply for awards and associations, publish industry reports and much more. All of this is essential to elevate your brand and build trust with your target audience, without which your hard earned leads will never become opportunities.

Some Closing Thoughts

Digital marketing for B2B business continues to rapidly change with new tools for automation and optimization popping up like mushrooms after a rain. Only a very experienced and diverse team of marketing professionals can keep up with this pace and know how to apply them for maximum impact. 

Following the proper digital marketing strategy steps is a necessity if you want to set yourself up for business success. Without bold but achievable marketing goals, you won’t know how to measure your progress. This means you will either be overpromising and under delivering or not providing yourself the push you need to advance quickly and reach impressive KPIs. If your core company message is unclear or constantly changing, your content will be confusing and your target audience will have a very difficult time connecting with you. Along the same vein, if your website is outdated and has poor UI/UX, you must take care of that and then begin to drive organic traffic to your website. Organic traffic is just as important as paid traffic. 

Once your organic traffic is boosted and your messaging is clear and concise, that is the time to invest in paid traffic. You don’t want to waste money directing people to your website if it’s not first prepared to handle these incoming leads and begin nurturing them with proper CTA’s, forms, and assets. If you follow these steps to create digital marketing strategy, you’ll be in the perfect position to take a holistic view at your comprehensive marketing strategy and create a plan for growth. 

SAGE is a leading digital marketing agency in Israel, comprised of a strong team of B2B marketing experts. We work with diverse high-tech companies on digital marketing strategy and execution, that leads to significant growth and numerous business opportunities abroad.

SAGE has an impressive track record, and most importantly, we absolutely love what we do. Our dedication and marketing savoir-faire shows in the KPIs we generate for our clients for many years. Speak to us today to see how we can help your company with the most ambitious marketing challenges.

The main functions of a startup marketing agency

Blog Start-Up Tips

After your product hits the market, the first question you should ask is: “What does my business need when it comes to marketing?” 

Does your marketing need to support your branding and offer you a better logo, or does it need to bring you new leads and provide your sales representative with opportunities? 

The obvious answer is both. You must give the marketing machine time, otherwise you will lose.

Marketing for tech start-ups is not a piece of cake, but start-up marketing agencies can simplify it for you, as long as you ensure that it fits your needs.

How do I ensure that marketing professionals are meeting my needs?

When working with marketing professionals, be upfront about your business needs. Here are some examples of what might be important for your business:  

  • Branding. Your brand essence should, on the one hand, provide a sense of your company’s spirit, and on the other hand, describe your company’s value in an original way that simultaneously serves your SEO needs. Choosing your logo or brand name requires both creativity and precision. It’s a tricky task that is better when you have a team of marketing professionals helping you through. 
  • Choosing your “persona”. Sometimes, the first meeting with your B2B marketing agency will reveal that you didn’t have an exact definition of your buyer personas or have not been properly targeting them. Luckily, working with them is a great opportunity to fine-tune your potential customers and research where to find them. Knowing your target audience is crucial in order to convert leads and make sales. 

  • Website and SEO. It is known that a website is a company’s most consumer-facing asset, but companies have a tendency to neglect their websites. This is a grave mistake: your website is your essence and the first thing customers look at when it comes to deciding if they are going to purchase your product, or when partners decide if they would like to collaborate. And let’s not forget about SEO optimization, which is an essential part of website creation and upkeep. One of the best techniques to improve your website results is to write consistent, engaging blog posts about your niche. 

  • Social media. Twitter? LinkedIn? Or even TikTok? Marketing professionals are familiar with all of the above and much more. They will help you find a proper language, create fitting content, and target the audience most appropriate for your business. 

  • Paid social & paid search. You can spend huge budgets, but it’s like using a sledge-hammer to crack a pistachio. Your other option is to choose your proper audience, create suitable and creative ads, and spend the exact amount of money per lead as planned. It’s all up to you and the marketing agency you choose to work with! By the way, you can actually plan your startup marketing budget. And don’t forget: social media won’t bring you proper results without paid media activity. 

  • Email marketing. Did you know how easy it is to burn out your domain if you’re sending emails without putting together a proper contact list? Well, it is. So be sure you’re scraping your leads database properly, otherwise all your future emails will go to spam. 

  • Event management. You could run a great webinar or attend the biggest conference in your field, and it will bring you plenty of new relevant leads. But it’s not easy to manage it yourself: you will definitely need marketing pros to lead the process and advertise it smartly.

  • At the end of the day, it’s all about lead generation. Was it built into your company’s activities from the get-go? Are there better ways to find relevant leads? What are lead magnets for your audience? Finally, is your SDR “hungry” for more? Your marketing agency should be able to help you to solve those puzzles. As we talk about lead generation, we shouldn’t forget the importance of marketing automation for startups. Take a look at your HubSpot, and if it’s a mess – it’s always a good time to clean it up.

But is it best to hire an agency or in-house marketing specialist? 

Let me guess: you need flexibility. Yesterday you wanted to focus on SEO, but tomorrow you will be in desperate need of a PPC professional. Do you have the time and budget to hire a full in-house marketing department that can serve all of these changing needs? What’s going to happen when your priorities change? 

If your answer is “NO!”, then here we are, a team of professionals in startup marketing in Israel who can provide you with a CMO-as-a-Service that will serve your specific marketing needs. At SAGE, a B2B startup marketing agency, we have a 360° marketing team that will execute every aspect of your startup marketing activity and even more. Your marketing activities will be greatly enhanced if you outsource CMO.

Still have more questions? Contact us!