From the Trenches

Choose Your Marketing Firm like a Venture Capitalist Chooses Investments

Mike Sweeney | May 6, 2010

“I understand your situation and empathize with you. Comparing outsourced marketing options is not an apples to apples game, at least not based on something as simple as a proposal.”

Those were my words (or something close to that), spoken to two separate prospective clients this week. Each company is dealing with the same challenge – they’ve fallen a bit behind on interactive marketing, understand its potential value, and also recognize that they don’t have the internal leadership to create and execute a strategy that shows a return on investment quickly.

I’ve been in those shoes, and I imagine many of the folks reading this post have been as well. Raise your hand if you’ve ever received 4-5 proposals from marketing firms and were able to quickly and assuredly understand exactly what each firm was proposing in terms of product, services and associated costs.

I’m pretty sure that there aren’t many hands in the air.

We not only prepare a lot of proposals, but we also see a lot as well – many times because clients and prospects trust us enough to show us what other firms are proposing. I just pulled out a few and spent 10 minutes reviewing, and here is a comparison of how a few companies respond to the same request:

  • Company X will execute all social media strategy and tactics on behalf of Company A. This will include setup and management of profiles on over 200 social media networks, and over 500 updates, tweets and content postings per month.
  • Company Y is dedicated to delivering results. Along those lines, Company Y will acquire over 1,000 Facebook friends, 5,000 Twitter followers, and 10,000 You Tube video views during the first quarter of this engagement.
  • Company Z will use varied proprietary and commercially-licensed software to distribute Company B’s content on its one-of-a-kind content management and distribution platform, which will put Company B’s content in the hands over 200,000 potential decision makers every month.

Yikes. I really do feel for the folks that have to try to decipher not only what much of this terminology actually means, but also attempt to figure out whose state-of-the-art, systematic, widgetized, SaaS, WAP-enabled social media and content marketing solution is the best.

Here’s some advice. It’s kind of old school, so get ready. Choose people. Not robots, not systems, not factories. Choose people.

Give me CRM. Give me marketing automation tools. Give me some project management software. I’ll take it all. With the wrong person setting it up and/or using it, all of it will fail.

We’ve been lucky enough to work with a few funded startup-type businesses in the last few months, all of whom take direction (and money of course) from venture capitalists or angel investor groups. While these groups all want to see a unique product, rapidly growing market and some type of home run/IPO/exit potential, the real deal breaker or maker is the management team. An experienced, driven, connected management team can overcome some of the inevitable stumbles that will occur in every area of the business. As a matter of fact, that’s why they NEED the right people – because the investors know that the product, business model and general idea will change.

My advice when entertaining the notion of outsourcing marketing strategy or tactics? Follow the VCs. Trust your gut and hire the right people, because your gut may not be as equipped to choose the right system, widget or product.

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