5 Brutally Honest Reasons Why Outsourced Marketing Fails

Sometimes relationships just don’t work out. And sometimes, you may not realize where things went wrong until after the fact.

When it comes to outsourced marketing, failed engagements are costly and disheartening for both client and agency. And often times, it’s not a matter of misapplied marketing but a breakdown somewhere in the relationship. To prevent this from happening to you, here’s a look some common contributors that you can work to avoid.

1. The “Help ME Help YOU” Paradox

So you’ve made the stark realization that you’re just too busy to keep up with your marketing – and outsourcing is clearly the way to go. You scrutinize your budget, vet the best agencies, make your selection, then count down the hours until you can feel the weight of your marketing burden lifted.

There’s just one problem: you’re not off the hook (yet). In the first few critical months of an engagement, the agency team is getting to know your business, your industry and your customers. And that takes a shared effort.  

To truly make your partnership a success—and achieve the marketing ROI you’re looking for—it’s critical that there’s an ongoing commitment from both sides.

It’s the agency’s responsibility to set the pace and take the lead on which marketing strategies to implement. A point person will need to clearly communicate a number of requests to clients, ranging from industry questions, to nit-picky technical details, to approval on certain initiatives. That person needs to set clear upfront expectations on what they need (and when), and keep everything on track.

Clients, on the other hand, have a duty to furnish information that’s being requested of them. Account managers will need check-ins to tie up loose ends and address concerns and outstanding issues. Writers will need subject matter expertise to shape content based on timely, industry-relevant topics. Cross-functional teams will need feedback on big ideas and buy-in from decision makers. And so on and so forth. Without responsive support from the client, the marketing needle simply WILL NOT BUDGE.

The client-agency relationship is never a matter of handing off the relay baton. Expect to keep a steady pace together for a while until you move past that critical learning curve. Then after some time, you can enjoy more victories from the sideline.

2. Your Marketing Speed Depends on Your Starting Line

Are you ready for one of the dirtiest little secrets in marketing that most agencies will not readily admit? Here it goes: marketing takes time. Sometimes, A LOT of time.

And that’s a sticky issue for clients who approach a marketing agency expecting an influx of leads right off the bat.

Let’s take "topic clusters" as an example. They're all the rage these days for building SEO authority – but for some businesses and industries, it can take months (sometimes up to a year!) to see definite, measurable gains. The same could be true for a from-scratch content marketing strategy.

Don’t get me wrong... more often than not, magic can and will happen right out of the gate. If you’re somewhat established in your marketing, small tweaks and best practices (affectionately referred to at PMG as “30-day quick wins”) create a noticeable impact right away. But if your digital marketing footprint is more like fresh tracks, then you may not celebrate in those immediate successes.

The key is to be realistic about your marketing pulse going into the relationship. Are you a brand new business that’s green to the blogging scene? Or are you sitting on a trove of resources that are awaiting the right strategy?

Going into a partnership, the immediacy of your marketing wins depends on where the starting line is set. It’s up to the agency to create a balanced plan and set expectations about both short- and long-term goals. Just don’t expect the impossible to happen overnight.  

3. Your Tech Stack Doesn’t Stack Up

As marketing becomes more sophisticated and data-driven, so do expectations for agencies to deliver great results. But here’s the rub. Inbound marketing cannot exist without the right technologies to support it.

What was once a question of “Should I use martech solutions for my marketing?” has now become a question of “WHICH martech solutions are critical to my marketing?It’s a shift that has many smaller businesses scrambling to catch up.

A strong marketing program—one that allows you to collect and communicate with leads and then measure, test and optimize your strategies—is contingent upon several baseline elements:

  • Website CMS (content management system, i.e., WordPress)
  • Analytics (i.e., Google Analytics)
  • Marketing Automation (i.e., HubSpot)
  • Email Marketing (i.e., MailChimp)
  • CRM (customer relationship management., i.e., HubSpot CRM)

When key components are missing, or don’t integrate with other components in the stack, it can cause friction right off the bat. Marketing teams can’t execute their initiatives, and clients are chafed by the slow progress. As such, it’s best to address such challenges early on in the relationship – and to account for the fact that there may be extra time and/or expenses required to build a more viable technical foundation.

4. Resistance to Change

In the minute you just spent reading this blog, something, somewhere, changed in the marketing world. Is your business keeping up?

The desire to stay current is the very thing that drives many SMBs to outsource their marketing in the first place. But therein lies a Catch 22. Change is uncomfortable. For businesses who don’t fully understand (or take the time to understand) the value of modern digital marketing tactics, they may revert to direct agencies according to “what they know” – even if they don’t truly believe in it!

Perhaps that is why only 69 percent of executives believe their organization’s marketing is actually effective. (Source: 2017 State of Inbound Report)

Change is more comfortable, of course, when you work with an agency partner who demonstrates a proven commitment to innovation. How can you gauge this? Ask the right questions in the agency vetting process, such as:

  • Do you attend INBOUND and other industry events to stay on the cutting edge of marketing trends?
  • Do you have case studies or examples of recent projects that show the ROI of innovative marketing initiatives?
  • Can you provide testimonials from clients with similar needs?

In the same way you’ve established credibility with your own customers, you should expect the same from your marketing partner. Credibility leads to trust – and that’s a key factor in your business’s ability to embrace change.

5. Chemistry Counts

At the end of the day, we all prefer to partner with people who “get” us. On top of professional expertise, there’s a lot to be said for personal chemistry – and sometimes there’s no better way to assess this than a good old gut feeling. Just for fun, here’s a look at 14 Free Personality Tests from Hubspot. Feel free to share with prospects and compare notes!

Now that you know some common causes for outsourced marketing failures, here’s some more resources on how to achieve GREAT outcomes. Don’t miss some of our related blogs:

Or check out our more comprehensive guide: The Essential Outsourced Marketing Handbook: Growing Your Business with an Agency Partner.

The Essential Outsourced Marketing Handbook: Growing Your Business with an Agency Partner

Allison Woodbury | Director of Content Operations
About the Author
Allison Woodbury, Director of Content Operations

Allison Woodbury has been a Content Marketer for our agency since 2016. She’s a content marketing, writing, social media and branding guru who spends her writing time alternating between getting in the shoes of her readers and scrutinizing super-niche industries. She loves to see what her readers like – so tell her what you want, what you really, really want (to read more of)!