Justin Turner is an Operating Partner at Craft Ventures, where he advises their portfolio on winning marketing strategies.
Let’s be honest, B2B marketing and sales have always been tricky. But now, a global pandemic, supply chain disruption and skyrocketing inflation have forced budget cuts and layoffs. Much of the guidance given to startup founders are firm precautions to help navigate the current economic downturn.
Capital efficiency has catapulted to top priority across companies, including marketing. Doing more with less is difficult. For marketing leaders, an obvious place to start is reevaluating your budget allocation and eliminating marketing tactics that aren’t directly tied to revenue generation.
The next step is reevaluating resourcing strategies. Flexible approaches that allow you to expand (and in some cases contract) a team of highly specialized marketers give you options and agility. While in-house is the go-to for many early-stage founders, now is the time to consider moving from FTEs to freelancers or agencies. Let’s sort through the benefits and trade-offs.
Freelancers provide support that is more cost-effective with less commitment. They offer an incredible amount of flexibility and can usually hit the ground running. Freelancers are great for nuanced projects, such as those that may take unknown turns (like when a startup is still working out product-market fit) or when expertise is needed urgently.
As we experience shifts in consumer sentiment and transformation in digital marketing, freelancers can provide quick learnings that inform larger, strategic decisions for your business. Admittedly, it can be difficult to find quality freelancers, but communities like MarketerHire, which provides on-demand matching and vetting on your behalf, can make it easy for you.
A marketing agency can provide expertise that is both broad and current. Agencies have a macro view of the marketing landscape, which is critical as the digital marketing ecosystem can be a lot for one person or a small team to stay on top of. Because they often support a range of clients, agencies can also help with benchmarking how your performance compares within a specific industry or vertical.
Before committing, ask to see other clients with similar business models, budgets and success metrics, as well as a personalized proposal. Remember that an agency will only be as effective as the person internally managing it, so if that’s the founder—who already has their hands full—the agency may fail despite their best efforts.
What’s best for your company?
While hypergrowth was once a strong indicator separating winners from losers, flexibility and hyper-efficiency will become the leading metrics that impact your ability to raise capital. When thinking of the best way to resource your company’s marketing needs, ask yourself:
• What marketing resource is the scarcest? Money, bandwidth or knowledge?
• How urgent is your need for a solution? Are you solving a foreseeable obstacle or did you need a solution yesterday?
• What is your marketing budget? Does it allow for an agency or full-time hire?
• What is the marketing need? Keep in mind that it’s OK to know you have a marketing need but not know the specifics.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and you will have to do what’s best for your company. In a highly evolving digital landscape—one where Apple and Google are drastically changing the digital ads ecosystem—companies are rethinking their approach to finding and using marketing talent. We’ve seen an uptick in freelance workers and an increase in the perceived value agencies provide to startups. This trend will continue as the downturn forces more layoffs and challenges B2B marketers—especially those tasked with selling into SMBs, which may be disproportionately impacted by economic conditions.
Remember that Amazon, Uber and StubHub were all created during periods of economic uncertainty, and efficiency is what helped them grow despite market conditions. The marketing tactics used to get a company where it is today may not be the same ones to drive the next 10 to 12 months of growth. Too much is changing.
As a marketing leader, the best thing you can do is reset your goals to align with your company’s projections and put the resources in place to achieve them. As the downturn drags on, the importance of capital efficiency may make an agency or freelancer your best bet. Flexible and frugal marketers will help their companies survive and flourish.
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