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05

Jan

Hiring an Outsourced SaaS Marketing Team: The Guide for SaaS CEOs

SaaS business profitability greatly relies on the marketing function being executed right – even such a household name like Salesforce spent 11.85 billion USD in 2022 on its marketing and sales efforts. And when trying to do marketing, more and more SaaS companies seek external help – individuals or whole teams of marketing professionals looking to get that workload off the business’ shoulders, letting them focus on their core activities. In this article, we’re providing SaaS CEOs and executive teams with valuable insights as to how to hire an outside marketing team and make the relationship lasting and successful.

Tips for bringing in an outside marketing agency

How to hire a SaaS digital marketing agency and not burn thousands of dollars, getting no results? The following tips should definitely help you make your search less painful and the outcome more favorable.

1. Identify the kind of marketing partner required

First things first, who do we work with? When we cast aside the possibility of having an in-house marketing specialist, we’ll usually have 3 types of external marketing expertise sources to choose from: freelancers, consultants, and agencies. And it’s vital to choose the right type in accordance with your needs and wants. Let’s break down the strong and weak points of each type, so that you better understand what they have to offer to your SaaS business: 

 

FREELANCER

Strong points

  • affordability – a freelancer is typically less expensive and more cost-efficient than a consultant or an agency;
  • easy to find – vetting experienced and highly-rated freelancers through websites like Upwork or Guru is a relatively straightforward process;
  • niche expertise – a freelancer is more likely to possess deep expertise in one or two particular fields.

Weak points: 

  • in need of strict supervision – sometimes freelancers don’t see the bigger picture and need a lot of hand-holding as they rarely dig deep into the company’s processes;
  • lack of strategic nous – freelancers are more prone to short-term thinking and narrow-mindedness as they hop in and out of different projects throughout their career;
  • specialists, not generalists – as a tradeoff for having niche expertise, freelancers are usually not too well-versed in many subjects, focusing on just one or two.

 

CONSULTANT

Strong points:

  • jacks of all trades – consultants typically have a breadth of experience across several marketing disciplines, many consultants have years of experience working with businesses and have a wide range of industry expertise;
  • strategists – consultants often have a knack for creating long-term strategies to assist you in achieving and surpassing your SaaS growth objectives;
  • personalized service – so-called boutique consultants are more likely to direct all of their efforts to one client, so they can devote more time and care to your needs.

Weak points: 

  • not always implementers – it’s possible that a consultant won’t be able to assist you in putting your plans into action (make sure to ask about implementation when talking to a consultant); however, they could have a list of reliable contractors or partners to help them carry out the recommendations they provide;
  • on the slower side – consultants tend to deliver results a little slower than freelancers since it takes more time to comprehend your business and establish a successful plan than it does to simply execute tasks; 
  • not always cost-effective – large consultancies can be too expensive and time-consuming.


AGENCY 

Strong points:

  • great expertise balance – agencies tend to build their team in a way that employees complement each other’s areas of expertise, so the agency has good knowledge across all specialist subjects;
  • access to powerful tools – agencies often make use of very expensive and strong marketing tools that freelancers or even your company may not be able to afford; that is because agencies spread the costs among all of their clients;
  • quick onboarding and strong delivery processes – agencies usually have mature processes and strong industry expertise to make both the starting and ongoing phases of collaboration as smooth and fast as possible.

Weak points:

  • expertise gaps – if you want assistance in a certain area and the agency lacks the necessary expertise in-house, you may have to engage a consultant or freelancer to complete the task, thus adding more friction to completing your goals; ;
  • lack of alignment with your business goals – some agencies focus more on delivery and execution, as they can be more process- than results-oriented by nature;  
  • aiming for higher margins – once the marketing tasks become monotonous, some agencies may assign them to lower-paid, less experienced employees, while still keeping the price the same for you. 

2. Determine your specific goals first

What you are looking for in a SaaS agency, will wholly depend on the results you want to get out of your SaaS marketing activities and what tasks to outsource. Don’t focus too much on exactly what activities you’d like to do, otherwise, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re completely lost amongst dozens of things you can do and tools you can use. And just to illustrate that point, Gartner famously created this Digital Marketing Transit Map, showing a ridiculously hard-to-grasp system of marketing activities.

So, gain clarity on your business goals and then seek a partner that will successfully translate these goals into marketing plans and activities. Want more people to know about you? The agency will work on bringing more traffic to your website through organic and paid searches. Want to show off your expertise? Then creating a high-quality search engine-optimized portfolio is a good idea. 

3. Ask questions until you’re satisfied with the responses

The question that you need to ask yourself here is WHAT you want rather than HOW you want it to happen. Concentrate on your intended results and the objectives of your SaaS firm and build from there. Ask questions until you’re satisfied with the responses. A high-quality outsourced marketing agency should be able to competently answer the following questions:

Will you do all of the work internally, or will you outsource some or all of it?

Given the affordable and occasionally subpar labor done overseas, this is a reasonable and pertinent question to ask. It’s OK if your agency at some point decides to turn to outside help when they feel a bit out of its depth. However, they need to be open about it and have mature internal quality control procedures to eliminate the potential risks of work being poorly done.

Can you guarantee results?

No trustworthy marketing partner will ever promise results. Why? Because, no matter how competent and experienced your marketing partner can be, sometimes things just don’t work. However, that doesn’t mean that an agency shouldn’t set certain KPIs at the start of marketing activities and have plans in place for cases when these KPIs aren’t achieved immediately.

How much experience does your staff have (in my industry)?

You don’t want someone inept or inexperienced working on crucial areas of your SaaS marketing initiatives, so finding out more about the team’s experience might put your mind at ease or make some red flags pop up. When you speak with an agency, make sure that their response will also help you determine which initiatives they carry out internally and which ones they outsource. And, of course, it’s important to find out what experience the agency has in your particular industry. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific numbers and examples of success stories – a good agency will have a lot to show and nothing to hide.

How will you charge my business?

Nobody likes receiving a surprise payment at the end of the month, so knowing what your financial commitment will be is essential to building a mutually beneficial partnership.
Depending on the agency, you may be offered a fixed-price monthly retainer or a Time/Material kind of commitment where you are billed by hours of work, not actual deliverables – you just need to choose whichever suits you best.

What have been your clients’ biggest achievements and failures?

No one is flawless, and the key to developing a successful partnership that is advantageous for your business is to know how a marketing partner will respond to obstacles and grow from them. Any agency that boasts of “huge successes” for customers but declines to provide the success metrics or demonstrate their worth should be avoided.

What is your procedure for ending a collaboration?

Business relationships don’t endure forever – the average length of a relationship with an outside marketing agency is estimated to be about three years. You need to be aware of what you own, the transition strategy, and if you have the right to take all of your raw data and files with you when the time comes to stop the partnership with a marketing partner. It’s also important to know how to migrate any hosting services for websites or other assets made for your business, as well as what will happen to data in proprietary software.

4. Don’t settle for an agency that doesn’t check all your boxes

Think of it as a sophisticated grocery list – don’t leave the marketplace until you’ve satisfied all your SaaS marketing needs and wants. When choosing an outside marketing agency, these are some of the boxes you’d like to check:

Gartner-Marketing-Transit-Map-saas

5. Request a service agreement

How to hire a marketing agency may be a difficult question, but how to keep that relationship fruitful is no less important. The relationship between a SaaS company and a supplier of marketing services must be established via the use of a marketing service agreement. These legal documents are meant to make sure that all parties are aware of what they are entering into. Remember that no respectable marketing agency will ever have a problem with signing legal paperwork – you just need to make sure it’s reasonable for you.

Depending on the amount of work to be done, marketing service agreements might vary in complexity and longevity, but typically, the agreement’s terms set down what each party is expected to do, how frequently deliverables must be made, what those deliverables are, and how disputes should be resolved.

6. Sign a short-term contract first

To ascertain how well the outside marketing agency will fit into your SaaS business operations and how well it will be able to integrate, you must first sign a short-term contract, anywhere up to 90 days. This timeframe should be looked at as a mix of onboarding and trial runs – the agency will be testing some initial ideas while still trying to deliver a certain level of respectable results. If the initial approach doesn’t work, the agency should have enough time to tweak some things in its activities and show improvement.

Either way, the first contract time should be long enough to allow for the achievement of the first quantifiable outcomes and the drawing of conclusions for future cooperation.

7. Working with multiple companies at once

It’s not uncommon to have multiple marketing agencies hired at the same time to tackle different areas of expertise. And at the end of the day, managing multiple agencies is akin to managing multiple people in your SaaS company, as usual, you will only ever have to speak with one or two people on the agency side. 

It’s a good start when everyone is aware of what has to be done, has the assistance they require, and the communication is clear. You must also make sure that each team is focused on their single objective without interfering with each other’s work. Make everyone aware of their respective responsibilities and how they relate to one another, establish regular meetings for all agencies involved, for instance, to analyze performance or to discuss future plans. 

It’s usually not a good idea to keep it a secret from the agencies that another agency is helping you out in other areas. Transparency is very important, especially when it comes to developing marketing strategies and performing marketing activities.

What to look for in a marketing agency

Below are some of the key parameters your SaaS company needs to consider before bringing in an outside marketing agency:

Company culture

There must definitely be a cultural fit between the agency and your SaaS business, and alignment in terms of your vision, purpose, and project goals. It’s not uncommon that a really successful agency simply doesn’t fit into your business processes, so sometimes you have to make the hard choice of discarding such an agency as an option. In other words, find someone who “gets you” and who you “click with”.

Their case studies/client testimonials

Examining an agency’s experience and the social proof they use to establish trust might help you quickly weed out questionable agencies. Verify if their portfolio supports their claims of competence – have they collaborated with businesses in your sector? If so, what were the results? Check out their customer reviews on unbiased review aggregators, and do your research by getting in touch with previous customers.

Marketing experience in your industry

If an agency has done it once in your industry, it almost certainly can do it a second time as well. Experience in the industry matters a lot for many reasons – from quicker onboarding process to valuable insights driven by past activities. Not to mention, the agency’s ability to provide out-of-the-box solutions to complex, non-trivial industry problems is hard to overestimate.

The company’s own marketing

The agency’s own marketing outlines the approaches and concepts they will follow with marketing your SaaS business, as it will be natural for them to apply the same professional approach towards your marketing after aligning with your business goals. If they have attention to detail and great content in their blog, you can expect the same level of attention towards your project. Own agency marketing is a mirror of its skills and approaches toward client projects.

Confirm that they are real people

Look at the agency’s site carefully and study the About us and Team sections to make sure the agency employees are real people, check their qualifications. You may want to check the agency’s LI profile, and from there, check the employee profiles as well – good agencies keep that information open to the general public. If you don’t find much of such information, be wary that the agency may hire freelancers to do most of the work, with all the respective consequences.

Agency size

Size is not always important. And, although a large marketing firm can seem attractive and reliable, it may not be the best firm for your brand – choose the one that provides individualized service. At the same time, keep in mind that with the personal approach comes a tradeoff – the fewer team members an agency has, the less workload it can take on.

Their promised results

Make sure you have KPIs in place for the first iteration of working with the agency and make sure the proposed KPIs match your business goals. It makes sense to discuss your business goals with the agency in the first place to make sure that their offering is custom-tailored to them and that all the KPIs are based on your goals.

Pricing

Marketing is a big investment. While some companies have a large budget to dedicate to it, others are looking for something more manageable. The majority of marketing firms provide scalable services, but the ones that are worth your attention offer rates based on your company’s demands and transparent pricing procedures.

RELATED: How To Outsource SaaS Marketing Tasks On A Budget

Their tools

You might want to ask what marketing tools the agency uses to deliver the services and see whether they are in line with your expectations. You may not necessarily be able to provide alternatives, nor should you, but if the agency is openly sharing this kind of operational information, it’s a good sign – this usually means that they’re very open and transparent.

Their reporting

You can request a sample report the agency provides to its clients. However, remember that most agencies are capable of custom-tuning the reporting format to your specific needs, which is only a good thing. All you need to do is voice your expectations and let the agency work its magic.

Recap & Conclusion

To take care of your SaaS marketing needs, an outsourced marketing team isn’t the only option, of course. Such options as freelancers and consultants are worthy alternatives if you want to go the more cost-efficient or theoretical route. However, typically SaaS agencies do offer a more balanced, mature, reliable, and all-rounded approach to tackling marketing activities.

And once you have decided for yourself that you prefer an outside marketing agency, be very thorough in your search. Set specific goals, ask a lot of questions, and demand transparency in the paperwork – in other words, don’t go for someone you cannot 100% rely on.

And remember that there are a multitude of factors that can help you see if the agency is indeed reliable AND a good fit for you. Look at the reviews previous customers left, look at how the agency handles its own marketing, look at its case studies – anything that shows authority. At the same time, even if it’s an objectively respectable agency you’ve found, make sure you’re a good match in terms of company culture, pricing, and reporting.

About the author
Liudmila Kiseleva

Liudmila is one of the best-in-class digital marketers and a data-driven, very hands-on agency owner. With top-level education and experience, Liudmila is a true expert when it comes to digital marketing strategies and execution.

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