This article will look at how small to medium-sized businesses can develop their own in-house marketing teams. While some firms may balk at the idea of hiring full time employees for marketing, the vast majority who make this investment realize it pays for itself many times over. It’s well established now that the most effective marketing is inbound: engaging with specific customers and drawing them to your business by offering the information and services that they are looking for, rather than trying to reach everyone by interrupting them with advertising. Inbound marketing is where in-house teams excel.
The fact is, we all live in a highly distracting world and we’ve all become skeptical of interruptive advertising. Most of us now only do business with those whom we trust. This means you have to establish your company’s credibility and gain the trust of the people you want to be your customers. And to get that message out, you need to do more than just make noise.
Inbound marketing relies on creating useful, targeted information for specific groups of customers, and that requires strategy, research, and customized content creation. Technologies are at every step, and success depends on a combination of analytical thinking and creativity. This means specializations and specialists, and while the temptation will be to outsource these roles, the fact is, outsiders will never be able to really understand your company as deeply as they need to to create truly effective strategy. You need people in-house who know your culture and your customers.
The good news is it’s never been easier for small businesses to achieve real results with inbound marketing. The first step, as we will see, is hiring a marketing leader. They will research your competitive environment and develop short- and long-term strategies for success. Once this person is up to speed, you’ll know who you need to reach and how. They’ll help you build your small foundational marketing team who will launch campaigns that engage with your target audience and draw them into your sales funnel.
Building your own marketing team means reducing your reliance on freelancers and agencies and investing in full time internal hires. It also means ending your reliance on luck, because at the core of any successful marketing campaign is researched and customized strategy. When done right, your marketing team will become a profit center, paying for itself and driving the growth of your business. This article will show you how to do it right.
Early days: “The pre-marketing team”
Most companies don’t start out with large in-house marketing teams already established. Often, existing leadership takes on the role until the demands exceed their capabilities. When that point is reached, they typically hire consultants or create a dedicated marketing role with the expectation that the person will handle everything. This can be considered the “pre-marketing team” stage, and while most companies go through it, the successful ones grow out of it. Getting stuck in this stage means wasting a lot of time and money.
Below are the most common types of roles that result in these early days, when non-dedicated staff handle marketing alongside their other duties, or a single person is tasked with all things marketing. While these may seem like the best or only solutions at the time, they, in fact, cause you to neglect your marketing and hinder your from reaching your full potential. You can think of this as the period before a marketing team is turned into a profit center.
If you’ve had people in any of these roles and got results that were less than what you were hoping for, you’re not alone. It’s a phase that many companies go through. At some point, successful companies realize that keeping marketing on the sidelines or leaving results to chance won’t achieve positive outcomes. At this point, it’s time to create your own marketing team.
Let’s find out how.
The 5 Stages of Building an In-House Marketing Team
Stage 1: Hire a marketing leader
The first step in developing an effective marketing team is to hire someone to lead and own your marketing strategy and outcomes. This is not the inexperienced all-in-one marketer trying to meet unrealistic expectations that we discussed above. This is an expert, with a track record of delivering positive results for growing businesses. Their role can be full time or a fractional/part-time arrangement. But, critically, this person must be able to integrate into your company in order to lay the groundwork to set you up for success. This means having access to your current and past marketing materials, and, more importantly, access to everyone in the organization. This way, they can gain a complete understanding of your company’s strengths and weaknesses. And conversely, they can help make sound marketing approaches part of your company culture.
In this stage, your marketing leader should learn as much as they can about your company, your ideal customers, and your past marketing efforts. Even if they are already experienced in your industry, it will take some time for them to identify your differentiation in the marketplace. Their focus should be on absorbing as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, and identifying the first roles they’ll need to fill to build your team.
Points to Note
Stage 2: Build the marketing foundation
Once your marketing leader has a good understanding of your business, they’ll be able to hire the first operational member of your team: your analytical/technical marketer. If you already have someone in a marketing role, they will probably fit nicely into this position. They’ll also appreciate having an experienced marketing leader to guide and coach them.
Once this position is filled, the first activity will be to build and launch a quarterly marketing campaign to begin gathering data. The team will likely start with some low-hanging fruit and achieve some quick wins. More importantly, they’ll use the data gathered from these results to optimize future quarterly campaigns for the highest ROI.
Points to Note
Stage 3: Create an inbound marketing system
Once the marketing systems are in place, the marketing leader will hire the next foundational member of your team: your creative/content producer. Together, you should think of these three people as your “minimum viable marketing team” capable of creating quality content and promoting that content to the right people at the right time.
With a content manager in place, it will become much easier to create and publish quality content consistently. Your marketing leader will task the content manager with outreach initiatives to internal team members and happy clients. These interviews will result in quality educational material, case studies, and video scripts. Your marketing coordinator will then be able to leverage the valuable and relevant content and get it in front of the right audience.
Points to Note
Stage 4: Grow and specialize the team
As your campaigns roll out, the results will be studied and fed back into a cycle of optimization by your marketing team. Campaigns that deliver results will need to be scaled. This means an increased volume and frequency of content creation, more events, and likely more marketing channels to manage. To accomplish these new growth objectives, your marketing coordinator and content manager can transition from solo producers to hybrid producer-managers overseen by your marketing leader. This means hiring functional specialists like copywriters, SEO experts, videographers, or social media experts. Not all of these need to be hired at once; your team should grow organically to maintain profitability.
Points to Note
Stage 5: Become self-sufficient
While many companies may stop at Stage 4, success begets success. If your team is excelling and your company is growing beyond expectations, the natural next step is to bring all marketing in house. Up to this point, some gaps were still being filled by agencies or freelancers, both of which have their limitations. With a fully in-house marketing team, you can scale your marketing further, increase quality/brand consistency, and reduce total expenses. The following roles are increasingly specialized.
Points to Note
By following this process, marketing will become entrenched in your company culture and operating procedures. You’ll have agility baked into the team structure, enabling you to adapt as needed, filling or removing positions based on demand. Best of all, marketing will no longer be a cost on your balance sheet. Instead, it will become a profit center that fuels your business, and pays for itself many times over.
Let’s review the stages of the process:
- Stage 1: Hire a marketing leader
A full-time or fractional/part-time expert who reviews the state of your marketing, plans your strategy, and prepares to hire your first two marketing specialists
- Stage 2: Build the marketing foundation
Develop internal systems and operating procedures that allow for data gathering, analysis, and continuous optimization.
- Stage 3: Create an inbound marketing system
Hire a content manager who creates valuable content that answers the questions your prospective clients are asking.
- Stage 4: Grow and specialize the team
Scale your marketing team with functional specialists like copywriters, SEO experts, videographers, and social media experts.
- Stage 5: Become self-sufficient
Begin eliminating all reliance on external vendors by expanding your marketing team into a completely in-house operation.
Even if you aim to reach only stage 3 or 4, you’ll still establish an effective and flexible marketing team built on a strong foundation and able to adapt to changing market conditions. By bringing just a few key marketing roles in-house, you’ll have control of your marketing success, setting yourself well above your competition.
But life can’t be that easy, right? The truth is you won’t make it to Stage 5 without tripping a few times along the way. Everyone does.
Here are the five most common mistakes:
- Taking on too much yourself – Trying to handle everything — because no one can achieve the quality you demand — is one of the most common pitfalls of business owners and leaders. Lacking the ability to prioritize the important tasks, and the will to delegate the rest, inevitably leads to stretching yourself too thin. It’s undoubtedly true that no one knows your business as well as you do, but at some point, all successful organizations need collaborative leadership. You should never need to choose between your CEO responsibilities and marketing responsibilities, as both are critical for the success of your business.
- Not hiring a leader early enough – Hoping that someone will just “step up” and become the leader that you want them to be is another common delusion. It’s essentially leaving success to chance. Maybe you feel your marketing knowledge is enough to achieve some short-term success, but think about the consequences of that success: If you grow, are you able to keep increasing the time you commit to marketing? (See previous point.) And if you start hiring marketing specialists, are you able to grow a team yourself, too?
- Looking for “the one” solution – There are a lot of agencies out there claiming unicorn capabilities, offering turnkey or set-and-forget services, and promising big results. The hard truth is that there is only one reliable system for capturing market share and growing a business: start with strategy, focus on quality, and play the long game. For every overnight success you hear about, there will be countless failures — companies that wish they’d invested in their own marketing team before they wasted time and money trying to find a shortcut to success. That said, before you’ve built your own team, a marketing vendor may be your only option. Just don’t fall into the trap of hoping the next agency is better than the last.
- Growing your team too quickly – You probably noticed a theme in the five stages above: the positions in your marketing team should pay for themselves. This is the ideal process for building a marketing team: scale as needed. Some companies hire too many positions too quickly, hoping the new hires will pay for themselves through future growth revenues. This kind of getting-ahead-of-yourself is precisely the type of decision-making your marketing leader will help you avoid. If you start by bringing this expert on board, they will show you exactly how many people you need to achieve success without over-investing.
- Not hiring specialists soon enough – On the surface, a lot of marketing looks easy. Maybe that’s why so many companies spend a period with “Jack of all trades, master of none” marketing hobbyists who are simply employees in other roles, trying their hand at outreach just because they think they can. The truth is there is more than an art to successful marketing. Not only is persuasive content creation a difficult and rare ability, the technology that is now required for successful market research is constantly evolving and ever-more complex. In the end, avoiding hiring a specialist will simply lower your chances of success and stretch your team members too far.
The journey may feel challenging, but at least you can take comfort knowing you’re not the first and you’re not alone. Every business owner has been in your position. They’ve had to overcome each step of this journey. Many have failed, at least once. Not everyone overcomes the challenge going down the same exact path, but every successful business you know has made it over these hurdles. It’s absolutely possible. Not only that, it’s 100% necessary.
The question is, do you know how to overcome these challenges on your own?
Taking the first step
An alternative path: Start with a fractional CMO
You don’t always need a full-time leader.
A fractional CMO is a marketing leader who manages two to three marketing teams simultaneously, working part time for each of their clients. This allows businesses to hire an experienced individual at a fraction of the cost and risk of a full-time hire.
Fractional CMOs have become popular over the last several years, largely because, with increased competition and the increased sophistication of marketing technologies, small businesses have a harder time standing out. A better researched, more tailored marketing approach is required, which is rarely possible when outsourcing to a marketing agency.
Advantages of fractional CMOs
Limitations of a fractional CMOs
As a fractional CMO, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great businesses, helping each of them build an effective marketing strategy and team.
Every business is unique, and that’s why it’s so important to meet you where you are on your journey, rather than trying to provide you with an off-the-shelf solution.
Let’s have a chat, discuss where you are, and see if I can help.