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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistTue, Jun 12, 2018 16 min read

Digital Marketing In-House Vs. Digital Marketing With An Agency: What Are The Differences?

digital marketing agency

Doing It Yourself Might Be Harder Than You Think

digital marketing agencyThe economy is booming today, so people are hiring. When it comes to your digital marketing strategy and digital marketing execution, it might seem obvious that hiring is your best option. You get full control, you get fixed costs and you get people who know your business inside and out.

But the reality of having in-house resources vs. using an outside agency is much different. It’s a major success for us when clients say, “You set us up for success, we’re seeing great results and now we’re going to take the program in-house.”

In fact, many of our engagements start with this as a goal for our clients, and this is a great aspirational goal for companies. But we also counsel our clients to look at this transition and the actual day-to-day management of a full-scale digital revenue generation program with open eyes. What we do is not easy to do in-house.

Here are some of the misconceptions that present the biggest challenges as well as the differences between having an agency help and you trying to do this work with an in-house team.

In-House Is Going To Save You Money

It’s not going to save you money. It might seem like that on paper, but when you look at all of the costs associated with the program, it almost never saves you money. First, you need a director-level or VP-level person to run the program. If they have any relevant experience, you’re talking about $70,000 to $90,000 a year. Add 20% for benefits and taxes, and that’s around $100,000 a year.

Next, youre going to need some outside resources or additional in-house resources for design and probably interactive development. This assumes your new director can handle all of the writing that typically comes with an engagement that produces results. More than likely, you’ll also need some additional writing resources. Even if you freelance or use outside consultants for all of this work, you could easily be looking at $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

Now overlay any educational or supporting expenses, like sending your new director to INBOUND or one or two other conferences. What about online educational opportunities or memberships in organizations that help them be better marketers? You’re probably looking at between $10,000 and $20,000 for all of that annually, including travel and food. You might need some other technology subscriptions, too, so plan to budget $5,000 to $10,000 for any supporting software to help deliver massive revenue growth.

By the time you’re done, you’re in the neighborhood of $180,000 to $200,000 a year, while hiring an agency is going to cost more like $120,000 to $150,000 a year all-in. Also, keep in mind that agencies never quit and force you to start all over again in two weeks.

The In-House Team Will Know Your Business Better

This makes sense on the surface. Someone who works for you full time is going to have a better and more intimate understanding of your company, your industry and your customers. But is that true? If you hire someone to be your director or VP of marketing, they may have rich industry experience and might have even worked for a competitor. But are they going to bring innovative and disruptive ideas on how to grab a prospect’s attention, or are they going to bring ideas that have been implemented already?

If you hire someone from outside your industry, they need time to get to know your company and your industry. How long is it going to take for them to get up to speed? How many actual experiences at other companies would they bring to your company? Three or four? Maybe five or six? The more experiences, the more expensive theyll be to hire.

Even the most experienced individual will never have as many diverse and relevant experiences as your agency team. A solid agency team should have at least 10 to 20 relevant experiences, and a senior agency team member could have more than 50 relevant company experiences to draw on when working with you.

The top-notch agencies have an onboarding methodology for their clients to help immerse team members in your business and get them up to speed in days instead of months. In some cases, agencies can get their teams to understand the most unique nuances of your business faster and more efficiently than even you can do it.

But the most important aspect of this consideration is that most agencies are able to see what’s working for other clients and leverage that for your business. What’s driving significant results for their manufacturing client can almost always be leveraged for your software business. The more diverse their client base, the better the ideas. The deeper the list of clients, the better the team.

Today’s revenue generation is almost all about the experiences your team (in-house or agency) is able to leverage to drive results for you. No in-house team is going to have as many relevant experiences as an agency team.

One Or Two In-House People Will Be Able To Do Everything An Agency Does

digital marketing agencyUnless you have agency experience, it’s going to be hard to know exactly what everyone on the agency team does when you work with them.

But when you look behind the velvet rope at what an agency provides — project management, strategic direction, analytics, planning, messaging, copywriting, design, interactive, quality assurance, editing and technology support  you’ll quickly see this is way more than one or even two people can duplicate.

Having run internal teams prior to my life at Square 2 Marketing, I know what an internal team looks like when you’re trying to execute a fully orchestrated lead-generation effort. I had someone who handled the website, someone for events, someone for email, someone for our database and lists, an outside agency for search, an outside agency for PR and an internal art department for design. This team ran marketing for a $20 million software company that was aggressively investing in marketing and sales. Were talking about a budget that exceeded $500,000 a year.

A well-aligned agency could have done almost all of the same work for two-thirds of that cost. Why didn’t I have an outside agency? Fair question. First, this was almost 20 years ago, and marketing was much easier. Second, I inherited the team, and the team did a good job with a highly complex set of marketing and sales requirements. If you noticed, I did use an outside agency for search, PR and event production (we did a ton of big events each year), so our hybrid model worked well. But had I been starting from scratch today, I would definitely use an agency instead of hiring and supporting all of those people.

In-House Teams Are Faster To Respond And Get Stuff Done

This sounds reasonable on paper. Again, if these are your people, they’ll be hyper responsive and focused on what you need as opposed to trying to support five or six companies like yours, right? But what about vacations, time off or situations where you need immediate help but can’t get in touch with your one person?

The agency never takes a vacation, never takes time off and is never unavailable. That’s because you’re not working with one person but rather with a team of people who all know you and your requirements. If your strategist is unavailable, your consultant is available. If your consultant isn’t available, your strategist is ready to respond.

You can always reach someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If response time is important, then discuss it in advance and build it into your agency service-level agreement (SLA). If you want 24-hour access to the team, we can support that. If you want after-hours access to your writer, designer or strategy team, all you have to do is ask. It’s likely going to cost you more money, but any good agency should be able to create an engagement that meets any of your response-related challenges.

Since An In-House Team Is Only Working For Us, We’ll Get Better Results

This is probably the biggest of all the misconceptions. Results have little to do with focus or the number of clients a marketing person is supporting. Results have everything to do with the experiences, knowledge and skills required to execute the marketing required by your prospects 2018 buyer journey.

If your hired gun doesn’t know about lead nurturing, account-based marketing or how websites get found in today’s mobile-first, content-driven Google environment, I don’t care how much time they focus on just your company — your results are going to be disappointing.

What gets results is understanding how to balance the complexity around the sheer number of tactics that need to be in play at a single time, the reporting and analytics that need to provide results on all of those tactics, and the insights garnered from the analytics that direct adjustments and optimization going forward.

The only way you get good at that is by doing it hundreds of times, not once or twice. We have consultants and strategists who have worked with over 100 clients over the past eight to 10 years, and they have experiences you just can’t hire. You truly need 10,000 hours of practical experience planning, building and optimizing today’s marketing programs to ensure you’ll see results.

That is almost impossible to hire for. If you’ve never made the transition, never hired an in-house team or never executed a complex digital revenue generation program, then you’re missing some of the experiences that would guide your judgment around the move.

Most people find that what sounds intuitive and straightforward is actually counterintuitive. In most cases, we find CEOs coming back to us after they’ve attempted to do this in-house and asking us to re-engage and take all or at least some of the work back. It’s not surprising to us, and we try to guide our clients accordingly, but sometimes the personal experience of trying to do everything required to generate revenue today must be physically experienced to appreciate what goes into it. In essence, you have to try it to know for yourself how hard it is to execute.

Make sure you’re working with a digital agency that is recognized by an outside organization as a top Digital Marketing Company.  DesignRush is one of those directories that provide outside validation for agencies, click here to see their site.

We are recognized as a top Digital Marketing Company on DesignRush” and hyperlink to:


Now that’s not to say no one can do what we do. What I am saying is that until you do it, you’re not going to really know exactly what planning, building and optimization work needs to be done. You’re not going to know how closely you have to align with your sales team to produce an amazing experience for your prospects. You’re not going to know exactly what dashboards and what technology needs to be deployed to automate and track those key performance metrics, so you have the insight required to deliver record-setting revenue results.

Today’s buyer journey requires a unique set of skills, experiences, proven methodology and the ability to dig into the data and pull out insights that drive action. You can try to hire for this complex set of skills, or you can work with a team of people who have already done this type of work, over and over and over again. Your call, of course. 

Square 2 Marketing – Revenue Is Earned Through Experience, Methodology And Insights!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.