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All around Austin, people are sniffling, sneezing, hacking, and experiencing fatigue and headaches. Is it just the regular allergic reaction to our Cedar Fever season, the symptoms of the common winter cold, or something more serious? When do you decide to pop a few pills and heat up some chicken soup rather than head straight to a medical professional?

You don't want to rush off to the doctor every time you sneeze or have a headache: Healthy people typically wait to see whether a symptom persists or becomes more severe or frequent over time. Of course, you don't want to wait so long that a more serious problem that could have been prevented surfaces, such as pneumonia.

That same kind of sound thinking applies to business situations, too.

For example, as a marketer, it is important to know when to buckle up and tackle an initiative internally versus when to secure an outside expert, ideally before the situation becomes critical or spirals into something more challenging.

Whether to hire a marketing consulting company is a question every CMO and other marketing leader addresses at one time or another.

Types of Outside Expertise

If you're fairly certain you just need a bit stronger medicine (to continue with our medical metaphor), a quick trip to the "minute clinic" might suffice. If you don't know what you need, it may be time to see your nurse or general practitioner. And if that doesn't resolve the problem, you may need to see a specialist or two.

Again, those scenarios apply to marketing, too.

  • In some instances, all you need is a tactician—additional arms and legs for solving a specific short-term problem, such as managing event details, writing copy, or creating graphics.
  • In other situations, you may need someone for a longer period to serve in a more strategic capacity—for example, developing a new product launch strategy and all it entails.
  • For still other situations, such as executing a multi-touch campaign, you may be able to rely on a generalist—that is, a marketer with a broad base of experience.
  • Or your scenario may call for a specialist, such as the special expertise needed for designing and conducting market research, building marketing models, or developing a dashboard.

As you consider what kind of expert you need, you will want to decide whether they need industry expertise or what you really need is a skilled craftsman, such as a data scientist.

Three Questions to Ask

Here are the criteria companies have used when deciding to hire my firm:

  • When they had all of the necessary time, tools, and skills, they did it themselves.
  • When their team was in reactive mode, missing deadlines or important details, or focused on the urgent at the sake of the important, or attempting a task without the necessary skills or tools, then they sought outside expertise.

Use the following three questions to help you decide whether to tackle the effort on your own or to seek outside help.

  1. Knowledge/skills: Do I/we know what I'm/we're doing and do I/we have the skills for the task? Time-sensitive and mission-critical tasks and projects are not the ideal time for trying to learn new skills. Benefit from a specialist or skilled craftsman as a way to both accomplish the task and facilitate skills development.
  2. Complexity: Will I/we achieve the same or better result without help? When a task becomes complicated and there are a large number of moving parts, it is a good time to take advantage of external expert, particularly a tactician or generalist.
  3. Time: Is doing this task the best use of my/our time? Time is a perishable resource. You cannot store or save it, making it far more valuable than money. Harness outside help when the task will consume too much the company's time—and yours—at the expense of other efforts.

If you answered no to any of those questions, then bringing in outside expertise is probably the way to go.

What Kind of Outside Expertise?

If you decide to engage outside expertise, what kind of expert might be best suited to the task?

Different needs will require different levels of investment. Consider the remodeling of a room: Some expertise is needed to update the "look" by changing the paint, light fixtures, and rugs, but you will need a far different investment of time and talent if you decide you want to take out a wall, add floor plugs, and add a new door or window.

The type and scope of work will determine the amount of money and time you will need to invest. Knowing the answers to the following questions will help define the scope and determine the type of expert you require:

  1. What tasks need to be completed, and why and how do they fit into the big picture?
  2. What are the top three benefits of using an external expert?
  3. How quickly does the work need to be completed, and why is the timing important?
  4. Why do you need outside expertise, and what if anything have you completed or attempted, and what were the results?
  5. How will the success of the task and the project be measured?
  6. What challenges do you anticipate, such as availability of people needed to support the work, working across multiple time zones or geographic facilities, etc.?
  7. What internal requirements or processes are needed to bring someone in, how long will that take, and who within your organization and from other organizations need to be included in the selection process?
  8. Who on your team will need to work with the person/firm and what is their level of expertise?
  9. What is important to you about the person or firm you will hire? Does it matter where they are located, their existing projects, and their industry experience? Make a list of what is important in priority order and then using a 1-5 or other scale, rate how important each item is to your final hiring decision.

External experts are an investment both in the result and the relationship. Having a repeatable process for evaluating external experts and bringing them on board helps ensure both a quality outcome and a quality experience.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to benchmark your marketing performance measurement (MPM), data and analytics prowess, and marketing operations capabilities with the 15th annual MPM survey, fielded by VisionEdge Marketing and Demand Metric, now through February 2. All responses are confidential. All participants who complete the survey can request a free copy of the results. Free benchmarking, what's better than that? Take the survey today.

Continue reading "Go DIY or Call in an Expert: How to Choose" ... Read the full article

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM

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