Why tech start-ups should outsource marketing

One of the biggest positives one sees in the growth of India’s tech-knowledge economy is the rise in entrepreneurial intent among today’s professionals, in technology, mobile or Internet space. And typically,
my observation has been that most of the technology based start-ups are started by entrepreneurs with technology skills as getting one’s own hands dirty is a great way to become an entrepreneur.

One has had an opportunity to meet with scores of founders of tech start-ups in the last few months and most of them have voiced very similar challenges relating to marketing – “what should our marketing strategy be and what kind of a person one should hire to spearhead our marketing”.

My advice to a tech start-ups – “time your marketing hiring”.

Assuming that the need for the product has been established and you are sure there’s a demand for what you are developing, when you should hire a head of marketing depends on a few factors and the tech start-up would do well to review these factors before taking a final decision.

  1. Is there an experienced marketing person in the co-founding team? If yes, can this person take on the marketing responsibility in addition to whatever role he / she has been given?
  2. What stage of the business are you in? If the product is still in development stage, it might be too early to bring in an expensive marketing resource (whether you are funded or not). Getting a seasoned marketer (familiar with the space you are in) to advise you as a consultant in key stages might be a better option.
  3. What kind of a budget do you intend to allocate for marketing? If you plan to do a slow infusion of marketing funds, do reconsider hiring a full time marketing resource. Typically, if the annual marketing budget is not at least 8 times the annual CTC of marketing people, you are probably over-investing in marketing talent.
  4. What category are you operating in and therefore, what’s the marketing complexity? Marketing is no longer about ‘let’s do a great ad’. Marketing today has turned fairly complex with fantastic media opportunities to consume and not necessarily at big costs. The new marketing requires one to be highly conversant with skills required to strategise on and execute direct marketing, consumer marketing, social media, online, offline campaigns etc., Does your marketing budget allow you to hire specialists?

So, what are the best practices to outsource marketing?

Irrespective of the category you are operating in, you will find dozens of firms who will offer ‘full marketing support’. (The latest buzzword by the way is ‘I’m a social media expert’.)

My view is “find a good marketing strategist first”. Unless you have a great strategy on hand, a brilliant execution is not likely to get you anywhere. My own experience is that most ‘tech marketing firms’ are more executional in skills (and they are pretty good at their job).

It therefore might be a good idea to have a marketing strategist who has actually built work experience in the space you are in, as a consultant and depending on the marketing roadmap, bring in additional partners. It might sound complex to work with multiple marketing partners but as long as the marketing strategist takes the onus of delivery of results, you will see it’s not complex after all.

So, when should you hire your own marketing team? See points 2, 3 and 4 above. 🙂

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