When you think about the fastest way to grow your small business, there are a couple paths that probably come to mind: hire for sales and explore acquisition opportunities. If acquisition isn’t in the cards, then maybe you’re just relying sales.

Historically, outbound selling has been a proven lever for growth. But in today’s buyer-driven market, relying on outbound sales exclusively is simply not as reliable as it once was.

An effective growth strategy needs to be diversified; specifically, I’m going to make the case that it needs to include marketing. (Full disclosure: I’m a Strategic Director for a marketing agency. So, yes, I’m biased, but I’ve also been around the track a few times and have seen first-hand how marketing has helped our own agency and our clients.)

If you’re more inclined to hire salespeople than invest in your company’s marketing, let’s unpack some of the arguments why a salesperson might be preferable to marketing and compare them to today’s market trends and the evolution of buying habits.

Adding a Salesperson Makes Sense on Paper

First, let me acknowledge that I appreciate the allure of hiring salespeople. Quick-thinking, effective salespeople can be a great way to generate leads and increase revenue — that’s their whole job and it’s how they’re compensated. Because of the direct impact they have on your business, you’re able to track and review their performance and pay them accordingly.

What’s not to like?

On the other hand, if you’re investing in a marketing team or outsourced agency, you may be frustrated to find that their efforts won’t provide immediate results. There may be no marketing switch you can flip that instantly generates a positive ROI. Sometimes even tracking effectiveness of marketing efforts can be a little confusing.

It’s no surprise many business owners prefer the directness of a salesperson’s impact over the efforts of a marketing agency.

How Far Can Sales Take You?

Of course, a single salesperson has a much narrower focus and impact than a cross-channel marketing operation. Meanwhile, a good marketing gets your message out across several channels so that you’ll actually gain awareness and brand recall with your audience.

Even one well-crafted, targeted ad can get your business in front of more people in a given day than your sales team has time to call in a month. When you invest in a multi-channel marketing, you’re reaching markets your sales team may or may not be able to reach.

Study after study has shown that real, sustained growth comes from a diversified set of channels. But if you’re not finding new ways to attract leads, then you’re deserting your sales people to the misfit island of cold calling, spamming and other ill-advised “spray-and-pray” tactics that rarely perform.

However, by investing in marketing, you’re attracting customers to your business by giving them the content they need to choose you. These are called inbound leads. They’re more educated, more empowered, and much more likely to convert than cold outbound leads. Best of all, according to research performed by HubSpot, inbound leads cost 61% less to generate than outbound leads.

Let’s look at some trends on buyer behavior and sales tactics:

  • Only 16% of marketers say outbound practices provide the highest quality leads for sales. (HubSpot, 2017)
  • 38% of salespeople say getting a response from prospects is getting harder. (HubSpot, 2017)
  • Only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62% will consult a search engine. (HubSpot, 2016)
  • Almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store. (Google, 2016)
  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to get information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. (Exact Target, 2015)

If it isn’t clear yet, today’s sales climate has shifted radically from 15 years ago when the internet was more like the wild west and salespeople could be relied on to drive lead generation. Today, buyers are in control. They prefer to do preliminary research online and they typically know what they’re getting into before they talk to sales.

When you expand your marketing efforts with a marketing team or agency, they make sure inbound leads find you while generating new demand from a wider audience. If you’re ignoring channels like SEO, content, digital advertising and email marketing, you’re not getting in front of potential leads and you’re limiting your opportunities for growth. Most entrepreneurs set aggressive sales goals and if you’re relying on salespeople to hit those, you’re leaving a lot of stones unturned.

Marketing Allows Sales Teams to Focus on Revenue

If you’re thinking about hiring a marketing agency or director, here’s a good piece of advice: resist the urge to think about sales and marketing as two different departments. Instead, hire marketing resources who know how to align with sales and you’ll be providing your sales team with an invaluable resource (They may even thank you.)

Why? Because when aligned, marketing is helping qualify your leads, prioritize them for your sales team, and automate tactics so your sales team can segment, track, nurture and convert leads as quickly as possible. With all that time saved, they’ll have plenty of time to go golfing or whatever it is that salespeople do in their free time.

Choose What’s Right for You

Not every business needs the full-tilt efforts of a marketing agency; you’ve got to decide what’s right for you. However, as it gets cheaper and easier to launch new businesses, your competition may grow while your market becomes more fragmented. It’s up to you to look at your competitors, consider how much they may be spending on marketing, and decide: can you afford not to invest in marketing?