Is your agency a vendor or a partner?
In response to the shifting market and evolving role of the CMO, agency-brand partnerships are shrinking in average duration, less than three years now, compared to over seven in 1984. But strategic, strong partnerships between brands and agencies have become increasingly important as 64% of CMOs expect to feel more pressure to demonstrate tangible short term results in the next 2-3 years.
This pressure also signals a big opportunity for CMOs to demonstrate the value of marketing as a strategic function with organizations. The right agency, that can support the brand in a true partnership, can be critical in helping CMOs achieve their goals and win over the rest of the C-suite.
That right agency, though, is tough to find — especially in the B2B space where market needs are shifting rapidly and new spaces and topics are constantly being created. How can you find an agency that isn’t just a vendor? How can you trust that you’ve chosen a true partner that will help your brand further your marketing strategy and increase your customer base?
It takes one to know one. Whether you’re putting out an RFP or undergoing a less formal review process, look for these things in order to find a truly great B2B marketing agency and partner.
4 Qualities Only Great B2B Marketing Agencies Possess
Quality #1: Fosters a relationship based on mutual accountability.
A great agency partner will share the accountability brand marketing teams feel to deliver short term results. This means sharing reporting of marketing KPIs that impact business objectives, consulting in terms of the best strategic or tactical approach to achieve results and a focus on ongoing optimization. Reporting on the impact of B2B marketing can be tricky, due to a long sales cycle and multiple touch points, however a great partner will encourage reporting that is as accurate and actionable as possible.
During the selection process, ask the agency:
- What KPIs do you typically report on?
- Look for KPIs which resonate with your goals and go beyond vanity metrics.
- Can you show me an example report from existing clients?
- Take note not only of the KPIs, but also actionable next steps to improve performance.
- What reporting platforms do you have experience using?
- It’s not critical the agency has leveraged the same platform you are using in the past. However, they should have experience leveraging marketing technology for data and a willingness to hop into your tool for reporting.
- What is needed from our team in order for this to be successful?
- It’s important for an agency to communicate up front what will be required from your team, so expectations are clear on both sides on how to be successful.
- How transparent are you about processes and best practices?
- Education and guidance is important on both sides. A great partner isn’t going to hesitate to share best practices or process details with you.
Quality #2: Demonstrates alignment of culture and values.
A great B2B marketing agency should demonstrate a complementary system of culture and values. If your team values collaboration and innovation, then partner with an agency which fosters a culture of teamwork and curiosity.
In order to produce the best results, the teams should be able to speak the same language, challenge each other but collaborate toward mutual solutions, and enjoy the partnership. Our best client relationships are built on trust, respect, and a genuine enjoyment from the relationships. If these things don’t exist, it’s tough to gain momentum.
During the selection process ask the agency:
- Being able to communicate a defined set of values indicate an agency likely has a strong, positive culture. Look for values which resonate and sync with your own.
- Can we meet in person?
- An in-person or video chat between teams is a great way to see how your teams will get along. Look for an agency team that brings energy and excitement about the craft and working with your brand. Notice if your teams are speaking the same language and are able to play off each other.
Quality #3: Specializes within your vertical and service need.
A great agency partner will understand your market and be able to ramp up quickly on your customer pain points, messaging, and business challenges. Especially in increasingly complex B2B markets, agencies with experience working with clients in similar segments will likely have talent that can acclimate quickly and reduce pain on your team’s side.
To identify your agency’s specializations, ask:
- What does your network look like within my vertical?
- Look for connections with subject matter experts, industry influencers, publications, and analysts.
- Can you show me some samples of client work within my vertical?
- Look for similar levels of complexity in messaging or overlap in topical areas. You probably do not want an agency working with a direct competitor, but rather complimentary businesses and verticals.
- How does your team typically get up to speed on a new client?
- A great agency partner is going to spend some time getting to know you and your messaging. They’ll ask for a product demo or a meeting with your sales team to get to know your customer and they’ll want to talk to your toughest in-house editor to learn your messaging. The benefit of already knowing the topics, is that they focus on your brand’s unique value proposition.
Quality #4: Ability to be nimble.
CMOs need to move and adjust quickly to reach their goals while not losing sight of the long term strategy. And it’s important for agency partners to do the same. A nimble agency will be able to adapt as factors change and get creative when it comes to rising to challenges from the market or within the business.
An advantage of a great B2B agency is that they will be able to drive a project forward faster and more reliably than an in-house team with shifting priorities.
To determine an agency’s ability to adapt and shift, ask them:
- What is your typical timeline for this type of project?
- You’re not necessarily looking for the shortest timeline. A quick timeline may mean an agency isn’t taking the time to get to know your messaging or spending the right amount of time on strategy. Instead, you’re looking for an agency that expresses alignment in helping reach your goals around the timeline. You also want an agency that is transparent in terms of what is needed from your team in order to achieve that timeline.
- This is a potential roadblock. How could we get around it?
- A great agency partner will be able to help you find solutions to work around roadblocks. You’re looking for an agency to demonstrate an agile and creative solution.
Partner > Vendor
Good B2B marketing agencies are vendors that can assist in executing your short term marketing plans. Great B2B marketing agencies are partners that can help your team be more innovative, move faster, and achieve short term goals while aligning to a strategic long term plan.
Brand-agency relationships are evolving, but trusted, long term partnerships is still the ideal. To find your ideal agency partner, you need to look for the qualities above. If they pass the test, you’ll find an agency partner that has and will continue to evolve with the needs of the modern CMO.