Get articles and insights directly in your inbox. Subscribe today.
A marketing agency can help you do a lot of different things. That could be simply executing a specific element of your marketing plan, or creating an entire go-to-market strategy. Setting those expectations and picking the right partner is key to a successful outcome.
This article will help you understand how an agency might be best suited to help your business, and identify what kinds of traits to look for in an agency relationship. Let’s get started.
Are you right for an agency?
Most businesses can benefit from bringing on board a marketing agency. But the type of business that you are will impact how that relationship will best serve your needs. What’s more, how you engage with an agency will impact the value you get in return.
Small businesses vs large businesses
Small businesses without a marketing team might benefit from outsourcing their entire marketing operations to professionals. Large businesses with robust marketing teams can benefit from bringing on an agency to complete specialised tasks, help introduce a more agile/modern approach to marketing, execute a marketing plan, or provide an outsider’s viewpoint.
To work well with an agency, you need to be willing to do three things:
- Be transparent about what you’re trying to accomplish
- Be willing to listen with an open mind
- Be willing to act
There needs to be open communication from both parties and a willingness on your part to take strategic direction.
Strategy vs execution
Most agencies straddle a line between “consultant” and “specialist”. That means, they are able to execute specific tasks, but also bring strategic insight around how to deploy those assets.
If you are simply outsourcing a specific task (e.g. building a website you’ve already designed, or writing blogs you’ve already outlined) an agency can do that for you — but so could a freelancer. A big part of what agencies have to offer is strategic thought in combination with the ability to execute that plan.
You will get more out of that relationship if you are invested in the strategic planning and you are willing to act. As financier T. Boone Pickens once said, “a plan without action isn’t a plan, it’s a speech.” If all you want is a speech, save your money.
What to expect from a marketing agency
When you are considering a marketing agency, you should focus on a group that is obsessed with delivering real, tangible results. Delivering profitable growth means an agency that can do these three things exceptionally well:
- Analyse a company’s growth potential
- Craft a plan to reach that potential
- Launch marketing that engages and delivers on pre-outlined goals
The best results will come from developing a partnership. The more time you spend working with an agency, the better they will be able to learn your specifics. Consider the following four things:
1. Robust transparency
This means an open dialogue about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more an agency knows about your business — problems and all — the better equipped they will be to work as a partner. You’ll want to share ideas, debate, and agree on the plan.
But you also want that transparency in return. You don’t want an agency that will “sugar coat” problems they perceive within your organisation, or try to cover up their mistakes. You want a partner that will stand by what they do, learn from missteps, and hone in on a successful strategy.
2. Aligned values
In any relationship, aligned values are one of the key factors for success. For example, if you want an old-school, PR-driven campaign — don’t hire an inbound marketing agency, hire a PR firm. If you want a digital-first and content-led campaign, partner with an agile inbound agency committed to a modern approach to marketing.
3. Shared expectations
If an agency promises you the world, they likely won’t be able to deliver. You should expect your agency to be realistic about what can be accomplished.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every business is different. Finding the perfect solution often takes some testing as part of the process. The best agencies are open about this. They’ll create, measure, and revise through testing with a commitment to quickly iterate to get it exactly right.
4. Long-term relationships
Working with a marketing agency shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix to impress investors. If there was a quick fix, you’d probably already have done it.
Particularly when it comes to inbound marketing, it will take a while to see results — you are laying the groundwork for long-term outcomes. While the right agency can create some quick wins, the true value of the relationship is developed over time to build a consistent growth engine.
Understanding how a marketing agency works
Great marketing agencies design and deliver programs to meet client goals and can demonstrate the ROI of their strategies. That covers three main areas of overlapping design:
The planning stage begins with fact-finding. It’s like a treasure hunt, looking for those hidden gems and insights. It’s going to take a lot of conversation, research, and analysis to develop a robust marketing plan. The plan becomes the underlying strategy to meet your goals.
Agencies will develop goalposts for meeting those goals and establish monthly, quarterly, and annual deliverables. Plans should always be laid out in detail. Once the plan is agreed to, it becomes the blueprint for success.
Just as you wouldn’t change the foundation of a home you’re building after you add on the second story, the foundation of your marketing plan is what you’ll build on. There’s always room for adding in additional activities. The plan can always be adjusted. However, changes may extend deadlines or take the place of other planned activities. What’s more, it may undermine work that’s already been done.
That’s why the relationship is important. There must be a level of trust on both sides and a willingness to commit to a plan of attack. The more effort that goes into the relationship upfront, the fewer mid-course corrections that will need to be made.
Instrumental to this relationship is collaboration and mutual respect. Agencies respect that clients are the experts in their field, and will use that expertise as a basis to craft content. Likewise however, agencies should be treated as experts in marketing.
Executing the plan efficiently means both client and agency will have deadlines. It works best when both partners establish deadlines and stick to them unless there are unusual circumstances.
Transparency is essential. If an agency is unable to hit a promised deadline, they should give notice well in advance so plans can be adjusted. The client also needs to commit to reviewing work at times to keep deadlines on track. If the review is completed within the deadlines both parties agreed to, it keeps the whole project on track. When there’s a late response by the agency or the client, it can negatively affect the deadline.
Essential shared values for a successful partnership
When you choose to work with a marketing agency, you are creating a partnership. To work effectively, you want to make sure you have shared values for a successful partnership. You don’t have to be best friends or commit to “forever”, but you should be able to agree on the important things that will drive success.
As a marketing agency, we (Gripped) have identified our own key values. Make sure that any agency you partner with can similarly articulate a vision. Then it’s really just about matching your list with theirs. Here’s ours:
- Growth is science, not art: The days of agencies dreaming up a great advertisement and hoping it clicks are over. Today’s agencies should know that goals, objectives, and metrics are essential to delivering growth. Metrics tell us whether we’re winning and help us continually improve the results.
- B2B buyers have changed: B2B buyers do more research online before connecting with sales reps. You’ve got to meet them where they’re looking before they make their purchase decisions
- Outbound is old hat: There’s still a place for outbound marketing (particularly when it comes to nurturing leads, but inbound marketing is what moves the needle now.
- A digital-first mindset: Digital needs to be central to the sales and marketing strategy. This is more true than ever in the era of social distancing. Buyers demand a positive digital interaction and customer experience. How you present yourself digitally reflects your company.
- Content is king: In B2B sales and marketing, content plays a vital role. The best content informs, educates, and puts the reader at the centre — not your product. People are smarter than ever about marketing and they’ll reject anything that looks like an advertisement without delivering true value. Solid content creates trust, and trust creates leads (and ultimately sales).
- Partnerships = value: In a partnership, both sides benefit. The old customer/supplier model of doing business is dead. The relationship needs to provide value to both parties to deliver success.
- Beyond marketing: Marketing isn’t something you can effectively delegate to either the marketing department or an agency. Everyone with a customer-facing role has a part to play in creating and executing a go-to-market strategy. Sales and marketing teams need to be aligned, and the whole organisation needs to work together to drive growth.
When both agency and client share these values, magic can happen. It results in a shared mission and leads to more than just making money. It increases the strength of your brand and your company with benefits that will pay off long-term. By identifying those areas of overlap, you can create growth. If you want more advice from us, book a growth audit today.