12 Considerations For Choosing A B2B Marketing Agency in 2019

Tom Jacobs Demand Generation, Global Marketing, Marketing Technology

With so many choices in the market and your business success weighing on your shoulders, how do you select a B2B digital agency in 2019 that will provide the best ROI? Unfortunately there’s no Yelp for quality of work, no Glassdoor for clients to rave about your work (although that is MUCH needed in our industry), or no platform to vent fair but just frustrations. 

Many enterprises, corporations and Fortune 500 companies have gone through enough interviewing in their day-to-day to be able to parse out which B2B digital agency is the real deal and who is just sending in their A-team to sell you a product the C team will deliver. Over the years we have seen a lot of marketing managers rely on word of mouth or industry trade shows to find well-vetted digital agencies to hire, but let’s explore ways select a B2B digital agency for your business.

So…How do you pick a B2B digital marketing agency?

When going through the RFP Process (and all throughout the working relationship with an agency) make sure to consider the following:

Internal/Resourcing:

      1. The agency should have a website with Good Quality Content
        1. A lot of checklists online will have “a great website” listed first or second on their selection criteria. This is going to be a hot take, but that’s not a deal breaker for us (unless you’re hiring them for web design, then it should be an amazing website). 
        2. A good digital agency will have a website with the right quality content, not necessarily the most of it. They should have a solid balance of blog posts, articles, resources, and case studies on their site to showcase their work. Not every client allows the agency to post branded case studies directly on their site, so request additional case studies that might not be posted.
      2. Resources/Teams that are expert level with multiple channels/capabilities
        1. When looking for a B2B digital agency, test their service boundaries and depth in understanding. Challenge them on the internal structure and teams they employ. If you’re hiring a digital agency to run your PPC campaigns and they impress you, is there an opportunity to add Search Engine Optimization? Can you get on the phone with their Creative Director and possibly include their services on the next creative refresh?
        2. We have historically seen it alleviate a lot of stress/pressure from businesses who operate under a centralized model. Having a single team handling your creatives, messaging, SEO, PPC, story lines, and innovative strategies helps it all come together. The public perception of a company with a consistent message to be a lot more mature than one with segmented messages on different channels.
        3. This is a huge aspect of a successful agency partnership. A great B2B digital agency understands your product, internal pain points, the customer’s FAQs, sales cycles, etc.
      3. Proof of executing the big ideas they’re presenting
        1. Loads of times agencies come to an RFP pitch presentation with their entire arsenal, pie in the sky ideas to win the business. Make sure they’ve done a project in that area in the past. That’s why one of the go-to questions on your end should be “Have you seen success with this type of initiative before? Do you think it would translate to our campaigns?”
      4. Cutting through the Buzzwords
        1. Be overly wary of a saturation of buzzwords like machine learning, automation, AI, etc. UNLESS they can prove they know exactly how to put those things into action and what implications they’ll have on your business long term. 
        2. Ensure there is action behind all the claims made and the agency should be used to having to prove themselves.
      5. Challenge them on the industry tools they’re using
        1. This is a pretty basic one, but write down each agency’s preference in tools. For reference, (listen for any one of these)
          1. SEO: Moz, AHrefs, ScreamingFrog, Ubersuggest, any Google Tool (easy answer)
          2. PPC: Adwords, Microsoft Ads, SEM Rush, SpyFu
          3. Global PPC: Baidu, Yandex, Xing
          4. Content: Google Trends, Buzzsumo, SparkToro
        2. Just make sure they’re confident about the tools they’re using and have a few in their tool belt. A lot are great for competitor research in each medium so we highly recommend asking your new agency for a full competitor landscape report with one of their tools.

Measurement:

      1. Possess the capability to perform, measure, and optimize through the funnel
        1. This is a big one. If you want to drill down to return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) and see how many of your platform conversions become MQLs, SALs, or Opportunities for your sales team to work, it’s VITAL to engage an agency with a full funnel reporting example. Have them demonstrate how they will be reporting to you and demonstrating their alignment to your specific business goals. 
        2. There are many types of dashboards to utilize for full funnel metrics, challenge all digital agencies on this. ROI data is great to have from platform metrics, but when it’s accelerated down the funnel and turned into a sales lead in your CRM, the process improves. This allows the campaigns to be optimized around deal size, ROAS, audience closed/won ratios, etc.
      2. Has a plan to measure metrics and gauge success
        1. Some channels are more difficult than others to track. Set some rough goals, ask the agencies what they could realistically send your way, and after hiring, hold them to it. More importantly, make sure the agency knows exactly what reasons for not achieving those figures if that’s not the case.

People:

      1. Make sure they’re passionate about what they’re doing
        1. When you’re sitting in a room with digital agencies and having prospective meetings, really ask them how they feel about the industry, or where do they think media is headed, or something to peak their interest. Somebody that loves what they’re doing and has a passion for marketing will light up and go on a tangent about the latest/greatest thing to change how they’re doing things. Those are the kind of staff you want working on your business.
      2. Are a good culture fit
        1. Culture is a gigantic factor. Take note of greetings, engagement, ease of conversation in meeting with agency personas. Do they match the profile of your business? Do you actually enjoy them? Seriously consider that…as you’re going to be spending a good deal of time and trust on these people. And trust us, it’s not impossible to find a team full of talent AND personality.

Outcomes & Admin:

      1. Define Success on Both Sides
        1. Don’t forget that this is a partnership. You as the client need to align your internal goals with the campaign outcomes as much as a B2B digital agency needs to understand it. Iron out early what you would consider a successful campaign, possibly even on the RFP request and ask agencies how they would most effectively achieve it. This will also help guide the relationship and help the agency optimize towards success. 
      2. Can share some blind data of the demand generation they’ve produced
        1. Mentioned this briefly above with some other points, but ask for some metrics from previous clients running in the channel you’re most interested in. They should be able to pull up something they estimated > took live > and the results that were driven compared to the original pitch. They should try to make you feel a bit at ease about a similar project they worked on and what success looked like compared to the expectations.
      3. Remember: Have reasonable expectations about Fees, Costs, and Pricing Models
        1. They always say “You get what you pay for” and 90% of the time they’re right. Be reasonable in the negotiations as you’re both trying to make a profit off the relationship. The more budget you grant them, the better resourced the account can become.

This is a lot of information to digest and consider while interviewing, vetting, or even just engaging a new agency. Most will be happy to have the above conversations because it’ll prove that you as a business representative are doing your homework. If you’re in search of an agency partner and want to explore our services, some consulting advice, or just want to ask a question, please let us know!