So you’re looking to hire the best B2B marketing agency for you, but where to start? The space is packed with potential partners of all shapes, sizes and specialties, but how do you know which one will be the right fit for your specific project or long-term engagement requirements?
Read on to gain helpful insights on how to select the right vendor for your business, as well as how to avoid pitfalls leading to buyer’s remorse down the road.
What is a B2B Marketing Agency?
As the name implies, a B2B marketing agency will specialize in business-to-business marketing, i.e., supporting the marketing requirements of businesses who market their products/services to other businesses. This as opposed to a B2C marketing agency who will help business-to-consumer minded organizations market their products to individual consumers making product/service decisions.
B2B vs. B2C Marketing Agencies: What’s the Difference?
While there are many overlaps between B2B and B2C marketing, after all both cases do entail influencing human purchasing decisions, the platforms and channels as well as the strategic tactics and communication methodologies utilized within them are often quite divergent.
All to say that if you’re a B2B organization it’s best to work with an established B2B agency, or, as the case may be the dedicated B2B unit within an agency with both B2B and B2C capabilities, as they’ll have the specific B2B subject matter expertise required for a successful partnership.
7 Tips to Find the Best B2B Marketing Agency for You
1. Start Where You Want to Finish
Before you do anything at all have a clearly defined goal or set of goals in mind. A handy rule of thumb is to use the SMART methodology for goal setting to ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.
Setting clear benchmarks for success at the onset will deliver smoother selection and evaluation processes of potential agency partners.
2. Identify Your Areas of Weakness
Different agency partners, even those who on their face may seem similarly positioned, will often have different engagement models and/or areas of strength within their fulfillment capacities.
Understanding and documenting your internal strengths and weaknesses relevant to the scope of your potential engagement will go a long way in choosing the right partner to fill the gaps, especially in cases where you’re looking for a partner who can force-multiply in a way that augments your in-house team skills.
For example, maybe you have an in-house media capability crushing paid search management, but struggling to find the bandwidth to scale paid social activity in line with KPI achievement. Or maybe you have in-house creative that are great at execution, but need support with the overarching marketing strategy to guide their activity.
Being armed with a candid view of internal skills will go a long way toward selecting a partner with the right set of experience that will yield a strong fit for your unique needs.
3. Specify Your Internal Decision-Making Hierarchy
Know going into conversations with a potential agency partner(s) who from your team will be participating in the evaluation and at what stage of the process they need to be involved.
This entails getting clear buy-in on who will ultimately own the decision-making process and who will support and inform. This is especially important for organizations where multiple stakeholders from multiple departments, who will naturally have different priority hierarchies, will partake in the selection process.
Establishing and agreeing upon these points will go a long way in eliminating the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ effect that almost always comes with a misaligned buying committee.
4. Draft an Agency Brief with Scope-of-Work Requirements
Building off of the previous tip, having a documented agency brief, which will in some cases take the form of a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI) document, to provide to potential partners containing input from all your relevant internal stakeholders.
Preparing your brief will have transparent benefit to both you as well as the potential agency partners who will be looking to understand your requirements and deliver a responsive pitch and/or proposal.
5. Set a Firm Selection Process & Timeline
One of the oldest sayings in sales is time kills all deals. This is as true for the agency pitch team you’ll be engaging with as for you, the potential buyer who is in need of support to achieve your goals and get that end of year bonus.
The longer your selection process stretches out, the increased likelihood of an unforeseen circumstance entering into the equation to derail the process and rendering to waste a lot of time and effort.
Setting clear deadlines for partner deliverables as well as your own evaluation timeframes at every stage of the process, while also setting aside the time each stakeholder will need to participate in advance, will ensure an efficient process leading to an informed selection outcome.
6. How to Source the Right B2B Agencies to Evaluate
The shorthand answer is that potential agency partners will most often, and even should, come from three main sources:
- Existing Vendor Relationships – Many businesses already have an existing partner ecosystem and evaluating whether and to what extent the capacity to fulfill the current requirement is within their wheelhouse is always a good idea.
- Personal/Network Recommendations – Most businesses exist within a ‘small world’ competitor and vendor ecosystem, and you likely have past experiences, both positive and negative, with agency partners, so selecting known entities to include in your evaluation is never a bad idea.
- Research – To supplement the previous two sources, most will need to undertake a healthy amount of Googling to fill out their list of potential vendors. Below we’ll cover how to go about this in a way that will help surface the right potential partners to include in your review process, and ultimately select the right partner at the end of your evaluation.
7. Finding the Right B2B Marketing Agency Fit
While there are an infinite number of potential criteria upon which your internal decision-making will hinge, here are several points of consideration based on the various types of agencies you’ll encounter within your partner research and ultimate vendor selection processes:
- Full-Service vs. Specialist Agencies –
The marketplace contains a mix of agencies that offer one-stop-shopping as well as those who position themselves as best-in-breed for specific areas of delivery. Depending on the nature of your desired engagement as well as future considerations around need for expansion beyond the current requirement (you may prefer one partner to a daisy-chain of agencies that will have to connect with each other) should play into your decision-making.
- Broad vs. Narrow B2B Firmographic Coverage –
While B2B marketing is a niche in its own right, some agencies will further specialize within micro-niches of B2B marketing and primarily take on clients from a specific industry or cohort of industries. Considerations around needs for vertical expansion, bold/disruptive approaches influenced by work with a wider swath of clients, as well as your tolerance for partners who work with your competitors will all figure in here.
- Regional vs. Multi-Regional vs. Global Agencies –
Depending on your own physical business presence, relevant employee locations and/or target market geographies, you’ll necessarily need to take into account which type of agency is right for you: one that focuses on a specific market (or region within the market), one with multi-regional fulfillment capabilities and expertise, or one with global reach and team headcount coverage.
- Value vs. Retainer vs. Outcome-Based Business Models –
This one may not be so cut and dry given a single agency may have revenue model options for one or more within a single team or across delivery teams, but how an agency is compensated, or how you select a partner based on a desire for a specific compensation model, will directly affect the nature of outcomes.
You’ll necessarily have to account for the goals with which we began this exercise as well as your available budget threshold(s) when reflecting upon this aspect of your evaluation.
As an example, if you’re looking for a B2B PPC agency as a marketer with a pipeline or revenue target, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of going with a PPC management agency who operates on a value or retainer-based model vs. one with a cost-per-lead (CPL) or cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model in terms of who will best invest your available budget in a way that achieves those targets.
- Cultural Fit Considerations –
This one may seem subjective, but at the end of the day we should be able to enjoy working with our partners of choice. This includes not only the comradery factor, but extends to include whether an agency is easy to work with in other important ways:
- Are their ways of working a fit with those of you as an individual, assuming you’ll be their primary point of contact, as well as the business as a whole?
- Can they operate on your internal project management and/or other communications platform(s)?
- Are their team members situated in time zones that are convenient to those of your team?
- Can they report outcomes in a way that fits with your own success benchmarking parameters?
- Etc., etc., etc…
Oh, By The Way…
If you’re in the market for a full-service B2B marketing agency with global reach that specializes in connecting the dots across Marketing Strategy, Creative, Media, Web Development and more… One that focuses on the full revenue picture across acquisition, to be sure, but also figures Sales Enablement and Customer Growth into the equation to encompass the full CLTV journey… We happen to be just such an agency!
We look forward to hearing from you!