B2B brands’ marketing departments are constantly evolving. Over the past 10 years, marketing teams have undergone a seismic shift to accommodate changing technology, millennial consumers and employees, and to breakdown silos between marketing and the rest of the business.
To keep pace with the changing marketplace, many B2B brands are working to find the perfect balance between growing out their in-house digital marketing team and partnering with an external digital marketing agency. Most brands are seeking agency partners to provide a spectrum of services, from tactical support to creative strategy and content innovation. And they need a partner that can adapt and evolve along with their marketing needs and opportunities.
So, the question is: To find that partner that can grow and adapt to your needs, what should you be looking for?
In our humble opinion, the best brand/agency partnerships help brands stay ahead of their competitors with integrated strategies, an eye on the latest and greatest, and the ability to measure and iterate on the success of campaigns. Here are some key characteristics that you should be on the lookout for.
What to Look for in a B2B Marketing Agency Partner
#1 – They have an eye (and hand) on emerging trends.
Interactive content. Influencer marketing. Podcasting. Virtual Reality. As the B2B landscape and B2B buyers evolve, brands and marketers need to adapt their digital and content marketing strategies to not only stand out from their competition and reach their target audience audience, but connect and resonate with buyers. And that means carefully investing in new types of content and strategies.
Of course, dipping your toe into new waters can be scary, and you’ll need to set aside time, resources, and budget for testing new mediums and following trends. And at the end of the day, you need the expertise to get it done. That’s where an experienced agency partner can help you gain traction.
For example, if you’re interested in going bold with interactive content; look for an external agency with experience here to help you:
- Planning: An experienced marketing agency likely already has a planning checklist developed and has worked through the kinks you haven’t even considered yet; like where to host, how to optimize multi-media files, and how to create a UX experience in an non-static asset.
- Tools and Equipment: New trends often require new technology. Tap into a marketing agency’s existing tool set and expertise using the tools.
- Optimization: Another benefit of agency specialization is that they’ve already optimized the process, the promotion mix and experience, so your brand gets the benefit of all that experience; instead of having to start from scratch.
- Measurement: A great agency partner will be able to help you set up tracking and provide reporting to tell you if and how emerging trends are really working for you.
#2 – They possess undeniable strategic acumen.
External agencies are great at providing support and creative ideas as needed for projects. However, the development of agency talent, expertise and context, provides agencies with strategic expertise to help you develop the marketing approach that informs their tactical support.
Tapping into an outside perspective to deep dive into owned, competitive, or prospect data to develop a comprehensive strategy and recommendation can be a really impactful set up in planning. External agencies can offer brand support in:
- Owned and competitive audits.
- Strategic roadmaps.
- Customer or prospect research and profiles.
- Overcoming marketing pain points like a lack of qualified leads or a sudden drop in traffic.
#3 – They challenge the status quo.
In-house marketing teams offer the benefit of people that are deeply immersed within the brand and the team. Frequently they sit in the same building, same floor as the rest of the team, making them easily accessible for questions, brainstorming, and strategy development.
This can be a great benefit when it comes to the free flow of information and integration across team. However, familiarity can be stifle innovation. But the good news is that it can empower an outsider to think differently.
By offering a third-party, neutral perspective, an agency can drive tough conversations that push you out of your comfort zone to create next-level strategies, and help:
- Persuade: Agencies’ specialization and work across many clients can drive knowledge and credibility which may be able to convince a marketing team to take the next step.
- Bring new ideas: Agency marketers, who live and breathe new marketing, and often focus on creative hires, can supply brands with new tactical or creative approaches which can push the envelope and grab attention within the marketplace.
#4 – They prioritize client relationships.
The relationship an external agency creates with your brand and in-house team is so critical. The best agency/brand relationships are based on trust and genuine alignment of goals.
Strong relationships are a key factor in creating innovative and successful marketing tactics. As you are considering agency partners, look for:
- Alignment of values, purpose and mission: Agencies and brands that fit and work best together tend to have alignment around key culture items. Teams which exemplify the brand/agency core values are able to connect and enjoy working collaboratively toward the same goals.
- Engaged Listening: Agency partners need to advise, but they should also be adept listeners. During the prospecting phase, a potentially great agency partner should be able to really listen to your business’ needs and present a solution that syncs with your brands’ objectives.
- Thoughtfulness: Yes, great agency partners are responsive to your needs and queries. Perhaps more important than a quick response; is thoughtfulness and quality of response. A really great partner will offer you well thought out and creative solutions to challenges and questions, to really drive results.
- A referral from someone you trust: When it doubt, ask your colleagues and associates for a referral to an agency they love. If they love them, that agency is already more likely to align with your values, be familiar with your brand voice and requirements, and think of you as a highly valuable partner.
#5 – They’re committed to transparency of contracts, tactics, and data.
Along with prioritizing the relationship, the right agency partner will build trust with your brand by offering transparency, which comes to everything from contract deliverables to the results of your core KPIs.
If you are partnering with an agency to help you test emerging trends; it’s especially critical that a great partner share what is and is not working, so your teams can together optimize and iterate.
Whether it’s a change in timeline, a tweak to a tactical mix or an honest assessment of how you’re tracking against benchmarks, a good partner will drive straight forward conversations that help you move forward in the best way.
#6 – They know your niche.
In B2B it can be especially tough to get up to speed on a new vertical or product. Tapping into an agency that has a similar client base to you; speeds the learning curve as much as possible.
Industry trends (like IOT for example) often span verticals; so look for a partner that understands the lingo, but also has an existing network of influencer and contacts.
Better Together: Find a Partner You Can Grow With
The agency place within your marketing department will continue to evolve as your team does. And partnering with right agency can provide you with a partner who will help you innovate tactically and strategically, while providing your in house team with the support they need to reach their goals in 2019 and beyond.
What do you look for in a great agency partnership? Tell us in the comments section below.
We’re fortunate enough to have built client relationships that stand the test of time. For many, we engage in an always-on approach to digital marketing, allowing us to capitalize on opportunities and tackle challenges. Get a small glimpse into what an ongoing partnership looks like by learning how we were able to make small tweaks to yield big results for one client in a niche B2B industry.