The tell-tale signs are all evident. The infectious energy and enthusiasm you shared when you first got together have dissipated. Conversations are less frequent and feel mundane. Other priorities have consumed you. Physical touch is almost non-existent, as most of your interactions are now via phone or email. You don’t feel as though your partner supports you with the same vigor or quality of advice. In short, you don’t feel like you’re growing and your needs are no longer being met.
It’s always sad when an agency and their client arrive at this point in their relationship. However, it’s not uncommon in a world where the expectations of B2B marketers have shifted dramatically. Agencies that have not evolved to support their client’s needs increasingly find themselves unable to add value to the relationship.
What type of agency are you working with? Here are 5 indicators that your current agency may not have evolved and it’s time to see what’s out there:
1. You Lack Confidence in Their Services to Support Your Needs
Marketers want to feel like their agency is way ahead of them, and can bring new thinking, strategies and tools to solve their current problem.
What you need today could be drastically different from what you needed 5 years ago. Buyers are seeking more information before they shortlist you. Every company is now a publisher and there is a deluge of content to compete with. Your sales team is asking for more leads, more sales tools and more insights about the customer, so that they can ‘challenge’ them effectively. Over the last few years, technology has automated many traditional marketing tasks. We have access to more tools and data than ever before, and best practices continue to get better.
An evolved agency knows to “invest in itself” on an ongoing basis. Many agencies don’t develop their own IP because they lack the knowledge or resources to do so. However, they could subscribe to services from leading Marketing thinktanks such as SiriusDecisions, CEB or MarketingProfs, that regularly develop strategies, methodologies and templates for today’s B2B marketing problems.
If your agency keeps recommending more of the same old stuff without offering any practical innovations, then it may be time to do a deep competitive scan to see how your marketing compares.
3 questions to determine your confidence level with your agency:
- Has your agency added new services over the last few years?
- How has your agency augmented their existing service offerings to be one of the best?
- How has your agency invested in technology and best practices for themselves?
2. Your Account Team Operates as Order Takers Rather Than Strategic Allies
If you prefer a humble ‘yes man’ that’s adept at carrying out orders, then please move to the next paragraph. But if you want your account service team (and by extension, the entire agency) to look out for your best interest, then they should be challenging you, pushing back on your ideas and offering intelligent alternatives.
An evolved strategic agency has the expertise and experience to know which strategies and tactics have a higher probability of meeting your objectives. They should be professional enough to manage the process and say “No” when warranted. That’s what you’re hiring the agency to do: To set you up for success.
Much of this evolution can be attributed to how your agency is investing in their account people. Investment means training, conferences and exposure to new ideas. Another aspect to consider are the values of your agency. If your agency values ‘doing what’s right’ or in the best interest of your business objectives, then they shouldn’t proceed with the wrong thing regardless of how much money you’re giving them.
3 questions to determine whether you are working with order takers:
- When you brief your agency on a new project, do they challenge your ideas and suggest better alternatives?
- What skill development and training has your agencies account team undergone?
- Do you feel like your account service team operates with your best interests in mind?
3. You Are Not Seeing the Results You Are Paying For
You’ve spent a lot of money with your agency, and they’ve done a lot of work for you. So, how are you judging the quality of their work and whether you received value for your money?
Depending on the type of work, it can be very easy to measure the results. For example, a campaign that’s meant to generate X amount of leads in the pipeline can be measured at several levels. However, a project such as persona development is typically deemed a success based on more qualitative measurements such as feedback from key stakeholders.
As an agency, a big issue we often experience is that we’re not privy to the results. For example, we create content such as eBooks or infographics, but we don’t get feedback from the clients on the engagement and funnel metrics. We strongly suggest making the KPI’s for each project very clear during the briefing stage. Also, make sure your agency understands how the project fits into the bigger picture, so they’ll have the context to make better suggestions. Once the project is completed, there should be regular discussions to measure the success and make the necessary adjustments.
3 questions to determine whether you are on the same page:
- Were the KPI’s clear before the project began?
- Were the KPIs measured consistently once the project launched?
- How accountable is your agency to the results? Are they making the appropriate adjustments?
4. Your agency doesn’t make your life easier
I recently came across the best-selling book “What Clients Really Want (And the Sh*t that Drives Them Crazy)”, by Chantell Glenville. Chantell has worked both client and agency-sides, and has written the book from the perspective of a client which is rather unique. She suggests that all clients want great creative, innovation and the expertise of the agency. But what clients really, really want (but don’t explicitly ask for this) is for their agency to make their lives easier and to not make their lives harder.
The hallmark of an agency built to make your life easier is their ability to operate without a lot of supervision. They know you and your business well enough to be able to translate a conversation into a brief and then into a successful deliverable, without you having to be involved in making decisions on every detail.
Once you’ve started working with an agency, they should not be making your life more difficult. Examples of the ways that agencies create headaches for clients include setting poor expectations, not giving a heads-up on yellow flag situations and creating more paperwork then reasonably necessary.
If working with your agency is creating stress for you because they don’t understand your business or how your work, they’re not a true partner. If they don’t understand the obstacle you’re facing and/or they’re not willing to go the extra mile to help you overcome the obstacle, they’re not a true partner.
3 questions to determine whether your agency is a true partner:
- Does your agency understand your business well enough?
- Does your agency understand your internal processes and constraints well enough?
- Does your agency regularly go the extra mile to help you?
5. You’re not seeing new ideas from them
According to Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Infographic, there are now over 3,800 marketing tech solutions, which is almost double from the previous year. This can be daunting as it’s difficult to know which of these technologies and companies actually matter to you. Your agency should be a guide to this world of potential, especially in their field(s) of specialty. It’s unreasonable for an agency to know about all the technologies, but within their ecosystem they should have access to the right people or partners in order to facilitate a meeting or lunch-and-learn, and ultimately develop a point-of-view on whether the technology is something for you to strongly consider.
One reason to work with an agency is to benefit from ideas that their other clients may be using. Internal sharing at the agency enables your account team to learn about other use cases, and how the agency solved them. They should then be considering your business to determine whether there is any relevance and benefit to applying similar thinking to you.
3 questions to determine whether your agency is keeping things fresh:
- Is your agency introducing new tools or technologies they think you could benefit from?
- Is your agency showing off some of the work they’ve done with their other clients and suggesting how you may benefit from them?
- Do they regularly send your articles or reports about ideas that may help you or your business?
If the answers to the questions I’ve suggested make you feel a bit (or a lot) uncomfortable about the level of service you’re getting from your current agency, feel free to book some time to vent, rant or to ask questions. We have built our agency by hiring smart, resourceful B2B marketers that are passionate about doing what’s right for the client. We simply like to help. Find out more about our approach at www.getlift.com/evolve