If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
It’s a timeless idiom with a lineage so long and a relevance so broad that proper attribution has been made difficult (an attribution challenge in marketing? Unheard of!). Still, the message stands firm: any endeavor benefits from collaboration. B2B marketing is no different. It is an incredibly complex venture with unique challenges across each and every brand.
This is why many successful B2B organizations count on a complex ecosystem of external marketing agency partners. These third-parties provide a multi-person addition to your team, with varying areas of expertise and skillsets, making it an exceptionally cost-effective and valuable choice with tremendous benefits.
Still, enlisting an agency partner requires planning and ongoing management. With a little forethought, however, the work required upfront ends up paying off in spades. This guide covers key points in the process of finding, enlisting, and working with a B2B agency, and will help any marketer get the most out of their B2B marketing partnerships.
When To Enlist 3rd-Party B2B Marketing Services
Before looking at potential partners, you have to deeply understand your own team and your own marketing. A good exercise to run through is picking one particular marketing initiative (if you’ve gotten to that point), and closely examining each step that was taken to finalize it, from ideation to refinement to execution to analysis.
At each stage, ask yourself:
- Was my team burdened with time crunches?
- Did we have the bandwidth to handle each aspect carefully, without the stress of deadlines affecting quality?
- Did we struggle with the necessary expertise on niche subjects?
- Were we completely happy with the final product?
- As folks who are close to the brand, were we able to judge it effectively, and see it from the perspective of the ultimate target audience?
If you consistently find that marketing efforts are stretching your time thin and that your team ends up burdened with details or struggling with creativity while juggling multiple tasks, you may be a candidate for some outside help.
Furthermore, it is quite a lot to ask of employees to be experts in everything, especially given the range of skills required to handle each aspect of marketing. Marketing is a remarkably complex business function. As Rich Kylberg, former VP of Marketing at Arrow, has said: “You’ve got very little chance of figuring something like this out with a partner. You’ve got no chance of figuring it out without one.”
Research and Vet Candidates Thoroughly
After flagging areas in which your team could use some assistance, it’s time to look outwards and start narrowing down which type of agency would be a best fit. There are more specialized agencies, of course—B2B digital marketing firms, content marketing firms, email marketing firms, industry-specific firms, and so on—which may be just what you need if you’ve identified a very specific gap in your team’s abilities. However, an easier place to start is by looking for full-service B2B marketing agencies that have dealt with clients in your industry.
Once you’ve done a bit of internet sleuthing, asked for recommendations from your network, and gathered a list of potential candidates, dig a little deeper into each candidate’s background. Reach out to these agencies, and ask them the following questions—while considering if your business has unique considerations worth adding in—to determine how they align with your brand, and with your team’s needs.
- What’s your organizational purpose?
- Do you have the expertise to solve this particular challenge?
- What work have you done with other relevant B2B companies?
- Will any recent clients provide references?
- Who from your agency will we be working with?
- What is your typical process like, and is there anything unique about it?
- Who do you compete with, and what makes you different?
- How do you measure the success of an engagement?
- What won’t you do during a typical engagement?
To read more about how each of those questions can inform the best agency fit for you, you can check out this blog post.
Yet another valuable resource is a network of CMOs and marketers who can share their experiences, recommendations, and anything else that may help inform your selection. One such example is CMO Huddles, a network of over 100 B2B CMOs that meet regularly to talk shop. CMO Huddles actively curates a list of vetted marketing agencies and connect huddlers to them directly for a range of projects.
Build An Infrastructure for your B2B Marketing Agency Partner
Once a partner is picked, it’s time to build up the infrastructure to best support a healthy partnership. Naturally, this is going to look a bit different for each company, and each agency partnership. There are far too many variables to set a standard, but what organizations can do is establish a standard for how they determine the best fit.
The best place to start? Talking. Communication is the tried-and-true foundation of virtually any and every relationship; the relationship between a B2B marketing partner and your organization is no exception.
Gabi Zijderveld, CMO at Smart Eye, noted in a recent interview that one great impact of her company’s sudden growth was, it “forced [them] to get together in a room with [their] PR agency to hash out how [they were] going to talk about the company.” In her experience, being forced to sit down and talk strategy with her team, and with the team of talented people they’d enlisted, resulted in the firm steps for them to take over the next 6 months.
Oftentimes, better agencies will be able to recommend plans of how to communicate effectively. They’ll also provide the wonderful benefit of an additional perspective. Dan Lowden, CMO of HUMAN, noted that during the process of working with analytical partners, HUMAN got “a perspective that [they] really didn’t think about previously.” Marketers need to constantly evolve, and sharing regular communications with experts who can give you an outsider’s view is critical.
So, while the infrastructure may look different from partnership to partnership, one ubiquitous quality is healthy communications and collaboration, preferably established from the get-go. To start off on the right foot, we’d suggest taking these 3 steps:
- Ask your selected partner how they’ve historically established good communications with their clients. Use this discussion to then establish a regular cadence of communication. It can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly (though that often ends up as too infrequent)—but the regularity is important.
- Dedicate staff to managing this partnership. Having a single point of contact for agency partners only stands to benefit the company. This can be a team of people or a single person, but having an established staff member who knows the partner team well, knows how they work, and can help translate it into results internally, will pay off.
- Make sure that the partner has clear visibility of relevant processes on your end. Help educate them on how your team works, what MarTech you’ve enlisted, and how you’ve historically managed campaigns.
Manage The Ongoing Relationship
Marketing needs to be flexible. There are new challenges each and every day, and the best marketing efforts are ones that receive ample attention regularly. This isn’t to say that enlisting a B2B marketing partner ends up creating more work. Rather, dedicating a bit of your internal team’s time to managing these partners will end up creating a more effective marketing machine which will, in turn, free up considerable swathes of time. But, how do you do so effectively?
There’s no magic answer here, nor should there be. Keep things human. Stick to the planned, regular series of communications, while keeping things flexible as new marketing needs emerge. This is where the regular points of contact will come in handy. Beyond that, make sure to manage expectations—that will help guide your communications and make them more productive.
A few best practices for communications to keep in mind:
- Explicitly pin down the goal of each project, and then create broader steps that will get you there. Include both quantitative and qualitative KPI goals. But, remember that marketing efforts don’t always go according to plan, and improvisation may be needed down the line.
- Take detailed notes and make sure meeting summaries are shared with all relevant parties.
- Commit to the established schedule of communications. While there will always be scheduling challenges, and you may not always be able to make meetings, it is worth trying to prioritize these discussions and plan around them as often as you can.
A lot of this relationship will depend on how you’ve planned and executed the previous 3 steps. Selecting your B2B marketing partner and creating a healthy infrastructure for collaboration will be the biggest allies in a well-managed relationship. Heather Salerno, CMO of AppCast, may have put it best in a recent interview: “Find a good agency with people that you enjoy working with. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them.”
Final Thoughts on Managing B2B Marketing Partnerships
There’s a lot to take in here. In essence, successfully managing B2B partnerships means planning considerably upfront, informing that planning with ample research, and dedicating time and resources to ongoing management. This approach will ultimately supercharge your creative marketing efforts, boost analytical capabilities, and save your team large amounts of time.
There’s a reason the marketplace for B2B marketing services exists—being able to enlist a team of experts with fresh perspectives has tremendous value. But, enlisting that team isn’t a set-and-forget exercise. It requires thoughtful preparation and some ongoing effort. Be it for content marketing, digital marketing, email marketing, or any other form of B2B marketing under the sun: for every bit of prep and effort you put in early on, you can expect to get much more in return.