Typically, when we talk to business to business (B2B) customers, there is the marketing problem and there is the business problem. So, if you’re trying to find and hire a marketing company, it’s probably because you have an underlying business problem and don’t know how to solve that problem.
Your business problem is probably related to one or all of the following:
- You need to close more business.
- You’re not generating enough leads that deliver revenue.
- You need a better return on your marketing investment.
So, before you even start to consider marketing agencies, you need to learn how to define success. It can’t just be, “we need more something, but we don’t know what.”
Instead, you need to have a set of goals or key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, your company might decide on the following KPIs:
- We need to generate 200 more leads in the first quarter of 2022.
- Out of those 200 we need to close 50 of those leads.
Now that you have quantified and identified the business problem and come up with clear KPIs, you can tie a dollar amount to achieving those goals. From there you can start learning more about how to market your business and what to prioritize when you hire an agency to help you achieve your marketing and business goals. The next step in that process is understanding that business to consumer (B2C) marketing is not the same as B2B marketing – and why.
Differences in priorities between B2C marketing and B2B marketing
Although, there’s been a lot of buzz about B2B marketing showing signs of incorporating more B2C strategies, there’s still a vast difference between what you would look for in a marketing agency as a business who markets to consumers and what you want in a B2B agency.
What B2C companies look for in a B2C marketing company
On the B2C side, most studies show that when people are looking for a marketing agency to help them, they tend to hire based on the following:
1. Relationships and customer service
They like the people at the agency.
The agency has an impressive creative portfolio.
3. Campaign outcomes
The agency has demonstrated an ability to deliver strong results.
In B2C marketing, you can take short-cuts by cutting out the research and strategy pieces, because the buying cycle is very quick, and transactions happen fast. Your company’s product or service goes to market, and you learn lessons about your buyers’ behavior then make adjustments in real time.
Many modern B2C agencies use highly visual tactics, cool designs, slick portfolios and reels. B2C campaigns often feature glamorous, creative ads and/or witty messaging because marketing agencies know that attracts the people who like the bright and shiny, and it’s what tends to work well in the faster paced B2C sector.
What B2B companies tend to look for in a B2B agency
In the past, B2B decision-makers gravitated towards working with creative people they like because it was all about relationships — but that has changed. B2B buyers still care about creativity and the likeability of the people at the agency they work with, but those are secondary factors.
Likeability is starting to fall behind other factors like leads, sales and ROI, because we are becoming more of a results-based world. Technology has made it increasingly easier to measure those results.
In the past, you couldn’t measure what a marketer was doing, and if you couldn’t accurately determine the success of a campaign, then most decision-makers wanted to at least work with people they like.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this shift towards focusing on campaign outcomes by forcing decision-makers in the B2B space to look closely into what marketing is actually doing for their companies. Suddenly, during the pandemic, that half a million dollars really counted, and those leads counted.
When you are looking for a good agency, most B2B buyers are looking for an agency that truly understands their buyers and their business, then connects those dots – that is, solves the business problem for them.
Therefore, what we’ve found on the B2B side is, typically, that what 80% of B2B buyers look for in an agency includes:
1. The ability to do research-based strategy
2. Messaging and content strategy
The ability to tell a story about the brand and thereby enable buyers to connect with them through that story.
3. Campaign outcomes
The ability to put together a campaign that gets results.
These are important on the B2B side because the sales cycles are longer than in B2C. When you have a sales cycle that is 9 months to a year, you typically run into the issue of “I’m going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, doing marketing before I really know what the core end result is” in terms of closing on new business.
How to approach B2B marketing strategy
The best agencies get results because they do the research and unlock those insights to understand a client’s business, and their customers as well.
A solid B2B marketing strategy also involves determining what the key differentiators are that, at the end of the day, are going to set you apart from the rest of the market – from your competitors. But effective B2B agencies must analyze if those differentiators matter to the client’s buyers.
Your brand may be different from another, but do the insights your marketing agency uncovers resonate with customers at the end of the day? Otherwise, you’re dead in the water with nothing to show for your marketing investment.
You could be Apple, but if you can’t communicate that you are Apple, then regardless of how many millions of dollars you invest in your marketing efforts, it doesn’t matter.
People won’t buy it – or anything – from you. There are a lot of great products out there that never got off the ground, from brands that have not been able to execute successful marketing campaigns.
Rather than guessing about what your buyers want, use quantitative and qualitative research. Analyze that data to come up with some “aha” moments and endeavor to really understand what buyers are looking for. Perform similar types of research and analysis to understand your competition. Look at what competitors are doing and what they are saying.
You may be in an industry where everyone says the same thing, because that is what is driving the market. But how you say that, and how you say that differently – that’s what sets a great agency apart from an average one. It’s a very noisy world in the B2B space. To compete with all the other content available to your target customers, how you tell your brand story or product story is very important.
1. Analyze research data
Uncover the key insights and building blocks from all your research and competitive analysis data.
2. Create your brand’s story
Put them into a narrative that’s unique and compelling.
3. Develop your marketing plan
From there, you can build out a strategic marketing plan that communicates that message, that story.
4. Determine your KPIs
Lastly, define what results you’re looking for, refine and continue.
What to look for in a B2B marketing agency
To qualify whether any given B2B agency is a good fit for your firm and your industry, delve deeper into the three factors we talked about earlier – research-based strategy, proven brand story-telling skills, and a track record of results from marketing campaigns.
The following steps will help you assess the experience level and effectiveness of all the companies you’re considering:
1. Analyze the agency’s work for other clients in your industry
Walk through case studies, especially ones that are related to your industry or space. What work did they do for other clients? What were the different steps they took to build out that company’s marketing plan? Ask them to walk you through their process, but have it connected to a case study that is related to your specific vertical, so you can see how the campaign unfolded, including the results. And not just one case study, but two or three of them. This step is crucial to figuring out what the difference is between one agency and the next.
Besides their work for other B2B companies, look very closely at how the agency itself tells its own story – online and in the presentations they’re doing for you. If they can’t do it themselves, then odds are they can’t do it for their clients either.
For both case studies and the agency’s own marketing, pay close attention to:
- Comprehensive strategy – not just tactical
- Brand building and storytelling
- Integration of digital and traditional marketing
2. For B2B digital marketing – look for an agency that understands the full B2B online marketing stack, not just PPC or SEO
Digital is so much more than pay-per-click (PPC) or search engine optimization (SEO). It encompasses content, creative, storytelling, messaging, branding and PR. Therefore, it’s vital that any agency you hire is able to offer integration of all these services.
Even if you are only looking for one service, like a PPC campaign, you’re certainly better off hiring an agency that can do all those services holistically. More than anything else, you need an agency that thinks about B2B marketing in an integrated way. Because the sales cycle is so long, you must connect a variety of different pieces that have to all work together.
3. Choose a B2B marketing agency that aligns marketing and sales
Another big point of differentiation is that you need an agency that not only thinks about the marketing process, but also the selling process. A lot of B2B agencies are just thinking about the sales funnel, generating leads or building a brand and telling a story. They are not thinking about pulling that all the way through to the sales cycle.
Traditionally, marketing and sales teams don’t talk. A good agency should force them to communicate and collaborate. A great B2B marketing agency is not just talking to the customers, it is also talking to the sales force as part of the research process, building out the story you need to tell and getting the information to the sales team up front. This kind of alignment expertise only comes from doing.
A great agency will have brought marketing and sales together successfully across many, many accounts and industry verticals and can walk you through that process and show the results they delivered.
Since the typical B2B buyer’s journey takes nine months to a year to complete, if you generate a lead in the first 60 days of that sales cycle, then pass it along to your sales force and it takes another six months to close, there should be a lot of marketing that occurs during those six months.
Historically, you never used to find full marketing and sales funnel management within a company. Instead, concepts came from marketing and got handed off to sales and then was never seen again. Therefore, hiring an agency that integrates your marketing to not only encompass the marketing side of the funnel but the sales cycle, as well, is crucial. If their sales and marketing teams aren’t fully aligned and integrated, then the agency must have proven capability in creating marketing materials that help salespeople close business.
A good agency has the ability to encourage or navigate/facilitate the conversation that has to happen between sales and marketing. And that is what drives the results that impact the bottom line. CEOs don’t care how many leads are generated; they care about how much revenue is generated.
In B2B, marketing isn’t just solving a marketing problem, marketing is solving a sales problem. Looking at B2B marketing in a holistic way, strategizing comprehensively and successfully navigating the conversation has to happen between marketing and sales.
At the end of the day, your CEO doesn’t care if you like the agency you work with, they only care about delivering results.
So why do you care? You don’t want the people at the agency you work with to be rude, but no matter how much you enjoy talking to them, they need to be able to drive successful B2B campaigns that bring in new business and increase revenue. Analyze the ROI and really ask. Half a million dollars goes into marketing and lead generation, but what is the result? If the return isn’t there, then it’s time to move on and find a better agency.