When looking for a new B2B marketing agency — whether it’s a full-service, digital, brand and/or advertising agency — to partner with, CMOs and their teams must know what questions to ask to ensure they can handle the work and drive the results they desire. For B2B marketing and advertising, it usually comes down to five themes: experience, business model, quality of thinking, people and execution. If those five things work, results will follow. Here are the top 10 marketing agency questions to ask in order to ensure a team is a good fit before hiring them.
1. Does your agency strictly serve B2B companies?
The smartest CMOs know there’s a big difference between agencies that say they do business to business and those that focus on it 100%, and they know what questions to ask an agency before hiring one. Do you want an advertising agency that is working on selling soda water through a drive-in window today, and tomorrow puts on their B2B hat, trying to drive leads for a technology firm through a complicated VAR channel or distributor network? Get specific, and understand what companies are doing. Not for just one client, but for 10. Smart marketers dig deep and aren’t impressed by big brand names and pretty pictures—that’s not what they’re hiring for.
2. Describe your agency’s advertising, digital and other marketing services. What is internal and what is outsourced?
Understanding the full array of an agency’s marketing services, and its business model, is important. You are hiring a marketing company to drive results. To do so, an agency must understand your strategy, brand, and tactics, and execute those services over a full array of deliverables. You want a team that will drive your needs end-to-end. In this digital age, a strong digital marketing agency is going to be invaluable. You might start with a small project, but the long-term relationship is where an agency will provide real value. Smart marketers also know that advertising agencies do not do everything in-house; sometimes they outsource to freelancers. This helps them manage bandwidth and allows them to seek experts when needed. The best-run marketing teams internalize 75%-80% of their business (not including media buys). That helps control the marketing services and the final product while meeting customers’ rush orders. As you do your homework, know the prospective agencies’ business models before hiring one, and make sure the one you choose fits you as the client.
3. What were you thinking?
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? The single best question we have been asked (only a few times) by a company CMO is “Can you describe your thinking here?” We’ve seen this asked when presenting advertising spec work or even when presenting case studies. Why pose the question? CMOs and top tier marketers know that when agencies do spec work it might not be on target…but how they got there and the thinking involved is critical. An agency doesn’t know the brand well enough yet to be on point, but good thinkers will drive results. The same is true for case studies. The CMO might not like the final product as a case study, but they don’t know the thinking that went into it and the reason the agency went that direction. B2B is a thinking game. Good thinking that’s tested will always drive results.
4. What can you tell me about your marketing team and the people I’ll be working with?
A relationship with your agency (or agencies) is not about one project; it’s about a range of work over a period of time that touches a variety of people on the client and the agency side. Great marketers want to know about the staff they will be working with on a daily basis. Do the top dogs build the relationship then turn it over to a bunch of novices? Is the staff made up of B2C pros masking as B2B experts, or do they have many years of specific experience? Is the firm full of recent college graduates or seasoned professionals? Will you learn something from them, or will your CMO be tasked with educating them? CMOs know it is about the people, not the name on the door.
5. What processes does your marketing team employ to ensure you execute every time?
CMOs and great marketers know that their partner should be able to explain their processes and how they impact the work they do. Ask about the strategic and planning processes and how they’re used to drive results. Understand how agencies price their work, how they communicate (status calls, creative briefs, project briefs) and how they provide customer service. CMOs know and can articulate their company’s workflows, and they expect a marketing agency to do the same. It is not sexy, but a great process delivers consistency, execution and results.
6. What is your agency’s approach during each stage of the buying cycle?
This is a natural continuation of point #5. Just like an advertising team should be able to clearly articulate their pricing and processes, they should also be able to articulate their strategy for reaching specific audiences. In short, they should prove they can clearly define an audience profile at each stage of the purchase cycle, otherwise they won’t be effective and there’s no point in hiring them. In an age of hyper-segmentation and personalization, with more advertising channels than ever before, this is no small thing to ask. You can start by determining whether your potential agency partner has a handle on the basics. These include:
- A fundamental understanding of the traditional AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) sales funnel
- The ability to engage audiences through lifecycle marketing
- Whether they are staying abreast of trends and changes in the B2B buying journey
Mind you, it’s okay if the agency (or agencies) in question lays out their approach in broad strokes so long as they have a clear plan of attack. After all, the specifics of each marketing strategy during various stages of the buying process will vary from project to project. Your agency partner should be flexible while still having clear goals. Most importantly, you need to give them the freedom to communicate and improvise when campaign strategy calls for it.
7. How will you target content to our audience?
If you’ve gotten through these first six questions and the agency (or agencies) in question hasn’t even mentioned content strategy, they likely won’t be a good fit. Content strategy plays a crucial role across each stage of the buying cycle for any marketing campaign. Blog posts, vlogs, white papers, webinars, case studies, eBooks, interviews, live event streaming—these are all examples of content that can and should be implemented at every stage in the buying journey. A solid partner will be able to define where each piece of content fits in the buying cycle according to industry, brand and product. Buyers research companies online before communicating with a sales rep, so your potential agency partner is going to realize these initial online touchpoints are the wellspring of all future success, and they will have specific content strategies to achieve it.
8. Why is your agency a good fit for our industry?
There are reputable marketing companies that have been around long enough to acquire at least some measure of expertise in many different industries. Naturally, you’ll want to keep them in mind when narrowing your list of options. Beyond that, you’ll want to focus on hiring companies that have a process in place for acquiring any additional expertise they need to execute a successful campaign for your specific product. Collaboration is key, so you’ll want to make your team available to the marketing agency during the content development process. If the agency is armed with the appropriate info, they can then craft ideal content. Your only role at that point will be vetting and approval. The risk is that the agency goes beyond an advisory/information-resource role and starts trying to craft the campaign themselves. You’ll always want to give the agency the info they need to craft a campaign tailored to your brand without micromanaging their process. It’s a fine line, but one that can be negotiated with proper distance, time management and expectations.
9. How will your agency integrate with our sales process?
This is a crucial “what will you do, precisely” question because the potential for misalignment is always a risk. What you don’t want is to hire a partner that’s only going to create silos within your organization. How do you determine this? You’ll know if the marketing agency asks the right B2B marketing questions. If the agency asks questions about the types of leads and data that your sales team tracks, that’s a good sign. If they’re concerned with attribution over the typically long sales cycles of the business-to-business world, that’s also positive. If they’re concerned about all this and they want to know about sales team incentives (such as bonuses) that might influence quarterly activity, then you’re looking at a blue-chip prospect that you should consider hiring sooner rather than later.
10. How will you balance branding with hitting revenue targets?
If there’s anything close to a trick question on this list, it’s this final query. No brand should be focused on hitting revenue targets no matter the cost. If your revenue targets are so pie-in-the-sky that hitting them means sacrificing top-of-the-funnel awareness of your brand, well, that’s playing the short game—it will probably be a loss in the long run. A good, creative branding agency is going to know what to ask, and they’ll offer an answer that balances a full view of the sales funnel with sales targets. They’ll know which lead indicators to track and how to change tactics when they’re off target.
At the end of the day, your B2B marketing agency should know all of the ins and outs of your industry and the business to business world in general. They should be able to clearly articulate the reasoning behind every strategy they suggest, and provide a skilled team of individuals well-versed in multiple B2B-specific marketing tactics. While it is important for you to help guide the vision for your company’s marketing campaign, a strong marketing team will thrive when you allow them to collaborate with you and exercise their creativity in presenting fresh ideas. By asking these ten questions, you will be able to effectively narrow down the agencies that can deliver a successful B2B marketing campaign for your company.