In an ideal world, B2B agencies and clients would always be in sync. Both would recognize what services and marketing strategies are needed to move the business needle and to bolster Brand preference. Both would clearly recognize the opportunities to create differentiation from competitors and to build a foundation for long-term growth.
But like most things in life, the ideal world is simply not reality.
And the main reason for this disconnect, if we’re honest, is that agencies tend to approach their client’s business goals with their own self-interest in mind. They tend to sell things to clients that play to their strengths; that are profitable for their business; and that look good on their agency reel. To a point, this makes sense. But it also underlines the core reality that the best interests of an agency are not always 100% aligned with the best interests of the clients that they are supposed to serve.
Many times, agency and client goals and interests are perfectly in sync with each other. But in other instances, they just aren't. And most of the time, it’s due to an agency that only sells and recommends what it offers – regardless of whether it is the best approach for their clients.
MarketingProfs released a new study that asked B2B client and B2B agency respondents what they thought the most exciting digital marketing opportunity is in 2014. For B2B clients, the most popular answer was "Content Marketing" (36%). For B2B agencies, the answer was "Multi-Channel Campaign Management" (35%). Unfortunately, these different views make sense.
B2B client respondents recognize that content marketing delivers time and cost efficiency – and gives them opportunities to use information assets in multiple ways and across multiple channels. B2B agencies, on the other hand, view outbound, multi-channel programs as the best way for B2B clients to attract new prospects into the sales funnel. But multi-channel programs also require bigger budgets and tend to leverage the talent that they already have in-house.
Neither approach is fundamentally ‘wrong’ per se – and the correct approach can and will vary from business to business and agency to agency.
However, content marketing represents a relatively new practice – a practice that has gained momentum due to the fractured media landscape, the rise of social channels, the weight that customers and prospects place on peer and third party insights and reviews and the reduced return on 1:1 marketing programs.
B2B Agencies that are reticent to view content marketing as the most exciting digital marketing opportunity for their clients in 2013 may hold that view because their business does not support it and because they are not set up to deliver the right strategies and assets. After all, Infographics, eBooks and other social tactics require significantly less budget than email, promotional websites, list rentals and print production – and they also require a different set of expertise, knowledge and know-how. Developing content marketing assets is one thing, but disseminating them strategically across a client’s ecosystem is another.
In short, this disconnect is quite telling. And clients need to understand and embrace the simple fact that agencies are rarely driven by what is in their client’s best interest – but instead – by what is in their own self-interest.
My advice to B2B clients is to ask your B2B agency to do things for you that they are good at and known for. Ask your agency if their core competency is not clear to you. As for fellow B2B agencies, start getting comfortable telling your clients what you do and don’t do.
As a life-long agency guy, I get how hard it is to turn away revenue and client work. But I have also learned over the years that it is vital to an agency’s success to specialize – and not to be ‘all things to all people’. Be comfortable telling clients ‘no’ and recommending a partner to handle aspects of work that fall outside your agency’s sweet-spot. In the short-term, you will lose revenue opportunities. But in the long-term, you will win more business and strengthen your client relationships by giving good advice and counsel. What we are in this business to – and in truth – what we are supposed to do.
At The Fiction Tribe, we turn down work that falls outside our areas of expertise and competency. And it’s not because we cannot do the work, it’s because we know our clients will be better served by a partner that specializes in that discipline. Our relationships with our clients are stronger and more profitable. And this approach empowers us to do the work that we love. Over time, we actually generate more revenue because we are clear with our clients, up front, about “what we do and what we don’t do”.
Giving clients a clear understanding of where and how you can add value will help them understand how and when to use you. That clarity will help clients turn on initiatives more quickly, will enable them to include you in the planning process earlier and will inherently wall off any competitors that claim ‘we do it all’. Your clients will see the difference in the work you deliver, your employees will love their job because they doing what they love and your agency will grow because your reputation, client roster and in-market portfolio will blossom.