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As we noted in an earlier article on choosing a B2B marketing agency, identifying the right marketing partner for your industrial firm can significantly impact your business. But choosing and hiring the right agency is only the beginning. You need to cultivate the best possible working relationship.
In a good partnership, a B2B marketing agency becomes a natural extension of your business and a driver of growth. When things aren’t going well, you’ll see inefficiencies, poor work quality, and frustration on both sides. Eventually, everybody loses the motivation to put their best foot forward. And in the end, if the needs of either side aren’t met, the relationship can become untenable.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to start on the right foot with your agency, or even repair a relationship in peril. In this article, we’ll talk about how to ensure a productive and profitable partnership with your B2B marketing agency.
Four critical factors for success
There are four core elements of a good working relationship with a marketing agency: trust, communication, chemistry, and boundaries. They’re all two-way interactions—meaning that both you and your agency are responsible for keeping things copacetic.
Trust is the most critical element in an agency-client relationship, and it takes continued effort from both sides to maintain. A key factor in developing trust is element #2, communication. Strong communication not only leads to better work but also to better accountability from both sides.
Then we have chemistry. To some extent, chemistry is a function of personalities and work styles. But it’s not entirely out of your hands; you can create conditions that foster positive and productive interactions. Part of that involves our final element: setting clear boundaries.
Let’s look at how you can build these critical elements in your agency relationship.
1. Treat your agency like a partner
Like many aspects of your business, marketing is a team effort. No matter how good a marketing agency is, we can’t just be plugged into a company with no prior knowledge or engagement and achieve success.
Instead of viewing your marketing agency as an outside entity to be kept at arm’s length, look at us as something that integrates into your business. We need to understand what you produce and how you produce it, who the salespeople are and what problems they have, who’s in management and what they’re dealing with, what the production staff does, etc.
(If confidentiality is a concern, know that most agencies are willing to sign NDAs to safeguard your trade secrets or sensitive information because they need that info to do their best work. It’s also a sign that an agency is good and trustworthy—particularly if they offer the NDA before you even have to ask.)
Here’s one of the biggest reasons to give an agency a clear line of sight into your business: chances are, we’ve seen hundreds of other companies make all kinds of mistakes—and we can spot potential problems for your sales or marketing team. Drawing on proven techniques, we can help you head off those problems early on and even create efficiencies throughout your company.
Ultimately, companies that give their marketing agencies an actual seat at the table stand to gain much more from their agency relationships than those that don’t.
2. Set clear expectations
From the start, it’s essential to have an open and honest conversation about what the business needs and what the marketing agency can do. Be clear and direct in communicating what you’re looking for, and expect that from your agency in return.
Put it all on the table: your goals, opportunities, challenges, and deadlines. If you did your homework and found a competent agency, you should be able to work together to build a realistic plan.
Remember that your marketing agency needs a complete picture of your business—the good, the bad, and the ugly—not a prettied-up version. When you both have a good sense of your problems and your marketing baseline before working with an agency, you can help keep the agency honest, and they can keep themselves honest.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen companies make is to say, “We need our marketing to work better right now!”...and then make no time to communicate about the particulars. We can’t make everything work overnight if you take a week to respond to emails. So either adjust your expectations or get back to us a little faster.
Trust goes both ways.
As an agency, we expect to learn a lot from you about the industry you’re an expert in. If we say something’s going to take this long or cost this much, we expect you to understand that that’s our area of expertise. And, truthfully, most agencies wouldn’t be in business if they had a reputation for ripping people off.
Check in regularly
A few months after you start working with a marketing agency (and every few months after that), revisit your original plan and ask questions like these: Are the numbers going up? Are things moving in the right direction? Do we see results in the bottom line? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should be having a conversation about why that is and what needs to happen.
You may even need to reassess whether the relationship is a good fit. If it’s not, you’re better off having that conversation after a few months, not a few years.
3. Make communications easier
If your agency doesn’t have a clear point of contact within your organization, you’ll often end up with emails needlessly bouncing from person to person. The faster and easier you can make it for us to get the info we need, the more streamlined the process—and it may even save you money by avoiding extra hours.
Designate someone in your business to take charge of the agency relationship, someone we can reach out to directly and know we’ll get a response. Because if there’s work to be done and a timeline to meet, we’ll continue doing that work as best we can. But “as best we can,” a.k.a. the output, depends on the input. If the input is poor, we’re going to struggle, and we’re going to spend a lot of that strategic time and energy just trying to find the correct answer instead of putting the right solution to work.
What’s your style?
Be open about how you communicate. As an agency, we always ask clients about their communication styles. Are you passive, active, blunt, upfront? Do you like emails, texts, or calls? Find a communication strategy that works for you and stick to it. We’ll do the same for you.
Make the most of it!
Use the time with your agency to learn and ask questions. The more you engage with us, the better we can deepen the engagement to meet your needs. You can use our conversations as an opportunity to learn and then share that knowledge with others on your team. That’s one way to get more value from the time and resources you’re committing to the partnership.
Spell things out
Don’t expect your agency to be a mind reader; we need and value your communication. Saying, “I don’t know, you tell me,” might be your way of showing us you appreciate our creative abilities. But it’s not worth testing us on that. As we’re figuring out the right thing to do for you, do your best to make that journey easier. No agency wants to spend a lot of energy making mistakes—we’d rather spend that energy on getting your marketing right.
4. Mind the boundaries
We all know chaos is the enemy of productivity. When you send a message to the wrong person at your marketing agency because you want something done quickly, what you’re doing is introducing chaos. It creates workflow inefficiencies and can potentially harm our relationship.
Any mature agency worth their salt should have a chain of command with a project manager and an internal communications strategy to make sure requests get funnelled to the right people at the right time. If you limit communications to that point person, you’ll get the best and fastest results. In addition to the chain of command, be mindful of the scope of work when you sign on with an agency. It will protect both the agency and your business:
- It protects you from under-delivery, as you’ll get everything listed on that scope of work.
- It protects the agency from being overburdened. “Just one quick thing” here and there can be really disruptive to a lot of the work that agencies do.
Plus, you’ll most likely be charged for work that’s not included in the original scope. This helps ensure the relationship is fair and reasonable for both parties—you get additional work of good quality, and the agency is compensated for the extra time and effort.
In the end, it all comes down to seeing your agency not just as an ally but also a business, with the same ultimate objectives as any other business. We’re all trying to grow, and the way a marketing agency grows best is by helping you succeed. A foundation of mutual trust and respect goes a long way toward making that happen.
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We’ve found that we deliver the greatest value to our clients when we establish ongoing relationships that allow us to materially contribute to their long‑term success. If there’s an opportunity to work together, great. If not, we’ll point you in the right direction.