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Maybe it was the promise of an endless stream of adoring prospects. Or all that talk of showering you in qualified leads. Maybe you just liked the way they laughed at your corny jokes. Whatever the draw, your B2B marketing agency seemed like the perfect fit at first. Then, one day, you looked at the numbers and realized you weren't in the right relationship after all.
Maybe it’s time to rethink what you’re looking for in a partner.
Working with an external marketing agency is a significant investment and a choice to be made carefully. Find the right partner, and you can achieve substantial growth. You bring the industry expertise; they bring the tools, team, and know-how to execute your marketing with the best results. You just have to find the right agency for you.
When it comes down to it, shopping for a marketing agency is a lot like dating. Everyone puts their best foot forward in the beginning, but eventually, you’re either in love or posting revenge pics on Instagram.
Here’s how to find an industrial B2B marketing firm that fits your needs, works well with your team and gets the results you’re looking for.
Why you need an industrial B2B specialist
B2B marketing in itself is a different animal from the B2C world. With longer sales cycles and more people involved in decisions, B2B marketing tends to be more costly. And, because your customers are acting on behalf of their companies, your marketing often requires extensive educational resources and facts to help those folks make a case for doing business with you.
So, at the very least, you need to find a marketing agency that either exclusively works with B2B firms or has extensive B2B marketing experience. Now let’s consider the industrial space. You’re likely in a niche market, with a limited number of companies in the entire world that can buy what you sell. And let's face it, the industrial B2B world can be much less forgiving than B2C, especially if you operate locally or in a tight niche. Make a wrong impression, and you could damage your reputation and ruin your prospects with any potential business partners, local or global.
That’s why your marketing agency must understand, at a very granular level, what your customers’ challenges are and how to address them. They don’t need to be experts in your industry, but they must be comfortable in the industrial space and able to speak your customers’ language. You want an agency that has chosen to specialize in this area because they enjoy working with clients like you.
Next up are the questions you should be asking of yourself and any potential agency, right from the first date.
1. What kind of experience does the agency have?
Some people like to say all marketing is just marketing. But there are tricks and techniques that are specific to different verticals, particularly in the industrial space, which can be confusing, unsexy, and often unnoticed. So always ask whether an agency’s prior experience is somehow relevant to your industry sector.
Also, find out whether and how they’ve accomplished goals that are similar to yours for other firms. Do they have creative ideas? Proven solutions? Ask them about the strategies they’ve developed for other businesses in the past.
Any B2B marketing agency worth their salt should be able to provide:
- [ ] Portfolios, case studies, or metrics from past and current B2B clients
- [ ] Knowledge and skills in implementing B2B marketing strategies
- [ ] Specific areas of digital marketing expertise
- [ ] B2B marketing tools they use regularly
2. What kind of services do you really need?
Before you go shopping for a marketing agency, it’s crucial to understand what you’re really contracting for. Start by defining the outcomes you want to achieve. What do you want to improve? Is it something specific in your current marketing strategy, or are you looking to develop a whole new marketing plan?
Remember that different goals require different types of marketing efforts. For instance, increasing brand awareness and improving your sales numbers are related, but separate, objectives that require different skills and strategies. And not every marketing agency offers every kind of service.
Depending on your goals, it might make sense to hire an agency that specializes in a particular area rather than the biggest, most full-service agency around. If you need someone to run a series of ad campaigns, you probably need an advertising agency. If you’re looking for sales-targeted marketing, you might want an agency that specializes in qualified lead generation.
One other thing to consider: how much of your marketing do you want to handle in-house versus outsourcing? If you don’t have the capacity or expertise to do much marketing internally, you may need a B2B agency to take care of your marketing needs from beginning to end. Or, maybe you’re looking for outsourced help to take on a few specific tasks that might be best handled externally.
Make sure you have well-defined goals going into your first conversation. It’ll make it easier for both sides to assess whether you’re a good match and how you’ll measure the success of the relationship.
3. How does the agency approach its work?
You never really know what someone’s like to live with until you move in together. But you can ask a lot of questions beforehand, to get a sense of how well you’ll mesh and where the pain points might be. Ahem, dishwasher.
Before signing on with a marketing agency, be sure to ask for specifics around how they work. Here’s what we’d ask about—and our two cents on what to look for:
Are they client-focused?
One thing is absolutely crucial in the industrial space: Your marketing agency should be committed to understanding your business, your market, and your competition. If your first conversation is all about them instead of about you, look elsewhere.
Do they think strategically?
If a B2B marketing agency emphasizes strategy first, you’re on the right track. The best agencies will help you document a roadmap for reaching your goals, demonstrating a clear understanding of your business and market and a plan for how you’ll leverage marketing tools and channels.
Do they use data?
Growth marketing depends on continuous optimization. Test, evaluate, adjust, repeat: it’s the basis of any good digital marketing strategy, and it means that marketers are paying attention to whether your efforts are actually paying off. So, find out how important data and metrics are to the agency’s overall approach.
What does their process look like?
Being able to describe their workflow in detail is a good sign that an agency has tried-and-true systems in place to streamline their client communications and drive results.
4. Does it feel like a good personal fit?
Don’t discount the personal side of an agency relationship. Remember that you actually have to work with these people.
When you’re first introduced to a marketing agency, you’re going to be connected to someone who’s either in leadership, project management, or some kind of client-facing role. If that communication isn’t what you’re looking for or just doesn’t feel good to you, it’s not likely to get better over time.
Maybe most importantly: do you trust them? Look for red flags, like when you’re dating someone and you get this feeling they’re exaggerating about their job. If an agency says, “We’re going to close your biggest, most exciting deal within two months,” that’s probably a crazy over-promise to get your business. And you know where crazy gets you.
So, before you hire, make sure you have a face-to-face conversation or at least a video call with the agency representative. Seeing how the person interacts will not only give you a sense of whether they really know their stuff, but also an idea of how personable, professional, and trustworthy they are. If your first conversation makes you want to go sneak out the bathroom window (what, you’ve never done that?), trust your gut and keep looking around. If it’s a bad fit, it’s a bad fit.
5. What does your marketing budget look like?
Be honest here: how much can you realistically spend on a marketing agency? Keep in mind, if you choose the right B2B agency, you should see a solid return on investment. It’s not just about what you can afford to spend; think about what you need to spend to grow.
Remember, too, that to some extent you get what you pay for. There are deals to be had in marketing, but cheaper rates can mean cutting corners, less dedicated staff, or not getting access to the agency’s best talent.
Still, when you see agency rates, it’s understandable to get cold feet. So consider what you’re paying for: the reserved talent of a team of strategists, designers, developers, and marketing experts with access to pro marketing tools, technologies, and data. It’s a lot more than hiring just one person—you get a lot of resources baked into one bill.
If it’s a promising first date...
Alright. You came into an initial meeting with a B2B marketing agency knowing what you want, ready with questions, and feeling out the chemistry. It went well. After a few more positive interactions, you’re ready to commit to a contract.
What can you do to ensure it’s a productive and successful partnership? In our experience, there are four crucial elements to a good working relationship between a client and a marketing agency:
1. Trust. Above all, you have to be honest and realistic with each other. Both sides should know they can trust what the other says and does. 2. Communication. The more engaged you are in the agency relationship, and the faster and easier you can make it for the agency to get the info they need, the better the results you’ll get. 3. Chemistry. With some people you work really well; with others, it’s like pulling teeth. If you don’t have decent chemistry, it doesn’t mean you can’t do good work, but it will be much harder and much less enjoyable. 4. Boundaries. Right from the start, you and the agency need to be on the same page about things like additional work requests and deadlines. That’s how you ensure the relationship is fair and reasonable for both parties.
No relationship is perfect, but there are ways you can maximize the positive stuff and minimize the negativity. In an upcoming article, we’ll dive deeper into building and leveraging these four elements, so you can start out on the right foot with your agency and get the most out of your investment.
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