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What to Consider When Choosing the ‘Right’ B2B Marketing Agency for You

Your day-to-day responsibilities mostly likely include balancing multiple initiatives and juggling a host of priorities—not to mention dealing with the pressure of making important decisions with someone else’s money. Working with a B2B marketing agency can be a great way to drive revenue, grow your organization’s overall skill set, and alleviate pressure from above. Thankfully, choosing the right B2B agency for you doesn’t have to add stress to your workload. With the right B2B partner, you can keep risk low and avoid hassle in the process.

To maximize your return on investing in an agency partner, you should be selective on the front end. But what is the most effective place to start? How do you determine if an agency is a good fit for your needs? We dug into marketing industry articles to aggregate a list of key considerations and red flags to guide you in your journey toward a successful, stress-free agency partnership.

B2B Agency Partners: Key Considerations

What is the agency’s specialty?

Just like your company, every marketing agency has a niche. One agency may be known for its insight into the higher education industry, while another agency’s client list may be teeming with tech start-ups. When you’re researching, be sure your potential agency partner doesn’t have too broad of a focus. At minimum, you want to be confident your industry is familiar to the marketers with whom you’ll work. Market experience can maximize profit and minimize risk along the way.

Joining forces with a B2B agency is about more than a slick sales pitch and a business-friendly hourly rate.

In addition to industry vertical, consider which channels your potential partner specializes in within those verticals. There are many full-service, one-stop-shop agencies out there, but working with a specialized team of marketers may reduce risk and present opportunities to implement cutting-edge strategies and tactics that a generalized approach may have overlooked.

At the beginning of your search process, outline exactly what you are looking for. For example, do you need an agency to help you clean up your site and optimize it for search engines? If so, you’re looking for a technical SEO partner. Or, maybe your brand is outdated and your last website redesign was 15 years ago. If so, you’re looking for a branding agency to help reposition your brand and redefine your identity. The point is, most agencies are experts at one or two of their service lines. Don’t sign a contract with a partner until you know which are those areas.

Does its culture complement yours?

Joining forces with a B2B agency is about more than a slick sales pitch and a business-friendly hourly rate. Take time to figure out if the agency shares your core values. More than anything, a marketing agency should prioritize a trusting relationship over cost or reach of a marketing campaign. Like it or not, the agency partner you hire represents you, and its professionalism, intelligence, approach, and ultimate success or failure, also reflect on you.

Being on the same page about what matters most to you will make communication about projects so much easier. Continually ask yourself, “Is there chemistry?” If you’re not sure, but you like the agency’s work, test drive the firm before committing. It never hurts to try a smaller, one-off project before committing to a longer contract.

What percentage of its clientele is B2B?

As of 2016, 71 percent of B2B customers were considering taking their business elsewhere, according to Gallup. Now, more than ever, if you want to grow your business, it’s crucial to choose a B2B agency who can provide business insights and intelligence you trust.

Why does a B2B specialty matter so much? In many ways, B2B and B2C work is like apples and oranges. B2B companies generally experience longer sales cycles, handle more complex services and products, speak to a different set of buyer emotions, and often have niche or specific audiences. Before choosing your agency partner, it might be valuable to know what percentage of its revenue comes from working with B2B organizations.

B2B Agency Partners: Red Flags

Once you have courted the marketing agency a bit and are confident in its B2B competency, it’s time make sure there aren’t any red flags. Here’s how the experts we found minimize risks in their B2B agency search.

Is the agency focused on itself or on you?

As a stakeholder in your organization, your needs are different than a B2C client. You want to decrease risk while also driving profit—and your marketing agency should be on the same page. If your potential agency partner begins the first meeting by telling you how they can help your organization instead of asking questions about your goals, challenges, and industry, you can be confident it is more interested in its sales pitch than your organizational needs. As marketing expert Seth Godin suggests, make sure the agency ties profitability into one of the larger needs of your business, like avoiding risk and preventing hassle.

How does the agency make its money?

Be sure to take a close look at the compensation structure of any agency partners you’re considering. One red flag to avoid is a complicated compensation formula. For example, if a marketing agency lowers its retainer fees but then charges commissions for media placements or marks up unnecessary or outsourced services, its focus may be in the wrong place.

Along the same lines, MarketingProfs recommends evaluating the potential agency’s billing structure. Does the agency use a pay-for-performance billing structure or a monthly retained services engagement? Does the agency require payment of a certain percentage of the overall contract before it begins any work? There are several types of fee structures out there, and all of them can work. It’s just a matter of finding the agency partner that uses the fee structure that works best for your business. In order to avoid hidden costs later, insist on as much transparency as possible from the get-go.

How focused is the agency on its accolades?

Industry awards and recognition may seem appealing, but these days, the proof is in the pudding. Analytics are the new trophy mantles, according to AdAge. If an agency exerts too much effort in highlighting its awards, dig a little deeper into their real-time results and ROI, the true measures of success. Look for a B2B partner that understands the relationship between execution, engagement, and return, and one that can glean actionable insights from your data.

Does your potential agency partner understand data?

Though B2B marketing may be more nuanced than B2C, corporate decision makers are still humans, Christoph Becker tells Campaign Magazine. Because marketers now have tools that can segment, categorize, and engage with audiences in countless ways, targeting the right prospective customers has never been easier. While it’s tempting to rely on data alone to make business decisions, look for a B2B agency that understand how to find and interpret the date, but also knows how to build connections with your corporate consumers.

“This is the last 1 percent of the journey—and it’s more important than all the rest, because it’s the part that translates the power of data into the magic of persuasion. It is the part for which there is no algorithm,” Becker says.

The Bottom Line

You’re not alone. At one point or another, every company is going to consider partnering with a B2B agency to execute some new campaign or business initiative. Our aggregated list of considerations and red flags is designed to provide a starting point for building a solid B2B agency relationship. Hopefully, it allows you to move forward in confidence, knowing that an agency partnership can be low-risk and high-return, if you choose the right partner.

Ashley Abramson
Ashley Abramson
Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. When she's not writing for clients, she's working on her online magazine or spending time with her husband and two young sons.