What’s the biggest threat to B2B marketing agencies’ continued success?
I’ve seen more and more articles recently on B2B news sites and blogs about companies intending to bring more of their marketing resource in-house. For example, a 2015 survey of client-side marketers found that by 2020:
The reasons given for these decisions included better communication, closer proximity between delivery teams, and a marketing team who are 100% focused on the company they’re working for. Whether these are real benefits or just ‘grass is greener on the other side’-type logic is a matter for debate. But the proliferation of blogs and news articles on the topic shows that it has clearly struck a nerve with marketing agencies. Now that clients often have the expertise in-house – or believe they do – what’s the need for an agency anymore?
The recurring counterargument is this: you can’t get the breadth of perspective in-house that an external agency provides.
But if client-side marketing directors are shying away, it’s because that breadth of perspective is no longer enough to justify the investment in hiring an agency. To show the value of investing in agencies, they need to make themselves not just an outside perspective, but indispensable to business. That means:
They need to be a lot more client-centric than most are now
This is very easy to say, but much harder to execute. It’s very comfortable for agencies to repeat a formula they know has delivered success for them in the past. But every client is different, and a pre-packaged solution will never be a perfect fit. Client challenges take longer to understand and plan for, especially compared to the easy option of repurposing a campaign the agency is already familiar with.
To deliver disruptive, challenging marketing on a massive scale, you need to have a deep, detailed knowledge of your proposition and your industry – and your agency should too. It’s that commitment to research and planning that sets apart an agency that is committed to putting the client’s challenges, not their own, first.
They need to be aligned to commercial and business priorities
Data management, proposition development, sales integration, the reputation of marketing within the wider business – these are the kind of issues that can make or break a marketing department. And they are big, tough challenges to crack.
Laying solid foundations might not be quick, glamorous above-the-line work, but it reaps dividends in the end because it allows you to start your programmes on the right tracks, and to effectively measure the results of your campaigns. If the success of a marketing programme can’t be proven to someone in Sales, Procurement, or to the CEO, then it isn’t really doing anything to solve the client’s commercial challenges.
So there you go. Being client-centric and commercially focused: that’s what allows an agency to create effective marketing programmes that deliver the best results for the client. And no-one should settle for anything less.