how to choose the right b2b marketing agency

If you’re exploring B2B marketing agencies for your digital campaigns, make sure you ask these questions to learn if they’re up to the task.

Can you describe your approach to each stage of the buying cycle?

It’s critical to have a foundational strategy for tailoring tactics to each stage of the buying cycle. According to a study by Pardot, 76% of B2B customers want to receive content that is unique to their stage of the buying cycle.

At DragonSearch, we begin by understanding the customer profile at each stage of the traditional AIDA funnel. Then we develop targeting tactics, messaging, content and measurement metrics for each stage.

We also coordinate with our clients to understand how their internal sales teams approach customers at each stage of the cycle as well, so we can optimize the handoff from marketing to sales.

How will your team learn the intricacies of our technical niche industry?

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be an expert at remote server management hardware or technical color theory. Moreover, it could be a fool’s errand to find someone skilled in this area who is also a certified AdWords expert or technical SEO specialist.

So what is the solution? A good agency has a process for developing expertise. Since you’re already experts in your field, this process should involve the agency’s team leveraging the expertise of your team to develop solid foundational knowledge. In fact, as a rule of thumb, the content development process should begin with research and end with approval and vetting.

But be careful the B2B marketing agency isn’t expecting handholding. You have your own responsibilities, which is why you’re vetting agencies in the first place. So before selecting an agency be sure the team dedicated to your account would learn the ins and outs of your business and demonstrate sensitivity to your time.

What role should content play in a B2B marketing strategy?

Content is critical at each stage of the buying cycle, and should be tailored to each customer demographic that was discussed during the funnel conversation.

The way we approach this topic is to bucket content into each stage of the buying cycle by defining industry, brand, and product-related content. This should reflect the AIDA stages of Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Targeting is merely the tactic that links each demographic to each piece of content.

The reality today is that most B2B buyers will research a product or company heavily before engaging with a sales rep. This means that your early-stage assets, the content that precedes demo signups and webinars, are the ones at which your digital team will most need to excel for your campaigns to be successful.

How will you help us have a better relationship with our other partners?

More often than not there are multiple agencies involved with the marketing of a brand/business, with public relations, web development and digital marketing teams all working together.

A good agency will be able to share insights into how best to work congruently with these teams, and how a digital marketing agency can help you manage everyone’s efforts. Since just about every campaign touches digital in some way, your digital agency should make it a priority to understand everything that each team is working on so that there are no surprises.

As digital marketers, we bridge the gap between technical and traditional, and should be able to help you navigate these waters. If I had a dollar for every time we took the role of “client advocate” when helping a brand communicate with their web developer…

How can you tell if we’re targeting the right customers?

This is a great opportunity to have the measurement conversation. As you discuss the sales funnel and the targeting tactics for each stage of the buying cycle, you’ll also be discussing the key performance indicators, or KPIs, at each stage. These are the foundation for tracking the performance of your targeting criteria.

As part of this conversation, you should start to get an understanding of how the agency structures campaigns to segment data for each group. You’ll need to have confidence that the agency can strike the right balance of narrow segmentation for each distinct audience and tactic, while still keeping the data manageable and actionable.

In the B2B market, this is especially critical because you might have a very wide range of customer profiles that differ greatly.

What data do you need from us to be successful?

Great question! I wish more clients asked this question.

The short answer: anything that you have access to, your agency should be aware of. Whether you can share it with them is another story.

In an ideal environment, your agency will have access to your CRM data and will be able to correlate lead reports for each funnel stage of their campaigns. Understanding how much revenue was influenced by digital will certainly guide your budget planning process, so why wouldn’t it guide your agency to improve their campaigns?

If you track specific metrics, like marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and marketing-engaged leads (MELs) and the proportion that converts from one group into the other, this is the time to share that information. If this is how your department will be measured internally, it’s data that your agency can use to optimize each campaign.

How will you balance branding goals with our hard revenue targets?

This is a great example of a question with no “right” answer, but rather one that can be used to facilitate a meaningful conversation and demonstrate critical thinking on the agency’s side.

The short answer: it all depends on how hard your revenue targets are and how far away from top-funnel awareness that will drive your tactics.

If this is balanced well, hitting your revenue targets will require a view to the full funnel. If a solid system of measurement is in place, there should be lead indicators which are being tracked that will sound the alarm as the canary in the coal mine if brand awareness isn’t moving in a positive direction.

How will your strategies integrate with our existing sales process?

This is an opportunity for the agency to ask about your sales process and provide their reaction to it.

Do you track P1 versus P2 leads? What does this even mean in practice?

This is also an opportunity for your agency to understand the incentives influencing the sales team. If there are bonuses at different stages of the year, for instance, tell your agency about this, as it will undoubtedly influence the bottom of the funnel, as this can result in a flurry of late-stage activity at the end of each quarter.

How do you measure attribution across a three to 12-month sales cycle?

Long sales cycles are a defining feature of nearly every B2B sales funnel. This can impact everything from broad stroke concepts like tailoring content to detailed tactics like the length of time before a retargeting pixel expires.

One aspect to be sensitive to with long sales cycles is the timing of when to push middle-stage actions like webinar signups or demo requests.

You’ll want to work with an agency that finds the right blend of tactics to speed up funnel velocity, while still being acutely sensitive to the pace at which your prospects develop opinions about your industry, brand, and product.

What role does mobile play in your strategy?

We’ve all heard plenty about Mobilegeddon, and most brands have reacted by now. The days of getting away with a non-mobile-friendly site are officially behind us.

The new mobile landscape is conquered by strategies that address second screen experiences, mobile conversion optimization, and dwindling attention spans.

At the heart of this issue is the hardware that your audiences uses every day. Some might assume that in the B2B market every potential customer is comparison shopping on their Dell computer with two 21” monitors. The reality, however, is that people are at home with their kids watching TV and trying to catch up on their research using an iPad.

We’ve found from many tests that B2B campaigns do really well in the evenings after dinner. This is prime time for mobile targeting strategies to cut through the noise.

How does Facebook fit into your B2B advertising strategy?

This is your opportunity to discover if the agency you’re talking to is simply going to apply best practices or if they are going to push the envelope and let the data do the talking.

For years our B2B clients told us they didn’t want to be on Facebook, but it’s become a stellar ad platform. The rules have changed. In fact, there are no rules!

Our experiments have shown great success using Facebook as a retargeting platform for B2B campaigns. We’re also seeing great results at the top of the funnel from Facebook using demographic targeting

This conversation is a great way to learn if your B2B agency is thinking outside of the box. Then the question becomes, are you ready to take the leap and push that envelope yourself?

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