There is ample data available about the B2B buyer and their process for discovering new resources. Marketers searching for a new agency are no different, although some agency leaders tell me they disagree. Agency search is a whole different animal, they say. To validate industry data and my experience, I recently surveyed senior-level marketers to get a fresh take on their approach to finding a new agency. I want to ensure my prospecting aligns with marketers' preferences and behaviors. This survey was a follow-up to one I did in 2016 and 2015.
The prevailing wisdom suggests that marketers get about 60% through their journey before an agency knows they are interested. They do a variety of things on their own to identify, review and decide if a particular agency is suited for their needs. They ask colleagues and friends for recommendations. They look through trade press for articles about agency work, new campaigns and thought leadership that might be relevant to their needs. They Google, and search LinkedIn. They look for qualities and experiences that they feel might solve whatever challenges their current resource can’t. That's not to say an agency won't get picked if they don't have all the qualities. I'm more concerned about how I can increase my odds.
Some hire a search consultant to manage the process. Others enlist procurement. Most take on the task themselves. When they do, they have to sift through an enormous amount of data to get down to a short list of agencies they think are worth their time to engage. I asked them what things about the agency are most important when looking for a new resource. Marketers have been pretty consistent in my surveys about what they are initially looking for to separate the qualified from the unqualified.
They are driven by time, since they have so little to spare, to quickly determine if there is a fit or move on. If you slow them down, make the journey complicated or frustrating, or leave it to wonder, you may very well lose your chance. If you leave it up to them to connect your dots or go hunting for the keys to a qualified agency, you will miss them. You won’t even know because they move on without a trace. You won’t have to wonder what you could have done or should have shown that would meet their criteria because they won’t be around to tell you.
Every marketer is different. Their needs and reasons for a new agency are diverse and impossible to predict with 100% certainty. Some may be looking for unique creativity. Others want a firm that has successfully done what they think they need. Still, others are searching for more robust digital chops. The top reasons marketers seek a new agency are a change in leadership, a new in strategy, fresh ideas, new approaches, lack of experience, weak creative, and the list goes on. One thing is certain. Agency tenure has been declining as more and more relationships are being carved up and put in review.
When a marketer decides to change, how does she or he go about finding new agencies to consider? They have a variety of go-to sources as mentioned earlier. When they spot a potential new resource, what information do they look at first to determine if that agency is worth further investigation? That is to say, at the top of the funnel, what separates the qualified from the rest? I asked senior-level marketers who have been through the process multiple times, and their answers have been pretty consistent.
85% of marketers look at the agency’s Industry experience to make sure they know their business. They don’t want to spend precious time training the agency or reinventing the wheel. They want people who can dig into their problems and quickly come up with solutions. If your industry experience isn’t apparent, you could be passed over. Likewise, if your experience is spread across too many industries, you may not seem credible in any one. Focus on your top 3 – 5 where you have the best examples and the most current cases.
67% look at case studies to better understand how the agency works, what kinds of things they do, how strategic, creative, and effective they were, and if the work fits the marketer’s brand, culture, and customer. From conversations with marketers, they have a high degree of skepticism about the actual results in a case. They are more interested in “fresh ideas” and “new approaches.”
46% want to be sure that the agency’s capabilities encompass what they believe are the primary needs within their marketing plan. Often the agency’s role is to tell the marketer what kind of services she needs to be most effective however, most have predetermined what those needs are and pick accordingly. If you do offer lead gen, but it isn’t evident, and lead gen is on their list, game over.
40% want to see audience experience that relates to their customers. Not as important as industry experience but again, whether B2B or B2C, they don’t want to spend time training a new agency. They want an agency that has experience with and knows how to motivate their customer, at least in a broad sense. That experience should be easy to spot in your cases and other obvious places.
33% appreciate seeing client testimonials not only for their endorsement but also to understand what kind of client and level of seniority the agency works with. A CMO might not value a marketing manager’s opinion nor will she be confident the agency can work well at the C-level if all your testimonials are from mid-level execs.
21% think the agency’s culture is important. Agencies love showing off their space, game table, and office dog. Marketers want to see the people they will entrust their budget, career, and livelihood with. They want to see an environment where creativity and innovation can foster. They want a company they will enjoy working with and people they can relate to. If you think your people page isn’t necessary, read this.
0% of marketers want to see the social causes of the agency. Not to say those aren’t important or part of the agency's culture. It is just not the top criterion in the early stage of vetting. Likewise, 0% of marketers said agency awards were of any interest. Again, awards may be important to the agency; however, they aren’t at the top of the marketer’s list.
Want a better chance at making the cut? Make sure all of these things are easy to find on your website and expressed in ways that are uniquely your agency. Make it easy for the marketer to understand and check against their list. Too often, agencies let their creativity get the better of their story, making it hard for the marketer to find, difficult to understand, or buried deep below the sizzle. Do you think your agency is well presented? Try this. Ask a friend who doesn’t know your agency to go to your website with this list and see what they come back with. The devil is in the details. Just make sure the details aren’t bedeviling to your future client.
I’ve got a lot more ideas about how you can position your agency for success, and I would enjoy sharing them with you. If you want to talk about your business development program, I’m always open to a conversation. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Follow me on LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. #LetsGrow!