Two people with shovels digging

It can be tempting to look upon your agency as an “execution house” that adds snappy headlines and pretty graphics to your ideas on an as-needed basis. However, a good agency will want to go beyond a purely transactional relationship. They’ll prefer to take a more strategic approach to your vision and get to know you well enough to help you succeed.

As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, it’s worth cultivating this type of partnership because everybody wins. Balancing client and agency expertise allows each team to focus on what they do best, and there are cost advantages as well.

Great relationships like these rely heavily on trust, however, so they take time to develop and mature. Although finding the right agency is half the battle (I have an unbiased recommendation about that), you and your organization can also play key roles in the process. Here are six proven ways to encourage your agency to do its most creative and effective work.

1. Treat Your Agency as an Extension of Your Team

Client interaction with agencies is often highly filtered and choreographed, i.e.,: “We’re gonna have you interview these three SMEs as part of our deep dive … etc.”

An alternative that’s more likely to inspire your agency is to let them interact with everyone who will be involved with your marketing efforts. Invite them to key meetings. Let them talk to your sales team and get their perspectives. Set up one-on-one or group dialogues with every single individual who will sign off on the project as it moves through the approval process (yes, even the legal department).

These interactions can be construed as investments in your marketing efforts. Talking to the sales or legal teams, for example, can save valuable time by helping your agency avoid key concerns before they start working on concepts.

If your agency is on top of their game, they’ll help stakeholders who don’t normally deal with marketing understand how the process works, while allowing your influencers to share their insights and feel heard. This can encourage buy-in outside the marketing team and potentially streamline the approval process by helping key people feel informed before they’re handed something to review.

2. Consider Your Agency's Perspective

You and your agency are likely to view your business — and your customers — through different lenses. However much you know about the products and services you develop, your agency is the expert when it comes to marketing. They’re trained to see things from the perspective of your customers and determine what’s most likely to appeal to them.

Sometimes the agency’s insights will differ from yours, suggesting untapped opportunities or approaches you haven’t considered. Even if you feel the need to push back, constructive and relevant feedback can help start a productive collaboration.

At the end of the day, you’re the client and have the final say on the work your agency creates. However, it may be worth looking for something in between your differing viewpoints.

3. Focus on Your Goals

All too often, a client will call me up and say, “I need a blog/press release/website/banner ad” or whatever. Although it would be easy for me to say, “Okay, order up!”, I know from experience that this can lead to a lot of reactionary work that ultimately won’t generate much, if any, response.

I’m as fond of a quick and easy sale as any account manager. But I sometimes reply in this way if I have doubts:

“I hear what you’re saying. But I’m not sure this particular tactic is best suited for what you want to accomplish. Let’s talk about what you really need and figure out the best way to achieve it.”

Although it may surprise you to hear something like this when you call your agency contact, ready to buy, it’s worth paying attention if you do. Why? Because it’s a sign they care about your best interests. An account manager who wants to know the “why” behind your request is usually thinking about the bigger picture — and taking a longer-term view when it comes to their relationship with you.

A strategy-oriented agency can be an invaluable partner when it comes to making marketing decisions. They won’t offer up projects or ideas that don’t align with your goals just because they want to do something cool. Instead, they’ll look for strategies with the potential to benefit your organization based on your priorities.

You can help encourage this kind of alignment with your agency by making sure they know your strategic parameters, goals and objectives. Bring them your challenges and let them help you find the right solutions.

4. Share Information

It’s natural for companies to be concerned about strategy or proprietary technology. Concealing too much information from your agency, however, can be costly and counterproductive. That’s why marketing agencies sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) every day.

Remember that PowerPoint deck you rolled out internally to your sales team about goals, objectives, sales and where your primary new markets are going to be? Share that information with your agency. It will further educate them about your business and help prevent wasted efforts.

Does your strategy for the coming year hinge on a new service? Are you phasing out key products or offerings? Are you gearing up for a strategic growth initiative in a new segment or geographic region? Your agency can do a much better job for you if they know what you’re planning far enough in advance.

You can even take advantage of an NDA before you commit to working with an agency. While I was writing this blog, I got a call from a professional marketer who understands the value an agency can bring to her company. She asked me to send her our standard NDA so that we could be fully informed when we did an exploratory call for a potential project. Getting her background upfront enabled us to be more knowledgeable and prepared, and ultimately make the best use of everyone’s time — whether we get the project or not.

5. Think Long-Term

The average B2B sale can take six months, a year, 18 months, two years or longer. In a similar way, it pays to take a long-term approach with your marketing agency.

Get your agency involved in long-term plans as early as possible. If you’re launching a new product, let them participate in your internal discussions, be a fly on the wall in sales and tollgate meetings, and review the product road map.

Agency people can get a lot out of these early stages, especially if they identify possible public relations challenges or a need to educate your audience. They’ll also help you spot internal trends that go against the grain of your marketing plan, allowing you to change course or manage them correctly before they create larger problems.

6. Keep Your Internal Teams on Track

Every in-house marketing team occasionally gets frivolous or even counterproductive requests from people whose intentions are in the right place, but who aren’t marketers.

Your best response is to shut these requests down (politely) while looking to see if something can be done with the spirit of the thread that person started to pull on. Even people who lack marketing expertise can have a great idea, or inspire one. If you can redirect imperfect suggestions into more effective channels, you may be lucky enough to get the dual success of satisfying stakeholders while uncovering fresh perspectives.

That said, every organization has people who outrank the head of marketing and “need to be heard”. A good agency will understand that sometimes you simply need that blog/infographic/pitch deck/whatever because you’re going to get yelled at if it doesn’t happen. (Another sign of a good agency is that even if they know a project like this won’t accomplish anything, they still won’t produce cr@p.)

Great Marketing Relationships Are a Two-Way Street

There are plenty of agencies out there that do really good business by cranking out whatever their clients ask for without thinking about it. Others thrive on being “aggressive experts”, insist on doing everything their way, and don’t mind if they chase some prospects away by being a bit rough around the edges.

Having worked on both sides of the fence, I’ve learned that you don’t get the best results from either of these approaches. Great agencies strive for the type of balanced relationships we’ve explored herein, in which each partner brings what they know best to the table.

Not sure where to find a great B2B agency that thinks like this? Give us a call.