Inbound marketing is still a relatively new breed of animal, but in what is a fast-paced and constantly evolving industry, the concept of what an inbound agency is, and what it does, has also changed. We have now entered inbound agency 2.0 territory, with the more successful agencies not only fine-tuning the services they offer, but changing their focus to deliver better results for their clients.
Today, the inbound agency approach needs to prioritise providing a top-quality service to clients rather than trying to win new ones, because if you do the former first, the latter will follow. It needs to focus on working with clients to provide the means by which a business can enjoy growth and an increase in ROI, rather than for clients.
As this blog by M/C/C’s Mike Crawford for HubSpot explains: ‘It’s like a marriage, or partnership, where the agency becomes an extension of the client’s marketing department and is viewed as part of their team as opposed to a vendor or supplier.’
It’s about educating the client on how best to use the platforms they have, from HubSpot to social media, so that ultimately, they won’t really need you anymore. That may sound bad for your business, but in reality, the benefits of empowering a business far outweigh the eventual loss of that business, because others will hear of your great work and will want to take you on.
Throughout that education process, 2.0 agencies can bring in revenue, even from the pre-sales stage, with workshops, and value-rich services (which we will discuss in an upcoming blog – stay tuned folks!).
Innovative agencies endeavour to truly understand the challenges of the client by building the pain mountain for them, and then creating a step by step strategy to overcome those challenges and find solutions. But they need to have a solid foundation in place in their own agency first, to develop and constantly review strategies, with five main pillars.
These pillars are as follows:
- Strategy - the value proposition and mission statement of the agency which is clearly communicated to the whole team, including an organisational chart that outlines who does what and when, with constant learning for every person, right up to the owner, who should themselves have a mentor.
- Growth - Everybody should know budget and profit goals and how their role contributes to achieving these, with a positive culture clearly communicated to all team members to create a happy, healthy and thriving work environment.
- Services - A solid service delivery process that follows an agreed playbook, with solid project management tools and a strong account management team.
- Sales - A clear sales process followed by all team members that eliminates the need for the owner to get involved in such day to day entanglements, including a solid proposal and contract process.
- Marketing - A strategy that incorporates the best practices you deliver to clients into inbound marketing of your own agency, including SEO and in-depth analysis of website traffic and activity to your site, plus offline activities such as workshops and events that generate leads.
Not all inbound agencies are putting these pillars in place, and it is just one of the reasons why businesses don’t renew contracts with them, as this interesting blog from Business2Community explains. So before we delve deeper into these, let’s take a quick look at why clients leave agencies.
Why clients leave agencies
Apart from not understanding the business they are trying to provide a service to, high agency staff turnover is a big reason why clients leave agencies and this can, for obvious reasons, lead to a less than ideal service scenario. That needs to be countered with a strong culture code that encourages loyalty and excellence. If you don’t have a culture code, you need to get one in place.
Also mentioned is the problem of overselling, whereby an agency gives a great pitch to a business, then finds they can’t deliver on their promises. That should never happen, and winning a retainer should involve mapping out an honest and realistic process that will start off small and develop to become a big success. It’s not about the quick fix, easy money deal, it’s about the long-term retainer. Having a solid sales process in place with an agreed proposal / contract strategy is therefore of great importance.
The 2.0 agency doesn’t just provide a business with blog content, a bit of website redesign, some SEO work, the occasional campaign or email workflow, etc. Instead, it brings that business through the entire learning process from novice to expert to bring about the only reason why they should leave you – you have helped them grow to the point where they can do all of this themselves.
This means not only providing the raw materials and tools and showing how it all works, but also sharing best practices on writing effective online content, how social media can benefit their mass communications, why email marketing is still king, etc, then proving that it does work with the analytics to measure success, and sharing how they can get that data themselves at a later date.
It’s not just about doing for the client, but showing how they can do it in the future, and why they should do it with clear and definite KPIs.
You can see in the reasons above where the absence of the pillars of a successful agency we mentioned are absent, and the consequences of this.
Why creativity is essential
That’s not all though. The modern inbound agency needs to be able to offer something different. Any agency worth their salt should be able to provide SEO for better search ranking, web design for better lead conversion, content, and so on, and with technologies improving all the time, the likes of automation and AI means even SMEs can have pretty good, affordable marketing systems in place. What automation can’t yet provide (and for the sake of humanity won’t be able to provide for quite some time) is the imagination and creativity that comes up with the ideas for those systems and campaigns.
As this blog from Charcoal Marketing explains, that requires having a team of digital specialists, inbound experts, web developers and ‘ideas men’ who can take things up a few levels from the templates and formulas we see today.
That means being more educated about the technology, platforms and tools being used. It simply isn’t enough to be a marketer anymore, and even the biggest companies can see staff overwhelmed by the sheer number of tools they have to use, keep track of and integrate (as you can read about here). That’s where a great inbound agency can come in and save the day, but they have to know exactly which team members have the relevant strengths and expertise to deliver, and agree up front on who is going to do what.
They should be able to offer solutions to technology issues, obstacles and SNAFUs when it comes to the successful set-up of digital platforms, websites and tools, almost to the point of being IT support that can pick out the solutions best suited to them, and then implement them. Offering the platform that can help the client (and agency) keep track of everything is also essential, which is where agencies who operate with the HubSpot COS have a great advantage, but that excellent project management service needs to be applied not only to the client, but to the agency itself too.
However, while being agile enough to offer a number of services is important, it is more important for an agency 2.0 to recognise what it is they do best, what makes them really stand out from the crowd. If you are great at content creation, promote and prove yourself as the best-in-class for this particular service. It’s not about over-stretching, but finding your niche and excelling at it.
Collaboration is key
This means it is also necessary to be prepared to work as a partner, even if that involves playing a supporting role to another agency. That might sound like anathema to some, but it is actually already happening a lot, and is only going to get more common. Major organisations are using several agencies for different aspects of their marketing, but only those that can collaborate productively will remain.
That also means turning to a process that encourages a culture of working together to get things done, rather than traditional models of rates per hour. You need to offer solutions, not just by-the-hour services. While you do want to stay within scope and make the working relationship worthwhile, you don’t want to limit your input by having a clock-in-clock-out policy, but the efficient agency should be able to avoid the prospect of overtime anyway. Remember, your role is to get results for the client first, after which results for the agency will follow.
Content, as we gave in the example above, is also going to strengthen its position as king when it comes to marketing, so this is an area where the agency 2.0 will have to really stand out. Ad blocking and an aversion towards interruption will only grow, so organic and native content must be at the forefront of any agency’s offerings. That means hiring skilled writers (preferably journalists who have the research skills necessary) capable of creating content across multiple client bases.
In summary, it is no longer enough to follow instructions, get the job done on time and clap yourself on the back. Now, you need to go further, to work with the client (and other agencies), to generate new ideas and finetune processes that will deliver better results, to be creative, and to prove your worth with tangible results, but any successful agency needs to practice what it preaches and incorporate the very same best practices they provide in client services to their own company.
If your agency still follows the traditional approach, it will be left behind, but those that innovate and adapt to the changing business environment, that evolve to become the 2.0 version of the digital marketing agency, are far more likely to enjoy success.
Discover how your inbound agency can evolve to the 2.0 model by booking a call with me below: