10 Keys to Spotting a Bad B2B Marketing Agency

10 Keys to Spotting a Bad B2B Marketing Agency

Authored byAva Anderson

If you’re a B2B marketer who needs agency support, finding the right partner can be frustrating. B2B marketing and B2B tech both require significant expertise. B2B marketing agency partnerships are often high-stakes and high-cost, with little margin for error. It’s impractical to grill every candidate on the ins and outs of your space, and worse to chance a disastrous initial collaboration. How can you be confident you’re landing an agency that can get the job done?

B2B Marketing Agency Red Flags

Here are some things to watch out for over initial scoping conversations with an agency to avoid getting burned.

1. They Encourage You to “Go Broad”

Today is the Age of Narrow. Everyone wants content, services, and products tailored for their specific use case. That means you need an agency partner that will help you articulate exactly how your solutions support your target customers. If that’s not what your marketing agency is promising to help you communicate, move on.

2. “No” Isn’t In Their Vocabulary

During your first conversation with an agency, count the number of times they say “no.”

If it doesn’t happen, walk away. You want a can-do partner, but you also want one that pushes back and adds perspective. Saying “no” shows that an agency is realistic about what’s outside their wheelhouse, which can save you from a disaster in the long run. It also shows that they have informed opinions about the right direction for your account. An agency that never says “no” might seem appealing, but it’s a bad choice in the long run.

3. They (repeatedly) Ask You to Clarify Industry Acronyms

If they don’t know a Microcontroller Unit (MCU) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), that’s a clue that they don’t understand your industry context. And context matters. It matters because time wasted clarifying DaaS (Desktop as a Service) vs. DaaS (Device as a Service) is time not spent on strategic progress toward your marketing goals. Most importantly, it should make you wonder what else about your space they don’t get, but haven’t told you yet (see point #2).

4. Everything is Collaborative

Collaboration is crucial to a successful agency relationship. But that doesn’t mean your agency should clog your calendar with reviews, meetings, and check-ins. An agency that knows your space should be able to make consistent progress without constant oversight after kickoff and discovery.

5. They Advertise as “Full Service,” “Wide Range,” or a “One-Stop Shop”

Firms like this have either decided to take any kind of client, do any kind of work, or worse…both. That’s not a recipe for specialization and expertise. If they won’t push themselves to identify a swim lane where they excel, how can you trust them to do the same for you?

6. They Never Turn Down a Client

Even if they don’t have any “one-stop shop” red flags, it’s worth asking about work the agency has turned down. Declining work shows that an agency knows what they’re good at and cares that clients have a good experience. If they can’t tell you what clients, industries, or customer bases they’ve declined to work with, look for someone else.

7. They Emphasize Awards and Shiny Office Space

Don’t let cool culture distract you from what matters. An architectural-digest office and a website badge that says “award-winning” doesn’t really communicate anything about expertise–especially since a huge proportion of so-called “awards” are pay-to-play.

8. They Make BIG Promises

No one can guarantee that your page will land on page one of Google results or you’ll get X number of new leads. Anyone who tries is selling something you shouldn’t be buying. A reputable agency will stick to metrics they can actually control, like showing why they chose a certain keyword to optimize for SEO or offering data to support why they messaged a differentiator.

9. They Don’t Understand your Sales Process

Especially in B2B, marketers must understand the complexity of the sales cycle in order to create meaningful materials. Ideally, you’ll find a partner so steeped in your context that they not only understand your sales process but also your buyer personas. At Cascade Insights, we feel fortunate that our marketing team works side-by-side with market researchers who spend all day every day talking with B2B buyers. We couldn’t do our job as well without the insights they gather from those customer conversations.

10. A Templated Portfolio

If their portfolio is filled with websites that look eerily similar or they mention that they have “a deck for that,” beware. If every project is being funneled into the same final format, how can you feel confident that you’ll get what you need?

Dodge Partnership Pitfalls

We want every business to experience the benefits of a great partnership. We hope this list has given you a jumping off point for finding a useful B2B marketing agency or even inspired a gut-check on your current partnerships. Because, as you and your customers know, there’s no faking it until you make it in B2B tech.

Interested in working with an agency with 14+ years of experience exclusively serving the B2B tech industry? Check out our marketing services.

Special thanks to CEO Sean Campbell for advising on this post.

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