An agency selection scorecard for B2B marketers that target a niche
When you’re considering appointing an agency, a bit of preplanning will make it much easier to select the right partner. For B2B marketers who target a niche, this is a harder process than it looks.
Similar case studies are hard to find or rarely celebrated (when was the last time you saw a true niche B2B manufacturer as a winner of industry awards?). Often, audiences are small in size, meaning budgets are tight and call for both a laser-focused approach and a wide-ranging set of skills. Many agencies cannot see past the product into the purpose it serves and do not share your enthusiasm for success or your pride in crafting B2B marketing in this space.
If you consult Google, there are many guides – some from vendors like HubSpot and others from respected publishers including The Drum and B2B Marketing Magazine – but when you are a B2B marketer targeting a niche, they’re too general.
This is why we wanted to share our guidance from our experience of working with B2B marketers that target a niche, most likely in the technology, professional services, or industrial markets.
What do you want to know?
Over the years, we have identified what makes a powerful brief. A good agency will interrogate your brief and fill in any gaps. If they don’t, consider what it would be like to work with them – do you want a supplier following instructions or a partner who collaborates to co-create marketing you are both proud of?
We recommend that your brief contains:
About your business
You want an agency that understands your business, inside and out. They will want to factor in your size, your structure, and your stakeholders, plus any incumbent agency partnerships. They’ll look at your brand, your reputation, your products, and your markets, as well as your understanding of your audience (personas, pain points, etc). This is particularly relevant when developing campaigns.
They’ll look to understand your competitor set, including why you perceive them as competitors.
Alongside this, they will want to understand your marketing team, your budgets, and the timeframes to achieve your aim. If you target a niche, expect many agencies to rule themselves out at this point as many have minimum budgets or recognise when they don’t understand a business well enough to add value. They’ll also want to know why you are looking for a new agency solution.
About your challenge
Most agencies “start with why” to understand the problem you are trying to solve and what is driving this. They’ll want to know about the opportunity or threat you aim to address. You may have an approach in mind, such as a rebrand, some market research, or a lead generation campaign using ABM, but this will help them match their skills with your needs and rule out other ways in which they can achieve your aims.
Finally, at this point, they will be particularly interested in your pitch process – what stages you will work through, and any deadlines. At Velo, we urge caution around any pitch process that requires the agency to construct and present an idea with limited information or on a tight timescale which is not representative of the project.
This is because the full information needed is often not available in the process, even when asked for, which leads to ideas that ultimately are replaced when the full vista is available despite the time and effort required to create them.
This is why we endorse the Pitch Positive Pledge favouring small test projects rather than expensive pitches.
As a result of this, we recommend a scorecard to research and review your agency shortlist. This is customised for those B2B marketers who target a real niche.
- Experience: Can the agency demonstrate experience with niche companies in your sector?
Niche markets can be complicated. Many players in the decision-making unit are often spread across the world.
The storytelling skills needed must look beyond products and services into the impact they have. Often, technical information must be distilled into simple stories that connect with customers on an emotive level.
There is a massive difference between working on the large, well-known B2B brands that win recognition in the Cannes B2B Lions and those who are too niche to be known outside of their markets.
- Team: Do the individuals in their team have relevant experience? Is the agency large enough for all your needs, especially if staff leave?
An agency that works well with niche brands tends to be a niche agency itself. It will specialise in certain sectors and therefore have attracted a team with a passion and expertise in the types of projects and clients they work with.
But watch out for size. Having a large enough team to provide strength in depth is important. Conversely, too large may make you are a “small fish in a large pond”, so consider headcount as a real indication of your importance to the agency.
- Capabilities: Do they have a full-service offering spanning brand, customer experience, and marketing campaigns to support all aspects of our needs?
As a niche B2B marketer, you will want to dip into many different skills to achieve your aims. This can span brand identity, lead generation campaigns, thought leadership, ABM, MarTech, case studies, sales enablement and more. This variety is why you took the job, right? It also means you need an agency able to support all aspects – otherwise, you’ll be looking for another new agency soon.
- Recognition: Can they prove their claims in a place that is credible?
This is key. Velo has been built on recommendation, and as a result, alongside case studies, we share our The Drum customer feedback dashboard, customer testimonials, and connect new clients to existing clients for reference calls. Any agency unwilling to share customer feedback needs to raise eyebrows.
Awards are the icing on top (and I say this as an agency with lots of recognition by awards), but as a niche B2B marketer you will already know that awards companies favour those more well-known B2B brands with larger budgets and larger magnitude, even if the quality of the work is less. And like me, it will probably make you despair.
- Fit: Do the agency’s values align with ours?
Beyond Scope 3 Emissions, fit between organisations is vital to a long-term relationship. If your culture is fast-moving, share this and assess comfort levels. Some organisations are a good fit for each other and play to each other’s strengths. Others simply do not work.
With a focus on sustainability in 2023, partnering with agencies who are forward-thinking on their approach can support your own efforts, but also mean they’re fully aligned to your ambitions too.
- Approach: How strong has the chemistry been in meetings? How proactive has the agency been in the sale process?
There is no better test of what working with the agency would be like than how they operate within the pitch process. Each will have a defined methodology, which may look similar. The quality, thoroughness, and timeliness of each interaction is an essential gauge of what it will be like to work with them. That’s why you should make sure you spend time with everyone that you would be working with.
Finally, and quite simply, the biggest identifier of a good agency-client fit is the enthusiasm to craft B2B marketing to be proud of. If you feel that the agency enthusiasm is superficial or not backed up by their past work, then you probably need to reflect on your shortlist.
As an agency built on recommendation, our willingness to share our client feedback is part of our guarantee that we do what we say we will do. It is packed full of comments by B2B marketers focused on the technology, professional services, and industrial sectors. Click here to access it. If you have a challenge you think we could help with, please get in touch.