Over the last 25 years, I’ve seen companies go through countless scenarios when selecting a B2B marketing agency — from detailed RFPs to chance meetings at networking events. I’ve heard prospective clients ask hundreds of questions on just about every topic, ranging from experience in their market to agency culture. There are many factors involved in finding the right B2B marketing agency, including overall capabilities, experience in your vertical market, chemistry, etc. And there’s no shortage of agencies to choose from — many of which have won awards for their creative work and have plenty of case studies to share.
But when it comes to selecting a B2B marketing agency, you’re likely looking for a partner who is capable of not just engaging prospects and buyers, but driving bottom-line results. I’ve found there is one question that helps separate the agencies that understand how to make this happen from those that don’t, and that is:
What is your experience planning and implementing sales enablement initiatives?
Why this question? Because the answer will reveal a great deal about how the agency approaches B2B marketing. If they have robust experience in sales enablement initiatives, they will be thinking about the realities of actually closing sales when it comes to developing a marketing program with you.
Sales Enablement: (A Lot) More than Collateral
Let’s take a look at what I mean by sales enablement — a broad, evolving concept playing an increasingly important role in B2B organizations. According to SiriusDecisions, sales enablement’s goal is “to ensure that every sales rep has the required skills, knowledge, processes and access to assets to optimize every interaction with buyers.”
Unfortunately, much of what passes for sales enablement in the agency world is nothing more than the development of collateral materials. While these may play a role in the process, there are other types of content and tools that will probably bring much greater impact: training and demo videos, territory playbooks, ROI calculators, personalized content and much more. So what exactly should you be looking for? In our experience, the key elements include:
1. Sales and Marketing Alignment Prioritization
If a B2B marketing agency has done significant work in the area of sales enablement, they will understand the importance of sales and marketing alignment. They’ll have experience working with both teams to understand exactly how the sales process works, how to define the steps in the sales funnel, and how to generate strategies, tactics and processes to facilitate it. Too many marketing initiatives and sales tools are developed without talking to the people who are in touch with actual customers and prospects every day! That’s not a recipe for success. Without alignment, your marketing program is likely to deliver poorer-quality sales leads, and the sales team’s follow-up will probably be less effective, too.
2. How They Understand Your Buyers
Every agency will tell you that their process starts with getting to know your audience. However, agencies who regularly do voice-of-customer research, and create and utilize buyer personas, buyer journeys and content maps, will understand more fully how to reach decision-makers in a meaningful way. An agency partner shouldn’t just know what makes your products appealing; they should be able to grasp the decision criteria, barriers and purchasing processes that stand between your organization and the sale. This is not just for “upper-funnel” initial lead generation activity, but also for mid- and lower-funnel sales support activities too.
3. Experience Creating Sales Enablement Tools
If an agency has been involved in creating significant sales enablement tactics, they will appreciate the value of creating effective tools and rich content that can be utilized by Sales throughout the funnel, including the lower stage. And while this set of tools will be customized to the client and their sales process, the agency should also have experience creating online portals for salespeople that include a variety of assets such as:
- Industry and competitive intelligence
- Product / offering advantages
- Key messaging
- Product configurators
- ROI calculators
- Interactive / animated product tools
- Proposal / quote generators
The Bottom Line
Almost every B2B marketing agency has designed sales collateral, and they’re all interested in knowing if their work ultimately results in sales. But if they’re pros at creating and executing sales enablement strategies and tactics, that’s a good sign that they’ll be thinking about the entire sales pipeline when they’re working with you to develop or deploy your marketing plans. High-impact creative work is important, and winning awards is nice, but B2B marketing programs need to deliver bottom-line results. So if an agency rep stops in their tracks or mumbles something vague about “collateral” when you ask them about sales enablement, ask yourself a question: “How focused will this agency be on helping me generate actual revenue?”