The One Question You Need to Ask When Selecting a B2B Marketing Agency

In 25 years of working with B2B companies, we’ve seen clients go through countless processes when selecting agencies — from detailed RFPs to chance meetings at networking events. We’ve heard prospective clients ask thousands of questions, on just about every topic, ranging from our experience in their market to our agency culture.

Of course there are many factors involved in finding the right 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 business-to-business agency, you might want to look for a partner who is capable not only of engaging your market, but also of driving bottom-line results. I’ve found that there is one question that can help separate the agencies who truly understand how to make this happen from those who don’t. The question is:

Can you tell me about your experience with 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, then they are likely to be thinking about the realities of actually closing sales when creating your marketing plan.

First – let’s take a look at what I mean by sales enablement. It’s a broad and evolving concept that is playing an increasingly important role in B2B organizations. I won’t delve into a detailed discussion about its many dimensions (that’s a topic for another post), but I’ll briefly state what the goal of the sales enablement function is, according to SiriusDecisions: Sales enablement’s goal is to ensure that every seller has the required knowledge, skills, processes and behaviors to optimize every interaction with buyers.

Much of what passes for sales enablement in the agency world (especially if you follow the B2B award shows) is nothing more than the development of sales collateral materials. While these play a role in the sales process, sales enablement is a much more complex function that sits at the core of a productive marketing and sales engine. When you’re asking about their experience with sales enablement, you’re not trying to find out if they’ve designed some nice-looking brochures; you’re asking if they’ve helped to empower sales teams with the information, tools and processes to optimize their effectiveness in the field.

Even if you don’t plan to use your agency to directly support your sales enablement efforts, understanding their experience in this area will help you draw some important conclusions about their approach including:

How focused they are on the full sales funnel

      Many agencies focus primarily on driving leads into the top of the sales funnel. This is just one part of the B2B marketing equation. Unfortunately many of those leads will not convert to sales in the short term. In fact they are usually not really “leads” but are more accurately described as “inquiries.” If an agency has been involved in any significant sales enablement tactics, then there’s a good chance that they are focused not just on generating inquiries but also on what happens in the lower stages of the funnel – that they know how to work with your organization to create definitions for each stage of the funnel – “marketing-qualified lead,” “sales-accepted lead,” “sales qualified lead,” etc. It also suggests that they have strong processes for qualifying and nurturing leads.

How well they integrate marketing and sales
If an agency has done significant work in the area of sales enablement, it is also likely that they understand the importance of sales and marketing alignment and will work with both of these teams closely as they define the funnel and generate strategies, tactics and process for your marketing program. Many marketing initiatives are developed without talking to the sales teams who are in touch with actual customers and prospects every day. That’s not a recipe for success.

You want to work with an agency that has experience with integrating the sales perspective not only into strategies and messaging but also into lead management processes. Without this integration, your campaigns will deliver unqualified leads to the sales team, resulting in a disconnected sales force and fewer sales.

How well they will get to know your target market
Every agency will tell you that their process starts with getting to know your audience. However, agencies that have experience with tactics that directly impact the close of a sale will understand the needs of decision makers at a particularly meaningful level. Their work empowering sales people will demonstrate that they leverage comprehensive insights into the motivations of buyers. Your agency 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.

The bottom line is this — most agencies have designed sales collateral and they are all interested in knowing if their work ultimately results in sales. But, if they’ve been involved in planning and executing sales enablement tactics, then it’s a good sign that they actually think about the realities of the entire sales pipeline when they help develop your marketing plans.

High impact creative work and top-level interest are important and winning awards is nice, but B2B marketing programs need to deliver bottom-line results. So if an agency freezes in their tracks or mumbles something vague about “brochures,” when you ask them about sales enablement, then you should ask yourself a question: how focused will this agency be on helping me generate actual revenue?


About Andy Mahler

As co-founder of The Mx Group, Andy has provided vision, strategy and marketing leadership to the company since 1989. He has been instrumental in developing the company’s reputation for delivering highly effective and accountable marketing and sales programs for its clients. Before founding The Mx Group, Andy was vice president of sales and marketing at a West Coast marketing services company, Omnigistics. He holds a B.A. in marketing from California State University and has served as a faculty member at the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Collegiate Institute.

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