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Thanks For Your Help But We Can Do It On Our Own: The Biggest Risk Facing Digital Agencies

Posted by Mike Lieberman on Jan 31, 2020 8:15:00 AM

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The Misconception That What We Do Is Easy, Cheap and Can Be Done By Anyone

Digital Agency Client ManagementIf you’ve been running an agency for at least a few years, you’ve probably heard this: “We’re bringing it in-house.” While most are nice about it and see this as a strategic decision, what they’re really saying is they think they can do what you do for less.

 As recently as last week, a very happy client of ours hired a twenty-something marketing manager with a few years of experience to take over the strategic work we’ve been successfully executing for them. In the very first meeting, she expressed concern over what it cost us to create content as compared to what she found by working with a writing service.

It’s a fair question and we helped her understand the differences between what we do and how we do it as compared to writing services. Regardless, the differences in costs are dramatic - $200 vs. $800. Unfortunately, sometimes for some people, the value buried in those differences are hard to see.

It’s critical that you understand how to guide your clients to make a more strategic decision around how they execute their marketing, sales and customer engagement tactics.

Continually Proving Value

This is big. If you think the tactical execution is going to prove the value, you’re mistaken. The tactics we deliver are commodities. Content, email, websites, even videos are being squeezed from every direction. Technology is making it easier and cheaper (Ceros). The sheer number of agencies is making it cheaper (over 4,000 HubSpot Partners). The number of low-level marketers being hired in house are making it cheaper.

We have to start adding value in bigger, more strategic ways.

One tip I give all our consultants is to make sure they delivered a week’s worth of monetary value every single week. If your client is paying you $10,000 a month, then you need to deliver $2,500 worth of value or more each week.

What conversations did you have? What decisions did you help them make? How did you arm them with metrics that help them look smart inside their companies? Did you save them money? Did you introduce them to something they didn’t know about before?

What is the big question? Did your work produce leads, sales opportunities and new customer revenue this week? If you can’t say YES to these questions, then you’re at risk of losing the client.

Building A Strong Relationship with Leadership

It’s too easy to get relegated to working with a lower level marketing manager or marketing director. A lot of agencies even encourage their clients to hire someone like this to work with us.

The CEO doesn’t really want to work on marketing. They want us to handle it, but we need a contact, so they find us one or hire one to work with us. It makes sense on the surface.

But you can’t forget about the CEO. Regardless of what someone tells you, demand a continued relationship or at least contact with the CEO or whoever the ultimate decision-maker is.

If something goes wrong, even if it's not your fault, that lower-level marketing person will throw you right under the bus to save his ass.

If finances get tight, that lower-level marketing person will tell their boss that the company doesn’t need you just to save their own job.

If results don’t materialize as expected it will be your fault, regardless of what direction or what decisions were made by your marketing contact. You have to work hard to make sure you have direct access to power and that you have an ongoing, constructive, and value-oriented relationship with that person.

Ongoing Education

Your clients have their own challenges, issues, and priorities in their businesses. Marketing, sales and customer engagement might not always be at the top of the list. This is where you come in.

You can keep educating them on why it's so important to consider marketing, sales improvement and customer service enhancements so important.

One way we do it is by constantly helping them understand not only what we do, but why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it.

This also helps drive home the value conversation. Creating a blog is not about putting 500 words on a page and publishing it.

Creating a blog is about building a searchable, indexable page on their website. It’s about enhancing their ability to be found on Google. It’s about telling their story. It’s about creating thought leadership. It’s about nurturing all their blog subscribers. It’s about giving their prospects an educational experience. It’s about creating content that drives a conversion. It’s about creating content sales reps can share in the sales process. It’s about getting that content shared and getting people talking. It’s about using that blog article to start a conversation on social media.

It’s worth so much more than $200 for 500 words. You have to help your clients understand this.

Offering Innovation

There are several things clients can’t effectively do and one of those things is innovating. Sure, they can go to conferences and casually look at software. They can sign up for free trials. They can even pilot new programs and try to run experiments at their companies.

But this isn't close to what a solid agency can do for them from an innovation perspective.

First, does the company want to be spending time figuring stuff out or do they want someone to do that for them and then fast track them towards impacting their results? This is especially challenging if their relationship with sales is precarious. Do they want to lose face and trust if they make a mistake?

Next, do they have the bandwidth to install new software, set up the processes, build the reporting only to have to shut it off in a few months if it's not performing as expected?

Could they lose their jobs if they recommend ABM, having never done it before and then when it under-performs take responsibility for the poor execution?

There is a lot of risk with change. People generally are afraid of change and this is where the agency can come in handy. You can ensure that because you’ve done this 20 times before, the program will be successful. You can share where the potholes are and help them avoid the mistakes. You can help them set realistic expectations around performance and the time it takes to realize that performance, making them look like a rising star, instead of a falling star.  

Focus on Strategy

I’ll say this at the risk of beating a dead horse here. How many times do we, as agency owners, have to hear about how a client hired an agency only to feel like they were doing random acts of marketing? They were throwing stuff against the wall in the hopes that something, anything sticks.

There are just as many in-house people taking similar approaches. Let’s try Chat. Let’s try ABM. Let’s try to work with influences. Let’s try video. Let’s do a podcast. Guessing and hope is not a strategy.

Agencies who have a solid methodology around the thinking MUST put that into creating the orchestrated plan, adjusting that plan in real-time based on data and then optimizing that plan over time to hit agreed on goals is how this should be done.

If you’ve never done it before, or if you’ve only done it once or twice—you are at a disadvantage. The agency should have been doing this for years and should immediately be able to take clients through a process that builds the strategy as the foundation for their execution.

Strategy, tactics, analytics, and technology—in that order. That’s how you get results for clients. That’s how you stick around. That’s how you grow your agency.

New Inbound Agency Mastermind Group. Join Today! Seats are limited.Start Today Tip – Look objectively at your engagement. Look at the communication. Look at the people you have on the client-side. How many of these boxes do you check? Are you simply doing tactics?  Are you a glorified project manager? If you’re not adding value at every single interaction and if you’re not engaged at the highest level, you are only weeks, maybe months away from losing your client. Get on top of it now and you’ll have clients that stay with you longer, are more referenceable and are willing to pay you more.

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Topics: Planning for Growth, Agency Leadership

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