Do you need a marketing automation agency? I believe so!
But not in the way you might think I mean.
There are many different types of agencies out there. They have different sets of skills you can utilize. And they all work differently with you. Some might prefer time-limited projects while others want a retainer. Some prefer doing operational work, while others want to consult and teach you. Some want to work only with content, while others want to set up and manage your systems and channels.
Knowing which type of agency to work with and in what way in different situations is the key to success. That will allow you to leverage the vast amount of skills out there to grow both your company’s skills and market share, while avoiding the trap of depending on your agency. In this post, we’ll share our experience from working with over 70 clients and their various agencies. At the end, we’ll reveal the most valuable lesson, and that is how to avoid a trap that can cost you a lot of time and money.
What makes a marketing automation agency different from a marketing agency?
First, let’s define what a marketing automation agency is. Is it any different from a marketing agency?
Based on my experience, a marketing agency will usually be broader, and focus on a higher level content and even branding strategy - while a marketing automation agency is focused on how to convert that content into communication strategies. In short, a marketing agency sets the tone and strategy, and a marketing automation agency converts that into specific communication tactics (channels, segments, and content production). Also, by their very name, a marketing automation agency should know how to implement your content strategy in a marketing automation system.
Keep in mind that there might be big overlap. It’s rather a matter of core focus.
Which one you should select depends on your needs. While a marketing agency might be great when you are rebranding, a marketing automation agency might be great when you want to implement tactics and start to spread your message on various channels.
The next question is which type of specialization an agency will have, which we’ll get to below.
Different agencies for different channels, tools and strategic levels
Most of the top marketing automation companies specialize in one or more areas. In our experience, nobody can be the best at everything.
(P.S. If you get in touch with an agency that say that they're really good at and will help you with everything - i.e. digital, content, funnels, websites, and user-friendly and customized implementations of processes in a system like SharpSpring - be very watchful. Nobody can be good at everything, that's why collaborations between specialist agencies are better, more cost-effective and achieve greater results.)
Therefore, it is important that you understand what those specialties may be and match them to your needs.
Here are the most common areas of specialization our clients hire marketing agencies in, from high level (strategic) to low level (execution and production):
- Branding and PR
- Sales process
- Content strategy and production
- Inbound marketing
- Sales and marketing funnel management
- Website building and management
- Conversion optimization
- Digital advertising
- Social media management
- Sales outreach
Some of the areas go into each other quite a lot, and often an agency needs to master various other strategies in order to do a good job. Here are some examples how that might play out:
- A content agency who doesn’t understand sales or marketing funnels will produce content that either isn’t used or which doesn’t generate leads and sales.
- A digital reach agency or lead who doesn’t understand your inbound strategy and sales process will generate visits that are of no value to you or which go to waste because they’re not taken care of.
- A lead marketing agency who doesn’t understand your sales process will generate a bunch of leads that your sales team won’t take care of.
- A sales process guru who doesn’t have a general grasp of your content strategy, inbound and marketing funnels will waste your time by not connecting your sales process to your lead generation process, and by not leveraging the power of marketing in closing deals (retargeting, sales sequences, automations, and marketing content).
- Any of the above who don't understand system customizations in depth can only go so far - either they'll hand over the job to you and your specialists, or you'll get a generic and standardized implementation.
These are just some examples. In short, a marketing automation agency can and will most likely be specialized and focus in on one of the above areas, but will necessarily need to understand many or most of the other areas too in order to be effective. Make sure your agency understands the full process and the end goal, not just their part of the process.
One more word of warning: Some marketing automation agencies provide generic and standardized implementations, and charge a lot for support and iterative customizations based on learnings. Screen for that by asking: "If we want to change and improve something in our implementations, how much is included?". The answer should ideally be: "It's included". Because otherwise you won't get a solution that fits your needs. (If the answer is: "It's easy - once we finish the build and hand it over to you, be fine with a few hours of consultation per month" - then they just don't have the experience to know that this is far from the truth.)
What type of work should you outsource to a marketing automation agency?
As you can see, there’s a variety of marketing automation agencies out there. But what can, and should, you outsource and what should you do yourself?
For example, if you’re a small business, you might not have a marketing department or team. You might find it more cost effective and get more done if you hire an agency who can bring in multiple different resources and skills, and get more things done than a single person you hire would.
If you’re a large business, you might have to keep track of multiple types of communication tracks on different channels simultaneously, and then you might find it efficient to outsource some of them to a marketing automation agency so you don’t need to worry about the day-to-day operations of it.
Here’s a summary of what we think you should outsource to an agency. (Note that this is not an exhaustive list, just the most common use cases we’ve come across when working with our clients.)
- Time-limited end-to-end campaigns: If you’re launching a product, event or just want to promote something particular for a period of time with a specific end goal (for example number of sign-ups), then working with an external marketing automation agency can be very effective. Setting up campaigns like this is usually their bread-and-butter, and they can often do it with higher quality, quicker turnaround and less cost using best practice and standard methods than you would be able to by yourself.
- Operations of specific channels: If you’re managing multiple channels (social, email, blog, ads, various special channels for your industry), and some of those channels cater to particular audiences with different styles and tastes, then outsourcing those to channel-specialists may improve results. This is good if channel-specific communication is important for success and can be separated from your general communication (for example if one channel caters to a particular audience to whom communication tone of voice etc. should and do differ).
- Ongoing communication around a certain brand, topic or area of your business which can be treated separately: If you run multiple brands, then you might lack the time to manage all of them effectively. If the brand-specific expertise is more important than channel-specific expertise, it might be better for you to focus on one brand or area, and hire an external agency to manage the communication around another brand. This way, both can communicate in a relevant way around the brands in question on all relevant channels.
- Run your entire marketing (if you’re a small business): This is a special case of the above - i.e. letting an agency run a particular brand. The difference is, in this case, the brand they manage is your company. This is good if you lack a marketing resource yourself, in which case it might be more effective to let specialists run your entire marketing operations since they can quickly turn around using standard and well tested processes and methods that produce good enough results. Just remember that while an external agency will be able to do the job efficiently, they rarely (or at very high cost) understand your customers and their needs as well as you do, hence you will still need to produce the foundational, deep and pillar content yourself to support them.
- Sales outreach: Sales outreach can be done separately and “plugged in” to your ongoing sales process. This makes it perfect to outsource. An external agency will be able to use their existing resources, processes and best practices, combined with some customization based on your messaging, to generate results.
- General top-of-the-funnel communication (to drive leads): Top of the funnel means communication that drives interest, rather than purchases. It’s the type of communication that increases your visibility, attracts initial interest and nurtures your contacts with top-of-mind content. This may include regular blogging, posting on social media, and newsletter sendouts. Just keep in mind that while this might attract new visitors, it is the deep and insightful pillar content about your customers’ problems and your solutions that drives high quality leads and sales. Pillar content is usually best done by you since you know (or should know) your customers best.
So is there anything you should not outsource? That’s where the trap we mentioned originally comes in, which we’ll cover next.
Avoid the trap: Do not get stuck with implementations you can't improve
As you can see, there’s plenty that an agency can help you with. But there’s one trap that you should avoid:
Some agencies see implementations as "projects" that are done by them and then "handed over" to you as finished work. After the handover, any additional change is charged extra.
Unfortunately, that's now how things work in reality. It's nearly impossible to get a customization right the first time around. It takes a lot of testing, tweaking and improving over a long period of time to get a simple process to work. Agencies that do the work in their "black box" and then hand over the finished work to you won't be able to implement solutions that work well for you.
This approach has several problems:
- First, it's not going to get you the best solution. Very rarely can you get the perfect solution on the first attempt.
- Secondly, it will make you depenend on them since you haven't been part of a process of building and improving.
- And thirly, it will cost a lot more - since you'll get charged a lot more than you originally thought if you want changes and tweaks over time.
Do not make yourself dependent on an external agency to customize and adapt your marketing and sales machine. Make sure that you always retain the ownership and know-how to take over.
You, as client, should always be part of any process of building, improving and iterating. This will retain know-how with you, allow you to be more flexible, and level up your own skills. Work with a partner that customizes and builds systems for you, but sees it as a collaborative and iterative effort - not as a one-time project. We’ve built our entire business model around this approach since a personal project manager who helps you with ongoing customization and professional services are always and forever included in our license.
Three cornerstones of good marketing automation agency outsourcing
Our philosophy is based on the following three cornerstones:
- You as the client are the owner of your setup, not us. If you hire an external agency, make sure to retain ownership, even if they’re the ones doing the work.
- Therefore, you as the client need to have full understanding of how the setup works. Our job is to set it up and customize things for you, but it’s also our responsibility to make sure to convey all knowledge to you so that you’ll never depend on us for anything.
- It should be an explicit part of our job as the agency, and any agency you hire, to hand over the knowledge to you with training and documentation after the setup is done.
One final piece of advice: Hiring an agency should not be seen as just a quick way to get a job done. In my opinion, that’s the lazy way out, and I believe you can do better than that! Rather, see it as a way to increase your own, your staff’s and your company’s competency by being able to take part of experts’ knowledge and processes. Make that expertise part of yourself, so you can do the job better than they can next time.
With the expertise and processes gained from an agency, combined with the deep knowledge about your customers and your company that you possess, you’ll be in the best position to build something everlasting that is hard for any competitor to replicate.
If one of those areas of expertise is sales and marketing technology, don’t hesitate to contact us or request a demo. Our job is to help you grow - both in the sense of market share, and in the sense of knowledge and expertise. We’ll gladly do our utmost to help you be the best you can be.