How to choose a great B2B content marketing agency… (and what to ask them...)
Updated: Apr 25
...to get the answers you need.
71% of B2B marketers say content marketing has become more important to their organisation in the last year. Rather than 'window dressing', content marketing is recognised as a driver of growth - when done effectively.
That cobbled-together newsletter? The Friday afternoon tweet? Sorry, chaps. That's not effective content marketing.
But the resources to achieve great content marketing have to come from somewhere: time, investment, expertise, staff and - fundamentally - finding and creating awesome content that helps your prospects and clients and that they actively look forward to finding and receiving.
As only 29% of organisations consider themselves extremely or very successful at it,
no wonder it's one of the most frequently outsourced areas. In a survey of businesses' intent for this coming year, nearly half say they expect their organisation will contract content producers in 2023, with 25% planning to bring on content marketers.
If you're among those exploring a partnership with a B2B digital marketing agency to grow your tribe, we walk you through some of the considerations you should have - and the questions you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the agencies on your shortlist.
Basic Principles: What does a B2B Content Marketing Agency do?
The short version is: they use digital content to grow businesses by connecting with others. (Find more on why you need content marketing here.)
An outstanding digital marketing agency will do this by striking the perfect balance between scientific scrutiny of your business and creative artistry to show it to the world.
Most agencies will operate in four steps that look a little something like this:
1. Plan: Setting a strategy to reach your business goals with content marketing
The agency will learn your business goals and assess your website and messaging to form a deep understanding of where you are and where you want to be. Together you will write a content strategy to reach this destination: this plan will define your brand tone of voice, audience and messaging.
2. Create: Putting the Plan Into Action
The agency will create content aligned with your brand and content strategy: blogs, emails, social posts, videos, podcasts. You name it; they can create it.
3. Share: Getting the Content Out There
Distributing content consistently, the agency will ensure your content gets seen by choosing the best channels and customising content for them. Sharing is caring.
4. Measure: Assess How the Content Is Performing
A plan is only effective if it's working. An agency will track key metrics for you (page views, click-throughs etc.) and offer insights into the results. The agency pulling its weight will then adapt the strategy to stay on track to reach your goals.
It's worth noting that organic content marketing's impact timeline is not weeks but months. Tweak your strategy, but keep it in play for 6-12 months to see results. This commitment - in time, trust, and budget - is why you must choose your agency wisely. Your partnership is not - or should not - be short-term.
Let's get into the considerations you need to take when selecting a B2B marketing agency - and our tribe's suggestions of four questions you can ask them to test their mettle.
1. Are they B2B Specialists?
Marketing is marketing, right? Wrong. You need to know if the agencies on your shortlist are B2B specialists, if they work in the B2C space, or do both.
This is because every aspect of the content marketing approach we laid out above changes if you're marketing for folks in B2C or B2B.
Here are a few reasons why.
The Buyer's Journey
B2B sales operate on a much longer buying cycle than B2C. B2B sales are rarely knee-jerk or spontaneous, and a buyer's journey may be 12 months or even longer. This gives prospects time to encounter you on multiple channels, over time, before considering engaging with you. In 2016, B2B buyers typically used five channels for decision-making, doubling to 10 by 2021. No wonder one of the most frequently cited content marketing challenges is achieving consistency with messaging in content (33%).
A B2B specialist knows how to use these touchpoints, creating consistent messaging between them but adapting content for the audience segment on each channel.
(Pssst… interested in learning more about the buyer's journey and how it can help your customer experience? Our downloadable guide is your go-to resource.)
The decision to buy in B2B is rarely down to one individual but involves multiple stakeholders. Again, this lengthens the sales cycle and calls up the other key facet of B2B marketing - unlike the individual customer, B2B buying decisions are based on different pain points that matter to large groups of people - and their broader organisational goals. As such, it will likely involve more complex messaging, audience profiling, and segmentation than B2C's.
Content and Communication
B2B and B2C marketing differs in how we talk to our audiences. Although omnichannel presence remains essential for all brands, with a 2.74% visit-to-lead conversion rate (compared to Facebook's 0.77%), LinkedIn is generally viewed as the primary social channel for B2B activity. But Instagram and TikTok lead the way for B2C marketing.
And the type of posts pivot between B2B and B2C: if B2C social media is a casual high-five, see B2B as more of a handshake and breakfast meeting.
B2C social content is entertaining and shareable, but in the B2B space, social marketing is more concerned with building long-term relationships with clients. B2B content should offer prospective and current clients value, insights, even solutions to build trust and credibility.
Socials drive traffic to pages optimised for B2B and B2C conversion. In the B2C customer journey, this would likely be an e-commerce site, closing the sale. However, for B2B, where the sales process is more complex, a landing page supported by downloadable content that helps in transactions or conversions is more usual.
Any decent digital marketing agency will create these assets for you. But the best? They'd consult with you on what they could be.
Ask the hybrid agency (B2B and B2C): How do you differentiate your approach for each type of account?
2. What's their experience, and can they prove it?
Right. Now it gets interesting. You're going to want to explore a prospective agency's track record in the following areas.
Creating great content
First up: content. Website development, emails, blogs, social posts, lead magnets - ask to see a range of the work the agency has produced for their clients.
What do you notice? Do you see creative flair in their artwork? Is it interesting? Is it memorable? If each blog is choking on SEO keywords but is dull as dishwater to read. Move on.
Gone are the days of B2B marketing being 'boring' or even - for some businesses - corporate. The most impactful B2B campaigns are the creative ones. New YouGov research that LinkedIn commissioned found that 82% of B2B marketing leaders surveyed across the globe believe "creative confidence" is growing in the space.
You want to find an agency that gets this and can push the needle for your sales teams.
Seek testimonials from their clients, engagement metrics for their content, but also evidence that the work as returned the clients’ investment, and consistently.
(And for more tips on creating great content, take a peek at our 4-step guide to doing just that!)
Ask the agency:
What ROI did this work deliver for the client? (A good agency will be transparent about what it produces and how it performs.)
Staying up to date with marketing trends and practices
The digital marketing landscape is not a fixed terrain. Exciting if you keep learning how to navigate it, but not so great if you invest in an agency that fails to adapt.
An agency should be able to enthuse you about new ways of talking to clients and keeping them engaged (AI, automation, influencers and podcasts are interesting developments for 2023). Still, they should also be versed in core practices as they evolve, as well as buzzy trends.
The key one? SEO. A strong agency should be able to audit your site and, using their knowledge of Google's ever-shifting algorithm - ensure it's up to date and sending the maximum amount of intent your way.
Ask the agency: what is the most significant development in content marketing in 2023? (And be wary of woolly answers.)
Knowledge of your industry or sector
Many agencies have a niche or specialism which creates a nice shorthand between your business and their expertise - and enthusiasm!
It's not a deal-breaker if they don't work in your space, but ideally, you should be looking for an agency that you can be confident has some experience in understanding how a business like yours works or has a proven track record in talking - successfully - to your key audience demographic.
If the agencies on your list have only ever worked with start-ups, for example, and you're in an enterprise-sized operation, it might be worth searching harder.
Ask the agency: Why have you made this sector your specialism? (Hopefully, they care about it as much as you do!)
3. Are they more than a marketing agency?
While this might sound like a paradox, given that the names on your shortlist are marketing agencies, you ideally should be looking for a partner that does more than tick a marketing box.
In fact, you should be looking for a marketing agency that actively fights being put into a box at all.
Box clever with an agency that will do more than produce content and analyse metrics. An effective relationship with a digital marketing agency is a collaborative one. If you don't get the vibe that the agency is excited to live and breathe the business alongside you, is this a partnership or just a transaction?
And there's one team they should know best of all: sales. 60% of global respondents in a LinkedIn survey believed that misalignment between sales and marketing might damage financial performance. If there was any doubt that sales success is driven by marketing, LinkedIn's 2022 State of Sales report notes that 70% of the highest performing sales professionals surveyed—individuals who meet 150% of their quota—identified their marketing leads as "excellent".
A marketing agency worth its salt will want to be besties with your sales team. And this integration (which could happen with a CRM to fully streamline the sales process), and this refusal to be siloed or separate, is the mark of the best B2B marketing team: the one that is more likely to deliver impressive ROI.
Ask the agency: Do you offer services or processes to help integrate your marketing efforts with our sales teams?
4. Would you go out for a drink with them?
Without being flippant, if you wouldn't want to sit down with the agency's team members over coffee, don't jump into a year-long relationship with them.
After establishing the agency can do the job you need, do it well, having read that others agree they're good and the budget is right, there's one last - vital - factor to consider.
Just because the agency can do the job doesn't mean they're a fit for your business: your mutual values need to align, you need to feel this is 'right'. Whether its warmth, sincerity, passion or precision, chemistry counts when working at close quarters.
View the process of choosing an agency akin to recruitment. And it is, really - you're choosing your new business partner. It’s no small thing.
Final thoughts: although we’re sharing content in a digital world, the best agencies never forget that although it’s business-to-business, it’s always, really, human-to-human.
Ask the agency:
When have you declined opportunities to work with clients? Why was this? An agency that values chemistry and connection might volunteer the concern of it being 'the wrong fit' if they, too, prioritise this aspect of collaboration.
How long is your average client relationship/the ratio of clients renewing or growing contracts?
Assessing ‘churn’ - but a caveat that some B2B marketing agencies work on projects, not monthly retainer work, so churn may be higher!
So, find your agency shortlist, then sit down with your prospective agency partners and talk it out.
These are the questions you need to ask to get the agency you deserve:
How do you differentiate your approach for B2B marketing efforts (as opposed to B2C??
What ROI did this work deliver for the client?
What is the most significant development in content marketing in 2023?
Why have you made this sector your specialism?
Do you offer services or processes to help integrate your marketing efforts with our sales teams?
When have you declined opportunities to work with clients? Why was this?
How long is your average client relationship/the ratio of clients renewing or growing contracts?
You don't just need B2B content marketing - you need a B2B content marketing strategy executed by experts. We hope we've helped you find one. If not, drop us a line. We're friendly folk and might be able to advise.
And what about us? We deliver B2B marketing with expertise in tech, aerospace, aviation and renewables. We also connect marketing and sales with both strategy and systems.
Visit our sector pages to see more of who we are and the energy we bring to make our partner tribes thrive.
If you’ve specific questions about how to create momentum around your digital marketing, we’re friendly folk: we’d be keen to hear them.
Get in touch via email@example.com or book a call below: