What do clients really look for in an agency?

Author - Jodi Norris

Posted By Jodi Norris Community Marketing Manager

Date posted 11th Aug 2021

Category Blog


It’s a question that keeps agency owners and new business teams up at night – what do clients really look for in their agency?

In an exclusive Agency Hackers interview last month, Nick Haigh (Head of External Global Communications at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence) gave his insights into what is most important to him. As a leading software company specialising in cyber security for global Enterprise and Public Sector clients, they have a complex business offering. But it was the human rather than technical aspects of an agency that really made the difference from Nick’s perspective.

First of all, and most obviously, make sure you understand what your client does within their business. Nick gave the example of prospective agencies thinking that he worked in the ships, planes and submarines business units of BAE, rather than the Applied Intelligence division. Do your research – not just using Google and the corporate website, but also LinkedIn, and use your CRM system (e.g. HubSpot) to gather relevant data before, during and after initial conversations. Take the time to find out about both the company and the person you are looking to work with.

An agency that could show creativity of thought was off to a good start. Translating complex products and services such as B2B software, SaaS and Tech into marketing narratives that tell a story and demonstrate a use case is a skill that Nick values from his agency partners. All too often agencies (and clients) can get too focused on products or services, when to really bring digital marketing to life, inbound marketing in particular, the focus needs to be on customer needs. The shift from B2B to B2C2B – treating your business customer as a human being, and empathising with them as such – exemplifies this.

Passion for the project was another huge positive. Nick gave an example at the other end of the spectrum, where a previous agency had shared reports and data but no insights. There was a palpable lack of enthusiasm, and no desire to set an agenda for development and improvement. Showing a client that you care about them and their business is as important as the technical delivery. Yes, numerical and financial results are crucial, but demonstrating to your client how you are learning, improving and moving forward with them as a partner is vital too.

The ability to look at the bigger picture was another attribute that made the best agencies stand out. In part this was about joining the dots between digital marketing and positive business outcomes. It also went back to putting humans at the centre of the story and understanding that B2B digital marketing needs to connect with people on their terms, making an emotional just as much as a rational impact.

What are the biggest turn offs for clients? Make sure you set the right boundaries! Nick described the worst pitch he had ever been involved in, during which one of the presenters flirted with his boss. Awkward, embarrassing and pitch-undermining – they did not get selected.

There is no one size fits all answer to the question of what clients really look for in their agencies – but for Nick it was clear that human interaction, creativity and passion (for the project!) were key. COVID has of course restricted face to face interaction but both Agency Hackers and our own B2B Marketing Community (FINITE) have sought to bring people together to discuss ideas, learn from each other and continue to improve the way that clients and agencies work together in 2021 and beyond.

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