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B2B Digital Marketing Agency Breakup? 6 Signs Your Agency Failed You

(Editor’s note: This is Part 2 in a two-part series about how a relationship with an inbound marketing consulting firm can fail. In Part 1 we covered five ways the client can be at fault in a failed partnership.)

b2b digital marketing agency- man pleadingIt’s no longer a struggle to find a halfway-competent digital marketing strategy company. Much like print marketing before it, the online marketing industry is becoming saturated.

As such, you should no longer settle for “halfway-competent.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you either hired a B2B digital marketing agency and regretted it, or are considering hiring one but feeling apprehensive. In the spirit of transparency (the calling card of any good content marketing strategy), we’ve compiled the six warning signs you should watch out for in a client-agency marriage. Famous examples included!

No bad business relationship is worth staying in. Especially if you’re with one of the six goofs below (or the one in the pic above).

B2B Digital Marketing Agency Types to Avoid

A lackluster B2B inbound marketing agency can take many forms. If you’ve had a bad experience before, chances are your agency resembled one or more of these guys:

  1. The Boomer
  2. The Dreamer
  3. The Illusionist
  4. The Mass-Manufacturer
  5. The Ghost, Part 2
  6. The … Just-Plain-Bad Agency

1. The Boomer

Famous Example: “I’m a PC” guy (Apple commercials)

Remember the mid-2000s commercials that pitted PCs vs. Mac computers? The actor who represented PCs was portrayed as an out-of-touch dweeb whose technology was always 10 years behind. Meanwhile, the “I’m a Mac” guy was young, forward-thinking, and adaptable.

Today, there are 100s of traditional marketing services that offer the same outdated tactics that stopped working a decade ago.

Those agencies, who once excelled at radio and print marketing in the 20th and early 21st centuries, still treat digital marketing as an extension of offline marketing. That means their efforts are largely:

  • Intrusive
  • Unfocused
  • Customer-unfriendly
  • Offline-first

That said, youth isn’t everything. A mix of proven experience and fresh ideas makes for the best inbound marketing services.

Here’s one example: website SEO (search engine marketing). Is your marketing agency savvy enough to use SEO to attract leads who actually want to hear from you? Conversely, does your agency have the experience to understand what works and what are considered shady SEO tactics in Google’s eyes?

Your marketing partner should be both innovative and tried-and-true. But of the two, the “Boomer” type is more dangerous to your business results.

Side note: In a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions, the “I’m a Mac” guy now appears in anti-Mac commercials released exactly 1 day before I started writing this post. Who’s the boomer now? (Me, apparently -- I prefer PCs.)

2. The Dreamer

Famous Example: Dinosaur Cloner Guy (“Jurassic Park”)


Billionaire philanthropist and noted dinosaur cloner John Hammond marketed his new park as a world-changing idea and inspiration for further scientific breakthroughs. Poor talent management – and somehow underestimating the public danger of bloodthirsty, giant reptiles -- doomed his idea from the start.

The movie’s most famous quote is, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” In other words, did their ideas actually fit with the needs of their audience?

Likewise, having an account manager who’s a pie-in-the-sky dreamer may get clients excited at first, but are those big ideas realistic and rooted in data? From beginning to end, The Dreamer is full of vague predictions and empty promises.

A Dreamer agency might tell you something like, “We guarantee you’ll rank #1 in Google” … but have no plan or proof in place. Google’s algorithm is a massive, ever-changing math equation controlled by a machine learning AI that stalks our surfing habits and adjusts search results accordingly. Even the best agency can’t immediately guarantee 100 leads per month when your website currently only gets 500 visitors monthly and virtually no organic traffic.

Before an inbound marketing campaign begins, your agency should present SMART goals, rather than create content just for the sake of fulfilling a contract.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific: A clear agreement on what’s expected, why it’s important, and what human and non-human resources are needed
  • Measurable: Concrete criteria for evaluating progress and a clear definition of “success”
  • Attainable: People tend to quickly abandon overly ambitious goals (think New Year’s resolutions)
  • Relevant: Starting with the tasks that’ll provide the most impact to your business
  • Timely: Keeping to deadlines, chunking out big projects into manageable pieces with milestones and check-ins

A B2B marketing agency should create strategies that address both short- and long-term goals. As the months pass, it should be analyzing the data and making future decisions based on that data.

3. The Illusionist

Famous Example: Mayor Vaughn (“Jaws”)

b2b digital marketing agency - mayor vaughn
(Image courtesy Funny)

You’ve got to admire Larry Vaughn’s hustle. He pulled out all the marketing and PR stops to get the business of as many vacationers as possible, man-eating sharks be damned.

As the keeper of the Amity Island resort’s brand, he protected its image through the carefully controlled release of information, always spun to sound like, “Everything is fine, folks!”

Reacting quickly to successes and failures – and being transparent about them – is an agency’s only path to long-term success.

Much like The Dreamer, The Illusionist is more style than substance. This agency will dazzle you with industry jargon and empty or misleading metrics that sound impressive, but really aren’t.

By wary of an agency, especially a B2B SEO agency, that only offers skin-deep reports. Or, God forbid, they fudge or fake the results to make themselves look good. (Looking at you, Mayor.)

Business.com said it perfectly:

“Data manipulation is a prevalent strategy used to rip off digital marketing clients because many clients want to see fast, substantial progress, and agencies play on that desire.”

Because inbound marketing’s ROI takes a year-plus to reach its full potential (depending on your starting benchmarks), your agency should focus first on creating deliverables that’ll sow seeds of real, sustained success. When numbers dip, the agency should deep-dive into what’s influencing the numbers, then outline a thorough strategy for course-correcting. And when the numbers start to jump up, your agency should be ready to capitalize with follow-up content that compounds that success.

4. The Mass Manufacturer

Famous Example: The Energizer Bunny


Cookie-cutter digital marketing strategies grow stale quickly. 

Look at that dang Energizer Bunny. He’s trotted out the same drum-beating, flip-flop-wearing shtick since 1988. He keeps going and going … never stopping to change his ways.

If your agency is pushing marketing channels or strategies that simply don’t make sense for your business or brand, it’s probably because that’s all they know. Find a custom solution instead to recharge your sales pipeline.

For example, if you're a regional panelized home manufacturer, your marketing needs to be location-based and depend heavily on ultra-targeted SEO. You also need a digital marketing campaign tailored to a small budget.

Free SEO Assessment by protocol 80, Inc. - CLICK HERE

A manufacturer with a 75-mile delivery radius doesn’t need to spend thousands on pay-per-click ads to rank in Google for “home builder” -- it’ll probably be too hard to do so anyway. Ranking for terms like “Buffalo area home builder” and “Western NY home builder” would get you in front of a more relevant audience.

Social media is another great example. Does a custom home builder want to be on Instagram? Probably -- it’s a great place to show off the product visually. However, custom panelized building is expensive, so the buyer persona trends toward couples ages 45 and up. Facebook advertising and marketing sounds like a wise option, too. 

During strategy discussions with a current or potential agency, ask detailed questions about how the agency will solve your marketing and sales woes. Your agency should treat you as a partner in these strategy sessions, rather than dictate a boilerplate plan.

5. The Ghost

Famous Example: Peter (“Office Space”)


We ripped on Lumbergh, the company boss in “Office Space,” in our post highlighting ways clients ruin a partnership. In fairness, we must also call out Peter for being arguably the worst employee at Initech (and that’s saying something).

Are you almost always the one who has to initiate contact with your inbound marketing agency? Do your blog and social media accounts still look like ghost towns 9 months into the contract? Are you not receiving regular reports on data trends and the progress your agency is making toward your growth goals?

Leave your haunted-house website in the hands of a new agency if your current “provider”:

  • Consistently takes days to respond to calls/emails
  • Creates content sporadically
  • Is only “there” to collect a check from you each month

You’re paying thousands of dollars each month to get ROI, and there’s nothing less profitable than a partner that is milking you for money. And as Peter showed us, those pennies add up.

6. The Just-Plain-Bad Agency

Famous Example: The Aardvark in This Children’s Book

b2b digital marketing agency relationship- lonely pies-1

This poor, little guy can’t figure out why he’s not selling any “lovely” pies. (Can you spot the reason why?) He’s also set up his storefront in the middle of nowhere, limiting his traffic and leads.

In the end, B2B marketing and sales agencies still face judgment based on the revenue they bring in (or don’t bring in).

Does your agency produce sloppy, poorly written content that’s not optimized for SEO? Does your agency struggle to understand the unique challenges of the B2B space? Has your agency made little effort to understand your niche product/industry? If the answer is “yes” to any of these, you have a problem.

It’ll take time for even the most experienced B2B content marketer to fully grasp your product and your buyer persona. But if you’re well into Year 2 and still seeing these metrics, watch out:

Low Website Traffic

There can be many reasons you’re failing to increase your website traffic.

  • Not enough content production
  • Shoddy or no promotion via social media, email, etc.
  • Ignoring SEO best practices

Assuming you’ve provided a sufficient digital marketing budget to work with, the underlying issue is your team is:

  • Underdelivering/failure to plan and execute an organized content calendar
  • Strategy isn’t reaching your buyer persona
  • Poor understanding of modern marketing techniques

Not Enough Leads

Poor lead-generation numbers stem from a lack of traffic, as well as additional, unique problems:

  • Content doesn’t provide value
  • Lack of lead-magnet opportunities
  • Webpage takes too long to load or functions poorly on mobile

Again, these are symptoms of more dangerous poisons:

Sales Aren’t Growing

While it’s ultimately up to your salespeople to close deals, your inbound marketing company should be making it easier for them. That starts with handing off good leads.

Sales may be stagnant due to:

  • Botched buyer persona development
  • Irrelevant content that attracts bad-fit leads
  • Misleading SEO and other marketing efforts

How to Scout Your Next B2B Digital Marketing Agency

Truthfully, most inbound marketing consulting firms hire honest, hard-working people. But because so much is riding on your investment, let’s reiterate that your agency should have all six of these qualities:

  1. A focus on modern buyer behaviors
  2. Organized, data-driven strategies
  3. Transparent communication & reporting
  4. Customized campaigns
  5. Availability & dependability
  6. Skilled staff in all departments -- writing, SEO, video/graphics, web development, strategy, and sales

To learn whether you’re getting your money’s worth with digital marketing, try a free marketing assessment:

Click here to request a free marketing assessment