Over the last six months at BusinessOnline, I’ve conducted quite a few interviews with candidates looking for their next home in agency life. I’ve answered a lot of questions and have been very transparent on what agency life is like here at BusinessOnline, a B2B performance marketing agency.
These interviews, and the hundreds of interviews over my almost eight years working in this industry inspired this article.
Agency life isn’t for everyone, and yes, there have been times I’ve considered going back into the corporate world, but I’d miss diving into different industries and learning about all the complexities that come with them. I’d also miss both the challenges and opportunities this industry has to offer.
From my experience, I know one thing is certain, the only permanent part of agency life is change. You have to be willing to ride the waves, jump in, solve problems, and have spidey senses about when something might go off the rails in order to get ahead of it before it becomes a problem.
So, what is it really like to work at a B2B performance agency? Let’s dive in...
After years of being in corporate finance, I decided to take the plunge and began my agency career in 2012 working for a HubSpot inbound agency partner.
Since then, I’ve worked at 3 HubSpot inbound agency partners. I once had an old boss ask if my plan was to work at all of the HubSpot agencies, and while I’m not sure if that person was giving me shit or just being a jerk, it made me really think about whether sticking with what I was comfortable with was actually benefiting me anymore… and if it was even healthy?
I started making mistakes I wasn’t proud of. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back perhaps staying in the inbound agency world too long might have been the cause.
My “job” started to become my entire life. Maybe it was because the inbound world is so rooted in doing marketing in very specific ways I was losing my ability to be creative and strategic. Or maybe it was just me.
In any regard, while inbound marketing certainly works and is not a tactic that I will ever fully move away from, it’s also not the end all be all in marketing.
There are actually a lot of similarities between inbound and B2B performance marketing. Both put the end user of clients before the client. As an agency, we don’t create marketing strategies for them, we create for their target audience.
The main difference is really in the data, and by data, I don’t mean website sessions, bounce rates, basic keyword rankings, and all the other fluff metrics the c-suite doesn’t care about.
B2B performance marketing isn’t about the fluff metrics. It’s the focus on data that tells CEOs and CFOs specifically what marketing tactics drove real revenue.
What piece of content was responsible for 40 MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) that converted 20 SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) from accounts that CEOs really want to be working with? And closing those 20 SQLs at a 75% close rate because the integrated marketing campaign was so specific to the RIGHT audience at the RIGHT time.
It’s hard for CEOs to see how 500,000 sessions turn into revenue, and that is the biggest difference between the two strategies. It’s also why BOL is so successful at the enterprise level. We don’t mess around with the fluff.
First and foremost, BETTER clients! When you cultivate your relationships with performance over quantity, you build trust faster. And trust is important to lasting and meaningful relationships. We need to be an essential extension to our point of contact and thus an extension to the entire organization's marketing program. We aspire to be the B2B Performance Marketing Agency our clients “can’t live without.”
Performance is how your points of contact are measured. They are not measured by how many blogs are published in a month, or how many ebooks are placed behind a form on a landing page. The people you work with are only as successful as the accounts that are closed or the products sold. That’s it. It is really that simple.
When the focus is on performance first, you do the things you know need to be done to make these things happen for clients. It’s not a one size fits all approach and this isn’t a marketing factory churning out the same ‘ol things for every client. This is especially true for enterprise companies. The larger the company, the more complex marketing becomes and you have to be able to pivot or take the time to dive deeper into their challenges, and more importantly, into the challenges of their target audience.
Don’t get me wrong, processes are extremely important for any agency. It creates organization and provides structure for your team. But the kicker here is when processes become more important than the people working in the trenches. And even worse, processes created by people who aren’t in client facing roles can be damaging to teams delivering the work.
B2B performance agencies rely heavily on data. Data is what assists a seasoned marketer in developing the right process for the individual client. Every client who approaches us for help is in a different stage of their marketing journey, which means a single onboarding process across the agency isn’t always the right approach.
When we begin working with a client, we dive deep into their goals, strategy, and data to customize their onboarding specifically for where they are at today. We always have to be transparent with our clients. If someone comes to us and says our goal is to generate $5M in three months, but their current marketing performance is weak (or non-existent) and they have a sales cycle that is 12 months, it’s time to have an honest and frank conversation about their current goals vs. their attainable goals.
You have to be willing to be the expert in the room/on the call and you can’t be the expert if you don’t have a grasp on how to read data correctly in order to build marketing strategies that will get them to their desired goals the fastest. If processes are too structured and don't allow for agility, helping clients reach their goals will take forever.
I LOVE diving into problems and finding solutions. I often feel like a detective scouring over data looking for clues that help me identify what is off and why things are working the way they should be. It’s a challenge that I accept for each and every client I work with. This is especially fun when you work for an agency.
In the corporate world, you might be surrounded by only a handful of really smart marketers. But when you work for an agency, the entire company is full of really smart marketers with different backgrounds and experiences. Each and every person at an agency is incredibly passionate about marketing. And I mean INCREDIBLY passionate! Being able to tap into people’s knowledge about digital marketing, their experience in working with various industries and developing hundreds of different marketing campaigns gives you and clients an advantage you won’t get with an in-house marketing team.
It can be hard to problem solve on your own. We learn the best solutions from people who’ve been through similar challenges in the past. Leaning on an entire company stacked with marketers is one of my favorite things about agency life. If I have a problem I can’t figure out how to solve on my own, I slack one of my co-workers to schedule a quick Zoom call to pick their brain. It’s much faster and easier than Googling for 14 hours, which is what I used to do when I was running inbound marketing in the corporate world solo.
The set of skills you need in order to kick ass in your marketing career are just as important as problem solving. If you’re not reading, taking certification courses, or attending virtual events or webinars, you're not growing. Every single person that has held a marketing position, whether in corporate or at an agency, knows how fast this industry changes and keeping up with it can be daunting.
Working at a B2B performance marketing agency, however, means you are side-by-side with an eclectic mix of co-workers and clients who have tested every campaign, display ad, email, article, tech stacks (this list is SO long) you can think of. And by doing so, you’re constantly expanding your skill set organically over time. This keeps your passion for marketing alive, but also keeps you motivated and is extremely helpful in expanding your career much faster.
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that agency life isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging, high-pressured and FAST-paced!
Most agencies require a certain amount of experience in digital marketing to even be considered for an interview and I believe it’s much more difficult to land a job at an agency than it is at a corporate level, especially if you’re entry level.
But, in my opinion, if you do things the right way and can land a job at an agency, you’ll learn MUCH faster than you would working in-house.
If you lack experience, certifications are the way to go and there are so many free options out there for you.
Going into interviews with a solid list of certs not only sets you apart from other candidates, it will give you way more confidence during those interviews.
So, where do you start? Below are some of the best courses to kick start your career in b2b performance agencies!
Not everyone is built for agency life. But, if you thrive in an ever-changing, fast-paced environment, have the skill sets mentioned above and are:
...then you might just be the person we are looking for next! Check out our open positions and give us an opportunity to meet you.
Want to take a deep dive in our ABM process, which truly drives performance? Give a read to our "Audience First" ebook! It's packed with great insights into ABM, putting your audience first!