The parental paradox of the client/agency relationship

A few years ago, you’d probably hear an agency’s heart sink when the term ‘insource’ was uttered by a client. It meant you were getting a ‘haircut’, as they say. But in a world of skills diversity and balancing acts, that sentiment is changing.

Insourcing skills reflects a growing trend towards greater flexibility across the marketing landscape, particularly when skills gaps pop up ‘whack-a-mole’ style and the planning to execution cycle shortens. Many B2B businesses can’t move fast enough to keep up with themselves. 

Our Breathless Business research shows that keeping pace with innovation is a real challenge for B2B businesses. To that end, utilising agencies can be a great way to close the gap, by possessing skills that you may not have in abundance in-house. 

For example, we’ve had plenty of clients who’ve hired copywriters once the model of inbound marketing has been proven. It’s an endorsement of a strong demand generation strategy. The agency gets you going, then you staff up as you need – it’s rarely about ‘downsizing’. 

However, from an agency perspective, it can feel like that moment when your kids decide they’re okay on their own. The brand is built, the systems are in place, the campaigns are firing….and then come the words; “We’ll take it from here…” 

As we provide marketing services across the Brand To Sales process, there are a range of marketing needs being met by Octopus Group at any one time. This is reflected by the number of insource/outsource discussions we have with clients.  We connect a journey from the story a business tells, to the sales it generates. Ultimately, that equates to experience, scale and maturity: a client’s resource needs and efficiencies change as they evolve, and it’s our job to evolve and flex with them. 

The mindset of Brand To Sales is about getting the best result for the client. Like a parent, you have to know when to support, when to challenge, and ultimately, when to back off! You have to understand the client’s business need in its widest context. It falls into three broad types of client/agency relationship:

The new-born

  • New companies, start-ups and even mature businesses that are new to integrated marketing start with high levels of agency dependency. It’s ‘cribs n bibs’ to get this shiny new thing up and away.
  • Newbies are in a constant struggle to manage costs and mostly want vitamin shots of resource and ideas to fuel performance. Insourcing can be too much hassle and outsourcing can appear costly when budgets are tight. I once heard a great quote: “SME’s don’t have budgets, they just have money…”

The challenging teenager

  • Mid-size clients or established programmes are the teenagers – complex and emotional! You really want to push them to do something new without losing all the great work in this important growth stage.
  • But mid-size businesses face the biggest insource conundrums. There’s budget to invest in people internally, which can make a huge difference to how much you outsource marketing support. The challenge is that the nature of the resource you need can change very quickly – it’s all about smart investment and a flexible agency partner.

All grown-up

  • Then we come to large enterprises or sophisticated campaigns that are a coming of age. Everyone ‘gets it’ and needs each other, but perhaps there’s the odd row at Christmas!
  • Enterprises work with much more structure and predictability. They need the lifeblood that a good agency can offer. Equally, their scale of investment in agencies is such that managing agency budgets up or down can be a better way to control costs. Sheer scale has a benefit of smoothing out the peaks and troughs experienced by smaller businesses in terms of the skills and resources that are needed at any given time.

Successful agency relationships are defined by collaboration

Solid relationships are not just about everyone getting on. Good commercial relationships are built on trust and understanding the needs and priorities of the work ahead.

In our experience of building the Brand To Sales approach, we’ve recruited skills into client businesses, recommended alternative agencies to support client needs and seconded our own people into client teams to bridge resource and skills gaps.  In all these instances, the relationship and the results have been for the better with a collaborative approach.

The right conversation about insourcing is one of a commitment to improving the future performance of a business. Play the long game and everyone wins.

Download our Breathless Business report to find out what challenges B2B businesses say they’re facing, and what can be done about it.