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Are you considering outsourcing demand generation in 2018? If so, you’re not alone.

Few B2B marketing organizations rely solely on in-house resources to plan and execute their demand generation strategies. Most use a combination of internal staff and external partner resources. This makes complete sense when you consider the breadth of demand gen activities required to meet growth goals, including: integrated program planning, content creation, design, content syndication and more.

At Integrate, we work with hundreds of mid-sized and enterprise B2B marketing teams to understand their demand generation strategies and challenges. In addition to things like data quality issues and lack of performance insights, one of the biggest limitations to scaling demand marketing contributions is often a lack of internal resources.

We’ve worked to distill the experiences of our clients as they navigate their options and review demand generation agencies to handle various aspects of their strategies. Here are some tips to help you evaluate potential demand generation agency partners based on their success records, communication, industry experience and other key criteria.

6 Ways to Vet Demand Generation Agencies

Here’s the good news: outsourcing demand generation isn’t an all-or-nothing, permanent commitment. You don’t have to choose between fully outsourcing and fully managing demand gen efforts in-house. And, when you do choose an approach, it doesn’t have to be a lifetime decision.

Increasingly, brands choose to outsource certain parts of demand generation, usually to fill in skill and talent gaps in their in-house team. Other organizations benefit from consulting, while still completing the bulk of the heavy lifting internally. Still, others still are tapping into the fast-growing contractor economy to flexibly leverage highly-skilled contractors on a per-project basis.

If you do choose to hire a third-party partner, screening and vetting are critical. We recommend the following actions prior to signing a contract to have the best possible experience.

1. Understand How They Communicate

The most productive agency interview conversations may start off with a simple question: What is your communications process?

Needless to say, it’s a warning sign if they lack standardized processes for communicating with clients. In general, proactive and responsive communication leads to healthier agency-client relationships, but communication styles vary significantly.

Some demand generation agencies like to develop a plan with clients, then go heads down for days or weeks at a time to execute that plan. Other agencies like to communicate with the client every step along the way. And unfortunately, some agencies simply don’t communicate clearly about anything, and always make it a struggle to get any answers.

If you like to be kept in the loop about everything, you know not to hire a heads-down agency. If you don’t have the time to attend multiple meetings every week, and you want to trust the agency to be experts and get stuff done, you don’t want to hire a meetings-oriented team.

Understanding your culture and availability, as well as the communications expectations from your agency, you can get a better idea what the relationship will be like. And, you can hire and plan accordingly.

2. Check Customer Reviews

There is no one more honest about an agency’s performance than current and former clients. Check out the reputation of service providers through case studies and, if possible, online review sources before signing an agreement. Remember to take online reviews with a grain of salt. And take steps to ensure that the review site is reputable. Nefarious agencies and brands have been known to create entire review websites specifically to put their brand at the top in every category.

Interviews with the agency’s current clients can validate an agency faster than any other method. This isn’t always possible, but if you can get the opportunity to speak with a current customer, we encourage you to take it.

3. Set Clear Goals and KPI’s

Demand generation must use a data-driven methodology.

If a prospective vendor is hesitant to set performance targets, you may not be able to rely on positive results. Ideally, the right vendor will work with you to establish growth targets and full-funnel KPIs that are both aggressive and achievable.

They should also support your need for full-funnel analysis and responsive improvement by demonstrating how they apply marketing analytics to their customers’ strategies.

4. Prepare to Educate Your Vendor

The client onboarding process is a time for mutual education. Prepare to get your vendor up to speed on your industry, business and brand. Ideally, the agency you select should have a standardized onboarding process to simplify this as much as possible.

Your vendor should also provide value and education to your team as well. In most cases, third-parties are hired to bring a special skill set or expertise to the table. If that’s what you pay for, you don’t want a team of task-monkeys just following orders. You want them to provide insights and training on how to make the most of the partnership.

5. Steer Clear of “Lock-In” Contracts

Demand generation success requires dynamic methods and tactics. You may need to scale your services agreement up or down to meet targets or budget constraints. Flexible contracts, and better yet, KPI-dependent work agreements are a sign of a partnership that’s focused on your success.

Be wary of constraining contracts that don’t offer a way out. If a partner falls short on delivering results, it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to sever the relationship.

6. Fast-Track Industry Experience

Many B2B demand generation agencies claim to have on-the-ground expertise in paid distribution and retargeting. Tactical experience is helpful, but it’s often just as important to make sure they have proven success in your industry.

Evaluating their results for other organizations in your veritcal is crucial if you’re operating in a highly-regulated business, such as financial services or FinTech. In complex industries, there’s no substitute for direct knowledge when it comes to driving marketing that resonates with your target audience.

Do I Really Need to Evaluate Demand Generation Agencies?

For some brands, outsourcing is the simplest way to overcome common challenges such as a lack of internal resources or difficulty hiring full-stack marketing talent.

However, outsourcing isn’t the right decision for everyone.

Even if your company does need help generating demand, you may not be ready to outsource. If your team is drowning in inefficiencies, you may not have the resources to manage an agency relationships. If for instance, you’re spending hours each week manually formatting or validating lead data so it can be uploaded into your CRM, technologies for automating data validation and lead processing could be a better immediate investment than an agency relationship.

By understanding how to carefully research demand generation agency options, and considering whether your brand actually needs to reshape your processes or invest in smarter MarTech, you can ensure you start 2018 on the right path.

Still not sure if you should outsource demand generation or implement additional automation so your marketing team can manage more in-house? Check out the B2B Demand Marketing Assessment Guide & Orchestration Workbook to get an accurate benchmark of your current strategy.