Agencies aren't the right model all the time.
All cards on the table - I used to work for inbound marketing agency, Orange Pegs Media. And, as much as I love and value what we did, I recognized that there are certain sacrifices that must be made in order to make working with a firm like ours beneficial.
There are a lot of pros to working with an inbound marketing agency as well, which I outlined in a previous article. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think the pros outweighed the cons, at least for our clients, but it's not the case for every business out there.
So, here is a list cons, so you can see for yourself whether working with an inbound marketing agency is the right choice, or if you're better off with a growth agency or hiring a consultant, delegating the responsibilities to your existing team, or using a different methodology altogether.
They require a commitment
Inbound isn't something that will produce results overnight... At best, combined with a consistent commitment to PPC, you can expect to achieve tangible results in the first 3 - 6 months.
This should be considered the long play. We're creating content for multiple personas at different stages of the buyer's journey, which means that organic traffic AND conversion rates (for both organic AND paid) will improve over time. The more blogs, offers, and emails we have published, the more impactful we're going to be on your business.
You are required to give up a certain level of control
This can be really tricky for some of you, especially you smaller companies trying to move beyond the bootstrapping phase. For a long time you've been in control of every aspect of your marketing, even if it wasn't much to begin with, and some of our ideas are going to conflict with yours.
But at the end of the day, this is your ship; you are the captain. If you don't fully delegate this responsibility to us as "First Mate of Marketing," we're going to fail.
We had a highly niche staffing agency client really struggle with this. Our content offer strategy (in order) consisted of:
- Salary guide
- Interview guide
- Getting started guide
Being that they were so niche, there were no other staffing agencies out there offering a salary guide of this nature to their particular audience. This made them nervous, because they didn't want the rates to be tied to them, specifically, and they worried how their candidates who weren't at the higher end of the spectrum would respond if/when they got their hands on it.
So, it was put off for 10 months. They also kept insisting on us prioritizing their off-the-cuff ideas that had no data to support them. When we were able to finally publish the salary guide, it immediately shot to the top of the list for their downloads with a 30%+ conversion rate.
But then they started worrying about the fact that some of those downloading the guide were candidates, not hiring managers, and their initial fears about what somebody might do with that information, although completely unfounded after 2 months of execution, took over.
Major changes in direction of your business can REALLY hurt inbound agencies
As mentioned earlier, inbound follows a rigid formula. But maybe what isn't totally clear yet is that this is a building process. Sure, PPC will accelerate your results, but we still have to learn, and we still have to create content for each persona at each stage of the buyer's journey, which takes time. Blogging takes time. Earning a social following takes time.
If your business is in a volatile stage, meaning, your software program is still in beta or you're not completely committed to your service offerings, we could end up wasting a lot of time and resources.
What happens if we get a following for you in social media over the course of 6 - 12 months, and you decide to completely transform your target personas or service offerings making those followers and all of the blogs, emails, and content offers we created for them completely obsolete?
This impacts your conversions, search rankings... everything.
Inbound agencies won't solve all of your problems
Some of you are looking for an end-all be-all solution to your sales problems, and believe that marketing is the answer.
But it's not always the case. Inbound is just one piece of a very complex puzzle, and we can only impact what is in our sphere of influence, although it's easy to view what we do through rose-colored glasses, because the formula we execute is highly effective...
... but only when it's supporting a sound sales process with talented sales people and a product or service that has demand and is priced properly.
They don't like deviating
This isn't just about major business changes. This is about putting together a plan and sticking to it. Imagine what this was like for them in 2020.
Now, this doesn't mean that we're going to follow a lemming off the cliff if it's not working. We live off of data and experience, so when the signs are there, we're going to listen and adjust our plan accordingly.
Where it becomes challenging is when you inundate your agency with great ideas, and are constantly asking them to re-prioritize, never really allowing them to carry out any of their plans.
As I mentioned earlier, we plan WAY ahead, and there are quite a few moving parts. A single idea will manifest itself in a content offer, a series of blogs, graphics, campaigns, emails, SEO strategy, landing pages, website copy, and even the next 1 to 10 content ideas.
Every time we have to pivot away from our plans on the fly, we are leaving a lot of sweat on the floor that sometimes never gets revisited. This makes it difficult achieve your goals and certainly to justify the expense of having an inbound marketing agency working for you.
They like to take risks
If you don't have an appetite for risk, your inbound agency is going to keep you up at night. We like to give away information. It's the key to earning trust, which is how we get people to share their contact information with us.
When our staffing agency client mentioned earlier in this post told us to nix the salary guide, despite its overwhelmingly positive impact in generating leads, job orders, and even positively impacting their independent cold-calling efforts, it was because they felt that it could one day possibly cause a problem with one of their candidates.... maybe. It wasn't based on data. It wasn't based on anything that actually happened. It was based on their fear of the unknown.
Pulling that offer led to a significant decline in leads and overall engagement, which wasn't part of the plan.
The risks we take are calculated, but they are risks nonetheless. But look around you. All of the successful businesses are taking risks. Robert Half has every one of their salary guides posted on their website in true inbound fashion - gated behind forms, and categorized based on job type.
It used to be that you had to schedule an in-person meeting with one of their reps to get that guide, but they realized how many more people they could reach by putting them online, and how many engaged leads they could generate by gating them.
If you don't have an appetite for risk, maybe that's why you're thinking about bringing in an agency to begin with... because we can do it for you. But you have to be ready to relenquish some of that control.
They don't like to deviate
This is different than the deviation mentioned in the "Cons" section. This is about deviating from the inbound program to fulfill non-inbound related obligations. If you need sales collateral and you're working with an inbound agency, it's possible that you'll go to them for it.
However, if they're worth a grain of salt, they will push back.
This is bad if you are in dire straights and NEED a slide deck tomorrow. It's good because every time they prioritize one of your non-inbound related items over their big picture strategy, they are diluting the quality of their inbound program, and ultimately sabotaging their chance at succeeding.
This is something that would steer us off course a LOT in our early years because we were SO eager to please. Ultimately, though, it meant one of two things was happening - either we delayed our inbound deliverable, and weren't able to reach our goals in the projected timeframe, or it meant destroying our profit margins, which lowered our overall interest in the program... and likely meant bringing in cheaper talent that wasn't the caliber required to do the job well.
Enter the Growth Agency
After 5 years as an inbound and even traversing the Hubspot partner tiers to platinum, we made an important switch, now servicing businesses across several industry verticals as a growth agency. What does this mean?
First, many of the rigid concepts that make inbound agencies risky are no longer at play. Instead of content calendars that can span 3 to 12 months, we operate with short, 2-week sprints. We look backward to move forward, and let data drive the way, not content delivery schedules. This is an ENORMOUS departure from the traditional inbound model even though we embrace the inbound philosophy.
Our sphere of influence spans across the entire sales continuum, include helping clients with an inbound sales approach. We're still very much a digital marketing company and priced similarly to digital marketing pricing... and we execute expert inbound marketing strategies.
But life comes at us quickly, as being agile helps us return the favor.
Working with an inbound marketing agency isn't as simple as flipping a switch. What they do is immersive, complex, and fitting of both short term and long term goals. In a lot of ways, it's rigid, but there is always a reason for it.