What’s The Difference, Between Inbound Marketing Services vs Traditional Digital Marketing Agency and Why Should You Care And What Should You Expect From Both?

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of conversation about inbound marketing. Is it a real thing? Isn’t it just part of solid online marketing? While we believe strongly in its application, not everyone agrees.

What about demand generation and newer methodologies like account-based marketing (ABM), conversational marketing and influencer marketing?

We do our best to help readers, fans and followers with the typical decisions a lot of companies are facing when it comes to agency selection. If you’re trying to decide which type of agency is right for you, here are a few tips and guidelines to use while you work on your selection process.

Keep in mind that there’s a reason they make vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Some people like vanilla, and some people like chocolate.

Your agency selection might be similar. Both approaches are solid, but the key is matching the agency approach with your desired goals, expectations and type of support you’re looking for.

Results Vs. Stuff

All agencies are good at creating stuff for clients. Websites, whitepapers, email campaigns, press releases, social posts and videos are just some of the “stuff” agencies love to deliver.

It’s easier for agencies to simply deliver stuff and be done with it. You got what you wanted, you love how it looks and everyone is happy.

But are they? In my experience, agencies that provide inbound marketing services are more tuned into the results businesses are expecting — the business outcomes.

This does put a different perspective on the stuff. Yes, that stuff is necessary, but it’s not the end game. That stuff has to be put into play to produce business outcomes like leads, sales opportunities and new customers.

Not all agencies are good at making that transition from the delivery of assets to the deployment of the assets to produce results.

If results are important to you, then make sure you dig into, investigate and review each agency’s track record on producing results.

Partners Vs. Vendors

Do you know what to do and just need a vendor to help you execute? Or do you want an agency to tell you what they think you should be doing? Vendors will do what you ask, while partners will work with you to strategize and discuss what they think is the right way to go.

Both approaches might be right, but usually one of these two approaches works better for certain companies and certain marketing teams.

To help you know which approach is right for you, consider what types of companies typically hire vendors.

If you have a large marketing team, already know exactly what you need to do, have your technology selected and installed, and are running a comprehensive marketing program but need a skill set gap filled to support the team and the rest of your execution, then a vendor agency might be right for you.

If you want more education, strategic conversation, advice, guidance and coaching, then a partner-oriented agency might be better for you.

Most agencies also provide tactical delivery services, but they feel strongly that their relationship with clients should be collaborative. They don’t see their role as an order taker.

Technology Vs. Services

Today’s marketing is so complicated that it’s almost impossible to execute anything without some technology or software tools.

You’ll find software for analyzing performance, software for automating parts of execution, software for optimizing tactical performance and even software to help you improve the prospect experience.

Many of the inbound agencies have extensive experience with HubSpot, while a lot of demand generation agencies have experience with Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua. These platforms give you the ability to do analytics, automate reoccurring tasks and more efficiently optimize performance over time.

Some of the more traditional agencies leave the technology options to the clients. They have all of the creative and campaign capabilities but lack the technology experience to support the platform tools.

Traditional agencies may not have the experience to help clients add the advanced software tools on top of the platform options, such as tools like chat, video optimization, advance send software for email, and other advanced software to help with search and content creation.

Again, if this is important to you, look for an agency that has deep and extensive experience with a wide variety of marketing, sales and customer service software options.

The right agency should be able to help you compare, evaluate, install, configure, manage and maintain your software. Almost all of these software tools require ongoing upkeep to keep them current, configured and aligned with your campaign execution.

Revenue Vs. Marketing

Great agencies know what they’re good at and what they’re not so good at. Many wonderful website design and development shops only do that kind of work. Plenty of pay-per-click agencies only do that work and are amazing at AdWords.

These kinds of agencies aren’t interested in the overall performance of your company (at least not directly). A web design and development agency is focused on the getting you a great website on time and on budget. How the site performs from a leads perspective might not even be a part of the conversation.

This means they’re not just looking at search from a page one rankings perspective. They’re more interested in tracking organic visitors, leads from those organic visitors and how many of those leads are turning into new customers. In essence, they want to know how many customers you got from the effort to rank your company on Google.

It’s a very different perspective. Plus, inbound agencies are almost all stretching from marketing and into sales and customer service.

They know that revenue generation is a companywide initiative. They know that a wide variety of tactics can generate revenue, even if they’re not part of marketing and are more associated with sales or customer service.

If you’re looking for a revenue generation agency, if you want an agency to ask you about your sales execution and if you want them to be held accountable for overall company growth, then you might want a more inbound-oriented agency as opposed to a more traditional digital agency that only does one or two tactics well.

New Techniques Vs. Traditional Techniques

How you market, sell and take care of your clients is changing quickly.

Agencies that are being challenged by software providers and agencies that are strategic in nature are working hard to stay up-to-date on all of the new innovations.

One example is chat software on your website. A variety of chat tools are available, and the playbooks on chat execution are equally complicated.

You can use chat to drive conversions. You can use it to accelerate the sales process and produce more active sales opportunities. You can use it to get intent data on your website pages. You can use it to give prospects instant access to sales or customer service reps.

If your agency is innovating around this newly designed tool, your company would see the benefit from that new technology. But if your agency doesn’t have the team or the strategic intent to tune into new tools, that task might fall on you (if it’s important to you).

Obviously, not all inbound agencies and more traditional digital marketing agencies are created equally. These comments are general and based on almost 30 years of experience working in and with agencies, both in-house and in-agency.

Neither one approach nor the other is right. Both are 100% capable, and it all comes down to what you want, what you need and how you want to work with an agency (if you’re considering working with one soon).

Unfortunately, as in any sector, you’ll find good inbound agencies and bad inbound agencies. The same holds true with traditional digital agencies.

Your selection process must include using more than just the type of agency to make your selection. You should also be looking for a long track record of experience, a senior team, a defined methodology for whatever the agency does, an Agile delivery method, in-house team members and enough confidence in their own ability to talk to you about performance-based components to the engagement.

In fact, the best approach for this is to define your requirements in advance and create a checklist that covers everything you deem important. Then, use that list of requirements to make your agency selection.