What is the Best Role for Tech in an Agency Structure?

In a recent conversation with several CEOs in our international network of independent agencies, MAGNET, the topic of technology arose. The question was, what technologies are different agencies utilizing in database and data management, and how are we getting paid for it? While I can’t speak for every agency, I can provide the Nelson Schmidt perspective.

Measure outcomes, not just outputs

We have found that the current memes and buzzwords – like big data and analytics – can often be the problem. They don’t exist, except in a mental vacuum. Instead, you must ask what is it that you’re trying to measure and/or analyze, and why?

What we’ve found most important to measure and analyze are the outcomes of our work, not the outputs we create as our deliverables. Agency outputs are always measured, using standard agency accounting and project management systems. But to measure our outcomes, we have focused on the intersection of marketing automation platforms (MAP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems as being what we believe is most relevant, and thus must be core competencies for every successful agency.

Build the bridge between data and CRM

Oftentimes, our clients have specified the technologies that must be used for their programs so we have to be generally versed in all the major marketing automation platforms (e.g.; Marketo, Hubspot, Pardot, Act-On, etc.). Understanding what these programs can measure and how they analyze data is all pretty similar – reach, frequency, interaction by content subject and delivery channel, time and length of consumption, action(s) taken, etc. The biggest challenge we often face is trying to bridge MAP data to a fully functional CRM record of sales outcomes (aka attribution). Salesforce has won the CRM battle so far, especially with their acquisitions of Pardot and Exact Target, an email campaign management platform, which is another important layer in the marketing technology stack. However, like the MAP landscape, there are still plenty of other CRM platforms that exist.

With your technology stack identified and applied, the next question is, how do you get paid for it?

Waiting for the right opportunity

Unfortunately, many marketing buyers often just aren’t in a position to make their agencies the service provider of choice for all these technology needs. Why? Because it isn’t solely their responsibilities within their organizations. Many organizations lack the necessary components to make it work. Without the IT integration, sales organization, data compliance and processes in place, the opportunity to take the lead as overall service provider just isn’t there. While we can’t say that all of our clients are requesting this service, we will continue to invest in talent and technology because we do believe they are going to continue to become more and more important for demonstrating an agency’s value to clients.

Nevertheless, we do incorporate MAP implementation into our client marketing programs whenever we can, as it is an easy adjunct to the outputs we’re otherwise expected to create and deliver. It’s important to us to be able to advance the conversation with clients about their business transformation and marketing modernization journey. For that, we’ve occasionally been paid incrementally to our other outputs as strategic consultants as well as some program management and analysis on a monthly fee basis. But, like I mentioned, the market is not necessarily ready for “agencies” to be their primary provider for these services in a broad sense.

Let’s keep the conversation going

For agencies, the demand for measurement is there, we’re just in the early stage of how to make it work. The good news is, we’re discussing the “how.” That’s one of the many advantages to being part of a network of independent marketing and advertising agencies like MAGNET. It’s through these conversations and sharing of perspectives that we can create change within our agencies that will translate to better relationships with our clients.