Agency marketing (and its best practices) is a tricky beast — you’ve got to make sure you’re meeting deadlines and coming in on-budget, all while juggling the needs of your clients with your own long-term business goals. You need to know when to turn on a dime and change up your approach, but also when to double down on a winning strategy.

So with all these variables to keep track of, it can be tough to figure out exactly what separates good agency marketing from the very best of the best. There’s no magic bullet or secret sauce for successful agency marketing, but there are some highly effective methods and techniques any firm can use to maximize their reach and bring in more clients and leads.

1) Set the right expectations with an SLA

One of the most critical tasks in any agency-client relationship is setting the proper expectations for the kinds of services your firm will provide. Misaligned expectations can have serious repercussions for your business — the client’s hurt feelings might lead to them taking their business elsewhere, and the resulting negative word-of-mouth can impact your standing with current and prospective clients alike.

The best way to head off these problems before they begin is with the proactive implementation of a Service Level Agreement (SLA), a contract between firm and client that specifies the exact level of service you will provide. Though these types of contracts were previously associated with service providers like IT companies, insurance agencies, and telecoms, they have become increasingly common among agencies and marketers for the peace of mind they bring.

At a minimum, a good SLA will contain an itemized list of the services your firm will provide the client, well-defined performance targets for your agency to meet, backup strategies or penalties if those targets are not met, clear deadlines for time-sensitive projects or campaigns, and dedicated hours during which your client can contact you.

And there’s very good reason why your business should make this extra effort: Hubspot reported in 2017 how companies that implement SLAs with their clients see a 36 percent increase in customer retention and 38 percent more sales, compared to firms that do not. So if you haven’t implemented SLAs yet — especially for your bigger clients — there’s no time like the present to get started.

2) Identify your ideal client

One of the main building blocks of any agency’s success story is the customer profile — the best agencies know exactly who their ideal client is, how they think, and what their needs and desires are. (For large firms, a customer profile should be part of your wider efforts towards consistent brand positioning.)

One prime success story in customer profiling is Boomagers, an agency founded in 2011 by Peter Hubbell, an alum of marketing firm Saatchi & Saatchi. Most businesses and marketers consider the Baby Boomer generation to be a secondary market at best, or ignore them entirely. But Hubbell understood that Boomers will comprise more than 50 percent of the US population by the end of the 2010s, and that marketing to this demographic could be a hugely lucrative.

Through a combination of internal brainstorming and external consulting, Boomagers zeroed in on this demographic and identified them as their ideal client. This helped Hubbell focus his agency’s mission, ensuring that everyone at his firm was working towards the same end goal: Being the best at marketing to Baby Boomers.

And their efforts paid off, because in six short years Boomagers has risen to become the premier US marketing agency when it comes to winning the hard-earned dollars of the Baby Boomer generation. Besides growing into a multimillion-dollar firm, Boomagers is also considered a key thought leader in their field and are regularly cited in outlets like NPR and the Wall Street Journal, and in prestigious thinktanks like the Council on Foreign Relations.

Identifying your ideal client doesn’t just make your agency’s job easier and more defined — it’s also great for business.

3) Implement a comprehensive lead scoring system

Experienced agencies know that good marketing isn’t just about bringing in a high volume of new leads and prospects. Equally important is making sure that quality leads — those most likely to convert — are coming in and being promptly passed along to your sales team.

That’s why it’s mission-critical for your agency to implement a solid lead scoring system for the clients you represent. Lead scoring will look different depending on your field, but there are still some universal ground rules to follow: Define the behavioral and demographic attributes of an ideal lead; Build a scoring framework and create a formula that numerically quantifies a lead’s rating based on their attribution and interactions; Document your lead-scoring system and ensure it’s fully integrated within your SLA.

By filtering out bad or unresponsive leads, a scoring system can yield immediate and quantifiable results for your agency, allowing your sales reps to focus their time and energy on the prospects that are most likely to convert or become repeat customers. Agencies that use a lead scoring system see a 77 percent increase in ROI over firms that do not, as MarketingSherpa reported.

There are even solutions that can automatically analyze, score, and sort inbound leads. Recent advancements in AI and machine learning (like CallRail’s own conversation intelligence features) can enable agencies and firms to score leads with minimal human input, allowing teams to instead focus on boosting conversions and ROI. More leads and conversions mean more happy clients, which means more repeat business and better word-of-mouth for your agency.

4) Use a CRM, because it’s worth it

Once your agency graduates out of the mom-and-pop phase and starts catering to more than a handful of clients, it’s time to implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. CRMs like Salesforce, Hubspot and Marketo are centralized databases used by businesses to store contact information, account data, leads, and other sales opportunities. Proper implementation of a CRM across your sales, marketing, and customer service teams will help streamline and automate the sales process, maximizing ROI and profits.

For mid-sized firms, a CRM helps centralize your customer data for easy access across multiple teams and devices — an invaluable edge as your business scales and grows. And for larger enterprise businesses, the sophistication of modern CRMs can perform advanced tasks like sending personalized emails, gathering data and insights from social channels, and providing a top-level view of how your marketing is performing.

An estimated 46 percent of sales teams store lead or customer data in physical files, a serious security risk that can likewise reduce your efficiency. There are likewise a vast array of eye-popping statistics that support the notion that CRMs are good for business: They provide an average of US $8.71 in ROI for every dollar spent on the CRM platform; CRMs can increase per-salesperson revenue by up to 41 percent; CRMs improve customer retention by up to 26 percent.

All that said, there’s usually a somewhat steep up-front cost to using a CRM, which might scare away smaller or mid-sized agencies. Fortunately, most of the major CRMs offer some kind of no-obligation trial so you can do some testing to see if a given solution is right for you. If you’re serious about growing your business, it’s well worth your time to bite the cost of a CRM for the efficiency and peace of mind it will bring.

5) Develop a referral or partnership system

At its core, agency marketing is a relationship business — your firm is only as strong or lucrative as the relationships you’ve cultivated with your clients. Word-of-mouth can make or break your business, and forging meaningful relationships with new clients is every bit as important as strengthening your ties to your existing customers.

One of the best ways to both bring in new business and deepen your existing relationships is a referral program, where current partners receive a one-time bonus or ongoing commission for directing new clients to your agency. Not only will this bring new business to your agency, but you’ll also incentivize clients making the referrals to stick around as long as possible and reap the full benefits of the partnership.

If you don’t already have a system for partnerships in place you can start by meeting with a trustworthy (and preferably local) client, and laying out the terms of a mutually beneficial referral program. Once your referral program is up-and-running, you’ll be amazed at how much new business it can bring in.

Are you an agency that’s looking for a call tracking solution to help with lead scoring, data collection, referrals, and more? Learn how call tracking and advanced analytics can benefit your agency’s marketing: Request a demo of CallRail today or start your free 14-day trial.

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