Choosing a creative partner for B2B technology marketing is a unique challenge. I think that the best way to support my statement is by narrating, a recent painful incident, which taught me a precious lesson and encouraged me to make a list of the key steps a B2B technology provider must consider while choosing creative partners.
I am at the start-up stage of my entrepreneurial venture in B2B technology marketing and setbacks during this stage are expensive, strangling the already tightened purse strings. Setbacks caused by falling into traps set by deceptively ‘experienced’ partners are the toughest to handle. Hence I thought that I could dedicate this article to start-up agencies and upcoming creative design companies, rather than the established biggies.
The Incident – B2B technology marketing
Last month, I was searching for a creative design company in my city (Chennai) who could help me with preparing a business collateral for one of my clients to support in my B2B technology marketing initiatives. When I added any search word related to my request in any format, there was one company that popped up in the first page of the search engine, sometimes with different names (they might have purchased different URLs and linked these together using a combination of keywords). My obvious conclusion was that this company was worth looking at for my assignment. So I started engaging with them, explaining my requirement and even paying an advance as per their business process.
However, after they submitted their initial work, I realized that they employed only a few trainees who did not even understand regular business terms – their work completely lacked the expected professionalism. The work they submitted not only lacked creativity but also was proof that their team had poor knowledge about the basics of color schemes, font standards and fundamental design concepts.
Their work was proof that other than just being available as an omnipresent entity in the web, their work did not showcase the skill-set their websites claimed. What was worse was their apparent work mantra – ‘take it or leave it’. Well, it was a lesson, an expensive lesson, but an incredibly valuable one.
This experience taught me a lot of lessons. Well, fifty percent of this disaster was a result of my rush in choosing a creative partner in B2B technology marketing support. I went by the illusion created by SEO engines without realizing that numbers do not necessarily mean quality. It also taught me the value of content – always ensure that your content does not mislead your potential customer – the purpose of marketing is to showcase your team’s abilities but not to misrepresent your values. Organizations should spend budget and time on creating genuine content that really showcases their capability rather than their grand imagination (‘we do everything’ or ‘we also do …’ attitude) and pump in money to get leads through misleading SEOs. I also learned that it is always worth working in stages, taking the time to assess the potential creative partner. Focusing quality rather than quantity is the key to ensure long-term success. It also led me to create my list of pointers on indicators of an ideal creative partner.
Hence, as an associate for creative agencies who are into B2B technology marketing, I have listed a 5-point formula that I would really vouch for before I make my choice (I know there are more, but these are my top 5):
- The first impression: The first meeting with the potential creative partner is key. While discussing a business proposition, if the representative from the creative agency is a domain specialist and not just a hard-core marketing personnel, it is the first indication that the team means business. If the representative has done some basic research, prepared a broad scope of work based on the initial spec the team received before the meeting (no details – just a skeletal map of the team’s understanding of the requirement), it will be an added bonus. An ideal representative should be able to communicate that they differentiate between B2C, B2B, C2C and hybrid requirements. The representative should also be able to ask the right questions and dig out data about the client’s expectations, preferences, overall vision and approach. This helps them nail the expectations of the client easily. However, this pointer also comes with a caveat – the smart talent who is omnipresent during the initial discussions might disappear after the contract is signed!
- Scheduling and trials: Always ensure that the creative partner provides a clear step-by-step end delivery plan with informed TAT based on your overall roadmap for the project. An ideal creative partner will be able to provide a WOW effect right from the initial mockup stage. Even if you do not witness this ideal scenario, if the team is able to give at least a few varied options that capture your spec within the agreed timeline, it is a good sign. So a structured plan and mockups that reflect an understanding of the overall concept is the second sign of a strong creative partner.
- Communication: A sure thing about a plan is that there are always deviations. But the key is to communicate to all stakeholders well in advance about any deviation from plan – in terms of TAT or the direction taken. If the creative partner is quick to clarify rather than make assumptions, it is a definite sign that you can trust your precious projects with this team. I have had such an inspiring experience with an outsourced creative designer – his work has many times been a zero iteration experience.
- Ownership: As I indicated earlier, my most common grudge is that the brilliant talent who completely understands the client’s dream suddenly disappears once the project starts – the creative director vanishes and marketing person always busy. We eventually get stuck with a trainee who knows just something about everything. The result is a poor cousin of the wonderful dream you were given during your initial meetings. Hence if you get the same level of client engagement and a consistent sense of ownership from your creative partner from the beginning till the end of your initial projects, this is a team that you should be looking at for a long-term association.
- Asking the right questions: Finally, if the team’s work reflects the fact that they have focused on answering the following three questions while building each page or slide, then this is your ideal partner:
- Is the overall theme of the presentation as per the customer’s spec and indicated preference?
- Are the infographics and design details blending with the overall theme and content?
- With each slide or page created, what is the added value the client gets?
The result from a team that works to answer all these questions will be the WOW effect you will get when you see their completed work.
I remember a lesson I learned while working with a SAP global sales veteran in Hyderabad. I was asked to prepare a presentation, but while preparing each slide I had to ask the question, ‘So what? What’s in there for me?’ IN B2B technology marketing, if the content of the slide answers this question for the audience, then your presentation is a success. I think we should be able to apply this lesson while assessing a creative partner’s work and while building a long-term work relationship. If the team is able to connect with our expectations and translate our thoughts into effective text and design, then you are looking at a winning partnership.