What I learned about the UK’s fastest growing B2B agencies

There’s a distinct and unprecedented swagger about the fastest growing agencies in the year’s B2B Marketing UK Agencies Benchmarking Report, writes Joel Harrison

I’ve been working with and writing about B2B marketing agencies for approaching two decades now, and in that time, the sector has transformed beyond recognition. This change only seems to be accelerating – at least if the experiences of the fastest growing agencies in the B2B Marketing Agencies Benchmarking Report 2020 are anything to go by.

I interviewed the principles of the five fastest growing agencies for an article that appears in this report, and I was struck by their confidence, pragmatism and optimism - not to mention their appetite for further change. They have a can-do stance on facing the undoubted challenges to come. You might even call it swagger.

Here are the five key things I learned from these interviews:

1. Consultancy services are no longer aspirational – they’re increasingly the reality

B2B agencies have long claimed to be providers of consultancy services, but in reality those who were truly credible in this as a discipline were few and far between. Typically the consultancy piece was effectively ‘given away’ in order to win campaign work. In 2020, some of these fastest growing B2B agencies have the confidence to offer this as a standalone service, and/or incorporate it meaningfully into account teams. They’re no longer playing lip service, or communicating an aspiration. This new reality demands a new level of maturity and a different set of skills and practices.

2. International is no longer optional – it’s essential

The UK is a finite market, with limited budgets – but that’s not a restriction for the most ambitious B2B agencies. In the past, to get international reach, B2B agencies might join a network, providing access to potential partners around the world. Today, they are actively opening offices – in the US, Europe and increasingly beyond. Given the costs and logistics involved, this is a huge statement of confidence. Even those agencies without people on-the-ground around-the-world are becoming increasingly successful internationally – today’s technology and working patterns means there are no barriers to virtual and integrated client/agency teams.

3. From customer-first to people-first

In a people business, it’s always hard to attract and retain quality staff, but today’s trail-blazing B2B agencies have raised their game to a whole new level. Employees expectations have changed – it’s no longer enough to provide fresh fruit once a week and free drinks once a month – agencies need a comprehensive programme of employee development and actualisation to motivate and retain individuals of all demographics, and help them work together successfully.

4. The right customer, not just any-old customer

The fastest growing B2B agencies generally have a really clear idea about what kind of customer they are looking for – or perhaps more particularly, what kind of customer they are not looking for! Whether their focus is on current size of marketing budget, type service, board-level aspiration and attitude, account potential, or something else entirely, the success of these agencies has been based on being just as choosy about their clients as they are about them. That’s easy to say, but in reality requires agencies to make some difficult decisions.

5. The future is bright… but not necessarily any easier

All the agencies I spoke to were confident about the future, but equally were far from complacent. Most expect significant headwinds, given the geo-political context, and particularly given their ambitious plans. Most expect future consolidation in the industry – both voluntary, as agencies merge or are acquired, or enforced as they go bust. These agencies know that they will have to continue to adapt, but at the same time, understand (and reinforce) their points of difference.

I'm indepted to Chris Bagnall of Transmission, James Collis of Revere, Alisha Lyndon of Momentum ABM, David van Shaik of TMP and Jason Talbot of The Crocodile who were interviewed for the original article which this blog is based on. You can read my full article, and see the comprehensive league tables plus much more in the free 120-page UK Agencies Benchmarking Report 2020: bitly/ukabmr2020

We're publishing the 2020 B2B Marketing Agencies Benchmarking Report later this year... watch this space.