What To Look For in a B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency
Or How I Started a Spite Agency
In Season 10 of one of my favorite shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David is so effronted by the experience at Mocha Joe’s coffee store that he opens a spite store next door called Latte Larry’s. Starting a spite business has much to do with how I turned healthlaunchpad into a B2B Healthcare Marketing agency.
When I started healthlaunchpad, my focus was helping companies enter the healthcare market and providing strategic marketing advice. This included acting as a fractional Chief Marketing Officer.
I was engaged by Bluestream Health, a virtual care firm, as their fractional CMO. We initiated an agency search and expected to hire a B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency. Instead, we hired a highly regarded generalist inbound agency, which shall remain nameless in this story.
The sales process was breathtaking. They blew everyone else away. The one red flag was that they seemed to struggle to find healthcare references for us to speak with. We kicked off a six-month engagement with them with eager expectations.
Within 30 days, there were big warning signs. Their onboarding process was formulaic, and while the team we were working with was well-intentioned, they were very inexperienced. It felt like they were implementing a generic Hubspot inbound playbook with minimal experience and little supervision.
We complained several times and had a few interactions with more senior managers, but nothing changed. We got a strong sense that the agency’s leadership didn’t care.
After eight weeks, there was little to show except an inferior strategy.
I was so incensed by the experience that I turned to the CEO and Chief Growth Officer and proposed that I build a team to take over what the agency was supposed to be doing and deliver more and better work for a lower fee.
They agreed, and we fired the agency. The agency seemed relieved they wouldn’t have to deal with my daily tirades.
And that is how healthlaunchpad morphed into a B2B Healthcare Agency.
Two and a bit years on, we just signed our 27th client, and we have a core multidisciplinary team of 10 healthcare technology marketing superstars I am privileged to work with.
So What Do Clients Look for in a B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency?
My experience before starting my own B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency has shaped the firm we are building:
- For a couple of decades, I worked in several global agencies and digital consulting firms in a leadership role overseeing very large accounts, including a $40 million relationship with a leading financial services firm.
- For a few years, I was a partner in a firm that specializes in assessing agency performance and helping agencies get actionable feedback on their key client relationships. I got a client’s eye view of hundreds of agencies.
- I then founded and ran a B2B Healthcare company, so I learned firsthand what it meant to be a client for seven years.
In my view, several aspects make a successful B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency, and from what I gather in my conversations with health tech marketers, we have become one of a small handful of firms that can meet the mark.
From my prior experience and what I hear from B2B healthcare marketers, the criteria for what makes a good full-service B2B Healthcare Marketing agency fall into two categories: Price of Admission criteria that if you can’t meet, you should not be in the game; and Differentiators that are competencies that set an agency apart.
Price of Admission Criteria for a B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency
These are the basic criteria that any B2B Healthcare Marketing firm should expect to deliver.
- Healthcare Expertise: Crazy, right? A B2B Healthcare Marketing agency should have healthcare experience. At a minimum, you should not have to teach your agency about healthcare. The key staff on your account need to understand how the healthcare market works and have prior relevant experience. The best B2B Healthcare Marketing agencies lead their clients’ thinking. We do this by having consultants who were in client-side roles at healthcare organizations and can advise a client on improvements in their business.
- Quality of Service: Clients want dependability to count on their agency, and quality of service is the foundation. How well does the agency provide client service? Being responsive is the basic expectation. The better agencies are viewed as proactive too. Poor quality of service is a fast way to get fired as an agency.
- Quality of Work: Whether it’s creative work, content, media planning, or buying, is the quality of the work better than clients can do themselves? And is it consistently good?
- Creative Thinking: Does the agency develop marketing ideas based on customer insight that surprise you? Are they proud of their work? Do you look at it and think, I wish we were doing that creative work?
- Strategic Contribution: Clients expect their agency to help them advance their marketing strategy. The best agencies lead the client’s thinking or help them change their strategy faster and more effectively. It always surprised me when we assessed agency performance how few agencies did this well. It was frequently the root cause of disappointment with an agency.
- Focus on Results: Does your agency seem as vested in your success as you are? Do they act with a sense of accountability? This does not necessarily mean being compensated on performance but is the agency as focused on outcomes as you are?
Differentiators: What Sets a Good B2B Healthcare Agency Apart
In addition to meeting the basic criteria, we believe several criteria make the difference between a good agency and an excellent B2B Healthcare Marketing Agency.
- ABM Expertise: In our view, it’s not a question of if B2B Healthcare marketing will become ABM but when. ABM is a more efficient way to market when deals are complex, have long sales cycles, and have large deal sizes. Very few firms have mastered ABM, but your firm should understand it and help you move towards an ABM model fast.
- Flexible Model: One of the biggest shifts in marketing over the last two decades has been the growth of in-house marketing capabilities. Agencies used to depend on long-term relationships where they would be paid to provide services now done in-house. If you are evaluating a new agency, ask them how they will adapt as you move services in-house over time. This is built into how we work with clients. We assume they will, and we design client agreements to provide our clients with the flexibility they need to adapt.
- The Breadth of Services: The number of skills needed to be a successful marketer has exploded in the last two decades. The foundational skills of a B2B Healthcare marketing agency include content marketing, SEO, digital marketing, social media and email marketing, paid search, and social web design. It is unlikely that any B2B Healthcare marketing agency can meet every need beyond that, but can they help you find and manage qualified resources? For example, we are not a PR firm but have a longstanding relationship with a highly experienced B2B Healthcare PR specialist who we subcontract as needed.
- Low Overhead: Having worked in a big multinational agency, I have seen the layers of management and operational overheads that go with that. This goes with expensive real estate and very high-priced talent. Fortune 500 companies who need what these agencies provide will pay for the overhead that comes with it, but most B2B Healthcare clients have little tolerance for this. Ask your agency how they keep overheads low so that fees are put to work, not spent on agency operations and management.
We hope this provides you with helpful criteria in selecting an agency. If you feel we have missed anything, let me know.
Can We Help You?
If you are interested and when you are ready, we can help you on your with your marketing. Here are some ways to get started:
- Check out more posts like this in the Healthtech Marketing Learning Center. It is chock-full of articles, use cases, how-to’s, and ideas to get you started on your ABM journey.
- Follow me or connect with me on LinkedIn. I publish videos and articles on ABM and health-tech marketing.
- Work with me directly. Let’s book a growth session, and we can explore ways you can improve your marketing using the latest techniques in account-based marketing.