Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Did You Say "Partner?"

As a digital agency that has a reputation for excellent SEO, social media marketing and PPC programs, we get a lot of inquiries from other agencies that want to partner with us.
This is an open letter of sorts to agencies that contact DBE saying they want to partner. The rest of you are more than welcome to read it too.

While we have developed some truly great strategic partnerships over the last 12 years, it’s far more common that we turn down “opportunities” to partner. The reasons vary, but they tend to fall into two adjoining buckets:

  • The other agencies don’t understand or respect the work we do and are surprised at the costs—they want a quick, fast solution they can pass off to their clients to “check the box” e.g., SEO, √
  • They want to white label our work and hide the relationship from their clients

The white labeling situation is more common, probably because 75% of the calls I get from other agencies have this question as an early part of their script, so when I say “No, we don’t white label” the conversation pretty much stalls out at that point.

Sometimes they ask why.

I tell them that there is too much expertise involved in what we do to expect a third-party (e.g., their AEs) to ask the questions we need of the clients and to understand the nuances in the responses to do our best work. Even if their team does understand what we do, there is still a lot of back and forth and miscommunication abounds. It’s also really embarrassing when a client checks you out on LinkedIn and finds you are not part of XYZ Agency and are instead a part of another firm. They feel duped--they don’t understand the lack of transparency. It doesn't go well.

How do I know that white labeling doesn't work? Well, DBE white labeled in our earliest years to a few agencies because they had clients that needed our services and what we did was still very new, so I was open to testing lots of business and workflow models. Then came the day--a big, “all team” meeting at an agency with its client. We had just about sat down, coffee cups to lips, when the client pointed from one name card to the next sing songing, “DBE, DBE, DBE” as she went around the room. She continued, “I Googled you all, and you people (pointing again) are DBE.” Our partner had a lot of explaining to do. It was very embarrassing all the way around. (The agency kept the account, the client loved the work, but I honestly don’t think the relationship was ever the same.)

And recently, we experimented with white labeling again as a favor to an agency that was in a jam. They’d already sold a client on PPC services and then had a falling out with the agency they'd contracted to provide it for them. We stepped in to help; it was a disaster. The project literally took five times as long as it should have as my team kept trying to educate the agency’s AEs on what we do so they could relay information back and forth with their client and us. Never again.

The other place these partnering discussions go awry is on cost. “What! It costs what?!? You’ve got to be kidding me!” This usually comes later in the conversation when the agency is looking for some idea of how we price for our services. They are often shocked at our pricing and I’m shocked that they’re shocked. Look at our client list. These are great marketing organizations, and great marketing costs real dollars.

Look,we all need to be profitable, and we always pay a finder’s fee to partner agencies as a thank you for bringing us into an opportunity that we close, but really, the partners that work best with DBE are the ones that add their own value on top of ours and charge for it—visibly and proudly. They have expertise their clients need and value--and they are profitable on that portion of the work. (And it works the same way when we bring our partners into opportunities with our clients.)

We value our clients, we value our partners. If you’re an agency that wants the very best partner for you and your clients, please reach out to me and let’s talk. And it goes both ways—we’re always looking for smart agencies that provide the services we don’t so we can ensure our clients are getting what they deserve—THE BEST. Let’s explore how working together could work.

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