We asked a few dozen agencies to share their most painful client experiences, and more importantly, the advice they’d give to other agencies to avoid them.
Agencies | Nov 5
Kevin Kononenko on March 30, 2018 • 22 minute read
In the report, 90 marketers named the following three categories as the top opportunities for improvement over the next 2-3 years:
Number 1 should be no surprise, considering that the digital marketing industry is notoriously challenging. Technology can probably assist with hiring and employee happiness, but it’s not the driver. However, goals 2 and 3 can be accomplished with a more sophisticated suite of software-as-a-service (SaaS) products.
This is a new phenomenon. According to Cloudlock, only 5000 enterprise SaaS apps existed in 2014. That number ballooned to 150,000 by 2016, a 30x increase! These apps can be generally separated into two categories within an agency environment:
So, we surveyed digital agencies to discover the tools that have revolutionized some part of their business. Most of the respondents were members of the Databox Partner Program, a community of 90+ agencies that track marketing and sales data in real-time so they can run more successful campaigns for clients. So, we already knew they were technically-savvy!
Here are the tools they swear by (as of March 2018).
Rapid proposal creation and tracking
Managing Partner, Revenue River Marketing
What I Used Before This: “Word & Hello Sign. We switched for the access to the included sales enablement capabilities.”
Why It Is Important: “This is one of the most critical pieces to our technology ecosystem because it helps us drive every new sale. It also supports all existing clients, helping us plan, comxmunicate, and get authorization for sprint plans. Our close rates have skyrocketed. We’re expanding relationships with existing clients. We simply would not live without the ability to grow faster, and healthier and that’s the capability that PandaDoc has brought our agency.”
Interactive landing page, Ebook and infographic builder
Marketing Automation Specialist, Mojo Media Labs
What I Used Before This: “We mainly relied on Adobe Creative Suite for infographics and static content before Ceros; we didn’t really have a way to create interactive content before. So I guess you could say that we didn’t use anything comparable before Ceros.”
Why It Is Important: “As an inbound marketing agency, we’re constantly creating infographics and conceiving out-of-the-norm ways to graphically display information on the websites we design for clients.
Ceros gives our team a leg up over competitors with a powerful, yet highly intuitive, tool to design interactive graphics that present users a more engaging way to consume content. Ceros brings a “Wow” factor to our work that makes people — including our clients — want to click and explore, something that doesn’t always happen in a PDF. Not only do clients love the Ceros tool, but our designers picked it up with ease.”
Rapid Ebook creation
CEO, Beefy Marketing
What I Used Before This: “This tool is rather new for our agency. It still has a few kinks but the CEO has been quick to respond to technical issues and I think the product is pretty amazing and will only get better. Before we used Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, we changed because of the amount of time it took to finalize content offers for our clients.”
Why It Is Important: “We used to have a long process of content research, creation, design, revisions, etc. It has now been streamlined to allow anyone on our team to”design” a lead magnet for our clients. This tool has well-designed templates to choose from, you can customize colors, layout, etc… and it makes it way easier for our copywriters to put together the entire lead magnet. This speeds up the launch process and saves us money.
These are the most important features:
Software to help prospects easily book meetings
Founder, Sweet Fish Media
What I Used Before This: “We were manually going back and forth to schedule calls.”
Why It Is Important: “It saves us hours of back and forth communication to find a day/time that works for sales calls, podcast interviews, and other other type of phone meetings.”
Schedule meetings that directly integrate with HubSpot
Founder, BrandBuilder Solutions
What I Used Before This: “Calend.ly. HubSpot calendar is so much more user friendly. All in one is a really important thing to our company. We have a million tools and reducing technology has been a goal for 2017. HubSpot Meetings makes Round Robin booking and Team Booking very easy. It sends out notifications for the meetings and sends out all of our Zoom.us conference information as well. The reminder HubSpot sends from the calendar link has the CRM record attached so it’s very easy to see where we were in the conversation before we meet. Arranging calendars can be a real pain. And this has accelerated our sales process and our operations to a greater extent then most things.”
Why It Is Important: “Our clients like it and so do our prospects. I reserve all day Wednesday and Thursday for “talk” time with anyone outside our organization. I wouldn’t be able to manage my time this way without the HubSpot Meetings. HubSpot Sales tool is a justifiable buy just for the calendar alone. It does so much more. Anyone on our team who needs to coordinate with someone outside of our team has HubSpot Sales Pro for the Meetings feature. This means trainers, project managers, recruiting and sales.
We even use it for developers since our developers work one-on-one with our agency partners. We don’t gate our team from the world. This tool has allowed us to be a very different solution in a very competitive space. Code is code and our clients come to us for the “experience” and this tool is one of many that supports a great experience.
Why we did we switch? All in one. The other interface possibly had more features but it was way too confusing to use. I’m not a “cheapo” and there are a lot of products that are less expensive and have more features, but I like to pay more for products that make our lives easier and help us deliver better service.”
HubSpot CRM + Sales Pro
Real-time view of sales pipeline
CEO, TMC Digital Media
What I Used Before This: “Gmail and task reminders”
Why It Is Important: “HubSpot CRM and Sales Enablement tools provide us with a real-time view of who is really interested in our content, helps us understand their needs, and lets us know when a prospect/customer is ready to talk. Bottom line, it provides us the critical marketing and sales data we need to grow effectively and efficiently.”
Use one tool to track your top of funnel
Marketing Associate, New Breed
What I Used Before This: “Previously, we used Pardot and Marketo. These tools just didn’t provide the same type of customer experience we get with HubSpot. HubSpot is a lot more comprehensive and just generally more user-friendly.”
Why It Is Important: “We are a HubSpot Diamond Partner so we kind of live by HubSpot. Aside from that, it is hands down the most valuable tool we use. It stores pretty much every piece of data from our marketing and sales teams and provides insights on the most essential metrics alongside the tools needed to improve them. The most important thing HubSpot does for New Breed is host our website. Our website on the HubSpot COS allows us to generate highly qualified traffic and host our most important content. It’s our most valuable asset without a doubt.”
Senior Marketing Manager, NetPress GmbH
What I Used Before This: “Before we used a lot of different ones like Mailchimp or WordPress. These tools are all fine but HubSpot integrates every single one and made marketing easier.”
Why It Is Important: “HubSpot is an all-in-one software that allows us to do everything from creating a website page to send email newsletters or schedule our social media posts. We could eliminate many other third-party tools we were using and paid for.
The integration of a CRM and sales platform helps us to put all data together. With HubSpot, we can pull all of our analytics and data into one place which allows an accurate reporting and optimization to our online marketing and sales efforts.”
CEO, Nextiny Marketing
What I Used Before This: “Mailchimp, Hootsuite, Google Analytics, Joomla and many more”
Why It Is Important: “HubSpot gave us a structured platform to run our marketing and sales efforts, not only to generate success for our customers, but also prove it. Once we were able to prove success, by showing the return on investment (ROI) to our clients, upselling and offering additional services to drive growth became easier processes.”
TMC Digital Media
What I Used Before This: This replaced MANY tools.
Why It Is Important: It allows us to do everything we need to do in a single place while demonstrating value to our clients.
Recommended Dashboard: HubSpot Marketing
Customize email send time to every member of your list
Elyse Flynn Meyer
President, Prism Global Marketing
What I Used Before This: “There were no other tools on the market that integrated with HubSpot and provided individualized send-time optimization for email marketing and automation, so this was a new tool for all of our clients.”
Why It Is Important: “This is critical for us because it allows us to continue to innovate and drive results for our clients. Utilizing tools like Seventh Sense, we can seamlessly integrate data from HubSpot to improve email engagement rates and marketing automation results, which leads to increased leads and customers for our clients.”
Recommended Dashboard: Seventh Sense + HubSpot Email Marketing Sources
The most popular analytics tool on the web
Director of UX, Weidert Group
What I Used Before This: “We previously relied on HubSpot analytics data, but have found that Google Analytics adds indispensable additional data to the mix.”
Why It Is Important: “Google Analytics is important because it helps us determine what pages are causing issues on our site, what pages drive the most traffic, and how most users are flowing between all of our different pages.”
Easy SEO analysis
CEO, Jaxzen Marketing
What I Used Before This: “We still use Google and HubSpot keyword tools. Moz Pro helps us to better target keywords.”
Why It Is Important: “After we research potential keywords in the Moz Keyword Explorer tool, we than add each keyword to a client campaign and monitor progress. The campaign tracks domain authority, search visibility, rankings and it gives insights for optimization.”
Run professional, high-quality video calls
What I Used Before This: “None/Forever”
Why It Is Important: “Skype (and Slack) help us communicate, internally and with clients and prospects. It is our main tool for chatting and video. The simplicity of using it is what makes it so good – even if it sometimes drains your internet line. (Extra tip: if your contacts do not have Skype, try using appear.in)”
Do a deep dive into all your SEO metrics
Madison Marketing Group
What I Used Before This: SEMRush, BuzzSumo, various free keyword tools
Why It Is Important:
Keep track of influencer outreach
What I Used Before This: Excel spreadsheets
Why It Is Important: I used to track all my outreach with excel spreadsheets and even though it was useful (and free), it took a long time to update and keep track of my conversations. Now, I don’t have to worry about that. BuzzStream does that for me automatically.
I can focus on what’s important to my business. Building relationships and content promotion.
Use AI to help with conversion optimization
What I Used Before This: We previously had to involve our whole team in order to optimize conversions for on-site campaigns via multi-variate testing. This tended to be cost-prohibitive for our smaller business clients.
Why It Is Important: As dedicated marketers, we believe in testing, iterating and optimizing every detail for conversion. This process also includes testing new innovative tools out there to boost our efficiency.
We love Aiva Labs because their AI platform makes our lives easier by helping streamline the conversion optimization process. Their campaign builder allows us to target, test and optimize specific on-site content based on user behavior. We can essentially retarget and customize the experience over different devices at little cost to our smaller business clients.
Turn your Gmail account into a personal CRM
What I Used Before This: Right Inbox email reminder feature saves me time by sending me an email reminding me who I need to follow-up with. Before, I used to manually add reminders in my Google calendar to follow up with someone. Now I get an email straight into my account.
Why It Is Important: Right Inbox allows you to schedule emails to be sent later, set email reminders so you don’t lose track of important conversations and save yourself some time with the recurring emails feature.
A complete marketing automation + CRM tool
What I Used Before This: MailChimp + Constant Contact
Why It Is Important: DRIP amplifies everything for our clients. It helps aggregate and deliver relevant and personalized content across multiple channels – with triggered marketing automations – that converts lookers into buyers. With key customer data insights, we are able to collaboratively optimize a web store, helping our clients achieve business goals while exceeding their stakeholder expectations.
Quickly record your analysis and send
Dir. of Marketing, Adhere Creative
What I Used Before This: “Just the default screen capture and emails. Or we would set up screen share conferences to review.”
Why It Is Important: “It’s the simplest tools that can make our day-to-day work so much easier. Sometimes, we need to show our clients or each other internally how to do something inside of an application. Loom makes this easier by video recording a screen capture and the front-facing camera with audio. These quick videos helps us tremendously with collaboration and training. Wistia recently came out with a similar version of Loom called Soapbox. We’ll be checking that out too.” Editor’s note: check out ViewedIt from Vidyard too.”
Never make a grammar mistake again
Marketing Manager, Weidert Group
What I Used Before This: “None, which is why this is such an amazing tool!”
Why It Is Important: “I do a ton of writing for my role at Weidert. Whether it’s for social media, emails, LinkedIn messages, blog posts or advanced content this tool allows me to get my thoughts down and then go back and make sure I didn’t miss any grammar mistakes! This tool has saved me from heartache numerous times.”
Easily track projects for the whole team
Project Manager, OverGo Studio
What I Used Before This: “We used multiple tools before we switched to Samepage – Teamwork, Trello, Timefox, Basecamp, Mavenlink, Asana. All of these were missing a few elements that we wanted, which is why we kept switching. Sometimes it was because it didn’t have templates, sometimes it was because we wanted a calendar, sometimes it was because it didn’t allow repeating tasks, sometimes it was too complicated and sometimes it just wasn’t advanced enough.”
Why It Is Important: “It controls our complete project management. This tool gives us a clear view of outstanding projects and allows us to organize them in any way we desire. It is also a great place for us to collaborate with team members in the same area. We can create repeating tasks for team members, lay out calendar events, store all meeting & client notes, create templates for future tasks, and review project statuses.”
Handle any complex scenario for project management
Inbound Marketing Strategist, Leap Clixx
What I Used Before This: “We used Basecamp 2 before switching to Teamwork. From recurring tasks to reporting features to deadlines, we saw an opportunity to do more with the features and the integrations that Teamwork has. Plus, around the time we were looking for a better project management software we saw Basecamp 3 was released, but there was no way to port our Basecamp 2 work into the newer, better Basecamp 3 software. We figured if we were going to have to start over with Basecamp 3 or Teamwork, we wanted the extra features. So we made the switch to Teamwork!”
Why It Is Important: “With the complex workings of an agency, we couldn’t live without setting up complex task logic (repeating tasks automatically, assigning multiple people to complete a task, task dependencies), creating milestones for important dates and time tracking for accurate client billing. In addition to the typical project management features like being able to see which tasks are ahead / behind, keeping all of project messages in one place and organizing all our important documents, Teamwork helps us manage how we’re using other tools and how we’re managing our time for peak performance!”
CEO, Crush My Market
What I Used Before This: “Trello and DoInbound. We liked Trello for its ability to give a high level of overview of what we are working on, have completed, and plan to tackle next in a way that is insightful but not overwhelming to clients. And DoInbound was great at developing our internal processes and managing the delivery of services. But we had to manage two disparate systems. Teamwork, with recent changes adding a board view similar to Trello, allowed us to bring everything into one easy to manage platform.”
Why It Is Important: “We’ve been able to flesh out the processes for each of our deliverables in great detail for the management of our internal team and outsourcers. We rarely send emails as we manage most of our project specific communication within the platform. Our clients have increased confidence and a better understanding of everything we do for them.”
Founder, ProFromGO Internet Marketing
What I Used Before This: “Mavenlink + Basecamp. Without wanting to put Mavenlink on “blast” and strictly for purposes of this survey – Teamwork flat out worked better, had more features, was easier to use, and was even less costly.”
Why It Is Important: “This tool helps us keep promises to clients and document where we are winning and losing from an estimation/budgeting standpoint.”
Communicate Agile sprints with the whole team
Senior Content Strategist, Alaniz Marketing
What I Used Before This: “We used Teamwork. We switched when we decided to become an agile agency. We wanted an enterprise platform that could be customized and it is now the backbone of our agency.”
Why It Is Important: “We use Jira to support agile project management for all of our internal and client marketing projects. I love it because it helps us break down projects into the smallest elements and assign them to a team member with a deadline. We setup a plan each week, everyone knows what they are accountable for, and we review results at the end of the week. It makes it very clear where improvement is needed. Project management is critical for marketing agencies. We have multiple teams working on multiple projects and with the Jira/agile solution we always know the status of every task and every project, and there is clear ownership of every detail.”
Content Marketing Manager, IMPACT
What I Used Before This: “Prior to Jira, we used a combination of Teamwork and Trello for client services. While not perfect, we primarily moved to Jira because we were transitioning the entire team to Agile Marketing/Scrum.”
Why It Is Important: “Aside from HubSpot, Jira is the hub of all activity in our organization, regardless of team, position, or seniority. While at a high-level, it may seem like just a fancy “to-do list,” it’s become so much more than that. Jira gives everyone full transparency into their peers’ work. It what keeps us all on the same page, allowing anyone to evaluate workloads, project progress, capacity, and overall productivity. Yes, we’d love to see some UX/UI changes, but in the past year, Jira has become indispensable.”
Easy communication tools for small business
What I Used Before This: “This was probably the first tool that I invested in for my company, and it’s the one thing that I have never wavered from.”
Why It Is Important: “It helps me keep all of my communications straight. It integrates with the majority of the tools out there, so it eliminates redundancy. I can login to most tools with it as well, so I don’t need to remember passwords. The HubSpot CRM is an amazing tool, for example, so with the Sales Pro add-on, it supercharges the way I use my email and makes my inbox an extension of my CRM. It’s the most efficient part of my business. I love it!”
One Red Bird Marketing Inc.
What I Used Before This: GSuite replaced several tools for us – MS Outlook/Exchange, Excel, Word, a variety of storage products and teleconferencing tools. We switched to save money as well as to standardize on a single platform.
Why It Is Important: As a small agency we need to be as efficient as possible when delivering services and working internally. With GSuite we can work from anywhere and/or remotely and still easily collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Email isn’t trendy or fashionable but it still is the primary method we use to communicate with each other and our customers and knowing our mail is secure and always available is something we couldn’t live without.
The easiest tool for team communication
CEO, media junction
What I Used Before This: “We really didn’t use anything religiously, we had tried Yammer but it didn’t stick. We started using Slack a few years ago because it was lightweight, had a freemium version and it integrated well across all of our devices.”
Why It Is Important: “It is how we communicate now, whether it be with our partners, clients and internal team members. We have so many integrations that help us automate many tasks. It is a powerful tool that everyone on our team adopted. To me that is a win.”
Build content in collaboration with clients
What I Used Before This: When we needed to collect content from clients previously, we would create a template using a google doc, and then email the document to the client. We’d ask them to fill in the blanks, but we’d have to set 100s of tasks for ourselves to make sure they got each document filled out. Then, we’d email them again, and again and again. Then, multiply that by a bunch of clients. We were pulling our hair out.
With Content Snare, we don’t have to set tasks, organize Google docs or send endless emails. It’s a very simple, but very useful tool. It removes the need for us to track or remind our clients to send us their content because the system auto-notifies us and the client.
Why It Is Important: It provides us with the ability to create templates for different types of content requests. For website projects, the Content Snare interface actually looks like their website, mirroring the navigation of the site, so it’s easy for the client to see what we need to collect.
We can also limit the number of characters needed for certain content requests, so that clients don’t just do a data dump on certain sections, which helps us avoid more sifting and distilling work on our side. We are also experimenting with using it for getting content for other types of projects like blog posts, ad copy, ebooks and long-form content for pillar pages.
You may be hesitant to remove old technology used by your entire agency. Keep in mind that the stakes are significant. Client-side marketers feel that technical and data capabilities are 2 out of the top 3 areas where digital marketing agencies fall short.
If you want to ensure a successful rollout of a new technology, you may want to try a tool with an Agency Partner Program. These companies have specific staff to help agencies succeed, from co-marketing agreements to sales commissions to implementation training.
And, if one specific tool has helped your digital agency overcome a major challenge, feel free to share it here. We will be constantly updating this post to make it easier for agencies to discover new tools.
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