Like any relationship, business or personal, it can be contentious if their individual needs are not mutually met.  The B2B client-agency relationship is certainly no exception to this rule.  Both may have different motivations, but their common mission is to achieve success in advancing the client’s marketing objectives.  Therefore, it is important they have a good working relationship.  So how can this relationship become contentious?  Circle Research explored this question in the recent edition of B2B Barometer (September 2018).

We asked both parties to rate their satisfaction with each other along a variety of attributes (1-10 scale) and highlighted areas of agreement and possible disconnects.  “Responsive communication” and an “overall working relationship” appear to areas of synergy between agency and client.  Both parties seem to get along with each other, always a good start to any relationship.



However, like any marriage or partnership, there needs to be a mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished and how.  Here is where the relationship potentially disconnects.  On one hand, after spending their hard-earned budget on a campaign, the Client may question the value of the deliverable.  On the other hand, the Agency may feel that the client is setting unreasonable expectations coupled with “scope creep” on a project.  This disconnect may stem from needs of the ultimate stakeholders and how to properly manage them.   Both parties feel that each are not properly managing the internal stakeholders.  Related to stakeholder management, Clients score Agencies very modestly on how well they understand the project objectives.  But this appears to be a two-way issue given that the Agencies give a low score on the quality/clarity of Client briefs.

Perceptions of “agency value” are also different between Client and Agency.  Asked “What does a client value most in an agency?”, Agencies believe that their knowledge of the Client’s business is the most coveted by the Client.  Clients, on the other hand, value the Agency’s ability to understand the project objectives, above all else.  It is apparent that this couple may be coming at this marriage from different angles.



But these differences are not necessarily diametrically opposed.  It all starts with the brief.  Clients want to make sure that the Agency clearly understands the requirements of the brief.  Agencies want to make sure that the requirements are clearly laid out up-front.  Agencies should also feel free to challenge the assumptions of the brief, and Clients may also want to allow for more collaboration with the Agency in developing the specifications.  Opening the lines of communication is a positive step in improving the final deliverable.  In the spirit of “opening the lines of communication” we asked the marketers “what is the one piece of advice you would give to improve the relationship?”  After reviewing dozens of open-ended comments, we summarize the dialogue in the figure below.


We continued this dialogue at the Business Marketing Club event last September in London by sharing the findings of the B2B Barometer followed by a panel discussion (Agency and Client).  The event was well-received by the attendees, both clients and agencies.  To make the marriage work, an open dialogue is always a good place to start.


The B2B Barometer is the “State-of-the-nation” study which explores the world of B2B marketing.  The first study was published in 2009.  In our 2018 edition, we interviewed over 100 UK B2B marketers split evenly between agencies and client-side roles.  For agencies, we predominantly spoke to those in senior management roles with an average turnover of over £2 million.  Most client-side respondents were responsible for their organisation’s B2B marketing budget with around 1/3 in 1,000+ employee-sized companies.  Download the full report here.

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About John

John Gilbert is a Director and Consultant with Circle Research. He has worked in B2B marketing research for over 25 years, both client-side and agency-side. He was the Director of Marketing Research with United Parcel Service and Head of Global Insight with Motorola’s Radio sector. As a consultant, John focused on helping B2B clients with their customer experience programmes. He has led over a dozen NPS Certification Workshops worldwide. John has BA in Social Science Education and an MA in Economics, both from the University of Central Florida.

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