Combining Inbound & Outbound: Today’s Marketing Agency

Kaila Strong

Aug 18, 201410 min read
Combining Inbound & Outbound

The only thing constant is change. And with change comes opportunity. Modern marketing agencies today must take these principles seriously to succeed in inbound and outbound marketing.

Needs are forever evolving in business, taking many outside their comfort zone. A modern marketing agency must combine the new role of inbound and outbound into the everyday, and not be afraid to step outside of the box.

Change Agent & Thought Leadership

Keeping up with the changing digital space is a full-time job, one an agency partner should take seriously. The first role many marketing agencies play is as change agent. The leader of change to bring about success within an organization.

Championing new strategies or expensive technologies is no easy feat; developing processes on the fly as marketing advances. Clients may drive change or look to you, either way marketers have to be ready.

Success can often hinge on breaking down the walls of departmental silos at the client level. This takes skill, and the role of today’s marketing agency is that of a thought leader to guide the way. Thought leadership requires you to push an organization to think differently about their marketing strategies.

“Constructively disruptive,” Glen Llopis calls these types of leaders in his Forbes article. He suggests today’s thought leaders must be bold and courageous visionaries, which has direct parallels to the role marketers play in campaigns today.

“Leadership in the 21st century not only requires the ability to continuously manage crisis and change — but also the circular vision to see around, beneath and beyond the obvious in order to anticipate the unexpected before circumstances force your hand.” — Glen Llopis

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Measurable ROI

“We have access to more data than God wants anyone to have. Thus it is not surprising that we feel overwhelmed, and rather than being data driven we just get paralyzed. Life doesn’t have to be that scary. In fact a data driven life is sexiest digital life you can imagine.” — Avinash Kaushik

Measuring ROI and tracking data doesn’t have to be scary. Google co-founder Avinash Kaushik might be sensationalizing it a bit, but he’s right. For those who get over the fear and start to let data drive their life it can be a very successful digital partnership.

Understanding the role marketing plays in revenue contribution is top of mind with executives. Analytical marketers are in high demand today, as one can imagine. The advancements in big data technologies have truly revolutionized the way we measure marketing impact. Analytics also help identify consumer behavior and predict trends. It’s not hard to see why it’s important for marketers.

The role of today’s agency should center and revolve around measurable ROI activities. Even if a client is adamant that it doesn’t matter, it does. Measure. Everything. Help show clients the results they get with you.

  1. Determine your KPIs — and early!
  2. Be aggressive about adoption of measurement tracking.
  3. Help your clients look successful inside their own companies.
  4. Allocate efforts to the most profitable lead sources.
  5. Consider marketing automation solutions.
  6. Be on the lookout for new tools to help in ROI calculation.
  7. Prepare alternative versions of data illustrations that are relatable to executives, too.

Break Down Pillars

Today’s agencies need to understand how a client’s business functions and works, and their framework to function properly. If you’ve ever tried implementing a large scale marketing campaign involving different departments and resources with a client my heart goes out to you. Conceptualizing a campaign is one thing but executing is quite another.

The role of today’s agency involves functioning within an existing framework and making efforts to break down pillars within an organization. Even the best marketing plans could be thwarted from execution due to the bounds within a business. Regulatory rules and legal restrictions alone can stop a campaign in its tracks. Successful agencies today take the time to learn the ins and outs, ask the right questions, and fully understand the role they play.

Crisis Management

Scandal, bad reviews, product recalls, disgruntled employees and economic downturn and weather are common crises businesses deal with today. Crisis management has been integrated into many agencies offerings today and is a common role played. It might be called brand management, brand awareness, audience listening, or local search management among other monikers. Whatever you choose to call it, agencies must be prepared to react quickly in the face of crisis.

Social media and content marketing are imperative for crisis management online today, and a huge undertaking. One of the first and most comprehensive articles I read in 2010 about crisis management was by Kristi Hines. She states, “When a crisis or emergency erupts, the power of social media can be an amazing tool for businesses.” She then goes on to share an abundance of tools to manage crises online. One look and you’ll realize there’s a large footprint to manage with social alone. And that was four years ago. The playing field has only widened.

Content can help you tackle crisis in many ways, most importantly giving a voice to a brand. Being transparent often tops the list of priorities for crisis management; it’s no wonder content is so valuable. Today’s agency must have resources at the ready or staff trained up, a crisis can occur at any time. It takes forethought to have relationships built beforehand, monitoring automation for listening and the development of a crisis plan.


Sales & Marketing

“Marketing agencies have a new role: one that must blend creative and content-focused services, customer-engagement savvy, longer-term relationship management, digital-channel know-how, data-analysis capabilities and technical expertise. All of which are enabled and supported by marketing automation.” — Act-On Software

Today marketing automation gives agencies a competitive advantage and helps prove the value they bring, often in real time. A recent e-book by Act-On titled “9 Essentials to Grow Your Agency and Help Your Client Succeed” showcases the changing role of marketers which predicates the need for automation. It can open the door to lead scoring, lead nurturing, lead qualification, drip campaigns, robust segmentation, automatic alerts, SEO and social media. Many clients know but aren’t sure where to start. The modern agency should be prepared to lead clients down the right, and most cost effective, path.

Social Media

Social media automation can have positive benefits when done correctly. They are time-saving options for the most savvy of marketers. Experts often schedule great content on autopilot through their social accounts, in addition to scheduling their own posts automatically as well. Social automation can help provide data to dive into and report value of activities.

That fact of the matter is, most individuals online are utilizing some form of social media. An agency’s marketing tool social automation can be the vehicle to get to your client’s customers faster and cheaper, but it isn’t driverless. Automation doesn’t take the strategy and creativity out of marketing, it simply automates the process of delivery. It takes an expert to steer any campaign, especially one of the automated variety. Modern agencies are learning to adapt to using tools which aid in the automation process.

Customer Relationship Management

“The purpose of business is create and keep a customer.” — Peter Drucker

Building and maintaining relationships with customers is often a key role in sales, and today’s inbound marketers must learn to integrate CRM into their processes. Whether your agency has an active role in CRM system maintenance or not, take advantage of the benefits CRM systems have to offer.

Often, the data we see as marketers is only half of the equation. How about at the top of the funnel? Seeing an entire picture shows the real marketing efforts that have value, resulting in customers. Additionally, CRM data can help track return buying activities, often more accurately than other analytics tools. As the responsible party for proving value, it’s in a marketer’s best interest to analyze and interpret CRM data.


At some point in the last 10 years it’s possible that a brand you’re working with has conducted some form of search engine optimization. Search engines can drive a lot of traffic which can also translate into revenue, tempting brands to do interesting things. Bad SEO may have effects months or years after, affecting your agency's success today. Your contacts might not even know if they are sitting ducks for a thing like Penguin or Panda Google penalties.

A prepared agency has SEO strategists on staff or vendors to address the growing needs of companies as Google sets out to eradicate spam on the web. There’s inherent risk associated with optimization for search, as an agency know your risks and proceed wisely. Have an honest and ethical team on staff that has a diverse background including:

  • Ability to test optimization onsite including best practices down to monitoring JavaScript limitations or site migration procedures
  • Research, strategize and audit for penalties from search engines including Penguin and Panda, in addition to understanding the process to reverse penalties
  • Plan for link acquisition and/or development of content to earn new backlinks
  • Troubleshooting duplicate content, canonical and cannibalization issues
  • Proper balance of ROI over best practices and people over bots
  • Understands how to implement, rich snippets and microformats

Adoption of New Technologies

“Good, bad or indifferent, if you are not investing in new technology, you are going to be left behind.” — Philip Green

What does it take to test and implement the most up-to-date technologies in today’s businesses? Skill and a plan. For SMBs and large businesses alike, agency partners can step in as the go-to experts to help guide the way. A new technology that will reduce the cost to acquire a new customer, have customer service impacts or result in more sales is one businesses pay attention to. Successful agencies see this as opportunity to keep a customer happy, provide more value and increase their own bottom line.

Choosing to have developers on staff is one way agencies are prepared. Experts on staff can stay on top of industry specific trends, technology adoption best practices and determine where opportunity exists. Being involved with emerging technologies can be a large investment for some agencies, ensuring resource are maximized is key. Sales teams and project managers should know how to properly scope, set timelines and budgets for projects of this nature. The demise of an agency can start with a badly scoped project.

Importance of Company Culture

The unemployment just over 6% many assume the job outlook is great. However, for today’s businesses employees are urging for a more modern workplace. One that allows for creativity, autonomy, advancement and rewards. A recent Forbes article by Josh Bersin states, “Employees today want more. They want something different. They are demanding, they want meaningful work, and they expert their employer to make work more rewarding in many ways.” For agencies that cannot build a great company culture and keep employee’s needs met, they are faced with expensive turnover or unhappy employees who stay (which is sometimes worse!).

The Forbes article also cites that 2/3 of workers feel overwhelmed, resulting in overstressed and unhappy employees. We work hard, we’re distracted and flooded with an endless stream of communication through texts, e-mails, tweets and more. The role of today’s modern agency is to understand these limitations and work to build teams that efficiently and effectively push through toward success.

Managers should get to know employees, relate and understand their professional aspirations. Agencies should take an active role in professional development of their employees, which can take a bit of investment. Some agencies such as ours conduct whiteboard lunch meetings, bring in experts to teach seminars, send employees to conferences, share webinars and blog posts regularly, create a knowledge base of expert information and have one-on-one training.

Resource planning is equally as important. Having a member or multiple members on a team drown in work, while others are left with little to do is a sign of poor resource planning adding to stress load. Proper planning, being aware and setting expectations are a few necessities for agencies today.

Bottom Line: Ride the Wave

Agencies have a new role and it requires adaptation, planning, creativity and in the end: the ability to ride the wave. There’s excitement that comes along with the tumultuous. Isn’t that partly why we’re in this industry? It takes a lot to be a successful modern agency and these are just a few of the qualities it takes to merge inbound and outbound. I encourage you to share your success and tips you’ve learned riding the wave we call modern marketing.

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Kaila StrongKaila Strong is Senior Director of SEO Services at Vertical Measures, a Phoenix-based Internet marketing company.
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