Evaluating B2B Lead Gen Companies? Start With Their Failures.

Patrick Dodge


If all B2B lead generation companies sound all the same, it’s because they are.

Sort of.

Every marketing agency wants to be different, and we spend years trying to carve out our niche in this crazy industry. But when you strip it down to the basic services, we’re all variations of the same flavor of ice cream.

Does this look familiar?

Inbound Marketing Services

  • Buyer Persona Research
  • Editorial Calendar
  • Keyword Research
  • Content Mapping
  • Blogging & Video Production
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Conversion Optimization
  • Lead Nurturing
  • Sales Enablement
  • Chatbots

Outbound Marketing Services

  • PPC (Google Ads)
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Retargeting
  • Sales Outreach Services - Cold Calling or Prospecting
  • Account-Based Marketing
  • Traditional Advertising (Print, Television)

While it can be hard to compare one agency from the next in terms of lead generation services, there are other differences you can uncover during the exploration process. If you want to go right for the jugular, start by going to a place no one wants to talk about at the beginning of a relationship: their failures. 

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Marketing Agency Failures

Ask a marketing agency what they do, and you will likely get a blizzard of jargon and buzz-phrases that mean little to you but make them sound amazing (to their own ears, at least).

Agencies are the worst offenders when it comes to business-speak because they all want to sound brilliant. So here is a little tip on how to find out what you are really dealing with: Ask about their biggest failure. 

The question will throw them off guard, so go easy and give them a minute to think before responding. 

What you are looking for is an honest story about a mistake that had a real impact on their business, not something like, “Yeah, there was this one time when we got caught with our fly unzipped and now we check it twice before leaving the office every day.”

If they give you a non-answer like, “We grew so amazingly fast, we couldn’t keep up with all the work!” I would say you are not dealing with an honest and transparent organization.

Every agency has made mistakes. A mature business will have a good sense of how those mistakes changed them.

I’ll share one about my company: When I signed my first HubSpot client to Creative Side years ago, I was coming in to do emergency surgery. Up to that point, the client had been relying upon a part-time college intern to manage their inbound marketing campaigns, and they needed a lot of help fast

Instead of pausing at the beginning to set clear objectives with the client and defining the processes to reach them, I jumped in head-first and started working on deliverables. We accomplished many good things – their leads increased and they closed business – but the client was still unhappy.

We didn't set a standard that monthly review meetings were essential. The sessions we did have were difficult to schedule with stakeholders, and so team members missed important information about strategy and performance. My team and I were working hard and producing results, but we failed to set expectations and hold ourselves accountable for meeting them. 

After about two years of working with us, the client let us go, and we completely changed our approach to onboarding and performance reviews. We have never made that mistake again. 

Now, here is an interesting question: Would this confession make you want to hire us less?

I could be wrong, but I think if every company got more comfortable talking about their failures with their clients, their products, and their employees - we would all be in a much better place.

Goal Setting & Performance Evaluation Processes


Another big differentiator between agencies is the processes used for onboarding and campaign measurement.

Talking about these processes is one thing, but it takes a lot of effort to set benchmarks that lead to success and hold the team accountable to meeting them month after month.

The first 90 days are critical. Before the ink is dry on the contract, both parties should attend a kick-off meeting where functional teams are defined, responsibilities assigned, and objectives nailed down. From content creation and approval, to technical setup, to the process of managing leads – everything needs to be clearly understood between both teams.

This takes a lot of work, but if you’ve ever worked with an agency partner that doesn’t bother with these steps, you know how quickly things can lapse into confusion and chaos. Deadlines get missed, team members stop communicating, and results suffer. 

As you evaluate a potential partner, listen carefully to how they set and manage expectations. Every month should conclude with a joint meeting where performance-to-goal is measured, opportunities for improvements are identified, and new tasks are assigned. 

If it sounds like the agency places a high priority on these processes – check their track record. Speak with current and former clients, and find out what their experiences were like. 

What Type of Clients Do They Cater To?

Like Goldilocks, you want an agency that’s “just right” for your needs. Pardon the cliché. 

Marketing agencies have strengths and limitations just like any organization. Even if they claim to work with businesses of all sizes, it’s highly unlikely they are a great fit for everyone. 

You want to get a sense of whether the agency works with companies like yours and what kind of service you can expect. Here are a couple questions to get the conversation started:

  • What is the number of employees with their average client?

  • What industries do they specialize in?


  • Do they have offices in your time zone?


These things matter. You wouldn’t ask a realtor that specializes in selling mega-mansions to move your $200,000 home, would you? It’s worth asking a few questions to see if you play in the same sandbox.

Understand Their Value vs. Pricing

It’s not easy to anticipate what costs your potential partner might charge. That’s why it’s a good idea to get this question on the table early in the process.

Obviously, you shouldn’t hold them to a firm price until they’ve finished the discovery process and presented a plan, but it’s fair to ask for a ballpark range of costs. When both parties avoid the question of cost you run the risk of wasting each other’s time. So just ask. 

If the agency specializes in your industry or offers some other benefit that makes them uniquely qualified, you should expect a higher price tag, although you will have to decide whether that extra expense is worth it.

Many agencies have converted to “points-based” pricing systems where deliverables are scored according to value, as opposed to just tallying hours. This is a way to simplify the plan. A healthy marketing campaign has a lot of moving parts, and trying to charge for the hours that go into each of them often doesn’t work in anyone’s favor.

At the end of the day, most agencies charge anywhere from $3,500 to $12,000+ per month, depending on the services provided. Most will be pretty close to each other.

If the one you are talking to is far apart on price from other candidates, make them aware of it and ask where that extra investment goes. There might be a good reason which they haven’t articulated clearly. If they can’t explain the value in without snowing you with a bunch of business-speak, I would walk away from the deal. 

The last consideration when choosing a partner is perhaps the most important one – your gut. If you are entering into an annual contract with a marketing agency, you might feel a little apprehensive, but you should not feel uneasy about the team you are working with.

If they have earned your trust and demonstrated real promise of success, you have likely found “the one.” Enjoy the ride!

b2b marketing campaign goal setting template 

Jul 16, 2018 8:58:38 AM