Most of us would agree that the marketing ecosystem is growing increasingly complex. That complexity has presented a significant opportunity for specialist agencies filling every marketing niche you can imagine, from social media to influencer marketing and CRM.

As these specialist agencies seek new growth, they’re turning to other agencies.

As an example, a social media agency (let’s call it the Selling Agency) might partner with a digital agency (the Customer Agency) to fill a gap in the Customer Agency’s services. This partnership leads to new revenue for both.

 For the Selling Agency, this relationship offers exposure to lots of new client-side marketers -- a big benefit!

But, there’s a downside: the Selling Agency will never have as much influence over the client relationship as the Customer Agency will.

That means, among other things, that the Selling Agency is less able to negotiate pricing, won’t have full control over its messaging and positioning, and can’t react to client needs without passing through the filter of its partner, the Customer Agency.

It’s a business development strategy that comes with risk. If it’s a strategy your agency is considering, then make sure you establish systems and processes -- just as you would for any other sales effort -- to control that risk.

Here are a few things to keep in mind at each stage of the sales cycle:

1. Courtship

Just because you’re selling to your own kind doesn’t mean you can afford to be informal or disorganized. Put in place a prospecting plan that has the same elements as it would for client-side marketers.

Think about your revenue goals and how this helps you meet them. Define an ideal customer profile that shows you understand the challenges these agencies face and how to alleviate them. Be disciplined about contact management and lead tracking.

Most importantly, since you know you’re walking into a situation where you’ll have less control over client management, take the time to define what makes a successful partnership for you.

 2. Nurturing

As you nurture a future relationship, you’ll deploy familiar tools, like credentials, case studies and thought leadership content like webinars, but your message should be different. Think back to your customer profile and the solutions these agencies need. Besides helping them get results for their clients, you want to demonstrate the specific ways you’re going to be a good partner.

This is also the point where you’ll want to set some ground rules and introduce your requirements for a successful partnership. A partner questionnaire is a simple and effective way to understand the partner’s expectations and investigate whether their culture is aligned with yours.

When you set up the first meeting, know what you want to get out of it, who the decision makers are, and whether they’ll be attending.

3. Conversion 

This is a pivotal moment. Now is when you have the most leeway to define how you want to control the relationship. When you’re asked to collaborate on a pitch, don’t let your enthusiasm take over before asking the Customer Agency some important questions, like:

  • Who are they working with at the client organization?
  • Are they sure the contact is the decision-maker?
  • Is the project approved?
  • Are you the only service provider in your category?

 While you’re at it, ask yourself some important questions too:

  • Are you working with the decision-maker at the agency?
  • What’s your agency’s policy on having access to the client?
  • To what extent are you willing to put work towards a speculative project?
  • What are your limitations on the amount of manpower and materials you’re willing to invest?
  • Are you willing to bid against other sub-contractors?
  • Do you have control over the final content that’s seen by the client?

When you’ve found a project you both want to work on, ensure documents are in place to help you maintain control. These may include a predefined set of services, pricing for agency partners, a master services agreement, and an onboarding guide that describes your expectations. And make sure you reserve the right to show your final, approved work in your portfolio.

4. Management & Growth 

Be proactive in forming a healthy, profitable relationship. Regularly revisit your criteria for success with the partner agency, including revenue goals, shared access to the client, and whether this partnership is letting you do the kind of work you want to do. Suggest KPIs and benchmarks that define success.

Finally, keep selling. Reinforce your value by sharing your agency’s knowledge and expertise. Offer things like lunch-and-learns that add equity to the relationship and give you more exposure to other teams -- and, by association, clients -- at the agency.

Need help building a partner sales strategy for your own agency?