The debate over specialization versus a generalization takes place in most business strategy or career planning. When it comes to the online marketing industry it is amazing how the definition of specialization has rapidly changed over the past 5 years.
Before we take a look at the online marketing industry, let's step back and consider how companies traditionally hired marketing agencies. When I worked in marketing organizations we would routinely put out RFPs to many large agencies who would put together proposals or pitches where they would recommend an integrated marketing campaign. The campaign would inevitably include some brand and ad campaign development plus recommendations on media (TV, Web, Print, Radio, PR, Outdoor, etc...). These agencies focused on integration and being a one-stop provider. As an overworked marketing leader, the idea of managing one relationship made sense.
The "one-stop shop" model doesn't work with online marketing. There are too many sub-disciplines that require specific expertise. There are now display advertising, targeting, social media, paid search, SEO, information architecture, mobile and other specialized agencies.
I'm a big fan of being really focused on a few areas. It is easier to manage a specialized agency and your message is clearer to your clients. You may lose a few clients who are looking for the "one-stop shop," but generally it works to your advantage.
As a specialized firm in search marketing (paid and organic), we actively seek to partner with other web development agencies who are specialized at designing and building websites. Together, we provide a best in class solution to our client.
To be a good partner to other agencies, you need the following:
1. Sales support - The ability to sell work together requires great sales materials. In our case, we've created a library of sample proposals for all types of different engagements. We typically provide the library to our partners so that they can quickly include our services in proposals they write.
2. Simple pricing - You will need a pricing sheet that allows your partners to put a price to your services when writing a proposals. Larger projects may require some custom pricing but in our experience, if the partner can quickly quote your services it will lead to more business.
3. Training materials - We hold bi-monthly webinars to train our reseller partners on our tools and provide education on the search marketing industry. We've found that if we can train the partner then they will be more comfortable and sure of themselves when delivering services.
4. Account management - We can't talk to every one of our reseller's clients but we have built in a series of automated alerts and even a monthly newsletter that we can send out on behalf of our reseller partner. Our experience is that these proactive touches cuts down on the inbound support calls.
5. Specialized tools - If applicable, you can provide specialized tools that your reseller partners can use with their clients. In our case, we have developed a dashboard reporting tool.
Big agencies and certainly small agencies have a hard time being experts at every sub-discipline in online marketing, so try partnering with other specialized agencies. Use our experience to build a program that makes it easy for your partners to use you.