Using Agency Support to Complement Your In-house Marketing Team

Episode 182

May 3, 2022

Growing your marketing team means new strategies and most often, new skills. Mike Zimm, VP of Marketing at Kris-Tech Wire talks about his experience working on both agency and in-house sides of marketing by examining their key differences. He explores how to think through the process of choosing which marketing support will be beneficial to your organization’s goals and teams long-term. Explore the top questions and qualities Mike Zimm recommends you ask your team internally before you partner with a marketing agency.

Using Agency Support to Complement Your In-house Marketing Team Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. I’m doing well. Thanks for asking, and you? 

Jeff White: I’m doing great. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: You know, I think today we need a couple of disclaimers, I think, for today’s-

Jeff White: There’s caveats. 

Carman Pirie: … conversation. Number one is today’s guest, per normal, is not a client of Kula Partners, so in no way is-

Jeff White: He may sound like a plant but he’s not. 

Carman Pirie: Right. But in no way is that at play. And I guess it’s one of those things, it can seem very self-serving, right? Kula Partners is an agency, and we encounter manufacturers all the time who are struggling with the dynamic of do we build it in-house, do we have an agency partnership, do we do both, what’s the right way to grow a marketing capability? And it can be assumed, I suppose, by a lot of people, that as agency owners, our default is going to be, “Oh. Well, agency is the right way to go.” 

Jeff White: Obviously. But it’s not. 

Carman Pirie: Well, I think we recognize a bit of different strokes for different folks here and there’s different ways to go about this, and so yeah, I just wanted to kind of… I guess people that are listening, you can hold our feet to the fire if you feel that we’re too pro-agency through the course of this conversation, then… I don’t know, write us nasty emails or something. 

Jeff White: And any emails. If you have any comments at all, we’re here. 

Carman Pirie: Sure. 

Jeff White: Yeah, so joining us today is Mike Zimm, and Mike is VP of Marketing at Kris-Tech Wire. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Mike. Glad to have you. 

Mike Zimm: Thank you very much, Jeff. It’s good to be here. 

Carman Pirie: Before we jump right into the discussion, perhaps introduce our listeners to you and Kris-Tech, if you would. 

Mike Zimm: Yeah, so a bit about myself, so I’ve been at Kris-Tech now for over three years. Kris-Tech Wire is a copper wire manufacturer that focuses on industrial construction, the gas and oil utilities markets, as well as aspects of the renewable energies markets, particularly PV wire, which is used in solar panel installations. Prior to that, I actually worked at a digital marketing agency where I’m from in New Haven, Connecticut, and that’s where I really… It’s called Digital Surgeons. That’s where I really got my chops and learned a lot about digital marketing, because prior to that I knew nothing about marketing. 10 years ago, I taught ancient Greek and Latin and my goal was to become a college professor. I studied that for 12 years and due to a variety of factors I decided to make a career pivot and I found myself working at a marketing agency. 

And I didn’t really know anything about marketing, so I’m very grateful to my previous employer, Digital Surgeons, because they really taught me what marketing was, especially when you enter marketing with an agnostic perspective. I developed a digital-first perspective on marketing, and I experienced different parts of marketing while I was there. I learned about some graphic design, learned a lot about content marketing, and learned a lot about paid media. So, actually one of my focuses there was I learned the ins and outs of Google Adwords, Bing ads, LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, and I think most marketers have a specialty. Maybe you come from the branding side, you come from the product marketing side, you come from the demand gen side, and I was more in the demand gen area. 

And I really liked working at the agency, and often, I think people often go to a marketing agency and you can decide you want to stay in the agency life. You love agency life. Or can you take that experience and say, “Okay. Now I want to become more specialized. I want to go in-house.” And saying going in-house, that’s very broad. Are you B2C? Are you B2B? And each of those have multiple verticals in there. B2B, are you gonna work in the SaaS space? The energy market? What do you want to do in B2B? And I got involved in B2B manufacturing. 

Part of the reason was one of the customers I focused on a lot of my digital marketing at Digital Surgeons was a manufacturer and that just interested me a lot. I thought the challenges they dealt with there, learning the ins and outs of AdWords for this company, really got me into it, and eventually I was brought on to Kris-Tech to build out the marketing department. So, that was over three years ago, and I love it, and it has a slew of challenges. Going from in-house, working at an agency… Sorry, going from agency side then going to in-house, really different challenges. I think when you’re an agency, you can go really deep, really deep in one specific discipline, but you can touch a variety of different companies, so you learn a lot about like what works at this company? It might not work at that other company. But you get really good at that. 

Once you go in-house, you develop a different kind of breadth. You have to know everything. You have to know a little bit of email marketing. You’ll still be strong, almost like that T-shaped employee. You’ll have your strengths. In my case, it’s paid media. I love paid media still to this day. It’s one of my special strengths I bring to my organization. But you have to learn about email marketing. You have to do it. So, it’s not something to just delegate to someone to do Mailchimp. You really have to roll up your sleeves and get into Mailchimp, learn something about segmentation. You have to do content marketing, because you’re looking for proof of concept, like what works? Should I throw gas on this and really go deep into this vertical or are you not getting particularly good return? 

You have to know about Photoshop, a little bit about Illustrator. At least I feel like the position I was in, to have empathy for who you work with and what you’re doing, but you need to have that excitement for the different disciplines in marketing. 

Jeff White: I think you’re absolutely right and I want to just go back to… Your pivot is interesting because my brother-in-law is the dean of the university classics department here in Halifax. 

Mike Zimm: Oh, really? 

Jeff White: And the one thing he said is the only thing you can do with a classics degree is teach other people classics, so it’s interesting that you are the exception to that rule. You can in fact do other things. 

Mike Zimm: Well, I will say one thing. I remember hearing this talk once. Actually, it’s by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. He was talking about when they were starting PayPal, and he said that when they started PayPal it was himself, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel, and none of them had finance backgrounds. Elon Musk on the science side, Peter Thiel was a trained lawyer, and I think Reid Hoffman studied philosophy. So, we’re gonna transform this world of finance, but none of them have true finance backgrounds. But one of the things they realized early on was like, “Well, that could be an asset.” Because if you come with a bunch of preconceptions about how something should operate, you can be just really regimented about how things should be done and not willing to be open minded enough. 

Whereas, if you go in with a totally blank slate and you’re willing to learn… I mean, a lot of things in this world you can fundamentally learn if you’re open minded and if you’re willing to go deep and apply what I call that deep learning instinct to any discipline, whether it’s marketing, it could be finance, it could be sales, you name it, you can get really good at that, and that’s the approach I had, especially with classics. Well, if I spent 12 years learning ancient Greek and Latin, I think that if I take some of that energy… Actually, most of that energy, and apply it to this, I think I can figure it out. 

Carman Pirie: That makes sense to me. I’m curious. You said you’ve been there about three years now at Kris-Tech, and part of what you’ve been brought on to do is build out the marketing function and the marketing horsepower, if you will. So, can you give us some texture, like kind of how many team members there are internally? 

Mike Zimm: Sure. So, there are currently, including myself, three active marketing full-time team members. We have a marketing automation specialist, we have a content marketing manager, and myself. And we’re growing, especially when you first… I’m actually glad, I was really happy to come and build a marketing department, because especially when you join a B2B manufacturing organization and there’s no marketing, it’s great, because no one has any preexisting biases of what marketing should be. You know, I’ve heard quite a few stories of new marketing leader comes in and the sales team already has some preconceptions about marketing, so they spend time having to first disabuse that sales team of any bad experiences they may have had in the past, whereas if you come in and there’s nothing, it’s great. You can just… You’re starting at zero. And sometimes if you go in and just there’s been a history with sales and marketing, you’re actually starting at negative five, so you need to get to zero. 

Carman Pirie: One of the things about starting at zero, however, for some organizations, is that they’ve also never spent on it, so…

Jeff White: Yeah, they don’t have a budget. Like, “We hired you. Why do we need to spend more?” 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Have you encountered that in your starting from zero? Was it a fight for budget?

Mike Zimm: Well, so once you’re brought in by the leadership team, the C-suite, they’re already curious, right? By virtue of saying, “Hey, we want to start marketing,” the leadership at Kris-Tech had an open-mindedness about, “Let’s see what this is.” So, it’s not like… I didn’t go to them and say, “You need marketing.” You’re trying, like, “Oh, we don’t want to open up the wallet for that.” Hey, let’s see if there’s something here, and the book, it’s called Traction Channel, or Traction, it’s about different marketing traction channels. I think it was the founder of DuckDuckGo who wrote it. I’m forgetting the name of the author. But in this book, he said there are multiple traction channels, right? There’s paid social, organic social media marketing, SEO, content marketing, app development, email marketing, I’d say even marketing automation is actually fundamentally different from email marketing, and you’re a little bit like a kid in a candy store. 

So, hey, here are all these different traction channels that you can use, and in an organization, most companies are not gonna use all of them. You’re looking for that cocktail. What’s that special recipe for an organization that’s going to work? Especially if you’ve never done lead gen, or like no one’s done any of this before, you have no idea. You have to be really open-minded. So, you begin… Essentially, you use a kind of a bullets versus cannon ball approach, where you’re trying to just do something relatively… Not too much investment, maybe two or three months, and see if anything sticks there. 

So, for example, one thing I did was I started to test out AdWords. I didn’t know if it was gonna work out. Let’s bid on these products. You do that for a couple months and you start to see that you’re not just getting leads that you like. You’re getting leads that your sales team says, “Yes. This is good. This is great.” Okay, now go deep in the campaigns. You start to build out a campaign structure, right? You’re starting to go, “Okay, let me give more thought to this, because if it’s been working with two or three months, the chances are it’s gonna work as a long-term viable strategy.” And you start to build that out when you’re going really deep with that. 

So, in year one, you have kind of the pioneer approach to marketing where, “Hey, I’m just going to test out traction channels, see what works.” And I’m sure… And there are others. I have not really done any apps. I haven’t worked on app development, all those other things out there. I’ve honestly just started to get deeper into branding. I’ve come to really develop a much deeper appreciation for the value of sales collateral and see my sales team, how much they love this, the value of a great graphic. It’s hard to quantify it, but you know it’s valuable, so I’m really going deeper into that right now at this time. 

And so, after year one, you’re getting results. Hey, there’s something here. And then you start to think about the next project, like, “Well, maybe the goal is to build a new website.” Maybe you start to explore a marketing automation platform. And one of the things I realized once we got our marketing automation platform… We use Act-On as our MAP. We needed someone who could really run it, where you know, anyone could do it basically half-assed by themselves, but to really get a lot of value out of that system you have to invest. So, you persuade the organization, “Hey, we need someone here full-time to do this.” And now you have that next hire. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s a good jumping off point for this kind of a core of today’s discussion, is how have you thought about when to leverage agency resources versus when to say, “Guys, we need to have this capability in-house.” How are you delineating that, if you will, or thinking about it and selling it through?

Mike Zimm: I think for a good agency, it’s really a partner. They’re not just mercenaries that you’re just talking to. These are consultants. These are the people that you work with closely. Not only you work with closely, especially if marketing has a seat at the table, part of the leadership team, it makes it much easier to advocate. You don’t only want yourself to have a relationship with the marketing team, you want your sales team to have a relationship… Sorry, with the marketing agency. You want your sales team to have a relationship with that marketing agency because there are a lot of requests I get from the sales team, and honestly at times it’s like, “Hey, you know what? It’s best for you to have that meeting yourself with the marketing agency so you can discuss the vision,” rather than just playing broken telephone where it’s going through you, through them, and you’re working with them a lot on that. 

I’d say what I’ve found is that with a marketing agency, one, the bigger you get, the more you grow your team, the more likely you might need multiple agency partners, right? So, there’s no agency that does everything. I don’t care who that agency is, there might be one… In your case, it’s focused on B2B manufacturing. There might be another agency that focuses on all kinds of industries, but they just do SEO. Or they just do content marketing, or their real specialty is PowerPoint deck design, so they’re specialized there, but let’s say you start to realize like okay, this agency, you’re trying to rely on them for everything, but you realize, “Hey, we’re starting to have specialized needs here.” You don’t cut off your relationship with that agency. Far from it. We now need to scale the agency relationship, so you now need to start to focus. 

We need to get another agency who’s gonna be really good at that to complement this existing agency. But what I’ve found is that working with agencies, you’ll never have all the resources in-house an agency has. You’re just not. I mean, agencies will have an analytics expert, or someone who’s really good at Google Tag Manager. I mean, unless you’re a really big, enterprise scale company, think of Vanguard, a company like that, you’re probably not gonna have a Tag Manager specialist in-house if I’m being honest. You’re gonna just need someone who has those resources, and they can consult with you. I mean, often a good agency will tell you no. Oh, that’s a bad idea. You don’t want to do that. 

If I might give people one example, an issue I was dealing with a couple years ago was with conversion rate optimization. And sure enough, you talk to a lot of people about conversion rate optimization, “Oh, you need to do more of this, more of that.” But sometimes I was talking to an agency and the issue is not doing more, it actually just might be you’re missing something. It’s not even doing less. It’s just you don’t have a conversion rate problem; you have an analytics problem. So, one of the things that’s been very helpful for us is we use CallRail, and I have no… CallRail didn’t pay me for this, by the way. I think I forgot the other platform that’s used for call tracking, but I said, “Let’s test this out, because our conversion rate is not that high,” but we had a hypothesis that maybe there’s a way out there to track for that last step analog conversion the phone call, and sure enough a marketing agency told us, “Oh, there’s a tool out there called CallRail,” which I hadn’t heard of. They said, “It might be effective.” 

So, that’s an idea that would have never come in-house. No idea about it. And then you implement this new piece of tracking software and presto, you see 34% of your conversions are now due to this tracking software. So, that’s an amazing thing to have someone out there who… You know, like that great martech infographic, I think Scott Brinker made it, that just has all those different companies on it. No company’s marketing is gonna know all of that, and obviously no marketing agency is gonna know all the companies on that, but people at the marketing agency, especially if they have some more experience in your discipline, in your industry focus, they will be better versed at looking and say, “You know, maybe try this piece of software.” So, that’s part of the consultative role I think of the agency. It’s not just about you saying, “Do this, do that.” I think that’s a pretty unhealthy relationship with an agency. It’s consultative. You almost feel like they’re an in-house partner. You really have a relationship with them. 

Jeff White: I have to hope that there isn’t actually an agency that specializes in PowerPoint deck design, because oh my God, that would just be the worst. 

Carman Pirie: It would be soul sucking, one would assume, but maybe… 

Mike Zimm: Maybe not PowerPoint. Maybe Keynote, you know?

Jeff White: Okay. Getting a little better. It’s a little better. It’s a bit of an inside joke amongst those of us who speak about how much better Keynote is than PowerPoint. I’d be really interested in, and I completely agree with you, agencies have broader depth of experience and different types of people in more specialized marketing roles generally that they can bring to those things, and therefore they can suggest solutions that you may not have been aware of. I’d be interested in learning more about what the trigger point is in your mind for when you go looking for an agency and how you approach that choice. I’d just be interested in exploring how you’ve done that. 

Mike Zimm: You know, looking for an agency, I think you should spend months looking for… I mean, assuming you don’t have like a two-week deadline. Wow, you’ve lost a critical team member. You have two weeks to be able to recruit or hire someone. You should really approach hiring a new team member with a great deal of time and thought. It’s a critical part of your organization. Apply the same rationale with an agency. Spend… Don’t just say the next two or three weeks like, “I want to go hire an agency.” You really… That’s a key relationship just like a manager is a key relationship in an organization, or someone in your C-suite. You should spend I think months looking for an agency, vetting them, talking to them, finding out what they’re good at. Are they honest? You know, do they say, “Hey,” I think it’s always great when an agency says, “We’re actually not good for you. We focus…” You know, in your case, probably someone would reach out to you in an eCommerce travel company. Given your specialty, I don’t know if you’d probably take on, right? Jeff, Carman, you’d take on the relationship. 

See, that already in itself is a good sign. Someone says, “No.” An agency that says, “We do everything,” versus one that automatically qualifies itself. They either do certain industries, whether it’s finance, manufacturing, or SaaS, you name it, or at least they say, “We really just focus on this. So, yes, we only do content marketing, so you’re looking for a PPC agency, maybe consider…” I don’t know. Especially if you’re a large organization, one of the bigger agencies that’s just focused on PPC. So, one that disqualifies. If they disqualify themselves or they’re trying to, that’s a really healthy sign too. They’re looking for the partnership as much as you are, because I’m sure you know this, like as an agency you’ve probably had bad partners in the past, or at least partners where you’re like, “You know, we’re ready to cut the cord.” Is that fair to say?

Jeff White: Oh, I think that’s pretty accurate. 

Carman Pirie: We’ve been in this business a very long time, Mike. If you’re gonna flip this psychiatrist’s couch around on us, it’s gonna get messy. 

Mike Zimm: No, I’m sure every agency has horror stories about bad… It’s probably a client that comes, they wave a lot of money, right? You’re like, “This is gonna be great.” And then probably four or five minutes, you’re like, “What the hell did we get ourselves into? How do we get out of this relationship?” So, it’s very much it’s a dance. Both of you are trying to qualify each other, thinking, “Hey, is this right? Is this the right call?” You’re looking through the blogs. What kind of articles have they written? And if you see there’s some medley of topics that have no relevance… I mean, that’s… If you’re going to someone for content marketing, the chances are you hope they have good content marketing, right? Wouldn’t hire someone who doesn’t have good content marketing. Or if you’re looking for a social media agency and their social media sucks, why would you hire them? Why? 

So, you’re going through all that to say, “Hey, is this the right relationship?” Much like when you hire a new employee. Is this gonna be a good employee? So, obviously search matters there, like thinking of if there were keywords that matter to me, and you type in that keyword, you see agencies show up at the top of the search for that keyword, that’s a decent sign right there. Okay, they get search. Hey, they’re ranking. They in some way knew me. I was able to Google that and clearly someone at that agency was targeting those keywords, so that’s a good sign, especially if you’re looking for someone who has search specialties. 

You’re looking at the branding, the aesthetic. You’re looking at case studies. You know, obviously if you’re looking at an agency and you see… You know, especially, so the case studies, that’s really bottom funnel content. I mean, honestly one of the reasons why I went to Act-On as our MAP was that they had some good, compelling manufacturing case studies in there which some of the other competitors that I was considering did not. That’s the value of a case study. Most people… The people that read case studies, they tend to be bottom of the funnel, like, “Hey, come on. Let’s close this. You’re there.” 

So, you’ve already done a lot of the qualifications, a lot of that’s already been done before you ever have that first phone call with that agency. And then when you talk to them, you know, are they friendly? These are people you want to work with, right? Hey, can we have a healthy working relationship with each other? Can they say no? I wouldn’t want to work with any, much like you wouldn’t… I personally wouldn’t want to work with an employee no matter how good if they were obnoxious or if they were just difficult personalities. I’m not interested in that. 

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Carman Pirie: I wonder how much of a… It’d be hard to divorce it, I suppose. I’m thinking how much of your approach to this is I just think in some ways grounded in the fact that you’ve worked agency side, so of course you’ve experienced what it’s like to have clients that appreciate the counsel, and you generate results for, versus those that maybe are looking for order takers or what have you. I guess I wonder, has your approach and way of thinking about investing in agency relationships found any… I guess has it encountered any friction internally with those that maybe didn’t share the same agency background that you come from? Has this been a challenge to get adopted in any way?

Mike Zimm: Well, I think… So, an agency, it actually goes back, should you in-house versus outsource marketing? You need both. I can’t imagine really an agency, a company that’s entirely outsourced its marketing to an agency, it’s fundamentally setting up that agency for failure. Because that agency doesn’t know the gross margin of your products. They’re not part of those expansion decisions, what your key strategic goals are. Not just from a marketing standpoint, not just from a sales standpoint, but from the entire organization. So, an agency needs someone who can really advocate internally what this is. In my opinion, I think often when an agency relationship fails with a company, I’d often… I could be wrong here. My sense is often the onus is on the marketing department in that company. Maybe they didn’t qualify properly. Maybe they didn’t do their due diligence, right? 

If you just go out there and hire an agency, “Oh, I’m gonna hire an agency that focuses on the travel industry tomorrow.” Okay, they’ve never done anything manufacturing, it’s not gonna be a good relationship. But who’s fault is that? Let’s just say the output of that agency isn’t great. Is that agency really responsible? I’d argue no because you, internally, the company, should have done the time, done the work to find out what’s gonna be the right agency partnership. That’s a big part of it, like taking the time to find that. 

Jeff White: Mike, what do you think is unoutsourceable? 

Mike Zimm: I’d say really more… I think the real marketing strategy. Because I mean I think a good marketing strategy is so tied to the sales strategy, the operations strategy, even part of the finance strategy. You need to really be internal to the company to be privy to those conversations. And then once you have those conversations and once you have your organizational goals, you then take that and then you can say, “Okay, here’s what I need. Here’s where I’m gonna go.” And you find that agency who’s gonna help you out with that a lot. There has to be that there, that openness there. And it has to come I think internally from the company. 

I think sometimes I could see how companies might turn to a marketing agency and they’d say, “Save us.” Save us, right? And they expect them to be miracle workers. But again, since I focus much more on the B2B space, the manufacturing space, you have to… You’re looking at a long-term relationship, so you shouldn’t be saying, “Hey, I’m gonna get wins the next one to two months.” It doesn’t work for that.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Somebody that’s sales cycle is 18-months long, you’re not gonna get wins in one to two months typically, which is so often the case in B2B, of course. 

Mike Zimm: But even an example, branding. I remember at one point working on a logo and I was working with a freelance designer, and you just… You’re inside the company. If you haven’t worked with Illustrator, especially when… I think when a lot of designers work, they think in terms of a system. So, if you have, whether it’s a one sheeter, or a landing page design, or a logo design, you can’t… If you just change one thing, “Oh, let’s just change that. Can you cut out that thing right there?” It’s designed to work as a whole, so I think that design will ultimately, when they work with that, they’ll modify, but they think in terms of a system, like, “How do I modify that?” 

So, I’ve seen times where it might be the company, and you start to get all these requests for making this modification or that, and you need to be honest, like, “Hey, someone put a lot of time and thought into that, so you can change that, but you’re gonna pay for it.” You might think you just asked for a typeface change. However, that’s time for the designer, so being able to make that case so they just go, “Oh, that’s gonna be the cost of that,” as opposed to just someone’s like, “Hey, just have someone, have the agency make the design.” There’s no one talking to them. You’re just gonna get a big bill at the end of the month. You’re gonna be like, “What the hell is this? What’s with this bill? Why is it so high?” 

Carman Pirie: I almost wish instead of worrying about the cost of design adjustments, in terms of what it takes to get them made, I wish maybe people thought a little bit more about the cost of design adjustments in terms of messing up the design. 

Jeff White: What it means. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, because I think so often people that are feeding back on that, they don’t understand visual design. They don’t understand visual communication. They don’t appreciate that that system is designed to work as a whole, to your point, so then, “Well, just make this tweak, or just make that tweak.” It’s like, “Yeah, but now none of it actually works together anymore.” 

Jeff White: It doesn’t tie together anymore. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: And there will be some sort of long-term negative impact of that, and then, of course, the designer… No, they can’t quantify what that long-term negative impact is. All you can do is point to companies that have not taken those kinds of decisions and have more in some way, and this is the ultimate creative term, trust in the creative process, and then they, of course, experience an over index in profitability. The classic example that any designer’s gonna trot out, probably Apple or Nike. 

It’s an interesting one, because I think sometimes a good client-side marketer is somebody who can explain that dynamic to their company. If that makes some sense. 

Mike Zimm: Carman, I think that is 100% accurate. You need… So, that’s an example, how do you outsource it? You need someone internal to the company who’s explaining, a trusted individual in that company that other divisions of the company have a relationship with. They can be, “That’s fair. Hey, here’s what you asked and here’s what you’re gonna get. You’ve just slowed down the process dramatically, so don’t try to tell the agency do this.” And again, the agency might want to eventually cut and run. You need to view it as a long-term relationship like an employee, right? I think a good agency relationship… I mean, that’s one of the things. Obviously, it’s a good question for the agency. What’s the average tenure of a client? 

So, you find out an agency, the average tenure is like five or six months, something’s not right there. Either they are working with the wrong-

Carman Pirie: I can’t imagine they would tell you that if that were the case, but yes, that would not be a good sign. 

Jeff White: No. 

Carman Pirie: I do think, though, this conversation of average tenure kind of cuts both ways, and I think it’s something like somebody in your seat must be dealing with, which is-

Jeff White: How hard it is to get-

Carman Pirie: What’s the average tenure of an employee? Or in particular a marketing employee-

Jeff White: A marketing employee. 

Carman Pirie: … in a B2B manufacturer. Well, I was just wondering, do you look at your agency versus in-house decisions at all through a lens of talent management or capability redundancy? 

Mike Zimm: Well, so that’s a good question. One, in my case, what’s the average tenure, well, it’s as long as I’ve been there, right? So, all the… We’ve had no marketing employee turnover right now, which is probably not that reliable. Maybe if you were talking to a company like a… I don’t know, ABB, or GE, or I think I saw you interview someone from TE Connectivity once. You might get a better answer to that. Unfortunately, I can only say right now I’ve been here for about three-and-a-half years at this point, so that’s the tenure. 

I can imagine down the road wanting to hire another agency. Not to replace, simply like, “Hey,” I mean it’s funny, going back to what we joked about, like Keynote or PowerPoint design, maybe there is an agency out there where there’s a lot of value. If you have a sales team where their presentations for their customers are critical, again, with design, it’s one of the things I’ve come to develop the highest appreciation for once you go in-house to a company, because it’s so hard to quantify, but you know it matters. This highly qualitative thing, but you know it’s really important, because you just see when you get that great line card design, what’s the… How do you quantify the value? I don’t know. I just know that it works and it’s great. 

And your sales team knows that too. When you have an excited sales team, where they feel all of a sudden empowered, you can see the confidence go up when they engage with a customer, when they have a great PowerPoint. You’re arming them. For that sales, it all comes together. So, I’d say about… As far as the resources we have in-house, we’ll never have everything an agency has, and the agency, at the same time, they need that customer at the company who’s gonna advocate for what’s needed. And you know, I think when you go to an agency, they have a creativity, right? They have pretty fresh set of eyes. One of the things I think another agency can do that’s really helpful is I’m sure you’ve all seen those stats where… You know, what’s the average open rate per industry? What’s the average click-through rate? And it’s very hard to come up with those numbers. You’ll even see a breakdown, B2B. Average for a B2B manufacturer. 

But even in B2B manufacturing, do you sell direct? Do you sell to distribution? So, I think often you go to an agency, they can give you data. They’ll hash it, they’ll anonymize it, but hey, for KPI metrics, can you help me figure out what should be our reasonable traffic growth based on comparable customers that you have? Keeping it anonymous, of course. You don’t need to tell me who they are. But you can look at the sessions they’re averaging per month, and you can tell me objectively how am I doing, like let the agency hold your feet to the fire. And again, it’s funny. We talk about getting feedback. You should ask an agency for feedback. How am I? Am I a good customer? Am I a shitty customer? 

Carman Pirie: That’s great advice. 

Mike Zimm: I ask all of our employees, like they ask me, I ask them. Whenever I’m having my one-on-ones, how’d I do this week from a communication, availability, support framework? And let it rip. On a scale of one to ten, maybe I was a one this week. No, and you can be honest, and you need to have that. And same with the agency. Am I a good customer? Because if you’re not a good customer, this is just a reality of life. That agency is gonna give you a little less effort and attention. The agencies I think that love… When an agency… I’m sure you can both speak to this. When you have a partner that you love, you’ll go the extra distance for them. You’re just going to. It’s human nature because you have a relationship with them. You’ll do things for them. But if it’s someone where it’s more transactional, like, “Ah, they’re okay.” Okay, then that company’s gonna get that out of the agency. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Look, it’s a human business either way, right?

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: I’d be curious. Having looked at life from both sides now, as it were, now that you’re in-house, what is the one thing you wish you knew when you were agency side that you didn’t know? 

Mike Zimm: I wish… When I was agency side, you tend to think of really just marketing as your world. Hey, that is the client, that is who the agency works with is marketing, and one of the things I really appreciate being in-house is thinking of the totality of the business, like I’ve had to really expand my knowledge of things like finance, some operations, sales, but yeah, knowing just elements of gross margin, knowing how you’re doing from a profitability standpoint. Honestly, even just taking something as simple as being able to include gross margin metrics. I use SEMRush, we use for SEO, but I love like imagine when you look at those keywords, just having a column there for those high value gross margin products. 

So, I never really thought of those things much until I went in-house. You’re thinking of a conversion as a conversion. At least take a look… If you’re looking at SEO or AdWords, you’re really just thinking in terms of those conversions, and you tend to think in terms of things such as what’s your CPA. Everyone’s like, “Well, what’s a good CPA? What’s this and that?” And once you go in-house, there’s definitely a little nuance I wish I appreciated that were gonna be better questions to ask, like, “Hey, I may have only gotten two conversions this month, but let me tell you about those conversions.” And in the previous month I got 10 conversions, but it can almost become a vanity metric. And by the way, a number of those were crap. Most of those were crap, garbage conversions. 

So, especially in the B2B space, you can do it like an 80-20 power law of like, “Hey, that one conversion might account for the majority of your marketing contribution revenue for the year.” So, who cares if it was $110 CPA, or $200, or $300, if it was six figures, right? I feel like there’s a level of being able to interrogate the data that I wish, again, it would have made for a much more sophisticated analysis had I had the information. Now, not just obviously knowing the ins and outs of my business. Look at the questions that you bring to bear on data. It can make, honestly, for a much healthier relationship with the agency, where instead of just getting a report… It’s funny. One of  the things, I don’t like reports from an agency because I think why waste time? I can read the analytics data. Do you like writing reports? Probably not. I doubt it, okay? I don’t think anyone really likes giving reports. I can read the data, so that’s not a good use of the agency’s time either. Let’s focus on this instead. 

And it makes it much easier for me to figure out is this working, is it not, and to make that case for our leadership team. And they know, because when you see these leads, here it is. I can show you throw the MAP, the marketing automation platform. Came from here, through say Bing ads, went to Dynamics, that’s the CRM we use, and then you can follow up on that lead. It’s very hard to do as an agency, to really follow the full life cycle of a lead, especially when it comes to critical data sources, like an ERP system, or something in your CRM where obviously an agency might not have access to that critical data source, understandably. 

But you can go through and be like, “This is working.” And then you want to convey that to the agency because the agency won’t know that. They might even be scratching… I think a good example is with CallRail, like our conversion rate is terrible. It’s not going well. But then you realize, you know, you don’t have a conversion problem. You have an analytics problem. It’s a lot better. But you need to have that ability to have that discussion and all of a sudden if that was agency, they’re gonna feel a lot better about their output of their work. And also, just another good example of like with an agency, there’s certain disciplines in marketing where it’s just a long game. So, let’s just say if a B2B manufacturer were to hire a marketing agency for content marketing services, and let’s just say they’re really focused in terms of SEO, if they hire the agency with the expectation of, “In two months, I’m gonna see a huge difference,” they need to be educated. Or really, that’s probably just a bad customer. That’s not how SEO works. It’s months. 

I remember my first year, there was one keyword I went after months, okay? And I remember we finally… There was a Google algorithm update. I want to say it was in September or October of I believe 2019, and their rankings were reshuffled, and finally that keyword climbed to the top of search. And then we saw the traffic climb there, climb at that point, but it was about nine, maybe ten months in the making. That’s a long… 

Jeff White: A nine-month overnight success. 

Mike Zimm: For sure, and that’s often, is that, “Hey, we need a quick win though.” It’s like, “Well, sometimes the win is an investment.” I always say sometimes the win is an investment. There is no… Well, how do you plan for the keyword? Well, there is no… You could do AdWords, but there’s not a shortcut there, so even just making that case to the company, having that person internal to the company, and the agency just knows this individual gets it. They understand it. As opposed to can you imagine working with someone who doesn’t really have that much knowledge of marketing, but they’re an in-house client, and they’re like a month and a half in, “Where are my results?” Hey, that’s not… You need to know it doesn’t work like that, and honestly, it seems like it’s not gonna be a good conversation if for everything an agency tries, they’re going to need to have that discussion. It’s gonna be exhausting. 

Jeff White: Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree with you more. Mike, it’s been a phenomenal conversation. Really enjoy your perspective on how you work with agencies and other partners and build your internal teams. Thanks so much for joining us today. 

Mike Zimm: Hey, my pleasure. Thank you both. It’s been great. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at That’s

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Mike Zimm

VP of Marketing at Kris-Tech Wire

Mike Zimm is VP of Marketing for Kris-Tech Wire, a copper wire manufacturer providing a range of wire solutions to the building, commercial, and utility industries. Prior to entering the B2B manufacturing space, Mike served as a digital media manager at a digital marketing agency. Having received a PhD in Classics from Yale University, he draws on his humanist background and extensive knowledge of linguistics, history, and human behavior to reach smart, strategic, data-driven objectives.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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