co-founder Hugh recently appeared on the Growth Colony podcast to share his insights into how to effectively brief agencies and freelancers. The Growth Colony podcast is where B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders talk about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Briefing agencies and freelancers is a complicated process, and if you’re not able to get it right it can lead to a loss in profits and time. On the podcast, Hugh shares his expertise on the importance of briefing correctly, how to do it, and what can happen if a brief goes wrong – and then follows up with some fantastic recommendations for content.

Key takeaways:

Why it’s important to align sales & marketing before briefing an agency

When sales and marketing teams are aligned on what they want to accomplish, they can achieve up to 209% better return on investment.

Aligning their goals allows the marketing and sales teams to work in conjunction to identify and prioritise higher-quality leads. Marketing can focus on targeting the right audience, and sales can focus on closing the higher-quality leads that are being sent through.

So before you can even begin to brief an agency, you need to know what your goals are.

Your brief needs to get really specific (you can use the buyer’s journey to assist you)

Effectively communicating your brief means that you need to take a step back and consider your goals from the perspective of the buyer’s journey, which is all about a smooth progression towards a specific end goal.

You wouldn’t spring a sales pitch on someone who might not even know they have a problem yet, right?

So when briefing an agency or freelancer, it’s important to nail down where the buyer is in their journey (“When people see this this tactic, they already would have seen this other stuff along the buyer’s journey and they’re already thinking X, so I need to get them to Y.”) and exactly what you want the agency to do (“Your job is to get them from X to Y. And by the way, you’ve got a week for that progression, so sometime during that week this buyer needs to read that thing and shift from idea X to idea Y, that’s the job of this specific tactic.”)

How context in a brief ensures consistency

Context – and a lot of it – is key to effectively briefing an agency. Without seeing the whole picture of a campaign, it’s easy for an agency to get lost.

Consistency across the campaign is important, but it’s easy to break if an agency or freelancer isn’t fully briefed on the campaign from start to finish. If they’re tasked with building the landing page for a product, they need to know what ads you’re using to send people to that page, as well as the full details of the product that they’re promoting.

Let the agency know exactly where the buyer is in their journey, where they’ve been, and where you want them to go. Without this context, it’s almost impossible for the agency to accomplish the end goal of progressing the buyer to the next stage of their journey.

What happens when a brief goes wrong?

When it’s incredibly important to use the right tactic or tool for each stage of the buyer’s journey, disasters can occur when you’re not precise in your brief.

Take for example a client that needed a final tactic for the end of the selling process to build trust with nervous customers. A brief for a raw, unpolished video of testimonials resulted in an expertly edited and high-quality video that just wasn’t right for the audience or their stage in the buyer’s journey. And unfortunately, it had to be thrown out, wasting both time and money.

When briefing an agency, you need to be really precise, and hold the agency or their staffer to that precision: “Let’s be really clear. It’s this group of people, I want them to get worried about this problem. Your job in the end-to-end process is to shift them from this thought to that thought, and that’s how I’m going to measure whether you’ve built this thing for me really well.”

Hugh’s recommended content for marketers

As a leader in B2B marketing, Hugh is always sure to keep on top of industry trends. Here’s a few recommendations to get marketers started:

  • Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore – very definitely one of the best strategic books you’ll ever read
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini – not often talked about, but really important book
  • Spin Selling by Neil Rackham
  • Social Media Examiner podcast to stay abreast of what’s changing in the application of tactics
  • Marketing Over Coffee to stay across the tech

Loved this?

Have you found Hugh’s insights valuable? Let us know if you agree with him (or not!) in the comments below.

If you would like Hugh to appear as a guest on your own podcast, you can get in touch with us here.

If you’d like to read the entire transcript, you can do so below. Please note that we’ve edited it for time and clarity.

Click here for the full transcript


Shahin (host):

Why is [alignment between your sales and marketing] important? What have you seen that sort of alignment accomplish, when it’s done right?


209% better return on marketing investment is the headline number, and it comes from a few things. If marketing and sales have agreed on the market that they’re plumbing, and they’ve agreed the tactics that they’re going to use to tap that market, then a few fairly obvious things will occur – that [wouldn’t] occur if they haven’t got that explicit agreement.

If I’m in marketing and you’re in sales, and if I’m generating leads that are cooked to the level that you and I have negotiated… if I get you those leads, you’re probably going to act on those leads. If I get you leads of a different flavour, you’re probably not going to act on those leads.

So we get this horrible spillage between marketing and sales if they just can’t agree what it is that they want to achieve.

It’s probably not a surprise that the uptick is the 209% return on marketing investment that I spoke of. The lead conversion rates go through the roof, partly because if sales knows the kind of deals that close, and sales also knows the kind of deals that don’t end up closing, then if we’re pretty aligned. Sales is going to say to me, “I probably don’t want any of that second kind of lead, I want more of that first kind so I’m going to work on the first kind.” We’re going to be more aligned if we have the same concept of what we’re trying to achieve.


A lot of that is the communication between sales and marketing. Where does the communication with external parties come in? Where does the communication with the agency? And I’m a marketing manager, and I’m sitting down and I need to prepare a brief for a marketing agency. How do all of that connect together?


Let me talk a little about the buyer’s journey.

If you think about that journey, [it goes something like this]: I [get to] know who you are, I’m curious enough to explore a conversation with you through marketing or sales. Then, I actually agree that there’s a problem worth solving, that maybe I should fix. Then, I’m clear about what I need from somebody, maybe you, maybe not. Then, I’m clear about what you can do. Then I like it, then I buy it, then I get benefit from it.

If that’s the journey, then think about how crazy it would be to ask an agency, or frankly a staffer for that matter, “I need this tactic” – let’s pick an ebook for example.

“I need this ebook to achieve…” which of those progressions? Are we trying to use this ebook to position ourselves? Are we trying to use this ebook to help the buyer to work out what problem that they have, that maybe they weren’t really thinking about? Do we need this ebook to perhaps help them work out what they need? The problem might be self evident, but maybe we need to help them work out what they need and to shape that need, so it’s to our advantage. Do we need that ebook to talk about what our solution does? Do we need that ebook to talk about why it’s better? They’re all really different ebooks.

And the moment the agency gets a brief that says, “I want you to cover all of that for me,” everybody’s going to lose, because that’s just not going to work. The typical B2B buyer’s journey might take 13 weeks, sometimes longer. If the normal buyer’s journey takes 13 weeks, and you want a three-minute read to achieve all of those progressions? Seriously? When we’re briefing an agency or a staffer, then let’s be really, really clear [on the intent of the ebook].

When [your audience] reads this ebook… or anything you want to put into the mix. You’ll say to the agency or freelancer, “When people see this this tactic, they already would have seen this other stuff [along the buyer’s journey] and they’re already thinking X, so I need to get them to Y.

“Your job is to get them from X to Y. And by the way, you’ve got a week. We’ve got a week for that progression, so sometime during that week this buyer needs to read that thing and shift from idea X to idea Y, that’s the job of the ebook. Now, go build it.”


That’s really interesting to think about the buyer’s journey, and then tackling the matter of that communication. But, how would one do that? The marketer’s sitting down, you’re saying that they need to think about what stage the buyer is at and that’s the area that we want to focus on. What’s the next step from there?


Communicating that with clarity isn’t as easy as I just made it out to be. When we’re talking about alignment, if somebody’s relying on an agency to do their work, as many do, then the agency is part of the alignment puzzle. When we’re looking for alignment, it’s everybody who’s going to play a key role in the process.

So, now to your question about the how. The staffer or the agency isn’t necessarily going to have the same concept of the buyer’s journey that the marketing leader does, so you’re going to have to communicate it and spell it out.

If we take the ebook, let’s say that the promotional method to get the ebook out there is a bunch of LinkedIn ads. Great, so what are you going to have in the LinkedIn ads? If I’m writing the ebook, show me the LinkedIn ads, and to whom they are going, so I can get a really clear sense of what the person who is seeing that ad already thinks.

Now, I can craft the landing page for the ebook to respect the ads. Visually, it would make sense for them to be consistent language. If we’ve said something in the promoted post on LinkedIn about, “Want to double your return on your investment for your marketing?” (which I’ve advocated comes from alignment) – so if that was the question proposed in the promoted post, when I get to the landing page, it had better start talking about return on investment from the marketing, or I’m out of there, I’m on the wrong page.

Show me what’s going to have occurred before this thing, and then what’s going to happen after this thing. Because if we’re crafting a landing page, we want to see the ad beforehand so that we can respect where they’ve come from and what they’re already thinking. But we probably want to see the ebook so that we know what it is that we’re actually advocating.

Don’t just tell me there’s an ebook and it’s about topic X. I need to get the audience ready to read that ebook, so my job in writing, designing, and optimising that landing page is to get the audience from somebody who’s got it in their head that this very simple notion of better return on investment – and I need to get them to want to read an ebook, because that’s not what the ad said, so that wasn’t what they came to the page for.

That’s now the job of the landing page, to shift them to, “Well actually, the way to get a better return on investment is to align sales and marketing, and here’s how we do it. Read more about it in the ebook.” That’s a transition I can now do in a landing page. But I’d better know the before and I’d better know the after.

And then, if the ebook is now going to talk about the biggest challenges in getting alignment, not just how to do alignment, because the person who wrote the ebook is trying to sell some consulting service, let’s say. They’re going to talk about how to, but they’re really going to talk about how the real problem is you don’t have somebody to lead you through this process. We need the ebook now to get them worried about, “What problem?” It’s not just list out the pain points. It’s now, concretely, what problem do you solve better than anybody else on the planet.

Because if the ad and the landing page start to hint at a problem that many can solve, then the ebook has got to do too much hard work. So those two tactics, the ad and the landing page, had better be starting to hint at a problem that only you can solve.

So that by the time they read the ebook, they’re getting their head around this problem that’s not only worth solving, but actually you’re probably the only guy in town that can solve it.


I feel like there have been a lot of horror stories on your end, dealing with clients. Can you give us some examples? Has there been horror stories, first of all?


Hundreds. I’ll give you a relatively recent one, from a client in Spain. By the way, this is a really successful and really smart company, so the individuals that I was dealing with there were really, really smart, really invested. They’d built their go-to-market plan, which we’d helped them to do. And now, they were executing and we weren’t doing the execution for them, we were just coaching them on execution. I was put into the role of mentor, if you like.

So we identified one tactic to be used at the very end of the selling process. We had a marketing and sales end-to-end process. At the very end of the selling cycle, they had buyers that were excited about the possibility [of the solution] but they just didn’t trust that it was going to happen. The client needed a couple of tactics to help that nervous buyer just take the very last step, so that’s the context.

One of the tactics that we used for that last nervous step was we wanted to get existing customers who’d been through that process to look straight down the barrel of a shaky iPhone and say, “Hey, I know why you’re watching this video. You’ve been made all of these promises and you’re trying to work out is this really going to work. Well, I can’t answer that for you. What I can say is what my experience was. Here’s what I found.”

It’s meant to be raw, unpolished, and from the heart. It’s the kind of thing you’d get from a reference call. But we needed to have hundreds of these, so we wanted to video it so we didn’t have to ask our favourite customers to take many of these calls.

Now, what happened is marketing built this beautiful testimonial video. It had intros and outros, beautiful music, and B roll – it was a gorgeous piece of production. But we had to throw it out because it was a tactic built for the wrong stage in the buyer’s journey. That’s something you’re going to put on the website to start the journey. We needed something believable, and the more you produced it, the less believable it became.

You asked me a little while ago about how do leaders need to communicate to the agency or to their staff. They need to be really, really precise and they need to hold the agency, or hold their staffer, to that precision: “Let’s be really clear. It’s this group of people, I want them to get worried about this problem. Your job in the end-to-end process is to shift them from this thought to that thought, and that’s how I’m going to measure whether you’ve built this thing for me really well.”


Is there anything else that maybe I didn’t touch on that you think it’s important, especially when it comes to briefs, when it comes to communicating with agencies, that you think it’s important for us to cover?


I feel like we’ve covered some pretty good ground. We’ve got big strategic questions that are buyer centric. Maybe I’ll use this chance to just replay a couple of those key points because I feel like we’ve covered the ground.

The strategic questions of “what problem are you trying to solve for the market?” and “who most has that problem?” are very different from a strategy that’s built around the product. “We sell this stuff to that market” is a product-centric strategy. “We solve this problem for this market” is a buyer-centric strategy. So a part of what we’ve talked about is buyer centricity in your strategy.

And then, the conversation around tactics. Each of the tactics needs to be buyer-centric as well, because it’s trying to get the buyer from thought X to thought Y. That’s the job of this tactic: it’s progression.

Some of your listeners will be fans of spin selling, or perhaps challenger sales, or conceptual selling. All of those selling methodologies are around a progression. It’s not did you turn up and have the meeting?, it’s did you get a progression? (What’s a progression? It’s thought X to thought Y. They no longer think X, they now think Y.)

Well, it’s the same in marketing. We need that progression. So, strategically buyer centric, tactically buyer centric as well.


The first thing I wanted to ask you is what is one resource, it could be a book, a blog, a podcast, a talk, whatever it is, that has fundamentally changed the way you work or live?


It’s the aggregate of four books, if I go real quick. It’s Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore. Very definitely one of the best strategic books you’ll ever read. Good to Great by Jim Collins. Influence by Robert Cialdini. Not often talked about, but really important book. And Spin Selling by Neil Rackham.


Okay. If you could give one advice to B2B marketers, what would it be?


What’s your prospect thinking right now, and what do you want them to think when they’re done with this thing?


That’s good. That’s a summation of pretty much all our conversation, I love it. The third one. Tell me a little bit about some of the influencers that you follow.


Apart from the authors that we spoke of, there’s a couple of podcasts that I really get value from, apart from Growth Colony:

Social Media Examiner, because I need to stay abreast of what’s changing in the application of tactics that I already know, but maybe the way that we apply them changes.

And Marketing Over Coffee, so I can stay across the tech.


Last question. Last question is what’s something that excites you about B2B today?


When I started the business in 1998, I had the big, hairy, audacious goal (there’s another Jim Collins expression) to make B2B marketing a respected management science around the world. I knew I was a little company, and I couldn’t really do that on my own, so I realised I could only play a role in that.

But if you think about it, I think we’re within spitting distance. We’ve actually got B2B marketers around the world who are respected for their management science. We’re getting close and that excites me.


That’s really cool. That’s a very interesting way of looking at it. I love that. On that note, Hugh, thanks a lot of jumping on the podcast. There was plenty of interesting points and golden nuggets in there, so I’m pretty sure that a lot of our listeners will enjoy that as well. Thanks for giving us the time.