There are many steps to operating a successful marketing strategy, and none of them are easy. From generating new clients to using effective SEO tactics, the digital marketing challenges that agencies face can — and often do — stand as hurdles to scaling.

We’re taking a deep dive into Wordstream’s State of the Internet Marketing Agency 2019 report to pull out the most common challenges today’s marketers are facing and, more importantly, to share some advice on how to overcome them.  

Challenge #1: Getting New Clients

According to the report, 51% of agencies rely on customer referrals as their main source of new clients. That hasn’t changed much over the years, which makes creating a referral program a no-brainer for getting new clients. However, now more than ever, agencies are also relying heavily on content and digital marketing to grow their client base.

Generating leads with content marketing is totally doable, but you’ve got to ace your content creation and digital marketing approach. In terms of content, start publishing articles on noted online marketing publications that you know your audience reads. This will help you broaden your reach, further establish your authority and credibility in your space, and tap into a broader audience. Another tactic is to incorporate co-branded marketing webinars into your content strategy. Just make sure you partner with a brand that has a similar audience as yours so you can both benefit from the other’s network.

Another suggestion is to use a CRM and marketing automation software. Doing so allows you to more fully understand where your prospects are in their journey so you can send them personalized offers and content that educates them and leads them down the funnel.

Challenge #2: Retaining Current Clients

The average client lifespan is just 0-12 months for 30% of agencies. And that’s a big issue, considering that existing clients spend more and cost less than new ones.

So how do you keep your clients on board for longer? Once again, it starts with content. Send your existing clients resources that can help them get the most use out of your products and services. Send personalized perks, gifts, and/or exclusive promos too, and use milestones like birthdays and customer anniversaries as excuses to send offers and messages.

Don’t be afraid to change your approach to individual clients over time. Get creative with your customer retention strategies, and know that as their plans change, so should yours. If you notice that a client is on a package that no longer suits them, adjust it — even if it costs them less. It’s better to keep a client around on a lower-tier plan than to lose them entirely.

Challenge #3: Keeping Up With Ad Platform Changes

Nearly half of agencies don’t have any full-time staff members dedicated to paid search, which means it’s easy for ad platform changes to fall through the cracks. But your paid search strategy is at the mercy of the ad platforms you’re using, and if you’re not keeping up, you’ll fall behind.

Make a plan for staying up to speed with platform changes, whether that means adding this type of research to an existing team member’s role or setting up an RSS feed so you’re notified right away and can do research on your own. Publications, like Search Engine Land, can be a great source for staying up-to-date on new tools and current trends. Better yet, schedule routine check-ins with your team to discuss what’s working and what’s not with your paid search strategies. Not only will this hold more people accountable for tracking any changes, but it also makes it more likely you’ll notice changes earlier rather than later.

Challenge #4: Time Management

After generating new clients, managing time is the most common challenge agencies face. And it makes sense: there’s a lot to juggle when it comes to digital marketing, and while the workload is getting bigger and more complex, the teams and spending don’t always keep up. 

Our first piece of advice for making better use of time is to get a project management tool. Platforms like Toggle or Basecamp can help you organize your to-dos and stay on track, no matter how busy you get.

Some other tips for managing time:

  • Give yourself a limit on the amount of time you work on something. When you hit it, stop and move to the next thing on your list, then revisit it later on. This way, everything moves along, and you avoid sitting on one task for too long.
  • Divide projects into three categories: this week, next week, and this month. Then prioritize accordingly.
  • Ask for help! After all, teamwork makes the dream work, right?

Challenge #5: Hiring and Training New Employees

Onboarding is crucial, but it often gets pushed aside for more pressing matters. With all but 11% of agencies anticipating growth this year, hiring and onboarding are still going to become more important than ever.

The best way to manage this is to make sure you have a job description already created for the various roles within your department (that you update as-needed), as well as an effective and specific hiring and training process. Having these things created ahead of time helps reduce any scrambling when it comes time to hire someone and speeds up the process of getting everyone on the same page.

Challenge #6: Unlocking the Power of Data

Your Martech stack spews a lot of data that you can use to drive personalization and business growth. To unlock the power of this data, you have to get five elements right: gathering data, deriving insights, driving action, and measuring outcomes. 

However, aligning these processes to wring the full potential of data is easier said than done. For example, unifying and cleansing data coming from internal and external sources can be a real challenge. Statistics show 63% of marketers struggle with unconnected data, meaning they fail to get a holistic view of customer behavior. 

Some tips to unlock the potential of data include:

  • Create a solid data management platform (DMP))
  • Unify internal data with external sources to get a comprehensive view of each customer. 
  • Embed analytics with defined process workflows to ensure actionable insights are available where they are most needed. 
  • Hire people with advanced analytics skills to derive and translate insights into action for your team. 

Challenge #7: Improving Email Engagement

Email marketing can deliver a return on investment (ROI) of 3600%. However, you have to improve email open-rate, engagement, and conversion rates to obtain that ROI. Sadly, a whopping 56% of marketers say improving email engagement is their greatest challenge. 

If you’re struggling to improve email engagement, your approach to this form of communication might be the problem. Today’s subscribers engage with emails that resonate with their needs and preferences — targeted, personalized, and valuable emails. If the engagement rates are dipping, your messaging might be the culprit.

62% of savvy marketers claim that personalization is the key to improving email engagement. 

Take time to get to know your subscribers and understand their interests, needs, and preferences. Know the devices they use to read emails, their time zones, and the best time to send out emails. Doing so will help you send more engaging, personalized, and timely emails. 

Challenge #8: Understanding Metrics

As a marketer, part of your job is defining goals and ensuring they are met. While that sounds simple, it can be complicated, particularly if the team doesn’t understand the key performance indicators (KPIs) for marketing success. 

Take this example: email marketers know that their campaigns are bound to fail if subscribers don’t open emails. That said, they don’t toot their horns when email open rates improve. Why? Because an increase in open rates doesn’t necessarily mean revenue growth; it’s the conversion rate that really connects action to income.

Remember, anecdotal metrics such as organic traffic growth and click-through rates are important. However, you have to assign a financial goal and measure the ROI to reap optimal benefits from each campaign. Besides that, follow these cardinal rules when identifying the metrics to track:

  • Explain metrics to the team to make them easy to understand and use
  • Make sure the metrics are easy to replicate.
  • Collect internal data and back it up with external sources so that each metric delivers useful, actionable insights that impact the business

No challenge is too big if you know what you’re up against. Embrace this year with a new plan for tackling some of the biggest digital marketing challenges.