Marketing Coach vs Marketing Agency: How To Explain the Difference to Prospects That Just Don’t Get It
How to help prospects confidently choose the right option for their needs.
By Dia Vavruska
For inbound marketing agencies trying to get out of the implementation game, this issue has likely come up more than once: Prospects don’t understand the difference between a marketing coach/consultant and a traditional agency.
As a marketing consultant or coach, you’ll likely hear the same concerns and questions a lot and you need to be able to field them.
Aren’t you supposed to do the work for me?
Why wouldn't I want to just outsource to an agency?
We don’t have the staff to take this on!
As we have pivoted our services at IMPACT to a coaching model, we've heard these all too often ourselves and we've learned how to combat them.
In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to know (and say) to help prospects and your current clients understand the differences, and, even more importantly, confidently choose between the two for themselves.
Let’s start from the top.
How to explain marketing coaching vs. agency services
At a high level, the difference between marketing coaches and marketing agencies is who’s executing the client's marketing strategy.
As a coach, this is a good place to start when speaking to confused prospects. Here's how you can explain:
Marketing coaching or consulting is a “teach a man to fish” approach to inbound marketing where an outside team or coach helps clients develop their new marketing strategies, and then teaches them how to do the work themselves.
In other words, coaches don’t write the blog articles or emails for clients, for example — the clients write the content for themselves, with hands-on guidance and feedback from the coach or trainer.
Traditional marketing agencies on the other hand, “do it for you." They provide strategic guidance and then complete the recommended activities for the client. They deliver the completed work to the client for feedback and/or approval.
The 5 biggest differences between a marketing coach and a traditional agency
Once a prospect or client understands the basic differences between these two options, you can dig deeper by touching upon five key areas.
1. Provider responsibilities
In a marketing coach-client relationship, the role of the marketing coach is that of a trusted advisor and teacher.
As a coach or marketing consultant, you provide strategic guidance, support, and a structured learning program, knowing that each student will not need your help forever.
You are preparing the student — or, in this case, your client — to succeed on their own after they’ve mastered the ability to manage their sales and marketing efforts on their own.
Here at IMPACT, we call this “graduation” or self-sufficiency.
Along the way, you’ll offer feedback, guidance, and accountability, but you don’t do the work for them. To see results, the client needs to do it themselves. You’re there to hold them accountable and ensure they maintain focus on priority work that will impact their business goals.
With traditional marketing agency services, the agency still has the expertise and advises clients on what to do to achieve their goals, but the client simply has to give the green light, and then the agency executes the marketing plan.
2. Client responsibilities
When working with a marketing coach or marketing consultant, the client is responsible for applying the guidance and teaching they receive.
In other words, they and their internal marketing teams are responsible for implementing their new sales, customer service, and marketing strategies themselves to accomplish their business goals.
They own the execution of the work. Their coach will give them advice along the way, but it’s the responsibility of their in-house team to apply it.
With a traditional marketing agency, the client is a bit more hands-off when it comes to execution. They give the agency their goals and budget and may have a say in the strategy before things go to production, but the actual work is taken care of by the agency.
The client just has to trust the agency to do things to their liking, and possibly provide feedback and approval of the work delivered.
3. Length of the relationship
As a marketing consultant or coach, the engagement between you and the client is usually finite.
While the opportunity to continue on as a business coach remains, usually once the client is up to speed, there's no need to. The client is left with the skills they learned for use in the future should they need them.
As an example, while it will vary from company to company, here at IMPACT we see most clients graduate from our coaching services in 12-24 months.
Graduating from our coaching services is entirely dependent on how long it takes a client’s internal team to develop and maintain the right skills and habits.
A coaching model lets clients stick to a set budget, while coaches have more freedom to take on new clients and be more profitable over time.
In an agency-client relationship, on the other hand, the length of service will depend on the marketing strategies and projects at hand.
For example, a relationship may follow a similar finite, project-based approach (e.g., a website redesign or build-out) that enables the same fixed budgeting and set end-date, or the relationship could be an ongoing retainer, which is the case in most digital marketing engagements.
If and when this relationship ends, however, the client likely won’t be able to continue the marketing efforts on their own, unlike they would with marketing coaching and training.
This difference in timeline heavily leads to noteworthy cost differences between marketing coaches versus agencies.
Marketing consultants or coaches often come with a higher upfront cost as you work very closely and dedicatedly with the client’s team. However, since you are teaching the team to own their own marketing efforts, once the client’s team is up to speed, the relationship ends and so does the financial investment.
The client becomes self-sufficient, no longer relying on the outside team to help them along. This expense is eliminated, thus increasing the long-term return on their investment.
With traditional marketing agencies, the cost will depend on the project at hand.
If an agency is working on a one-off project like a website launch or a specific campaign, the costs will be set based on the needs of that initiative and end when the project is completed.
However, if the client needs ongoing work, such as blog publishing, email sending, or social media content creation, this expense will remain a line item in their budget for outsourced support indefinitely.
5. Relationship dynamic
The biggest difference between working with a marketing coach versus a traditional agency is the relationship dynamic.
A marketing coach-client relationship is more like that of a teacher and a student.
You, the coach, are guiding the client through a process and helping them acquire new skills. There is permission for you to offer pushback and the client trusts you to lead the way even if they disagree with specifics.
In a traditional agency services relationship, the client owns the relationship and sets direction, budget, and deadlines. The agency delivers the work and makes requested changes until it meets the client’s approval.
In this scenario, the client doesn’t typically have any insight or knowledge of how the work is actually done. Thus, if a change is needed later down the road, they must request those changes or additional work from the agency (and likely at an additional cost).
While there may be some collaboration, it’s much more of a transactional relationship.
Choosing a marketing coach vs a marketing agency
After operating many years as a traditional inbound marketing agency, we at IMPACT pivoted to a marketing coaching/consulting model.
Why? Because we realized it helps us be more profitable and our clients more successful in reaching their goals. However, we know this approach may not be for every person looking for marketing help.
Here are some points to help you guide prospects deciding between a marketing coach and agency:
A prospect should hire a marketing coach if…
- They want to learn the skills and keep their marketing resources and ownership in-house. If a prospect is working with intellectual property or has a lot of confidential information they’d rather not have a third-party be at liberty to access, it’s smart to bring their marketing operations in-house and work with a marketing coach to learn the tricks of the trade.
- They don’t want to rely on outside help indefinitely. Working with a marketing coach usually comes with an end date. If a prospect is looking for a short-term external commitment and investment, this is a better option.
- They want more control and flexibility. When someone works with a marketing agency, they’re subject to the agency’s pricing, services, and schedule. They’ll likely be just one of multiple clients so they may have limited access to an agency’s team and no power to go faster or pivot without changing the scope of work.
If a prospect wants more control and flexibility with their marketing, then a coach is the better fit. With a coach, they'll get to grow their own internal staff, move quickly and be able to produce written content, video, and sales results faster and at a higher volume with more control.
- They’re looking for the most authentic finished product. At the end of the day, no one knows your business, your culture, and your product/service better than those working in it every day.
To create the most accurate and true-to-brand finished assets, a business should be creating them on their own and a marketing coach will help that happen. In our experience, we’ve also found this content is also the most effective at building trust and ultimately delivering results.
A prospect should hire a marketing agency if…
- They don’t need someone focusing on marketing long-term. If a prospect just needs one video or campaign, investing in their own marketing team or skills likely doesn’t make sense. Hiring an agency would get the job done quickly and effectively.
- They’re looking for the highest level of production quality. Marketing agencies are likely going to have the best tools and equipment available to execute a marketing plan or campaign. If production quality is a major concern, working with an agency may be more efficient and cost-effective than working with a marketing coach and bringing those resources in-house.
Putting it all together
Pivoting from a traditional marketing agency to a coach is hard — both in breaking your old habits and getting prospects to understand why coaching is a solution worth considering.
Knowing this, your job is to help prospects thoroughly understand the differences between a marketing coach and agency services and pros and cons of both.
Use the information above to educate them, guide your conversations, and ultimately, help them make the best decision for both themselves and your team.
Still working in a traditional marketing agency model and struggling to be profitable, meet expectations, and help clients achieve their goals?
Learn more about how to overcome this by adopting a coaching model with your free copy of “The Blueprint for a More Profitable Agency.”