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What Is Digital Agency Software – The Types and Tips for Choosing the Best Software for Marketing Agencies

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Updated on:
February 18, 2024
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The digital agency space has never been as competitive as it is right now.

According to IBIS World – an industry research company – there are 10,776 companies in the digital advertising space alone. That’s a 21.8% increase on the numbers from 2022, which should tell you one thing:

You face an uphill battle in trying to find (and retain) great clients for your digital agency.

Climbing that hill isn’t impossible as long as you have help along the way. That’s where digital agency software comes in – when used well it can separate you from the ever-growing pack.

The Tools for Digital Marketing Agency Success

Before getting into the types of digital agency software available to you, it’s important to define what this software does.

However, the challenge here is that there’s no set description.

Digital agency software could serve many purposes. For instance, it could be the software you have in place to provide services to your clients. Think Photoshop for graphic design or SurferSEO to help you create content. Alternatively, it could be software that you use to oversee the agency itself. In this sense, digital agency software can incorporate time-tracking and project management apps.

So, perhaps the best description of this type of software is as follows:

Any software that’s essential to the successful running of your agency is digital agency software.

Taking that broad definition, we can separate the software you may use into the following categories.

All-in-One Agency Software

Data siloing is one of the major challenges in modern business. According to Entrepreneur, the average company might have around 2,000 of these siloes.

But what are they?

A data silo is any repository of data – no matter how small – that’s controlled by one department in your agency. That control isn’t malicious. It simply means the data comes from a software or process that’s isolated from the rest of the business. The issue here is that siloed data is difficult to gather and isn’t integrated with every other data-generating software you have.

The result?

Your reporting may not be accurate since it’s difficult to bring all of your company’s data together.

That’s where all-in-one agency software comes in.

They bring several aspects of agency management into one place, centralizing your data so you can access it all at once. Bonsai’s business management tool is a great example. It combines project management, customer relationship management, invoicing, and time-tracking tools into one package. Through it, you can see what projects you’re running and for which clients. You can also allocate resources and get an overview of the agency’s financial health.

Marketing Agency Management Software

Let’s say you don’t want to go the all-in-one route.

That’s fine – you may have existing software that doesn’t integrate with an all-in-one package – but you still need to monitor your agency. Agency management software fits this purpose.

You’ll find that this software often shares similarities with all-in-one solutions. The only real difference is that they’re more limited in scope. For instance, your management software may allow you to keep tabs on budgets and available resources. However, it won’t have a CRM – or the option to create client portals – meaning you need separate software.

Often, you’ll find that these types of software integrate easily with the others you have in your agency.

A CRM System

Speaking of CRMs, many are available as standalone pieces of software. Your agency uses them to maintain a database of clients (and prospective clients) to help manage interactions. Typically, your sales and marketing departments use this software, which will have features to facilitate that use. For instance, a good CRM allows you to specify a client’s situation, such as whether they have an active project or if they’re a prospect. From there, sales and marketing teams can determine what types of communication to send.

However, there’s a common challenge when choosing a CRM:

Many struggle to find one that’s suitable for their agency.

In fact, 48% of sales leaders say the CRM they have now doesn’t do the job they need it to do. So, when searching for a CRM, look beyond the basics in terms of it being a database of clients. Focus on what it can do beyond that – does it integrate with other software and can you use it to create client portals?

Project Management Software

Every project your digital agency takes on requires management.

Take developing a website as an example. That involves multiple specialists. You need the designer, along with a developer to handle the coding. Depending on the client's requirements, you may also need content creators and search engine optimization specialists. What should be a straightforward project can spiral out of control if you’re not managing it correctly.

And that’s a common problem.

Around 70% of companies report having at least one failed project annually. Plus, only 64% of projects meet the goals specified during the initial scoping process.

Project management software helps a digital agency to avoid these failures. Typically, the software incorporates time-tracking, scheduling, and resource management tools, both for your people and your equipment. More advanced project management software may also allow you to create client portals and share files within the software.

Invoicing and Budgeting Software

Late payment is the scourge of digital agencies.

The problem also affects more companies than you may think, with 55% of businesses waiting on payments from the 2022-23 financial year. Of course, late payments have a terrible effect on your agency’s cash flow. You need the money you’re owed to invest in new projects and marketing. If that money isn’t coming in, your agency stalls.

Invoicing and budgeting covers the types of digital agency software that help you solve this problem. On the basic level, the software allows you to create branded invoices you can send to your clients. Get into the higher tiers of invoicing software and you get more features to prevent late payments. Automatic invoice sending. Notifications when a client is overdue. Even detailed reports that show your invoice status and the effect that your invoiced work has on your budget.

Service Provision Software

So far, the digital agency software types examined have all covered the management aspect of running an agency.

Service provision is all about the software you actually use to deliver your services.

The nature of these software packages is entirely dependent on your agency and the services it offers. For instance, a content creation agency may use a copy creation tool – such as SurferSEO – and may even leverage AI copy creators. For web design, tools like WordPress and the Adobe suite fall under this umbrella.

Think of this software as a necessary expense for you to provide your services to clients.

Finding the Best Software for Agency Management Success – Six Key Tips

It’s clear that “digital agency software” covers a fairly wide range of apps and software packages. That could be a challenge for some agency owners – how do you choose software that’s right for your business?

There’s no perfect strategy.

However, the tips shared here help you to analyze any agency software you’re considering so you can feel more confident in your choices.

Tip 1 – Start by Listing Your Pains

What isn’t working the way you need it to work in your agency?

That question is your starting point. The answers will reveal the pains you’re experiencing in your agency. For instance, you may not be getting paid on time because you have a manual invoicing system. Or you may be running overbudget – and over scope – on projects – leaving clients feeling unhappy. These problems ultimately affect your whole agency. You’re not as profitable as you should be due to invoicing issues. You’re running into friction with clients since you can’t manage their projects correctly.

Ultimately, if it’s something that hurts your agency, it’s a need you have to confront.

By listing your pains, you achieve two objectives.

First, you identify the type of software you need for your business. In the invoicing example, the obvious software might be an invoicing and billing solution. It may even be an all-in-one solution, especially if your pains stem from failing to link invoicing to actual work done.

Second, your pains become your checklist for the digital agency software you consider. If the package doesn’t heal the pain, it’s not worth your money.

Tip 2 – Compare Software Pricing and Features

Many of the software packages you consider operate the “Software as a Service,” (SaaS) business model. That means you pay a recurring fee – typically monthly – for access to the software. The problem for digital agencies is that they often end up overspending on this software. A staggering 90% of SaaS buyers are overpaying.

Overspending swallows up resources and cuts into your bottom line.

So, once you know your pain points, your next step is twofold.

Start by stacking those pains against the features offered by a digital agency software you’re considering. If the software solves the problem then great – it can go onto your shortlist. But that doesn’t mean you should jump straight into buying. Overpaying often happens because agencies invest in software that does what they need, along with a host of features they don’t require.

That leads to the second part of the step – weigh the price against what you need.

An all-singing and all-dancing software may come with an extensive list of features that your agency won’t use. You’ll also pay more for those features than you would for a stripped-back software that covers the bases you need it to cover. Think about value in the long term:

Is the tool worth what I’m paying now, and will it continue to show that worth in the future?

Tip 3 – Always Check the Reviews

Over two-thirds (67.4%) of online consumers read between one and six reviews before they commit to a purchase. Nearly a quarter (23.7%) read more than that, with 14.6% saying they’ll check out over 10 reviews.

Join the ranks of these picky consumers when choosing digital agency software.

Reviews are your tool for smashing through the marketing speak on a software’s website to get to the meat of what it offers. They come from the most unbiased sources you can find – existing customers who are sharing their experiences. So, they’re not influenced by the company selling the software, which obviously wants you to buy.

As for where to find these reviews, Google is often your best friend. If the software has a Google My Business page, use it to get a feel for what existing clients think. The same goes for social media pages – jump on and check the comments being made on posts.

You’re not just looking for customer feedback here. You also want to see how well the software provider responds to that feedback. After all, you know that things can go wrong with a service. But if the company tries to make good on mistakes – as you would – you can at least see it offers solid customer outreach.

Also, a word on testimonials shared by the software’s developer:

They’re useful, but they’re also shared because they’re glowing. You’ll need to dig deeper by looking at neutral sources if you want the full spectrum of customer opinions.

Tip 4 – Involve Key Stakeholders in the Decision-Making

As the agency owner, you may feel that the responsibility for choosing digital agency software falls on your shoulders alone.

That’s not the case.

The software you choose will be used throughout your agency. So, there are key stakeholders to consult before making your decision.

Consultation starts with anybody who’s above you in the agency. For an owner, that’s not a problem unless you have a board of directors to whom you answer. But even if you don’t have a board, you’ll want to involve executives or C-suite management in the decision. Your chief financial officer, for instance, will want to know the ins and outs of any invoicing software you choose.

Next up – employees.

These are the people who will use the software on a day-to-day basis. That’s even the case with an all-in-one agency management solution. Your people still need to use the software to track time, share files, and make tasks as complete. Give those people input into your selection process. After all, a digital agency software that isn’t adopted by your team is one that will be a money sink.

Finally, speak to your clients.

They may not use the software directly – unless you’re choosing a client portal – but they’ll be impacted by it. You likely won’t speak to them directly about the software you’re considering. Instead, talk to them about the issues they have working with your agency. Much as you considered your agency’s internal issues when you started your search, your client’s challenges could guide you to the right software.

Tip 5 – Create a Change Management Strategy

The introduction of any new software results in changes to how your agency does business.

That applies to all types of software in this article – whether service or agency management-related the software will transform how you do business.

Don’t underestimate the impact these changes can have on your agency. According to Gartner, around half of all company changes fail, with only 34% being unqualified successes. That’s a fairly poor ratio, which is why you need a strategy in place to help you manage the change.

Here are some quick tips on how to build that strategy:

  • Know (And Communicate) the “Why?” – “Why do we need this?” will likely be the first objection you hear to your new digital agency software. You need to have a clear answer – such as “It’ll help us get paid on time” – that you can communicate quickly.
  • Inform Your Employees – You’ve covered part of this base when getting employees involved in the software selection process. Keep going! Inform your employees about the implementation schedule and any training they’ll need to complete.
  • Emphasize the Opportunity – Sometimes, you may find that objections don’t come from the specific department that will use the software. They’ll come from elsewhere, such as departments that interact with those directly affected. Your goal is to showcase the opportunity for everybody. Communicate why improving one aspect of the agency with new software will positively impact all others. For instance, a new CRM can make it easier for your project managers to track client progress, as well as benefit sales and marketing.
  • Be The Role Model – The best way to encourage change is to be part of the change yourself. Show interest in your new software, even if you don’t need to use it. Act in alignment with the change – showcasing positivity surrounding it – to serve as a role model for your agency’s people.

Tip 6 – Trial Before You Buy

Even after following all of these tips, you may not feel certain that the digital agency software you’re considering is the right choice. That’s okay. There are tons of software options out there, so it’s natural to feel overwhelmed when making a decision.

Free trials are the answer. A trial period can help you answer questions that a software’s marketing doesn’t. They also give you a chance to familiarize yourself – and your people – with the software before you commit.

The Bonsai all-in-one agency management software offers a perfect example. Its free trial lasts for seven days, during which time you get unlimited access. After the trial ends, you’re prompted – but are under no obligation – to sign up for a paid package.

Take your time with these trials, giving each software you’re considering a chance to show its value. That means no running multiple trials at once – you’ll just confuse your people with that approach. Use the trial to its fullest before moving on to the next software. Create reports highlighting the pains the software solved – and any it failed to heal – and you’ll gain a better understanding of your options.

Find the Right Digital Agency Software

Every search for digital agency software starts with the same question:

What problems does my agency need to solve?

From that starting point, you determine the type of software that’s appropriate to your needs. Plus, you can build on your answers to identify specific processes or people issues that impact your service.

From there, it’s a case of putting in the time to properly research your options. A rushed decision is one that could lead you to investing in software that doesn’t meet your needs. Take your time – and engage your employees – as you build your shortlist and trial each software. After all, time spent well in the early phases ensures you don’t lose money by choosing an inefficient software package.

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