Specialist vs generalist. What if you didn’t have to choose?

The debate over a specialist versus generalist B2B marketing approach is a long running one.

On the one hand, there’s the argument that a specialist brings unique expertise that can’t be found elsewhere. They provide a laser-eyed focus on a particular skillset, which is undoubtedly true. Yet this comes at the cost of needing a wide range of those specialists on tap, which is inevitably complex and expensive to manage. Imagine, for example, that you recruited separate specialists in creative, content, production, digital platforms, data and performance – at both a strategic and operational level.

On the other hand, there is a generalist approach where knowledge and skills are available across a variety of different fields; the agency offers those services under one roof; and it can potentially provide a broader, more global view of your B2B marketing. Here you will often hear a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ argument levelled at the approach.

Should it really be such a stark choice between specialist and generalist? Since one of the two alone is unlikely to provide the exact fit for your marketing needs, we at Referro like to think of ourselves as a ‘specialized generalist’. This means having the ability to see the big picture in a marketing sense, as well as being able to put together the specialized skills, expertise and technical know-how that are necessary to run cohesive, personalized and effective B2B campaigns for the digital age.

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Being a specialized generalist will always require having core disciplines at the heart of the business – creative, web development, production, strategy, planning and sales support to name just a few. But that doesn’t mean a good B2B agency should limit itself to just those services. The key here is develop strong partnerships with specialists – and prove those relationships really work – in more nuanced areas of expertise such as machine learning, analytics or SEO. We should also not forget that a ‘generalist’ B2B agency will in any case have gained specialized industry experience over the years – simply by working with similar clients in similar industries and dealing with similar marketing and technical challenges – this in itself can prove to be a very valuable knowledge base.

We’ve made the analogy before that B2B marketing can be seen like an engine which requires many different moving parts to run effectively. To continue that analogy, you wouldn’t expect an engine builder to design and fabricate every single nut, bolt, piston and belt that goes into an engine; in the same way it is difficult, if not impossible, for any one marketing company to bring an inexhaustible list of competencies in-house.

It’s better, therefore, to look for a single marketing partner who can provide the cohesion, accountability and broader perspectives that you get by combining the best of specialist and generalist worlds to reduce complexity. They should offer breadth through a wide range of skills and experiences gained over the years; plus depth, provided by specialized partnerships which ensure skillsets are always evolving in line with new technology approaches. Even better if that breadth and depth can be seamlessly extended across the world when required: which for Referro, as part of the BBN global network of independent agencies, is a given.

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If you’re interested in how we use marketing technology to drive sales, have a chat with Gerard.

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