By Dolly Howard
Selecting an inbound marketing agency is just like dating. And just as some women fall for the slick and charming bad boys, the most common mistake companies make is to fall for a slick agency presentation without taking the time to understand the character, quality, and many nuances of the agency. And although you can divorce your ineffective marketing agency, this process is often not without days of headache and frustration while still partnered with your bad choice and seeing pitiful results. So make the right choice from the get-go. Ask yourself the tough questions before you sign the dotted line:
Get to know them the inbound marketing agency
Don’t fall in lust at first sight.
1. Do you jive with the people at the agency and the company culture? In other words, are you culturally like-minded? Keep in mind, you don’t want your client-agency relationship to be like Jenko and Zook in the latest movie 22 Jump Street; you don’t want to be so alike that its as if you two are twins separated at birth. Just like in the movie, sameness breeds banality and would defeat the purpose of hiring an agency to contribute fresh ideas. Nonetheless, you want to ensure that you can work smoothly together.
2. Do the representatives sound intelligent and creative? Can the person presenting the reports articulately convey and interpret the information. What are their marketing experiences? You don’t want interns to be doing the work or new graduates with little experience and have only taken one marketing course to be proposing the strategies.
3. Do they demonstrate a good general understanding of your industry? The last thing you want is for you to be halfway into a campaign and then realize that the buyer persona you are targeting is wrong. Or that the keywords are not searched by your target.
4. Are the representatives passionate about what they do and the company they work for? A happy worker is a productive worker, plain and simple.
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Do they walk the talk?
Just like a person’s online dating profile, some inbound agencies can be full of misrepresentations.
5. Does the agency practice what they preach? Admit it, if you’ve ever done online dating, you’ve also done a little cyber stalking to check out the prospect before the first date. So why not do some research into the inbound marketing agency’s online presence? Google is an amazing and meticulous cyber stalking tool. (So I’ve heard. Not that I’ve ever cyber stalked any of my online dates before in my life.)
How were their past relationships?
A strong indication of the potential outcome of a relationship is to look at the past to see the patterns. This is also applicable to choosing an inbound marketing agency.
6. What was the longest time they’ve worked with a client? If most of their clients have only lasted one project and there are no clients who have renewed their contract…this is a serious red flag. You could be in bed with a serial dater in terms of marketing agencies.
7. Ask for client references. A good inbound marketing agency will readily have several lined up for you to connect with.
8. Read their case studies and pay particular attention to those that are similar to your company/industry or have a similar scope. By looking at the case studies that relate to your company, you’ll have a better picture of the agency’s understanding of your industry, challenges, and needs.
Are they honest?
Honesty is a must-have in any type of relationship—romantic or professional.
9. Is the agency straightforward about how they bill for its work? Do they share the details of the billed hours for their work?
10. Does the person you primarily work with speak her mind when asked about her opinion rather than say what she thinks you want to hear? For me at least, I feel that if someone tells me “no, this is not the right direction to go” or “this is not within our capabilities”, the frankness and honesty wins my trust any day over a yes-man.
11. Do the tactics recommended seem ethical and honest? If the suggested marketing ploys seem deceitful or misleading, what’s to prevent them from being underhanded with you?
Are they in it to win it?
Typically when you are in a serious relationship, there is typically an end goal in mind such as marriage. Transfer this thinking to marketing—do they have an end goal in mind for you?
12. Can they clearly define your goals? One of the first questions any decent inbound marketing agency will ask is “What are your goals?”
13. Do they understand your challenges and needs?
Do they know what it takes to get to the finish line?
Working with an agency whose sole ambition is to execute top of the funnel marketing is like dating a commitment-phobe—your leads go nowhere.
15. Do they have a clear path to conversion? This is what bridging marketing and sales is all about. They should not only focus on top of the funnel marketing, but should have a big picture approach. You want an agency that is well-rounded and can execute targeted content to guide your leads across that finish line.
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Are they creative?
When the honeymoon phase fades in a relationship, you want a partner that can suggest new ideas, new places to visit, new things to try to make things interesting and avoid the disease of same ol’ same ol’. A good marketing agency will not let your campaigns go stale.
16. Is the agency strong in strategy? Has the agency suggested good ideas that you had not previously considered? In the marketing proposal, does it focus on meeting all of your needs rather than your budget? How do they propose to reach your target audience? High-level strategy should be instilled in every inbound marketing agency, but unfortunately this is not always the case.
Are they lazy and slow?
Sorry, but most sane individuals are not attracted to couch potatoes. You want a partner that will wash the dishes when they say they will, am I right? You should expect the same promptness in keeping promises with your chosen marketing agency as you would in any relationship.
17. How efficient is this agency? Do they use marketing automation software tools? Like it or not, software tools are a critical component of successful inbound marketing.
18. How long have they been using the software? Time should be spent on actual work and not project management or learning a new software. These tools should make things faster and simpler, not harder.
Are they interested in continual self-improvement?
Men and women alike appreciate a partner that has some life ambition who works to achieve those goals. Let’s apply the same quality to inbound marketing agencies:
19. Do they stay up to date with marketing? What ongoing training do they provide their staff? How do they ensure they stay current on the latest and greatest marketing tactics? Knowing the answer gives you an indication of how progressive the agency will be.
20. How do they apply the new changes, test out new processes, and integrate new thinking into client work?
Are they good communicators?
In every relationship book, you will be certain to find the key to a strong marriage is communication. This is no different for your relationship with your chosen inbound marketing agency.
21. Do they know the statuses of the projects and when they will be completed? Or do they stutter and give vague approximations heavy with excuses?
22. Have they been prompt in returning your calls or emails during the review process?
23. Who do you call if you have a problem?
24. How often will you and your primary contact touch base?
25. What tools or resources do they use to share information? You want to make sure that the tools used to manage approvals and communication is user-friendly.
Define the relationship.
A healthy relationship will continue to grow. Growth comes from regular evaluations and improvements. Same goes for your marketing campaigns.
26. How do they determine the success of a campaign?
28. How often will you receive a report?
29. Are the analytics report presented in a simple and intelligible manner?
30. Do they reassess the effectiveness of the campaigns and offer suggestions to improve or reinvent the strategy for increased conversion rates?
Choosing a lifelong partner is a critical decision and deserves extensive time and effort to determining the rightness of the match. That same exhaustive selection process should also be applied to choosing an inbound marketing agency. Don’t get in bed with the wrong agency too quickly and later regret your choice having spent a vast amount of money and time.
What other questions do you ask before signing with an inbound marketing agency?