Pursuing a partnership with an inbound marketing agency is a big decision for your company, and it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Keeping in mind the fact that all agencies are not created equal, you’ll want to be sure you choose the agency that’s the best fit to meet your company’s needs. When deciding on which agency to partner with, we recommend working backward. Start with the goals you’re looking to achieve, and research agencies that have experience in those areas. Keep an eye out for the agency’s group of talent, specializations, customer satisfaction scores (reviews), and more.
What Is a Marketing Agency?
A marketing agency is a company that is hired by other organizations to assist with marketing needs. Some companies have an in-house marketing department but hire an agency to help scale their existing marketing initiatives. Others lack a dedicated department altogether and hire an agency to get their marketing efforts off the ground. Some organizations fall in the middle, hiring an agency to help generate demand, leads, customers ... the list goes on.
Hiring an agency to handle your marketing initiatives allows key stakeholders to focus on the business itself, so what does a marketing agency do?
What Does a Marketing Agency Do?
There are thousands of marketing agencies out there. Some specialize in a few key areas while others are full-service agencies.
A full-service agency offers comprehensive strategies spread across multiple digital platforms. For example, here at SmartBug®, we offer inbound marketing, e-commerce marketing, sales enablement, paid media, public relations, web design, and more. Depending on the needs of your business, heavily research the agency’s specializations to determine if they can help your company.
Pro tip: See if the agency features case studies or client testimonials on their website for real-world examples.
Questions to Ask Before Your Search
Think of choosing an inbound marketing agency as if you were building a new home. Before laying the foundation, you need to carefully evaluate the elements that factor into the build.
To make sure you’re aware of those foundational elements, here are some questions to discuss internally with your team before beginning the decision-making process:
1. What are the current needs of my business?
With your team, discuss concerns or obstacles that your business is currently facing. Make a list of any critical elements that are hindering overall success. Be sure to rank this list in order of most to least critical.
2. What are the levels of expertise my team brings to my business? What skill sets am I looking for in a strategic marketing partner? Am I looking for a strategic marketing partner or someone to execute?
Making a list of areas of your team’s expertise, skill sets, and weaknesses will help you gain a better understanding of what you need to look for in a partner.
3. What are my inbound marketing goals and expectations? What do I hope to achieve and on what timeline?
By answering this question, you’ll ensure that clear communication is set forth moving forward. How can you expect an agency to understand your goals if you don’t have any set? Evaluate your current marketing strategy and assess what you can do better.
4. What elements do I need to be sure potential agency partners have?
Like building a home, evaluating your “must-haves” for potential partners is important. Not all homes come with dishwashers, and not all inbound agencies will be able to check your highest-priority boxes.
If you think it’s time to hire an inbound marketing agency, you can also keep an eye out for these signs.
What to Look For in an Inbound Marketing Agency
With a plan in place, your team can now confidently begin an evaluation of potential marketing agencies. During this process, your team will want to be sure to ask a few essential questions.
Here are the most important evaluating criteria you’ll want to review in potential agency partners:
1. What are some of the marketing tools the agency uses to provide services to my business? What software systems are in place to help further understand my marketing efforts?
Although the answers to this question will vary from one agency to another, any inbound marketing agency should be able to provide you with some of the tools and software systems it has in place to help clients stay successful.
A sample inbound marketing agency toolkit:
2. What is the agency’s client retention rate?
Client-agency relationships may end for a number of reasons—financial instability, internal shifts of power, or unrealistic goals, to name just a few. Though an agency’s ability to keep partners is important, not all relationships are the right fit.
As you seek to understand agencies’ client retention rates, know that not all partnerships are a great fit, but that having a stable number of relationships is an important indicator of the success of a potential agency.
3. What are a few ways that the agency uses inbound marketing to help meet my goals?
An agency’s comprehensive understanding of inbound marketing plays a vital role in the success of your business. An agency that is only providing you with top-of-the-funnel marketing will undoubtedly see little conversion success, therefore unable to impact the bottom line. Inbound marketing means finding ways to strategically attract and maintain potential buyers at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
4. What are the agency’s areas of expertise? What does the agency do best, and what appears to be its weaknesses?
There is always room for opportunity and growth in a business. Asking about strengths and weaknesses will both reveal transparency and provide you with an understanding of how this business can help you. You’ll want to choose an inbound marketing agency that has a comprehensive toolkit with multiple areas of expertise to contribute to the complete inbound marketing “package.”
In addition, you’ll want to evaluate particular industries that the agency is known for excelling in. If an agency only focuses on one particular industry or area of interest, it could be a cause for concern, especially with potential competitors. You’ll want to find an agency that has experience in a particular area but also has a broad understanding of several areas.
5. How creative is the inbound agency?
If the agency provides a list of clients on its website, take a look to see examples of digital marketing campaigns that it has provided to clients. You should also look through the website to evaluate resources, videos, and other media.
Is the agency creative? Does its approach provide value to potential clients? If you can’t find any projects online, consider asking for examples during a discussion.
6. How well do they market their own business?
Do your homework! If the agency in question hasn’t posted on social media in two months, this is certainly a potential red flag. The way you market your business is a reflection of how you will care for customers.
7. What do goals and metrics mean to them?
One of the best things you can do during your evaluation process is to ask the agency to provide you with a sample report of how it tracks metrics and goals for clients (if the agency hasn’t already offered such a report). Knowing how the agency evaluates its efforts will be a good indicator of what you can expect after signing.
8. Do they stay up to date on trends in the marketing industry?
In the world of digital marketing, changes happen rapidly. Having an agency that is dedicated to staying updated on the world of marketing is important. Ask a potential agency what it does to stay updated in the marketing world. Good answers include reading marketing blogs, participating in regular training sessions, and attending conferences and webinars.
How to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency That Specializes in Inbound Marketing
This is your opportunity to evaluate your final choices and find the right fit for your business—just as you would before purchasing a home. During the final stages of choosing an inbound marketing agency, you’ll want to be sure that what appears to be a good option for your business is really as great as it seems!
Here are a few final questions you’ll want to ask yourself before signing any contracts:
1. What will the onboarding process look like?
Understanding what this process is like will help you set expectations for both parties. What can you expect in the first 30 days? 60 days?
2. Does the agency have good reviews? Do team members appear to be happy? What are clients saying?
Ensuring you’ve done your research on a potential partner is critical. What do the company’s reviews on sources such as Facebook or Google look like? Has it won any industry awards? Do customers appear to be happy?
Be sure to check job review sites like Glassdoor to see what those who work or have worked with the agency are saying. If the agency appears to have few to no reviews or you see a lot of negativity, then chances are this new partnership comes with potential risks.
In addition, consider asking the agency if you can speak with current clients. An interview can reveal a lot about an agency and help provide you with tips about what working with this partner will be like.
3. How does the agency handle urgent situations?
We all hope that we won’t experience a “digital crisis” and won’t need to reach someone after hours, but things happen. Hire an agency that has your interests in mind.
You also want to work with an agency that can help your business shift your messaging so you avoid sounding tone-deaf when the unexpected happens in the wider world. Look for an agency that can coach you on how to handle delicate situations.
Next Stop: Agency Partnership
When making the important business decision to hire an agency, evaluate the needs of your business and have a clear understanding of the criteria an agency will need to meet. Understand that choosing the right inbound marketing agency isn’t always an easy feat, but don’t be afraid to ask the right questions that will help you find the yin to your yang.
This post was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated since.
About the author
Aubreigh Blair is a Sr. Director of Revenue Operations and Planning for SmartBug. After being introduced to HubSpot in 2014, she began implementing the inbound methodology for both B2B and B2C clients. Aubreigh has experience in a variety of industries including SaaS, financial services, manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, and senior living. Today, she strategizes and implements operational efficiencies to align internal teams, with the ultimate goal of driving revenue growth. Read more articles by Aubreigh Blair.