So the time has come to “break up” with your current marketing agency. Or perhaps your business has never worked with an agency, but has grown to the point where you need help with your marketing.
Hiring the best marketing agency is a bit like searching for Mr./Ms. Right. There are many potential partners out there – some are beautiful, some are intelligent, and some are emotionally unstable. But like any relationship, business or personal, a successful partnership is about fit.
Here are five key steps to hiring an agency that best fits your needs:
1) Do Some Soul Searching
Start the process by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are your reasons for hiring an agency?
- What is your end goal? Sales? Customer acquisition? Re-branding?
- Who is your target audience?
- What action do you want your audience to take?
- What type of marketing agency is best for your business? Do you need a full-service agency, or do you need help with a specific discipline like website design, corporate identity or package design?
- Have you worked with an agency before? What went well? What frustrated you?
- How much time and resources can you commit to working with an agency?
- What is your budget?
Think through your pain points and business goals before you enter into discussions with marketing agency candidates.
2) Find Your Candidates
Now that you’ve identified why you need an agency and what you need them to help you accomplish, let the search for the best marketing agency begin. You’ll certainly want to Google some search terms related to digital marketing, your locale, and any other specific competencies you’re seeking in an agency, but take the time to dig a little deeper.
- Talk to your network – friends, advisors, mentors – and find out which agencies they’ve interviewed and hired, and which ones were good.
- Attend local marketing association functions and ask your colleagues for their recommendations.
- Search within LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Communities and other online forums using keywords related to your industry, and look for fantastic marketing agencies that contribute their expertise.
- Select multiple agencies to pitch you. Two to three is optimal; more than five will muddy the waters with too many variables, making the process difficult to manage.
3) Prepare Your Interview Questions
Vetting a great marketing agency is similar to interviewing a prospective job candidate. You’ll want to ask probing questions that help uncover domain expertise and potential fit for your organization.
- Do they have domain expertise in Inbound Marketing, Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, Branding, Design, or whichever area(s) you need help with?
- Do they have demonstrable experience with clients similar to you?
- Ask to see case studies of their work with clients that demonstrate measurable ROI.
- Will you be a big fish in their small client pond, or the other way around?
- Are the people who pitch you the same people you’ll be working with? Or will the biz dev folks hand you off to junior staffers once you’ve signed on?
- Ask about their process – specifically, how they formulate and implement a strategy for the client.
- How do they charge? Are their costs transparent and easy to understand? Are they flexible to ensure that your projects are delivered within your agreed budget?
4) Meet Your Candidates – In Person, and More Than Once
Conference calls have their place, but there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting when evaluating a new marketing agency for best fit. Visit the agency and meet the team in their element, where you can get a real feel for their personality, as well as how they work collaboratively. Likewise, invite them to your office, and let them get a sense of your business and your culture. Pay attention to the following:
- Do they really listen?
- Do they ask the right questions?
- When you ask questions, do they back up their answers with facts and obviously researched data? Or are their responses vague?
- Is there a simpatico connection with your potential account leader / team members? Do they seem to get your business, and are you on the same page about reasonable goals that marketing might help you achieve?
- Do they really want your business? A good marketing agency will want to establish a strong relationship with you, as their reputation is on the line. Look for signs that the agency is truly aligning its strengths with your business objectives and not saying “yes” to your questions just to get your business.
- Schedule a follow-up meeting if you need more data or have additional questions after your team confers following the initial meeting.
5) Do Your Due Diligence
Now the ball is in your court:
- Ask the agency for references; then actually call them and ask probing questions. If this marketing agency is truly fantastic, their references should be more than happy to chat with you.
- Get input from everyone on your team who will be working with the agency.
- Marketing has multiple disciplines; most agencies are not equally good at all of them. Evaluate whether the agency has strengths that help you in the areas where you need them, and whether your team complements theirs.
- Don’t rush the process. An excellent agency relationship is a combination of skills and chemistry. Ask as many follow-up questions as you need to. And leverage your network to learn what others know about the agencies you’re interviewing.
Finding the right agency can truly empower your business; selecting the wrong one can cause setbacks that waste precious time and resources. Taking the time to do it right is well worth the effort.