After inhabiting the Digital Marketing space for 18+ years and enjoying the privilege of being on both sides of the aisle — first as a RFP lead at a large organization in charge of awarding $30MM+ of business, and later as owner of a digital marketing service company at Bob Tripathi & Team, I uncovered some best practices when it comes to partnering with the right digital marketing services company. Handpicking the right agency is akin to dating– you want to choose the right people to enter into a relationship! This means you have to ask the right questions during the initial discovery phase, or what we call in dating parlance, the initial “courtship.”
As it stands, the Digital Marketing industry has matured as an integral part of marketing as a function for 15+ years now, so that means quite a few agencies out there are doing great work. At the same time, many others have worked for a few years in the industry (or as freelancers), then opened their own agencies as the barrier to entry is minimal in this industry. This means it is imperative that organizations and marketing leaders ask the right questions to separate the wheat from the chaff. After all, you want to find an agency partner right for you!
Here are few initial points to consider when choosing the right digital marketing partner:
1. How hungry are they for your business?
Your prospective digital marketing suitor should be hungry for your business. How good are their follow-ups and what specific questions or resources are they taking during each of their follow-ups? Is it only their sales rep who is following up or are you seeing other folks from their team also reaching out? As a company, you want to ensure that an agency really is hungry for your business as this will determine how much attention they will pay to your business. You do not want your company to be just another “account” at their agency.
2. How well do they understand your business?
This is a critical piece of the initial discovery process as you want your digital marketing agency to understand your business. In your first hour of meeting them, you will know if they understand your customer lifecycle, acquisition channels, customer experience, etc. Additionally, see if they can share some insights about your business or give anecdotes of another company in a different industry. Essentially, you want to measure how well they know or are trying to understand your business. And of course, how willing they are to learn about your business, too.
3. Do your vision and company goals align with their philosophies, best practices, past successes with clients, etc.
As a business leader, certain philosophies are non-negotiable. You want the agency partner to match up with similar philosophies about business and marketing, but also at an altruistic level as to how they conduct themselves. Similarly, you want to test the agency as to how aligned they are with your organizational goals – are they in a growth mindset or are they one of the “big box” agencies.
4. Apply the Guy Kawasaki Shopping Center Test to your agency?
This is a classic test that Guy Kawasaki recommends for future hires for your company, but applies just as well when looking for a digital marketing partner. After all, you will be spending a lot of time with your digital agency. In your case, it may not be a shopping center test so maybe it could be a “dinner test” to determine if you like spending time with their team. https://guykawasaki.com/the_art_of_recr-2/
5. How is their big-picture thinking?
With constant innovations in the digital marketing space, you want to test how much vision or big picture thinking your agency brings to the table. If you are talking to a big box agency, then how many of their “core team” is well versed in this. You have to think, ‘what happens if this expert leaves?’ With smaller agencies, you want to test the founder’s big-picture thinking as smaller agencies are very founder driven. If the founder has big-picture thinking then their team will be similar or at least can be molded according to the founder’s big-picture philosophies.
6. How well do they communicate marketing, branding concepts to you?
Are they pitching you with a strict web development background with marketing tactics thrown in or a marketing background with light on customer persona, branding etc. – Increasingly, we see the “Digital Marketing Agency” space is crowded as folks with developer backgrounds are adding “SEO services” and branding themselves as a Digital Agency and, of course, the other way around. So you want to evaluate agencies who have a holistic view of the space and has done work in branding, marketing personas, customer experience, and the works. Also, are they able to show results from the tactical point-of-view like increasing leads, lowering CPL’s or converting more visitors into shoppers? Again, as an organization, you want to determine if they can help you in the short run but can also grow as your business grows.
7. Are they ready to have some skin-in-the-game when working with your company?
Most agencies worth their salt provide some sort of guarantee as part of their engagement. It could be either increased traffic, new customers, leads or a decrease in CPC’s. Whatever that metric is, but having an agency provide some sort of guarantee tells you they are in for the long haul and are confident about their work. There are also extreme cases where agencies have a part of the sale or have some sort of equity build into their pricing model. Again, press your prospective agency to come up with some sort of a guarantee as that will help you determine how confident they are on what they bring to the table.
8. How well do they mesh with your company culture?
This is one of those intangibles you simply cannot measure with data. At the same time, this aligns closely with their philosophies and values. As an organization, you want to see how well they stack against your company culture and values like collaboration, doing the right thing, compassion, integrity and so forth. I am sure most companies list these. It’s your job to find the agency that closely matches your culture.
To qualify how they stack up, investigate how the digital marketing company you hire plans to use digital tactics to drive desired outcomes. Ask plenty of questions and be clear about your objectives. This is easier said than done as some leaders don’t know exactly what to ask. However, a good outside source serves as a consultant who listens to your goals and objectives, then puts strategy and metrics in place to meet those desired outcomes. Your job is to find out how well they communicate and execute. Like most things in life you want to find an agency that is just right for you!