Digital marketing is complicated. And as if that were not difficult enough, new tools and features keep popping up. How are you supposed to stay on top of everything? How can you learn which tools to use and which features to avoid because they don’t generate the right results? Those are difficult questions and there are no simple answers. However, if you have a good agency that will help you navigate through the rough waters of digital marketing, you are going to be OK. You need an agency you can depend on. That’s rather obvious. But how do you know which one to choose? Even better: How can you decide which one is exactly right for your business?
Choosing the right agency is crucial because you’re not just choosing an agency – you are choosing a partner that will help you achieve your goals. A bad agency can squander your budget and even negatively affect your branding. This is something you want to avoid at all cost. But how do you do that? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers.
Working in an agency gives me an opportunity to discover what different partners need and want from an agency. Furthermore, talking to them gives me insight into what works and what doesn’t. I’m sharing what I have learned in the past decade to help you find the best partner for your business. We’ve had the opportunity to start some great partnerships, but we’ve also had some failed attempts. And that’s OK. Each failed partnership was an opportunity to learn and grow. After a careful analysis of our past and current partnerships, we’ve discovered there are 3 major things that will make or break a partnership. We always bring these things up when talking to a new potential partner, because they need to find the answers before entering into any kind of partnership with an agency.
- You need to know what your business needs, what you want to achieve and in what timeframe. How much money you’re willing to invest, how much testing you’re willing to do, and how many/which changes to your product/service or even business you’re willing to make. Not defining these things will haunt you later – it will most likely delay your project because neither you nor the agency will have a clear path ahead. This can lead to wasted time, lots of extra hours and irrelevant activities, misunderstandings, general dissatisfaction, and end of cooperation. In our experience: It takes about 6 months to get to know our partners and really understand their business, and to establish cooperation that is mutually enjoyable. If you’re not going to do everything you can in the first few months to get this partnership to succeed, the project is not worth pursuing.
- You need to decide how much information you’re willing to share with your agency. If you only want to share what is on a “need-to-know basis”, then you really shouldn’t expect that your agency will become your trusted partner. The less you share, the less impressive the cooperation is going to be. But if you decide to share pieces of information that are usually not shared, that has the potential to spark new ideas, design new tests, and generate new approaches to marketing than can bring about the change you want.
- You need to ask yourself what kind of client-agency relationship you are looking for. If you are just looking for an agency that will do operational tasks for you, you will find one pretty quickly. There are many agencies out there that can do the job. But if you are looking for a strategic partner that will help you develop your business, you have a difficult task at hand. In this case, it is not only important that the agency can execute, it is also necessary that the agency can think outside the box, can strategize, and is willing to test and learn with you. It is equally important that you feel you’ll enjoy working with them. After all, you are not hiring an agency, but a culture and people that will dictate the kind of relationship you will have.
If you are in search of a new partner, here is a list of 10 things to check. It will help you decide what kind of partnership you want. It should also help you get the answers you need to make the right decision:
1. Get to know the team
You can meet the team that you are going to work with. Come to the office and hang out with them. It will give you a sense of what you can expect. If the team has a diverse background, is motivated, committed to making a change and is having fun doing it, this might be THE place to generate out-of-the-box ideas.
2. They want to learn everything about your business
Are they asking you tough questions? Do they want to know more than you think they should? Just sign an NDA and go with it. You are looking for an agency that is not afraid to propose changes to your product/service or to the way you address your target group or conduct parts of your business. They see businesses operating in different ways all the time and they have the chance to compare businesses… It gives them the knowledge you might not have. If you are looking for an agency (your first agency or a substitute for the current one), you are probably doing that because you’re not happy with the way things are right now. You should commit to doing things differently.
3. Measure and evaluate
Obviously, you want to measure the results of every activity because you want to know how you are doing, which activities bring positive ROI, and which activities you should drop. And a good agency must do the same – measure how every activity is performing and report on their actions. Just ask them how they are doing this for their partners? Ask them for samples of such reports. You might as well give them examples of your past campaigns and ask for their feedback. You’ll get a very good idea of what you can expect.
4. They want your feedback
Ask them how they are going to make sure they are doing a good job. It’s not just about giving you the results or the ROI you want. It’s also about asking for feedback on all aspects of your partnership: How happy are you with the people you work with? Is communication good? Is responsiveness satisfactory? Are they helping you with your challenges or are they dismissive? Every agency wants to know how they are doing, but only a few will actually ask. They cherish feedback because they understand it will help improve their service and delivery.
5. Always innovate
They will have ideas for your digital activities as soon as they get input from you. They should be suggesting new tools to test, new channels to use, or activities to better utilize the current marketing setup. Do not be afraid of change. You should consider every proposal and test out as many as you can. You will either win or learn. Neither option should be perceived as bad. The only thing that is bad is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.
6. Fresh perspective
It’s convenient when an agency has the right industry experiences. But don’t turn an agency down just because they don’t have any previous experience in your industry. Ask them to give you a plan to approach a new industry – you might hear something new. Using what they have learned on other projects and being new to this topic could give them a new perspective. Being too involved in the industry sometimes clouds your thinking and ability to innovate.
7. They know how to market themselves
You got caught up in the agency’s marketing activities. Logic dictates: If they can successfully market themselves, they will be able to successfully market your business too.
8. Every mistake should be a lesson
Ask them about their failures. Every agency will love to talk about success, but only a few will talk about their failures. You are looking for an agency that is not afraid of failure and can learn from it. This says a lot about the agency’s character and shows honesty.
9. Knowledge is crucial
They must transfer it to you. The more you learn, the better you can cooperate. Ask them how they are sharing the knowledge. Is their plan to constantly educate you or to just deliver reports and answers to your questions? There is a big difference between an agency answering your questions and delivering the knowledge beforehand so you don’t have to ask questions in the first place. Ask your agency how they plan to do this and it will reveal the kind of service you can expect.
10. You are on the same page
Don’t hire an agency just because of their brand or history. Those things are in the past. You need to be looking forward. Your thinking regarding a new trend, goals, tools and culture should be aligned.
Every business has its own priorities and is looking for different things in a new partnership. When you’re choosing an agency, you’re not the only one doing the choosing. The agency is choosing as well. If an agency is interested in you, you might be picking up on these things:
- You have a feeling they are going to put your business first and always push activities that bring value to your business. When you suggest activities that are not relevant, the agency tells it like it is.
- They are transparent. Several questions are provided above to test this. Just don’t forget: You get what you give.
- Case studies and examples of activities show they have the technical skills needed for the job. It’s about being first and innovative in your approach to marketing. If your agency is on top, that means you are on top.
- An agency must keep its promises and be dependable from the start – if you’re not getting what you were promised before you sign a contract, things are most likely not going to change after you sign the contract.
- The agency’s goal should be to educate you. It is in the agency’s best interest to give you knowledge and expand your horizons to better understand marketing.
One more thing:
Did they pass “the beer test”? Simply ask yourself if you would want to hang out with the agency’s team after work? Remember, it’s not just about delivering results. It is also about personal relations and understanding each other. You enjoy the cooperation more when you have a partner you like. Being happy makes you more engaged and this leads to better and more innovative ideas. It is a win-win situation.