Finding the right agencies to grow with
Imagine you could find the ideal marketing agency that created ongoing business growth with little input on your behalf. How good would your life be?
With the right agency you could continue to reinvest a share of the extra profits they would help to generate. So that every month you spend overseeing the development of your business would result in increased sales figures and bring you closer to that extra holiday each year, or even early retirement.
Table of Contents
- Why hiring the right digital marketing agency is key to your success
- 5 questions to ask your next potential marketing agency
- 5 More questions to consider asking
- 5 questions to ask yourself
Instead, you spend all of your available time learning how to use new tools or how to do other people’s jobs. You’re pretty much doing whatever it takes to make sure the sales keep coming and your staff has everything they need just to keep things afloat.
Many new opportunities you uncover on the way are not taken and new potential markets are not monetised.
What went wrong?
Of course, you know it doesn’t have to be this way:
There is a way you can achieve ongoing growth without burning yourself out. And it can be quite straightforward if you know how to get the right types of people fighting your battles for you.
Indeed, by hiring people who know more about their specialist subject than you do, and using your experience to steer the ship, many of the pieces can just fall into place.
Here’s the thing… having heard countless nightmare stories from our clients about their previous marketing agencies, we have been able to identify dozens of failures, lurking secrets and even nasty tricks employed by those who are meant to be on your side.
To be sure that your business isn’t being held back by agencies or freelancers that fail to live up to your expectations, read on…
Because ongoing business growth is a reality for countless brands – and could be for you too.
In this article, you will learn…
- Why asking about their marketing service rates isn’t even a question in this article
- Why getting you to the top of Google is the last thing you want to hear
- How signing up to a big digital agency for a reasonable fee can really backfire
- How to spot a rogue agency that is happy to suck your business dry
- What you need to know about yourself before you hire anybody
- Oh, and why your marketer’s hat can tip you off that he is a pillock!
Why hiring the right digital marketing agency is key to your success
Some businesses prefer to do their marketing in-house. They get as far as they can with the skill-set available from their founder or staff and recruit more specialists as budget allows. For many firms, this model works a treat and for others, this strategy is flawed for a number of reasons. But we will come to that soon enough below…
Right now small and large businesses do well to survive the rapid changes the internet and globalisation brings. New opportunities and risks surface every day and only the savvy enjoy the spoils.
Actually no. Many savvy businesses don’t survive. Many aren’t even aware of the opportunities they are missing, in part due to lack of specialist insight and diligence.
From time to time, as a business owner or marketing manager, you might require the services of an outside professional marketing consultant or agency – especially when you are looking to tap into a new market, exploit a new marketing channel or attract new customers with a new product or fresh brand image.
In these scenarios, the success of the marketing campaign will largely depend on the capabilities of the people you have working on it. As such, you need to ensure that you hire not the best marketing agency but the one that fits your needs the best.
But how do you do this? Well, that can be quite straightforward. You can
- Create a shortlist of potential providers by asking other firms who they recommend and searching the web to see who helps your competitors and other successful businesses
- Filter out those that don’t fit your business – it could be that some are based in another country, have a waiting list or make a point of only taking on clients of a certain size
- Gather contact details – then create a generic email in which you introduce your business, its main needs and your marketing goals
- Reach out to those agencies – and start a conversation about their services and rates, what they could do to help market your products and services
- Start to ask them some more specific questions – and make notes about what they say about their agency, services and results
And so, below we’ll look at what are possibly 5 of the most important questions you should ask your potential new marketing agency – as well as 15 types of agencies you should be cautious of.
Obviously, before you get too deep into the conversation you need to know how much they charge for their services.
Reviewing their pricing model and rates will often be the first thing that disqualifies them from your list. However, bear in mind that the most expensive agencies are by no means the best. See our post on cognitive biases in marketing.
At this early stage, you should make sure a prospective agency can outline what their fee will get you in return (tangible deliverables as well as projected sales and ROI). You should also remember to ask about any services that might cost extra, and if there are any “hidden” extras or requirements you need to be aware of before you commit to one agency over another.
Many of Albion’s marketing agency clients tell us they wish they had asked their previous agency certain questions sooner rather than later. The below considerations will hopefully help you avoid some of these difficulties.
5 questions to ask your next potential marketing agency
1 – What digital marketing services can you offer us?
The agency may specialise in search marketing such as SEO and Pay Per Click Adwords advertising or may generate the most revenue for their clients via conversion rate optimisation. If you need other services, such as social media management, web design, email marketing or real-world marketing (such as organising events, manning stalls at conferences and product launches), maybe it would be wise to hire them as and when they are needed – and just for the services you know they can deliver on.
For example, if you are looking to improve the brand image of your business, you will need a marketing agency that specialises in branding and public relations. On the other hand, if you want to increase the number of customers, you need an agency that specialises in search marketing and conversion optimisation, and other customer acquisition marketing strategies.
Check out their online case studies to get a real picture of what they do well, not the list of services on their site.
- Agencies that offer every service under the sun – They keep adding more and more digital marketing services to their website’s service page list or even create a page for each. But do they have the case studies and results to back it up? Do they have enough staff to ensure they have more than one specialist in each field?
- Agencies that offer the wrong services – This one is so common it would be funny if it wasn’t a flaw some businesses fall for. Web design agencies often realise far too late that people only want a new site every few years – so they start to also offer marketing services such as SEO and PPC, which they don’t know much about. (To the dismay of professional marketers who often blame web designers for making their industry seem scammy.)
- Agencies that have 10 services but only 5 client case studies – How on Earth did they manage to provide so many different services for so few clients? Either they encourage every client to sign up to every single service they offer, or more likely they just stacked heaps of extra services on their website to try to get more clients in areas they know little about.
At Albion we make a point of letting our clients know right away that we don’t offer social media marketing services, email marketing or affiliate marketing programs. Why? Because we specialise in the 3 areas we have found bring clients the best return on investment: SEO, PPC and CRO.
Sure, we make websites and write marketing copy for our clients because we need good sites in order to implement our digital marketing campaigns. But we don’t feel the need to offer every service under the sun. For that, we keep our ear to the ground and recommend specialist agencies we know get great results. If an agency makes their strengths clear to you, you will thank them in the end.
2 – What key performance indicators/metrics will you report on?
What matters to your business is the bottom line. Many internal marketing team members have a safe job in that they’re only required to implement campaigns – and if they fail, well, that was the fault of the manager who said they should invest in that area of marketing.
All of our staff have worked for various agencies and have seen this many times before. However, when hiring an agency you can make it a requirement that you get results – because unlike employed staff, it is easy to sack them! With this in mind, the agency you want will go beyond vanity metrics (traffic, tweets, comments) and measure how their work assists in sales or lead conversions.
- Agencies that offer to get you x number of social shares, comments or links – Good God! Do they think you were born yesterday? These are not even performance indicators. Anybody can go on Fiverr and get you a thousand automated shares, spam comments or automated links. Not only will these do little to improve your brand or sales, they are likely to get you a penalty from Google to boot.
- Agencies that guarantee you number 1 positions in Google – No matter how good an agency is at Search Engine Optimisation, there is no way they can guarantee you the top slot (since they have no control over what competitors are doing to achieve the same result). Sadly, this promise is hard to dispute because agencies don’t always specify which keyword phrase they will get you to the top of Google’s results for – it could be some useless long search query that nobody even searches for! Be warned, this borders on scamming the client.
- Agencies that say they will bring you heaps of paid search traffic – Sure, that sounds good. But wait, cheap traffic from Adwords is only great if it converts to sales. If it doesn’t turn into sales then you have just wasted another month’s worth of Pay Per Click budget. More traffic doesn’t mean more sales, more profits or ongoing growth. Don’t trust them if they don’t illustrate how this traffic will impact your sales figures.
You also need to be wary of agencies who don’t ask you how much each sale is worth to you. Some pay per click advertising agencies have only got half of the equation on their minds.
If they don’t know how much profit you make with each sale, and they don’t know how many leads you convert to a sale then there is no way for them to know how much they can spend to get each lead. They haven’t thought it through properly, and are probably hoping that you won’t ask about it.
3 – Can you show us some campaigns and results you have achieved?
Ok, some agencies are only just starting – which is not a sin, but it likely isn’t what you need. It is not your job to give a newbie their first leg up.
Because if their staff are any good they will be able to tell you about the results they got while working for other agencies, or when they were freelance, or even for their own projects. There are no excuses. All agencies should be able to point to images and charts that show their results – or you don’t want to take the risk.
Some agencies show no evidence of their successes because they haven’t had any. Some are just full of excuses, others blame the client for not waiting long enough – again, this shows their inexperience in knowing how to market effectively and managing their clients’ expectations.
- Agencies that have yet to upload their results and case studies – Oh really? You are a marketing agency whose main task is to show your clients’ skills and expertise in the best possible light and promote it around the web – and you haven’t found the time to do this fundamental task for your own brand? Pull the other one. You get awful results, admit it.
- Agencies that say their clients would rather keep their results private – This is another feeble excuse for agencies who are just starting out. It usually signifies that they don’t want you to know their clients are small-fry or that they simply don’t get results they can boast about. All they need do is mention their client wants to be anonymous and post the case study and results without their client’s name or logo. Job done. Or job not done, as the case may be.
- Agencies that don’t actually state hard statistics or show images of their results – We have had many clients come to us claiming their former digital marketing agency boasted that they did SEO or PPC and even wrote up all the tasks they did during their time together – only they didn’t show images from Google Analytics showing increased traffic or goal conversions… Guess why?
4 – Who will be on my team and who will be our main point of contact?
Marketing can be a long process. You will often have to spend a lot of time discussing campaigns with the main point of contact for your marketing agency’s team. Therefore, before hiring a marketing agency, you need to know what you are getting yourself into in terms of the people you will be working with.
As such, one of the top questions you should bring up when interviewing a potential new marketing agency relates to the people who will be working on your marketing campaign. What’s their personality like? Are they easy to get along with? How dedicated are they?
Sure, the guy who tries to sell you the services will tell you that your account manager is great in every way, but you still need to ask these questions. Not least because you can refer to their answers later on if there are ever any disputes – or even if you need to ask if you can switch to another primary point of contact in order to get things working properly.
- Agencies that have 5 account managers for every 1 specialist – This is one of the worst things that can happen to a growing business. The agency gives them a low-paid account manager who has no specialist skills and can only act as piggy in the middle. They are often treated as the lowest of the low, as all they can really do is forward your request to the specialist, who is usually way too busy to get your work done today. Don’t shoot the messenger.
- Agencies that specify someone to do the work who has no previous results – Just like the agency who can’t show you how much traffic, leads, sales or profit they helped achieve for their clients, putting you in Joe Blogg’s hands means nothing if Joe can’t show you his work actually works. Be sure to get a satisfactory answer to this one or you’ll likely regret it.
- Agencies that don’t specify who will be doing the actual work – Sure, it helps the Indian economy! And if you are after a highly skilled web developer then go right ahead. But keep in mind that the main reason some agencies don’t mention who will do the work is because they are usually hired on outsourcing sites such as Upwork, Fiverr or LinkedIn. And they are only hired AFTER you sign the dotted line.
Oh, and don’t start thinking someone is at the executive level just because the word “executive” is in their job title. Trainees and technicians, interns and newbies all want to have a good job title, so this is one of the things they get – instead of a decent wage. Agencies should be more honest with themselves, their staff and their clients if they want to build trust and respect – but sometimes, that’s just the way it is.
5 – How will we be tied to your agency?
Actually, this question should be first on the list. We just didn’t want to scare the living hell out of you too early – and put you off hiring a marketing agency at all.
We are not overstating it. This issue causes the biggest headaches and can ruin your business. Really.
The fact is marketing agencies are businesses. Policy makers and chiefs, or their investors and shareholders, want to optimise profits as much as possible without damaging their brand beyond repair. As a business owner or a marketer for a brand, we are sure you understand this.
Sometimes customers buy the wrong product by accident and some don’t use the product or service properly. Heck, once in a while it just wasn’t a good match and this can happen for a whole bunch of reasons. If the mistake is acknowledged by both sides and the seller can provide an alternative solution then all they can really do is apologise and hope things work out for the best.
Sometimes, though, one party (usually the seller) has no scruples about screwing the other over. Indeed, some marketing agencies think it’s their job to exaggerate some things and hide others. They really think that is what marketing means.
By tying their clients in, they keep their customer base in a way that ensures the money keeps coming in – despite the levels of profit or satisfaction their clients experience. This has been noted by many as similar to how a parasite can lay its eggs in some other creature’s head to ensure their offspring are sufficiently nourished – by feeding off of you…
This behaviour is parasitic in nature. Actually, it’s worse! Because they don’t even bother making sure you survive.
It may sound extreme, but this is actually how some of our clients have described their experience of working with some of these nasties. Here are a few things to watch out for…
- Agencies that create your site in their own content management system – Ok, sometimes you may want a bespoke CMS for your site. However, it’s often the case that web design agencies have a templated machine that creates your generic site after filling out a form and pressing go. Sure, your site will have your logo and colours but wait to see what happens when you ask for extra functionality. Your site should be on your hosting package with a domain you own. Otherwise say goodbye to your short and curlies.
- Agencies that create your PPC advertising campaigns in their own Adwords account – Watch them increase their fees at the same time as their service gets worse and worse. And why not? They put their prices up, they are happy to price themselves out of the market and you are already locked in. If you want to go with another agency, go ahead, you will have to start from scratch with no historic paid search data, quality score or records of keywords or ads that wasted your budget. Cruel but effective. Be warned.
- Agencies that sign you up to long contracts that require you to pay to get your freedom – Oddly, some agencies lack confidence in their services and their ability to keep their customers happy, so they have to tie you into a contract for 6 months or more. Sure they have to pay for the staff, media, and bills before the work starts. So why not just charge you for each quarter BEFORE they start work? You know why by now, right? Be vigilant.
You can ask any marketing agency in your city who the biggest rouges are, and in confidence, they are sure to point to a well known, seemingly respectful agency who is a low-down scammer that has no problem with hooking unlucky victims with their unscrupulous tricks. Those clients who manage to escape are usually eager to warn others of their fate. For their sakes, take heed of the above warnings.
Psychopaths, sociopaths, bullies and charlatans are all able to run marketing agencies. If management gets performance-related pay and protection from the chiefs, this stuff can be unintentionally encouraged, and hard to break out of. Email us if you want to know 3 of the biggest digital marketing crooks around Brighton in the UK – we would love to tell you who got the most complaints.
5 More questions to consider asking
Ok, now that we know some traits of agencies you don’t want to hire, let’s look at some other questions that will help you pick between those outfits that seem to be a nice match for your business.
If you get a chance during a meeting, call or email conversation, be sure to inquire about the below:
1 – What makes you different to other marketing agencies?
With so many marketing agencies out there, choosing the most suitable one for your business can be a daunting task. Therefore, when interviewing a potential new marketing agency, you need to ask what sets it apart from other agencies.
Possible good answers to this question include exceptional customer service, highly consistent results, affordable services, a guaranteed edge over your competitors, etc.
However, although the answers given in response to this question may be obvious (and you might frequently hear the same answers!), they do give the agency an opportunity to spell out what makes them unique. They may not have mentioned it, but maybe they won an award. Perhaps their team leader learned their trade with a great global agency that trains staff to a very high level.
It may be that some of their staff have worked for other agencies that appear on your shortlist. It sure would be interesting to hear the juicy gossip and shortfalls others know about their services and internal methods.
2 – What other type and size of clients do you have?
Many marketing agencies are really good at what they do. They have skills in all the different areas that mean they are great at selling their services, acquiring bigger and bigger contracts, scaling up and becoming the superstars of the marketing industry.
In fact, in some cases it’s not really about which marketing agency you choose – but about which marketing agency chooses to work with you.
Now don’t get us wrong – most agencies would be glad of the work when it comes to helping small or medium-sized businesses. Others, though, are able to turn away new and existing clients left, right and centre. Indeed, if they outgrow you, they could drop you.
It might be prudent to be wary if an agency has huge household names as clients. They may be taking on smaller clients just to fill a gap, to test out new strategies (start squeaking now that you are one of their guinea pigs!), to train new staff or to replace other smaller clients they don’t want to work with anymore.
Usually the above is not the case, but keep it in mind. Even if the rates fit your budget, sometimes bigger isn’t always better – in the long run.
5 – How do you report the work done after each session?
Get this – some digital marketing agencies have grown to become so bureaucratic that the paperwork involved in getting even simple tasks done takes longer than the work itself.
Others don’t even get back to the client to inform them the scheduled work has been completed.
A number of our clients made a point of asking us how we went about giving updates on the status of each project, to the point where we had to quiz them on what the underlying problem was. It turns out that some agencies use account managers who don’t manage their timetable effectively.
From simply forgetting to get back to a client to confirm the week’s work has been completed, to being so run off their feet, they have got used to their job being in a constant state of catch-up.
Some of our clients even received confidential information about another client’s online sales figures and many suffered from having little or no access to campaign schedules and spreadsheets.
Long ago we adopted and evolved a culture of sharing our client’s campaign files with them in a shared Dropbox folder and emailing them with a summary and also a detailed list of all the work done in each session.
This allows them to quickly check that everything is going to plan and on schedule. It also gives them the detailed information that allows them to give feedback, make recommendations and ask questions as they arise.
The most important thing is that clients “know where we are” and can see our campaign schedule and results at any stage. This means they can add to the “wishlist” that allows us to plan future campaigns in a way that ensures all their needs are met.
Be sure to ask an agency how they report back on completed work and how you will be able to access work files and results reports and other documents. This will allow you to know exactly where your money is being spent and what new opportunities are just around the corner.
4 – What experience do you have working with businesses in my industry?
Your agency needs to understand your target audience and know what you can deliver to your audience that your competitors can’t. Your price-point, your unique selling point and your value proposition are all important aspects that some marketing agencies know how to exploit better than others.
For this reason, it’s great to hear that an agency has experience with other businesses in your industry. Sure, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if they don’t. However, these agencies who know your market, or know what your customers most value, can make you look good. We mean really good.
Reputation and experience are two very important factors that you should consider when hiring a marketing agency for your business. The best way to determine the reputation as well as the experience of a potential marketing agency is to talk with past and existing customers.
Therefore, during the initial call or meeting with a prospective agency you should ask them to provide you with details of clients they have worked with. You should also find out how well they know your market and competitors.
You will benefit from all the market insights and info about the competition that others have paid for. You may even learn some things about how your competition is taking advantage of methods and strategies you have yet to monetise.
5 – Who actually are these guys?
Businesses are populated with people, real people with real lives. Some are busy learning their trade in the hope of becoming an industry pioneer, some are trying to change their career, while others are planning to retire or move abroad.
Some foot soldiers in marketing agencies, as well as managers and leaders, are more interested in their hobbies despite being great at their jobs. By taking a bit of time to learn about the staff in a digital marketing agency you can get an idea of the company dynamic.
How long do people stay in the company, why do they leave, where do they go? And are they shouting about their achievements from the rooftops on other platforms as loudly as they are on the agency’s “about us” page?
Read their personal biogs on LinkedIn, find their Facebook and Twitter accounts, snoop wherever you can to see if there is any dirt or extra info to be found. People change throughout their lives and everyone deserves a fair chance, but it’s good to know if your agency’s owner has been bankrupt, spent time in prison, helps with a charity, was once on TV or went to space!
5 questions to ask yourself
Before firing away and contacting potential marketing agencies there are a few things you should know about your own brand first.
Sometimes it’s wise just to recite your company mantra or your main achievements to date, to remind yourself of the methods you think worked the best in the past and even areas you know competition waste heaps of marketing budget on.
It’s also good to keep a record of how and where you heard about each potential agency. If you are primarily after an agency that can get you very high search engine ranking results, there’s only one place to look. You’ll only really want to consider those you can find at the top of Google, even if you found them when searching for a local SEO agency or an agency that specialises in search marketing for your specific industry or sector.
Below are some more things to consider about your brand before approaching a marketing agency. Remember, you’ll have to sell your brand to them as well.
1 – What are our actual goals?
Any good agency will be focused on achieving your goals, whether you say you want more visibility, followers, traffic, leads, sales or profits. It may be something else like improving website usability, reducing bad press, reducing spam, fixing specific problems, making new web pages, training new staff, you name it.
Either way, before you start a conversation, be sure you know what you want to achieve, even if you don’t have figures at the ready. You should identify your priorities so your agency can help you design a plan that achieves your goals.
2 – Can’t we do marketing in-house?
Some businesses want to retain all knowledge in-house – despite running the risk of training staff up to the point where they leave the company to start their own agency or go to work for a competitor (and take that valuable knowledge and experience with them).
Others get better results by hiring specialists as and when they’re needed. Another method is to have a marketing agency take over specific duties or all marketing operations. And there are those who just need help from an agency once in a while to audit campaigns and websites, or to train new and existing staff on using specific methods or tools.
Make sure you know what you want from an agency. Tell them early on about your aims and they will be able to suggest a plan or may recommend other solutions you aren’t aware of. Sometimes agencies tell clients that “you don’t even need our services”. Give them that opportunity.
3 – Will they be able to focus on our needs?
You don’t need the best digital marketing agency; you need the digital marketing agency that best suits your needs. Consider if you need a large agency that offers a full range of services, or if you need smaller specialist agencies to work on your campaigns at different times.
As mentioned above, some agencies are growing fast and are keen to replace small clients with larger, more prestigious ones. So be sure not to only engage with big players if you can’t keep up with the pace or the budget – and keep in mind, if they are picky about their clients, that’s a good thing.
4 – Can we commit to the schedule once it all starts?
Of course, you will need to make sure you can afford their ongoing fees, but there are other commitments you’ll need to keep on top off. For example, if an agency agrees to optimise your website pages and blog, you’ll need to make sure your blog is populated with new and ongoing content. If you request a website, you’ll usually need to provide your logo and some graphics.
Importantly, sometimes you only get out what you put in. Agencies need regular input and feedback from your team to ensure their campaigns are getting the desired results.
You may need to have your staff keep a tally of the types of leads that are off-target, or list numbers relating to unhappy customers or complaints. And you are usually required to approve work and answer questions your agency asks regularly.
Be sure you have the time and resources to do this or you won’t be giving the agency the opportunity they were expecting.
5 – Do we feel like this could be a long-term relationship?
Both parties will suffer if neither is committed. Likewise, an agency won’t be able to help you properly if you are only using them to test the waters.
Ideally, you will be looking for an agency that wants to grow alongside you. In a perfect world they will love working with you so much that they focus solely on your brand or your industry. This can happen – if they help you tap bigger and bigger markets.
Summing it up
Marketing campaigns can be intense, thus you need the right team behind you to guarantee they run smoothly and successfully. Unfortunately, finding the right marketing agency is not an easy task. Remember:
- Some agencies are well-meaning but don’t have the skills you need, despite what it says on their site
- Some agencies have already achieved great results in your industry and can save you lots of pain
- Some agencies simply hire cheap foreign workers and patch it all together with an unskilled account manager
- Some agencies are really just web designers who added more services to their site as an afterthought
- Some agencies are run by people who love their jobs and genuinely love getting results
By asking the right questions when you are interviewing potential marketing agencies, you can find a reliable agency that will be the right fit for your business.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes relationships between businesses are like relationships between people; one side may find the other isn’t suitable or committed enough. These things happen, but unlike with personal relationships, you can reach out to a number of agencies at the same time.
Write a shortlist of digital marketing agencies who get consistent results. Start multiple conversations and ask them to price out your requirements and pitch for the work before even meeting them to discuss finer points. It may save you lots of extra effort later on.
I did mention in the introduction to this post that your marketer, SEO, PPC expert or web designer might be a bit of a pillock.
So, what’s the deal? And how can you tell?
Well, digital marketing best practices change all the time. Those that get the best results are always testing, always thinking outside the box and constantly coming up with new solutions. You know, people with enough confidence to think for themselves, make their own rules and become thought leaders.
They are the polar opposite of sheeple – people who are happy to follow the flock with the latest trends in order to fit in – you know who we mean. Those that are predisposed to follow others without question can be a disaster and are most often the reason many marketing myths are perpetuated, budgets wasted and businesses compromised.
So, if your agency provides you with a young chap with a beard, back-to-front baseball cap, and his overly short trousers causing his bare ankles to the exposed to the cold, then this may be a sign that he is easily impressionable – the last type of person you need in charge of your business’s marketing effort.
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