Have you found the one? A lifelong partner invested in your success as a person and business owner?
Choosing a digital marketing agency is like searching for your business' better half. You'll (hopefully) be with the agency for years to come. Invest the time and effort in vetting agencies now to avoid a bitter breakup down the line.
Finding Bliss With Your Digital Marketing Agency
If you Google “what to look for in a marketing agency,” the results share some obvious tips like evaluating business savvy, vertical expertise, technical design chops, etc.
But beyond the basics, how do you really know a marketing agency is the real deal?
Let's assume you've already looked at the basic criteria listed below:
- Case studies
- Proven results
- Alignment to your industry
If you've been burned by digital marketing agencies in the past, this list won't help you weed out the duds. In fact, when it comes to high satisfaction, fulfilling promises and developing a meaningful customer relationship, few companies deliver.
I started Human Marketing for this reason. After a decade of hiring and firing digital marketing agencies, I've seen where most fall short. I delayed starting my business for so long because I desperately feared becoming one of those companies. Here are 2 common scenarios when working with mediocre digital marketing agencies:
- They overpromise. Too many agencies start the relationship promising the world. They talk too much without doing much to fulfill those promises.
- They rely on canned reports. You might see a few shiny reports each month, but the agency shows no real deliverables or goal-based results.
So how do you avoid falling for this type of agency? Here are 5 signs you should rethink the partnership — and steps to effectively vet a potential digital marketing agency:
1. You Only Speak With a Sales Rep Before Signing
Who have you talked to at that agency? Are you being passed through a sales playbook by someone who’s only goal is to collect a commission check? Are you having a sales discussion or a business and marketing discussion?
This model can work. In fact, many agencies are structured this way. But a sales-driven process is certainly not a recipe for success. Misaligned client expectations is a widespread issue across digital marketing agencies. The salesperson may promise results the team can't realistically deliver. Your initial project and strategic goals discussions should be with someone who's invested in your long-term success.
Always aim to talk to people who will be involved in accomplishing your goals. This way, you and your agency start the relationship on the same page and set the tone for a successful partnership.
2. The Agency Isn't Vetting You
If your potential marketing agency is pulling out all the stops to “sign” you, that’s a red flag. A healthy agency strategically aligned to accomplish your goals should be evaluating you just as much as you're evaluating it.
Strong agencies know they aren't best suited to help every business. The good ones tend to know what a successful customer looks like, and they say NO to prospects that don't match that criteria. Your agency should be looking for excellent alignment based on past success and signs of a positive and productive relationship — not closing the deal at any cost.
3. They Don't Review Business Goals and KPIs From the Start
Nothing significant can be accomplished without SMART goals and clear benchmarks. Your business development proposal should contain part of the marketing plan the agency will follow moving forward. And every great plan starts with goals and metrics to measure those goals.
Before you give the green light, the agency should document marketing goals aligned to your business plans and a path to get there. The plan should also detail what will be measured and how. If the agency doesn't establish KPIs to measure the goals, your proposal should at least show how those KPIs will be put in place and measured.
The bulk of your discussions should revolve around your short- and long-term business goals and distilling those down into SMART marketing goals. If your marketing agency isn’t digging into your goals, asking deeper questions and designing a clear path to obtain them, figure out why.
4. Agency Employees Are Unmotivated or Unhappy
People should be at the top of your agency's priority list. The worst setback when trying to grow your business is high employee turnover at your digital marketing agency.
Measuring motivation and happiness might sound abstract. But this will largely determine your success. High turnover or employee dissatisfaction are telltale signs of an incompetent digital marketing agency.
Would you trust 50% of your business goals to a team of unhappy and unmotivated people running your marketing department? I hope not. Don't just ask whether agency employees are highly motivated and passionate about their work. Do some due diligence to find out for yourself.
Look for information on the agency's core values on the website, or scan review sites like Glassdoor. Search for employees on LinkedIn, and see how long they’ve worked at the agency and what companies they came from.
Digital marketing agencies are notorious for high turnover. Simply ask agency employees if and why they enjoy working there for reassurance.
Marketing experts today look for more than a 9-5 job. The agency you pick will either:
- Have people who aren’t passionate and don’t care enough about what they spend half of their adult life doing. This is bad for your business.
- Have people who crave purpose and aren't finding it at the agency. They'll likely leave in 3-9 months because the environment isn't fulfilling. This is really bad for your business.
- Have people who are passionate, know what they want out of life and have found a company that fulfills them. This is good for your business.
5. The Agency Lacks a Clearly Defined Purpose
Without a purpose, there is no passion. Without passion, your agency — and your business results — won't stand out.
If you're seeking a lasting partnership and an agency that'll produce long-term results for you, this is worth exploring. Ask about the agency's purpose and what drives it. Is there a real culture of people who are getting things done because they believe in the company and what it represents?
Start by simply asking: “What is your purpose? Can you provide an example of how you live that and the impact it has on your clients?”
Find the reason the agency really exists and what motivates team members. If they fumble around this question, you’ve likely found another mediocre agency.
Your digital marketing agency will drive a huge portion of your business. If you're looking for a growth partner, assess how the agency runs its own business. A profitable agency that prioritizes client and employee satisfaction is more likely to produce results than one struggling to keep people around.
I hope this list helps narrow down your search for an effective digital marketing agency. What other tips do you have for vetting marketing agencies?