So you want to hire a marketing company to help your business get to the next level, but with all the noise out there where do you begin? These days, it seems like you turn the corner and see yet another "full service" digital agency pop up that can do “everything” you need. So how do you even begin to evaluate them?
Where to look
Here are a couple of ideas of where you can start your search. This isn’t a complete exhaustive list, but it should get the ball rolling for you!
- Lists and directories: Many lists or directories will give you a digest of companies (especially if you’re looking local). It will still be up to you to actually vet these companies to see who is the best fit.
- Search results: If you have a specific problem or question, you can sometimes search for the answers and related companies will come up with articles and info about what particular problem you have and how to solve it.
- Referrals: Speak to others in your industry or comparable industries to see who they use.
- Social Media: Now, I am not telling you to ask all your Facebook friends who they use. However, I am suggesting that this is another place you can search and do initial research as you are evaluating whether a company is a good fit for you.
- Industry associations: Find marketing companies that are involved industry events or associations that you are a part of. This will help you get started with companies in your niche, if that is what you’re looking for.
If you spend a good deal of time researching companies, you will find that there are a lot to choose from. They come in lots of sizes and with a wide range of skill levels and expertise. So what should you look for and consider as you try to narrow down the options?
- Find out if they’ve worked with other companies like yours: It can be helpful to look for companies that have some experience working with other companies like yours. Even if it’s not with your exact vertical, someone with industry experience may be a good way to go. They tend to have the capacity to understand the intricacies of your offering and are familiar with the types of audiences you are trying to appeal to.
- Specializations and Niches: Sometimes you may need to work with a company that specializes in specific software, niche specific strategies, or emerging marketing channels and technology. Integrating things and managing multiple partners can become a challenge, so just remember not to spread yourself too thin. You don’t want to have to track down five different companies that are running disjointed campaigns across a bunch of siloed marketing tactics. It’s always important to have brand consistency. If a person sees a number of messages across multiple channels they should not become confused.
- If the shoe fits: The advice I find myself giving the most often is to work with a company that fits with your organization. You know that gut feeling when you leave a meeting that it went really well or that something was just off? Trust it. You should feel good about going with the company you choose, and you should want to work with that company and your contacts at that company. Your company’s beliefs and values should align closely and the firm should understand your goals. If you want to improve your marketing and drive sales for the long-term, it’s important that the marketing partner you choose really gets what you are after and can opperate as a partner in your success, continuing to add value as an extension of your team over time.
Now you have a couple of companies in mind that might be a good fit, but where do you go from here?
- Meet with them: This could be over the phone, video call or, if they are local, a face-to-face meeting. We would recommend meeting with no more than three companies based on your research. If you blast out an RFP to dozens of agencies or simply meet with too many companies, it just muddies the water and you end up comparing firms on totally different scales, creating an apples to oranges scenario that wastes everyones time and doesn't really set the relationship up for success. Even if you are just looking for a website or have a smaller project now, you should still be thinking about establishing a long-term business relationship with the people at the company you select.
- Be prepared and transparent: As you prepare to meet with these companies, make sure you are prepared to discuss a few things. Consider adding these to your standard list of topics for the conversation:
- Share what you've tried in the past: Understanding tactics and strategies a company has tried in the past gives the marketing company an understanding of what has and has not been successful for you. That doesn’t mean the marketing company will discard any tactics that haven't worked in the past because there are numerous reasons why they don’t work. Being open and honest may help uncover some of these reasons and help the marketing company come to conclusions on how to best help your company. Ask yourself what kind of results has marketing provided to your company to date? Do you have a systematic way of tracking those metrics? This helps the marketing company understand what initial data they have to start with. This is particularly helpful if they are assisting you in goal setting. If the answer is, “we have no data,” that’s okay too. Part of the initial process with the marketing company will be establishing those.
- Clarify your target audience: Know who you're really targeting. Your answer shouldn't be “anyone and everyone.” Be specific. That will allow the marketing firm to better understand your product or service. And, in the long run, it helps them target those people better for your company.
- Be realistic about your budget: There are a couple of different ways we would suggest attacking the budget. You can either have your marketing metrics figured out: leads, sales, avg sale, visitor to lead, lead to sale conversion rate, cost per lead and lifetime value; and we can use those to calculate the budget you would need to spend to reach your goals. Or we can come at it from the other angle. We have X to spend, based on standard conversion rates, X is how many leads (or whatever metric we are looking for) we anticipate. That will either fit with your goals or not. If not, we need to make sure the budget and goals are both realistic. With both methods, the numbers continue to get refined as we go.
- Disclose your buying process: We encourage you to lay it out on the table and openly share the process you are going through as you select a partner. If you are not the final decision maker don't just pretend to be in order to get three proposals to put on your boss's desk. Understanding your buying process helps keep conversations and expectations of all parties aligned.
What you should ask them
- What is their process?: Make sure you understand the company’s process. How do they work and how do you fit in with that process? Make sure you understand the roles, responsibilities and expectations they have for you as well as you of theirs.
- Who would be your contacts?: Who will you be working with? Will you be passed off to a project manager or account manager? Or is the account manager in the meetings? This helps you understand if the process will change after you become a client.
- What makes other clients of thiers successful?: We recently got this question from a prospect and I thought it was great. It allows you to understand the behaviors their other clients have that help them succeed. That way, you can see if those behaviors fit with your company’s processes and style of working.
You may have a couple of meetings with each company to establish whether or not moving forward makes sense. Once you have made your decisions on who fits your company best, be sure to inform the other marketing companies of your choice and thank them for their time. Remember, as you continue your relationship with your marketing company, be sure to work side-by-side with them as partners to ensure you get the most out of the relationship.