If you’re like most people, you’ll hire a professional when making an important decision or handling a complex situation that requires specialized knowledge. In business, we do the same thing. Accountants, attorneys, M&A specialists, IT experts and engineers all make their livings by helping businesses deal with critical issues that could have far-reaching effects on long-term success, customers, employees and profits.
Marketers are in that group, too.
Marketing – particular in digital and data-driven channels – is a complex field that changes rapidly. Ten years ago, the terms Big Data, mobile devices, cross-platform branding, native advertising, social media and content generation weren’t even on the playing field. Today, understanding and applying these concepts is a complex undertaking – but necessary to win consumers’ hard-earned dollars. Internal marketing departments struggle to navigate these new waters – and when they do, the learning curve is steep. 100-year old conglomerates, shiny new start-ups and mid-market leaders alike are struggling to stay ahead of their competition. And for companies earning (or aspiring to) $10M or more in revenue, studies confirm hiring a competent marketing firm is absolutely imperative in order to drive growth while maintaining focus on your core business and preserving resources.
Choosing an agency to develop and execute a marketing strategy is an important decision. During the interview phase with your agency prospects, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the glitzy sample work, client testimonials and budget discussions. But after sitting face-to-face with thousands of decision-makers throughout the course of my career, I’ve found that some of the most important discussions are left untouched. I think that’s a shame, because discussing and agreeing on these topics may be the difference between cultivating a successful agency partnership and wasting an enormous amount of time and money.
Whether you’re considering an agency or looking for a new one, don’t sign a contract until you discuss these five things:
1. “Can you put it in writing?”
You wouldn’t start a business without a business plan, so why would you grow your business without a marketing plan? Great agencies utilize market research, best practices, knowledge of trends and marketplaces, and raw experience to develop a clear strategy for their clients. They provide reasons and proof to back up their claims. And top agencies never “wing it.” Ask for a written plan.
2. “Let’s talk about expectations.”
How often do you want updates? How much leeway does your agency have with budgets? What services are included in your retainer? Do you prefer email or phone calls? Expectations of your agency – and of you as a client – should be clarified prior to selecting an agency with whom to partner. Laying out clear expectations not only helps the agency understand your needs; defining your expectations helps your agency partner live up to your requirements.
3. “Here’s my definition of success and how I’ll measure it.”
Before establishing a relationship with a new client, we always ask a simple question: “How do you define success for this __________________ (relationship, campaign, website build, etc.)?” The more exact and precise the answer, the better. Don’t be afraid to use numbers, like a certain percentage of increased traffic to your website or a growth in sales revenue. Top agencies and marketing firms relish the opportunity to prove value using data and other numbers. Your agency should also provide regular reports to help you assess the results of your marketing initiatives.
4. “Let’s talk.”
Be transparent. Your agency needs to know as much as possible about the good, bad and ugly aspects or your business so they can truly provide the best recommendations and advice. And don’t just talk when something goes wrong; make it a point to meet bi-weekly, monthly, every 7th Saturday, whatever – as long as it’s consistent. Like all relationships, communication is critical. Don’t be afraid to let your partner in the inner circle. Just make sure you have an NDA in place.
5. “What else can you do for us?”
Like any other business, a great agency is constantly refining their service offering and marketing strategies. As quickly as the marketing landscape changes these days, it’s smart to ask your agency partner if there are any other opportunities you should be considering. Chances are they will have some recommendations you may not have considered.
Before you start a new relationship with your agency, or sign up for another year with your current partner, ask these questions. Be clear and upfront wtih expectation. Set up you and your agency for a successful partnership. Trust me, it’ll be time worth investing.
Want to practice those questions on us? Start a Conversation with Synapse.