There are a lot of great agencies out there. And there are a lot of bad ones too.
So how do you know what you are really getting when you sign a new agency?
Whether you are large enterprise or a small business, you have a set budget, with a set number of resources and a set amount of time to get it done. Many times you need to rely on a team of partners that can help assure you have effectively spent your budget and are getting the most from it. Research, instinct, and experience aside, since the buck stops with you, it is important to make sure you have the right team working with you.
So, what I thought would be helpful is to share some of my learning’s related to choosing the right partner marketing agency to help you through those times when you have questions or need to outsource your entire project to an agency.
Tough Question #1: Who will really be working on my account?
Well, that depends. Some agencies have a hierarchical process structure that requires a single point of contact between the client and the agency itself. It makes life easier on the agency’s end. From the client perspective, you would ideally have direct access (phone, email etc.) to all individuals working on your account. This includes everybody from the Production Artist up to the person ultimately responsible for your business (usually an Account Executive or agency principal). Ultimately though, that overhead can cost you time and money, which can make smaller projects more costly.
My personal preference is to work with agencies that have a more senior person connected to my account. One that knows the in’s and outs of getting things done or is even doing the project themselves. Its kind of like when I go to a restaurant and order my food. I want a waitress that will listen, identify costs for ala cart items that may or may not be needed, and know that special orders take longer or will cost more. The same works for an agency. What has generally worked for me is to either work with a smaller agency where you get access to more senior staff, or make sure you have an experienced account executive that understands your processes, your business, and their own firm’s cost structure (no ala cart, surprise invoices).
Tough question #2: How will the agency measure marketing success?
That’s an easy question to answer, but only if you ask it. There are many ways to track results via software and systems… quality of campaign responses, number of new customers, media coverage, internet conversions, web traffic, email clicks, etc. But, the first question you need to ask is, what is most important to me as the client, and is that what is important to my “boss”?
Before moving forward on a project, ask yourself, what is most important to measure, and then what results would be adequate to justify the time and cost involved. Be realistic though, and look to your marketing agency to be a partner, not a vendor. For example, you may have the goal of generating 100 qualified opportunities, but have only a limited budget, a small market, or don’t have the sales resources to follow up on leads generated. This is also why an experienced Account Executive and marketing team is essential. They help you set your goals so that you can meet them as a team. Once you have set your goals and objectives, you can then build a plan to address the cause and-effect relationship between your marketing program and your results. Lastly, I cannot stress enough that you communicate them often to your sales team, executives, and marketing partners as each will play a role in their success.
Tough Question #3: Should I market to sell or market to educate?
Let me answer this question with a question. Do you like sales pressure? I don’t. If you are looking to build a long term relationship with a customer, then without question, the better method to use is Education-Based Marketing. People are tired of selling and sales pressure. Trust needs to be built. You do this through demonstrating that you are a leader in your field and have solved the problem for others who are similar to themselves. Prospective customers want information and advice, which is the foundation of Education-Based Marketing. And until business owners realize what customers want – and give it to them – many companies will continue to get a poor response to their marketing.
Look to multiple techniques to get your message across. Training videos on YouTube may work for some clients, where white papers on the same topic, delivered via email may work better for others. Today, common educational techniques include blogs, white papers, case studies, articles and videos… and most can be produced at a fairly low cost. Just make sure you are giving people what they want in the medium they want it in.
In looking for marketing support, look for people who specialize in education as well as selling. It will help your reputation, your relationship and your SEO results.
Tough Question #4: How am I going to be billed for services: on an hourly rate, project rate or retainer?
A project may take 10 minutes or 10 weeks. That being the case, if I were to charge clients by the hour, I’d have to know exactly how long the project will take and that there would be no surprises. An hourly rate means you will be billed exactly on the time it takes me to do the job.
In the end, some agencies have to charge for additional time, so must recoup it in other areas. I am not as big a proponent of an hourly quote because
- #1, different skill sets have different rates (ie a Production Artist will not be billed at the same rate as the Creative Director),
- #2, I have to track hours tied to specific projects. An administrative hassle.
Now of course, for larger agencies, clients may have an advantage in that clients can selectively bypass the higher-tiered employees for ones with a lower billing rate but you don’t want to ask a Production Artist about overall marketing strategy.
For small projects, ask to be billed in increments that are smaller than 1 hour. For larger projects, many smaller customers like to be quoted on a project basis. Together we develop the plan, I provide a quote, and the project is then completed and paid in stages. It is a good balance when you want to test an agency for performance and build a longer term working relationship between client and agency. It does, however, mean the agency is less likely to negotiate terms of an agreement since the long term relationship may be uncertain.
As an agency owner, I personally prefer a retainer. Why? Because it allows me to allocate costs and hours appropriately. And for the client, he/she can count on me for X number of hours allocated to them. This allows for some negotiating room with both parties. For example, when using a retainer, my discussion with the client would be that I would usually charge X for this amount of work but in the interest of developing a long-term relationship, I’ll charge X minus Y%. Furthermore, in the spirit of fairness, I wouldn’t quibble if the amount of work in a given month went a little over (and I wouldn’t expect that the client would complain if a month was a little light. In the end, it works out even.
One alternative in how I offer projects versus other agencies, is that I bundle my services into larger projects with a set price structure. This allows the client to get the advantage of a retainer model (a cost reduced set of integrated deliverables) with a set quote for completion of the project.
The Tough Conclusion
There are a lot of great agencies out there. And there are a lot of bad ones too. Making the decision on which ones to use can be a long, painstaking process without guidance or experience. Remember that taking the time to select the right agency, and getting answers to the right questions, are key to your success. Hopefully this article helps a bit.
If you don’t agree with me, that’s OK. Regardless, I want to hear from you. Are these the tough questions you would ask?