Marketing is easy, right? Just post a few times on Facebook, send a few e-blasts, and you're good to go. After all, marketing is not rocket science, right?
Actually, marketing is very scientific and data-driven if done effectively. The fact is, many organizations have only a basic understanding of marketing and therefore get frustrated when their one-off campaigns and social media updates don't result in droves of new leads.
However, smart organizations (both corporate and non-profit alike) often turn to an experienced digital agency to help create and execute a proper inbound marketing campaign. They know that in order to get positive ROI, they need a strategy that connects the dots between SEO, email, social media, blogging, website, and content creation. Only then will they see strong and consistent lead generation.
Working with an agency is often a smart move because you're drawing on the collective experience of an entire team. Your organization might have a seasoned marketing director (you might even be one) but it's often difficult for one person to be an SEO expert, designer, copywriter, email expert, software developer, analytics junkie, social media marketer, blogger, and website developer all rolled into one. For this reason, supervising an agency to help execute your vision can be a smart move.
So how do you choose the right agency? Here are a few questions to ask prospective agencies before making a commitment.
1. Can you show me case studies of prior work?
Most reputable agencies (I understand there are exceptions) will proudly display a list of clients and case studies on their website. If this is the case, you should be able to see examples of results and success stories from other clients. If the agency does not post case studies online, it's not necessarily cause for too much concern as long as they can produce some.
2. What tools do you use to execute campaigns?
In order to execute data-driven marketing campaigns, it's important to use the right tools. Otherwise, an agency risks becoming inefficient as it grows. For example, SpinWeb is a HubSpot partner. We use HubSpot for inbound marketing campaigns, as well as some other tools like Argyle Social and WordStream. Other tools that agencies sometimes use include Eloqua, HootSuite, and Infusionsoft. The specific tools are not terribly important as long as they can prove they have a systematic way of automating and measuring campaigns.
3. How quickly will I see results?
You might think that quicker equals better on this one but you would be sadly mistaken. Beware of any agency that promises results in 30 days or some other super-optimistic projection. While this would be nice, it reveals inexperience and skewed expectations. We expect that it takes at least 3 months to see significant results from an inbound marketing campaign and timelines of 6-12 months are not uncommon. This is because it takes time and effort to build a foundation with activities like keyword research, content creation, and infrastructure development.
4. What is your employee retention rate?
It's important to get to know your team and develop a relationship with them. It's also important for your agency to become intimately involved with your organization and its products and services. If your agency has high turnover, it can create inefficiencies in the relationship. An employee leaving here and there is nothing to be alarmed about. However, if you sense that the agency's company culture is not set up to keep employees happy, this could be a problem.
5. Can you guarantee page one Google rankings?
Again, this might be counter-intuitive but if the answer is "yes" you're probably talking to the wrong agency. No one can guarantee anything when it comes to Google except one company: Google. Instead, experienced agencies will give examples of successes they've had in the past and offer projections on what might be possible but will never make the mistake of guaranteeing specific results.
6. What types of organizations do you specialize in?
Many agencies try to be all things to all clients and never turn away business. This, however, is not a very scalable approach and will ultimately degrade the quality of service they can offer.
Experienced agencies are very clear about what they are good at and what they are not. For example, at SpinWeb we have lots of experience in certain sectors such as professional services, manufacturing, medical, non-profits, associations, financial services, and a few other areas. However, if a business far outside of our expertise were to come to us asking for help, we might politely say "no" and be as helpful as possible by referring them to another qualified agency in our network.
Setting expectations and then falling short makes everyone unhappy. Experienced agencies focus on being great at some things and saying no to others.
7. What happens if I work with you and then my competitor wants to work with you?
This is a tricky area that not all agencies will agree on. However, we have a pretty clear guideline that we follow. If we are currently working with a client and then a competing organization approaches us asking for information, we will immediately go to our current client to ask for advice on how we should proceed. Sometimes our client will say "no problem" and we can pursue the business. Other times it's a conflict of interest and we will politely turn down the prospect and try to refer them elsewhere. Either way, we respect the fact that our client took a chance on us and we ensure that we don't do anything that will negatively impact their business. We think this is simply the right way to do business.
8. How will you track my ROI?
If this question does not make your agency sales person giddy with joy, you might be talking the wrong agency. Experienced agencies love to show how they measure, optimize, and track everything. Better yet, ask for a demo of the metrics and tools they use to you can see how they measure results.
9. What awards or certifications do you have?
Again... somewhat controversial here because I know some agencies that scoff at awards and see them as a "fluffy" waste of time. However, we feel that pursuing and winning awards are an important part of achieving recognition for quality work and participating in our industry. Additionally, our account managers are all Inbound Marketing Certified, which demonstrates a deep knowledge of the tactics and strategies needed to execute successful marketing campaigns. If it's important to you, inquire about awards and certifications.
10. What will you need from me if we work together?
You want the answer to be "Nothing! Just sit back and relax!", right? Unfortunately, this is the wrong answer. While some success can be achieved with no client participation, ideally your agency will want you to be somewhat active on social media in order to respond to certain inquiries, possibly conduct webinars, and meet with the agency on a regular basis to review sales figures and leads. While a good agency will manage and drive the campaign, they will also want to give you some tasks to help support the campaign, if only from a reactive standpoint.
If your agency has made it this far through these questions and has earned your confidence, you might be in good hands. Take the leap and invest in an Inbound Marketing program and you'll likely to start to see solid business growth.