Wether you build an in-house team, hire an agency, or a combination thereof, you should cover the basics to achieving results. The article is structured around hiring the right agency, but you'll notice that there are many key factors that will help your company and team to integrate strategic marketing solutions as well.
Use these steps as a guide. Enjoy!
Step #1 - Define Your Goal
What are you trying to achieve?
To kickstart an engagement with a digital marketing agency you should know your goal. Are you looking for brand awareness, more website traffic, generating leads, closing sales, or a way to retain customers? First identify your purpose of the engagement. It's okay if you want all of the above. Nevertheless, you can think of digital marketing like an assembly line that enables you to segment the complexity and single out the problem. It looks something like this:
No website traffic? Work on writing content that attracts visitors. Identify keywords that your customers are searching. Use social media to create a buzz around your company and brand.
Lots of traffic, but no leads? Give your visitors direction and clarity. Insert call-to-action, forms, and landing pages.
Is your inbox full with leads, but you're not getting the sale? Take a close look at your workflow. Send personalized emails to your leads.
Are you getting customers, but have a hard time retaining them? Earning a customer is a significant reward for a company. Make them feel special, and wanted. Find ways to stay continuously connected, and treat each customer individually.
It is very important you walk into an engagement knowing what you need. Even if it is high level at first. A great agency should be able to find a solution to your pain point. Here are some categories of the digital marketing world:
Website design and development
Social Media engagement and marketing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) / Advertising
Blogging or Vlogging (video blogging) and content creation
In many cases, companies try to tackle everything at once, which can become very overwhelming and end up wasting time and money. Sometimes a company only needs a Facebook page to drastically improve their results, before they try looking like a big corporation.
Step #2 - Research Agencies
Most agencies start out with a specific talent. Something like being really awesome in social media marketing, or building stunning websites, or knowing every bit of email marketing. In their later stages some mold into a hybrid marketing agency in hopes to create fully-integrated strategic marketing solutions for their clients. You should interview a few agencies to find what works best for your company. Here's a list of items to think about when searching for the right agency:
The agency's website
Start with the above-the-fold test, which is quite simple. Within 5 seconds of landing on the website, without scrolling down or clicking on anything, you should know what the company does and have a way to act on it should it be of your interest. For example, does the content and message tell you quickly what the agency does? Is there a button (call-to-action) visible and clear about what you should do? Effective websites don't have to carry a "WoW" factor. The information must be clear and make sense.
Jump on the agencies blog. See how active they are, and what the topics are they are most comfortable discussing. If the blog post is easily read and contains in-depth information, and the content is shared on other platforms, you may have a cool addition to your company.
How much does the agency know about your industry?
It's not bad to have an agency that isn't familiar with your industry, as they will deliver a totally different perspective. Nevertheless, if that is not what you're looking for, it is good to have a team that know your industry and is able to push results in a much faster way because they have past experiences.
Look for a badge
Depending on the size, customer's needs, and their abilities, an agency may have partnerships with Google, Hubspot, or others. Behind that badge are certificates and a team that has been tested and delivered. Now, if you cannot find any badges, or certificates with the agency, that doesn't mean they are not able to perform. Matter fact, you may find a solid winner, without seeing marketing badges.
What are others saying?
Search for testimonials, internet chatter, BBB ratings, and any other info sources you can come up with. Don't mistake trash talk with honest, ethical feedback. There's nothing worse than someone just trash talking, and wishing bad upon someone else. Then there's the feedback that is intended to give the agency a wake-up call. See how the agency has handled the issue. Don't be shocked to find no responses. The conversation could have gone offline, or has been decided to be handled with silence.
Check out their social media channels
Social media has taken off like crazy. It's a new buzz word, but also the Web 2.0. It's the way we communicate nowadays, and has become a very important part of how companies reach their audience. Take a look at the agencies social media activity and presence. If they tell you their #1 and have exactly that many followers too, then maybe they are still in the discovery phase.
Better yet, check out what they have done for their clients. Maybe the agency's social media isn't intended to be global, but rather personal. That's totally fine.
Talk to their clients
If you have a chance to pickup the phone and talk to a client, do so. You can find out a ton of information from someone that dealt with the agency first hand. It's very likely you found a customer on the agency website. Trust me... they will not post failed project, so try to dive past the first layer and surface details about the agency that are the "well... there's the one thing...", or "Really awesome agency, but if they would.... they would be perfect!"
Step #3 - Interview Agencies
If you skipped step #1 and #2, at least go back to step #1. So many jump straight to interviewing an agency, without really knowing what they're looking for. If you didn't flush out your goal, or didn't gather info about agencies, the first talk can be a waste of time. Don't waste time.
Get a first impression and ask questions that will get you closer to your goal. If it was a scheduled call, it is likely the agency has already researched your brand and your company's online presence. Having a goal in mind, you'll be able to keep the conversation productive. Here are some warmup questions:
What does your ideal client look like? Really cool to ask right off the bat. Find out if this is a good fit.
What's your agency's 5-year plan? Unless you're just looking for a website revamp, or quick marketing flier, you want to know that you have an agency that is there for you long-term.
If we hire you, what are your first steps? Proven results usually follow a pattern. That means, the agency has an idea of how to tackle your problem, without having to know every detail of your business.
Who will manage my account, and do the work? It's important to be confident about the work you'll be receiving. Agencies have in-house and outsourced teams they work with. Know who's carrying the workload, and is the ultimate contact for you.
How do we compare to your other clients, in regards to agency spend and requirements? This is the big fish, small fish syndrome. You may be too big to handle, or too little to give attention to. You want to ensure that the agency has processes in place for small and large clients. You also should ensure you can deliver on projects requirements.
Which marketing software do you provide for your customers? There are softwares intended for SMB and large enterprise businesses. Knowing the software the agency specializes in also provides you an idea of their clients. If you're a SMB and they only work with enterprise businesses, it may not be what you're looking for.
How long is a typical contract? If you're working with an inbound marketing team, you shouldn't expect less than 3-6 months before you see results. Thus, finding an agency right for you is key.
What does the ramp-up phase entail? Setting up a marketing strategy and workflow involves time. Such things are not created overnight. Find out what needs to happen to get things rolling.
What is their marketing tactic? Find out if they specialize in paid advertising, inbound marketing, or content writing. You want to make sure you match your needs to their expertise.
Ask questions that will lead to getting you one step closer to your goals. Working with a digital marketing agency is a long-term relationship. Especially if you're looking to achieve results. The more you're on the same page from the start, the quicker you'll turn your efforts and investment into productive outcomes.
Step #4 - The RFP (Request for Proposal)
If this isn't offered by the marketing agency (even though it should be part of the engagement), write a Request for Proposal (RFP). You can start writing your needs and wants into an email. The goal of the RFP is to provide design, web and experience solutions to produce the strongest results for you as the client. In order to establish a solid RFP you want to cover the following:
Business Questions: Tell the agency what your business does, what problems you solve for your customers, who your competitors are, what makes you great, and how your company measures success.
Project Questions: Simply, explain what you'd like to achieve. Do you have current material that needs to be looked at or updated? Have you started a website, or have one? What features (examples: generate leads, increase awareness, increase sales, reduce time spent on tasks, workflow automation) do you envision your website do? Who are the decision makers in your company? And, important to flush out is any deadlines or events that are coming up that need to be considered.
Business Customer Questions: Let the agency know who your dream client is, and how you're currently conveying your message to your customers. What are your current marketing efforts, and what do you see works and doesn't work. Provide any info you have about your ideal customers, like buyer personas.
About the identity: What's the purpose of the engagement, or what are you trying to achieve when hiring the agency? Do you have a brand guideline, specific format, or collateral you can share with the marketing agency? Include three samples of websites, or companies, you really like and why. Do the same with three you don't like. Describe your brand (company's personality).
Equipped with a RFP you will have a much smoother start. It's work of course, but will pay off in the long run. Now, you don't have to include everything. Provide answers and what's available at the time, and don't worry about the rest.
Step #5 - The Test Assignment
With a test assignment you can identify the work relationship you'll have with the digital marketing agency. It will also reveal their expertise and performance. An assignment should be something that can easily be measured, without having to run a full marketing campaign.
Ask for an audit
Often times, before a digital marketing agency starts its work they will analyze your current online presence. They can look at your website traffic, website flow (UX/UI), search rankings, backlinks to your information, social media channels, online reviews and much more. The audit can either be targeted on a specific category like SEO, or be a complete review of your company. Agencies enjoy delivering audits because they are able to present you with items that can be improved.
Snapshot of a marketing strategy
Have an agency provide a high-level strategy that will help you reach your goals. It should be based off of their research. Look for answers on why they believe this strategy will help you, how practical (sustainable) it is for your company, when you could see results, and what resources are required to get you there.
Step #6 - Assignment Evaluation
You can get a lot of reading a report, but it will really pay-off sitting down in person or over a video conference. Let the marketing agency walk you through the report, and explain their reasoning behind the findings.
It's okay to dream big and have ideas that will exceed your expectation. Nevertheless, watch out signs of "too good to be true"... it likely is. It takes time to reach realistic goals, and requires many resources. A good agency knows that, and will let you know.
Step #7 - Meet the Team
After all, you will be working together to make your goals become reality. Meet the team behind the agency, and learn to understand them. Find out what their capabilities are, and how they crank on projects.
Are they good communicators? Are they friendly? Do they approach you in a friendly manner, or do they seem annoyed? Consider the agency as an extension of your company, and the team. Make sure you chive, and enjoy working with them. Matter fact, ask them how they handle client issues in the past. It's almost inevitable to run into a disagreement. Make sure both sides are cool in handling the situation.
Step #8 - Sign the Service Agreement
If you made it this far with an agency, having a smile on your face, then get your pen out a slap that signature on a Service Agreement... WAIT... a couple things to watch out for! You need to make sure the legal "stuff" is covered such as confidentiality, ownership of the content, non-compete clauses, payment as well as late payments, and the conditions of the agreement. This is not going to cover all clauses in a service agreement. Nevertheless, these topics are amongst the most important.
Take a step back from restrictive agreements. An agency should impress you with their performance and results, not two months before the contract ends. A contract doesn't have to in-prison you, but rather offer do and don'ts with a clear understanding of the deliverables. A one-year binding agreement can become problematic when the synergy disappears after second month.
Have clear deliverables
The service agreement should include the reports you'll get, when you get them, and how often the teams will meet. If the agency uses any software and live dashboards for their client (to monitor performance), you need access to it. Monitoring progress, content calendars, and being part of the workflow is an important step in developing outstanding campaigns. Know what you'll receive, so that there are no discrepancies later on.
Agency / Client Obligations
It may be written across the entire service agreement, or have a specific section, about the obligations of the client as well as the agency. Carefully read what is necessary to stick to the plan, and inform yourself of what happens when you experience delays.
Ownership of Work
This is a very important point to cover. Some agencies will keep the content written as intellectual property, so that they can reuse the work for other clients. At no means should you pay for something that ends up not being yours. Nevertheless, you'll find clauses that all work is owned by the agency until the work has been paid in full. That is common, and of course a way for the marketing agency to ensure payment.
Payments and Late Payments
It is not uncommon to find late payment penalties in a service agreement. It's expected to pay within a certain timeframe in order for the agency to cover costs. If payments are not made on time, agencies may want to be compensated for covering the costs for a longer period of time. This could be as high as 20%, but is also something you can negotiate if you find it necessary. Additional compensations, lodging, and travel expenses are usually also covered by the client.
Confidentiality & Intellectual Property (IP)
If you haven't signed a confidentiality agreement, or Non Disclosure Agreement, you should consider doing so. This is to protect your IP, and ensure your data is not used in ill-will. In addition, upon terminating the engagement all data should be returned and/or destroyed.
As mentioned earlier, this is not a full list of clauses that can be found in a service agreement. Always consult with your legal counsel to ensure you are covering all aspects and protect your company.
Working with a digital marketing agency, and making them part of your team, can provide many advantages. The resources and personnel required in-house to perform tasks otherwise done by the agency be very costly. Especially if you're not sure who to hire and what expertise to look for.
I hope the information provided will assist you in finding the right digital marketing agency that will bring you to the next level and help you reach your goals!