“I’ve been burned by a digital marketing agency before.” It’s a sentence that both saddens us at Adjossible and doesn’t surprise us. With so many companies claiming to be digital marketing pros and so many cloud & SaaS business owners looking to unlock their potential for online growth, there is bound to be disappointment, miscommunication, and yes, even fraudulent behavior. We’ve found one safeguard against soured relationships to be using expectations to avoid being burned by a digital marketing agency.
Many times we find that when we listen more to a potential client’s fear of being burned “again,” what they’re really sharing is a gap in expectations versus results. And while some inbound marketing agencies aren’t what they say, more often it’s that they’ve done a bad job listening to a client’s concerns, answering questions tempered with realistic expectations, and providing frequent check-in points for feedback, progress reports, and partnership discussion.
Why even hire an inbound or digital marketing agency in the first place?
Reputable inbound marketing agencies offer a wide array of benefits to Cloud & SaaS businesses. With a simple contact to an account manager, a company has access to photographers, content writers, strategists, graphic designers and web teams, SEO experts, and videographers. To hire for all of those positions internally, even using contract labor, would be prohibitively expensive for most small to mid-sized companies. Plus, this team of professionals works together so you’re not only benefiting from their skills and experience, but from their internal communication and collaboration. An agency will be able to listen to your goals and come back with a fully-fleshed out plan, complete with timelines, asset creation plans, and mockups prior to launch.
When working with an inbound marketing agency, you’re also able to take advantage of their trials and errors. Marketing is, at its core, careful experimentation. With so many moving pieces (platforms, content, shifting best practices, industry competition, etc), it’s to your benefit to let them run tests on a broad base of clients and then use their learned expertise to help your business grow. Rather than assuming all of the risk for your own company, you’re able to take advantage of a pool of testing.
Pro hiring tip: To make sure you’re not just working with a company who is testing (and performing poorly), ask about their client retention rates and what value-adds they offer their clients.
There’s a third benefit to retaining an agency as your marketing partner, and it comes down to how much you’ll have to educate yourself on marketing topics. When you’re hiring internally or even attempting to accomplish marketing tasks without assistance, the burden of education (initial and continual) rests solely on your shoulders.
When you’re working with an agency, they are responsible for providing you with the resources you need to understand what actions they’ve taken on your behalf (and why), what results you can expect (and when), and how they plan to move forward. Bonus: they’ll be keeping close eyes on your competitors which will help your company stay in the game and anticipate industry adjustments.
For example, did you know that publishing 16 or more blog posts a month brings 3.5 times more traffic to your site? It’s true: Content marketing works.
How can I avoid being burned?
This is a loaded question. Generally, the answer is two-fold: set expectations from the beginning and ensure the agency will be frequent & proactive in their communication. Although there is no guarantee, assessing their initial meetings with you is a good way to extrapolate how they will conduct business moving forward.
Inbound marketing agencies should be prepared to give you a clear action plan, before you sign the proposal, of what tasks they will be responsible for, what the timeline for each task will be, and when they’ll be scheduling time to share feedback, progress, and updates with your team. Also included in their proposal should be mention of daily platform monitoring, A/B testing of messaging, emails, ads, and content, monthly (at minimum) reporting, and campaign planning (done quarterly).
Any strategic document an agency provides you (this will be more detailed and will typically come after you’ve agreed to work together) should be a fluid plan that is adapted based on best practices, audience performance, and campaign response. Digital marketing is, as we mentioned, often the art of best educated guesswork so it’s important to know they will be watching and adapting as needed to ensure your investment generates the best results.
Another red flag to pay attention to is how they plan to structure the contract. If you’re locked in to a particular inbound marketing platform, even if you prefer another tool, or are unable to break the contract for an extended period of time, the relationship may not be the right fit. It is important to note that ANY marketing effort does take time to gain traction and results, but prohibiting changes in the relationship from Day 1 can be concerning.
The bottom line
Engaging an inbound marketing agency is a bit like starting a long-term relationship. The most important factor for success, aside from capability, will be the fit. Although this can be hard to determine from a few meetings, there are several factors you can use to support what your gut feeling might be about the agency. In initial conversations, marketers should be prepared and willing to talk about opportunities for the future, flaws in the current strategy, and what your competition is up to (on a light scale).
They should also spend a good portion of time listening to you. Talking about their experience and ability is important for you to get an idea of who you will be working with, but they should be just as invested in getting to know more about your company. After the conclusion of the first meeting, they should set expectations about next steps, timelines, project scope, educational resources, and any reference materials you may need.
The anticipated fit of the relationship, or your comfort with the team, should always top the list of factors to consider when hiring an inbound marketing agency. While budget is important, true partnership with help everyone maintain a trusting relationship based on results, mutual investment, and committed effort.
There’s no guarantee that even following these steps you won’t ever be burned again, but working to understand who the agency is, how they can help you succeed, and why they want to be involved will help both parties set realistic (and clearly communicated) expectations for success.