5 Questions to Ask a Marketing Agency Before You Hire It

Outsourcing your marketing can be a smart move for small businesses.

Whether you want to find new customers, build a stronger brand, or engage existing customers, effective marketing campaigns require careful planning.

If you’re looking to hire a marketing agency, you want to make sure you’re sizing the marketing professional up correctly so you’re putting your business in good hands.

These five questions will help you zero in on the best fit for your needs, without having to become an expert in online marketing to do so.

1. What does your ideal client look like?

This is a good one to ask right off the bat, before the marketer knows exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and can shape the answer around that information.

The purpose of this question is to establish whether there is a good fit between your needs and the agency’s sweet spot.

Most marketers specialize in something. Some are great at website design, some focus on  paid search campaigns, some with email marketing — and on and on.

Generally, you want to work with an agency/freelancer that does what you want to do, day in and day out. If you are outside the marketer’s sweet spot, chances are you’ll get less than their best attention and execution.

There are a couple of exceptions. If your business plan involves rapid expansion, you may want to hire a marketer that excels with clients larger than yourself. Otherwise, you’ll need to start over with a new agency when you’re knee-deep in managing growth.

The other exception may be if the marketer says, “You’re outside our sweet spot, but you’re where we want to grow our business. If you work with us, we’ll give you a discount and we’ll handle our learning curve on our dime.”

A marketer that says this scores high for honesty, and you could be getting the bargain of a lifetime.

2. What is your five-year business plan?

This question gets at the marketer’s stability. Unless you have a very short-term marketing objective — e.g., a product rollout, a simple website build — you’ll want an online marketer you can stick with for a while.

Most online marketing activities require sustained testing and data evaluation to hit stride and continuously improve; starting over with a new marketer usually entails taking a few definite steps backward to achieve several possible steps forward — not the greatest scenario.

The key is to make sure your marketer has a plan. You certainly don’t want to hook up with a marketer whose main objective is to snag an in-house job somewhere. Ideally, you’ll want to hear the plan is sensible, concrete, and keeps you in the sweet spot.

3. If we hire you, what are the first 10 things you are going to do?

The purpose here is to determine if the marketer has a documented, systematic process for campaign management.

As I said at the outset, online marketing is complicated, with a lot of moving parts. If the marketer really understands the lay of the land, it will have a repeatable, proven system for getting results. You don’t necessarily need to understand all the details of each specific activity, but you do want to make sure the marketer knows how to hit the ground running.

By the way, great marketers will be eager to share details about their work methods, and be able to explain them in plain English. If they are reluctant to share details, or confuse you when they do, it could be a big danger sign.

4. Can you show me a sample month-end report, either a real one or a mockup?

This question gets at the agency’s transparency, and is another indicator of process management.

A good marketer keeps you informed about campaign progress and performance on the key performance indicators (KPIs) you agreed on at the outset.

Thus, reports should be focused on those KPIs, and provide enough detail to where you can tell the marketer did some actual work, but not so detailed that you can’t make heads or tails out of it.

5. Can you give me contact information for clients you’ve done similar work for?

The marketer’s track record is critical. Obviously, if the marketer is unwilling to provide references, you can infer it has not achieved anything significant for a similar type of client. Danger! This does not necessarily mean the marketer is shady, only that the fit isn’t right.

The key here is to focus on references with similar campaign types and goals. Some companies err by asking for references in the same industry; this is OK only if the campaign type and goal are similar.

For instance, if you’re planning to do SEO to find new customers in a local market, the ideal referral is a client for whom the marketer did just that.

As a follow-up, here’s question 5A: Can you please give me your specific results for those clients? This gives you more detail about the similarities to the referral’s campaign, and allows you to match the referral’s impression of results with what the marketer is telling you.

Hire a marketing agency that’s right for you

These five questions will give you a very good impression of whether a marketer is the right fit.

The questions work even better when you vet several marketers with the same questions and compare the results. Most likely, one or two will rise above the rest when you look at the responses in their totality.

If you’re looking to hire a marketing agency for your business, you can find a directory of certified marketing experts through Constant Contact’s MarketPlace.

Search by your business need, industry, or location to find an experienced marketing professional to help your business get to that next level.

Visit Constant Contact’s MarketPlace to get started. 

About the Author: Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing company in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including American Marketing Association, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.

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