As a marketing leader, one of the most important decisions you can make is selecting an agency that fits well with your business. The chemistry between the marketing department and your agency is critical to producing great work. The teamwork necessary to keep pace with the rapid changes of business and communications takes dedication and care—and it is easier said than done.
To put it in perspective, in 1987, the average client-agency relationship lasted 7.1 years, today the average is less than three years. In other words, CMOs face enormous pressure to choose partners wisely, and agencies have to work fast to get it right.
This post is the fourth installment of our CMO series. We’re going to pose seven questions that, if answered correctly, will avoid scenarios that kill productivity We’ll also offer some ideas for helping decide between trying to get more from your agency or determining it is time to make a change.
1. Are you confident that you are keeping up with technology and marketing trends?
You may not know the latest search algorithm change or social media strategy, but you should feel confident that your team is staying in step with the trends and technologies that are transforming marketing and buyer behavior.
Attending conferences with your agency is a great way to socialize and learn together and ask them to bring in trends and technology presentations at least once a year. This will keep you evolving together and ensure that you have confidence that your agency is making the investments they need to make to stay current.
2. Are you clear about your goals, expectations and budgets?
From increasing sales to building brand awareness, marketing goals can vary widely. Define your goals, agree upon what success looks like and have honest conversations about the alignment of budgets and expectations. Every client has a finite budget—the collective job of the marketing team and the agency is to get the most out of the budget and the talents of the people on the team. For agencies, the key to success is assigning the right resources. This can only be done properly with clarity of budgets, goals and objectives.
3. Do you know what is working and what is not?
Would running another PPC campaign generate more leads? Would it help to launch of series of thought-leadership articles to establish credibility and build trust? Would PR efforts help your company’s exposure and reputation? There are many strategies and tactics you can consider, but the key is to build a strategic program with active testing and strong measurement practices. Marketing is more measurable than ever before and there is no excuse to wonder if you are making the progress you should be.
4. Do you know what you are paying for?
Transparency in both directions is important. If you don’t know how your agency charges, where your marketing dollars are going, or aren’t seeing results that give you confidence, ask for clarity. Take some time to assess exactly where your money is going and how savvy and experienced the people spending your marketing dollars are. Can they explain their strategy in detail? Can they show measured improvement toward your company’s goals?
5. Is your staff overwhelmed with tasks and constantly feeling behind?
When your internal team is overwhelmed with marketing tasks, it is only a matter of time before you kill morale as well as your ability to drive growth. Maybe it is time to rebalance who handles what. Take a fresh look at assignments and accountabilities—consider what you could outsource to allow your team to be more productive and get better performance out of your agency. You may find that when you bring your agency closer, they can work more effectively to compliment in-house teams and achieve a more productive result at a lower cost. Close alignment will produce work that is on-brand and effective, and when done right, it’s often more cost efficient than assigning internally or increasing headcount.
6. Are leads weak or sales stagnant when your market is strong?
When sales are stagnant—or your sales team is complaining about leads—a good agency can help you figure out how to turn things around. An agency experienced with the modern tools of lead generation and marketing automation can help you develop a strategy with a step-by-step plan to drive more leads and qualify them further before handing them off to sales. If your agency doesn’t work in this capacity, maybe it is time to explore other partners.
7. How do you choose a new partner?
Relevant experience and strong capabilities are obvious measures, but finding the right fit in terms of agency size and values is probably the most important factor in finding the chemistry that leads to long-term success. You want to make sure that you will be a priority client while also doing your best to ensure that if you get stranded in an airport with your agency team there is a good chance you will enjoy it.
Ask some non-traditional questions
Over the years we have gotten thousands of questions from clients and prospects. Here is a list of some you must ask, but we also encourage you to get creative. Some of the best dialog has come from some unlikely questions. Here are few that we really liked.
1. What surprises you most about our organization? If you could, what would you change?
2. Have you ever fired a client? Why? What are some key things that caused the breakdown in that relationship? Knowing that, what would you do differently?
3. Can you please conduct your pitch without the use of PowerPoint or any other technology support?
When it comes to choosing an agency, trust and transparency are the most important building blocks of successful relationship, but having a little fun is important too. Business is serious, but marketing is creative and should include some fun. Find some people with strong talent that you want to collaborate with and enjoy the ride.