Selecting an agency is difficult decision for a B2B tech company — and the Chief Marketing Officer — to make. It’s an investment and a long-term commitment — much like a lease on a new location for your business or hiring someone for your executive team. Making the right choice can make you feel like you won the lottery. Choosing poorly can drain energy — and funds — from your company.
To select the best marketing agency for your company’s goals, stage, and market position, follow these essential tips.
Look Internally Before You Hire an Agency
Before selecting an agency, perform some internal analysis to ensure you’re filling the right gaps with the right team. An internal analysis will help you pinpoint what to look for in your agency’s expertise and offerings.
What is your vision for success? What is your company attempting to accomplish in the first place? Increased traffic? More brand awareness? Successful product launch? Before shopping for tactics, you need to define your goals and identify measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to ensure you meet your goals. You can’t hire the right team if you don’t know what you’re attempting.
What is your process for approval and day-to-day communications? Be honest about who makes the decisions and how your decision process works. If you don’t have a formal process, now is the time to author one. Once you add an agency to your mix, you’ll need a process for internal and external team members to run on.
What is your budget? Be sure to decide on a monthly/annual budget before you begin the process. Depending on your needs, your costs can range from $10,000 per month to $100,000+ per month. An agency solely managing your paid ads will likely be on the lower end of the budget spectrum, while an agency that shepherds you through a rebrand and a new website launch will cost more. Factor marketing collaterals into your budget. For instance, your new trade show booth and your Google Ads expenditure are in addition to your agency fees.
What skills and/or expertise does your team lack? It is important to identify the areas of expertise that your marketing team doesn’t have. Maybe you have an amazing graphic designer and content producer but need an inbound strategist to pull it together. Maybe you need to dominate organic search, but don’t have the in-house expertise to do so. Maybe you have a sales executive leading the charge but need the equivalent of an outsourced CMO who can drive strategy and marshal a team. Whatever the case, be honest in the analysis of your current team. Write out your conclusions for extra clarity and for reference while you’re interviewing agencies.
What do you want the relationship to look like? Define the “rules of engagement.” Some companies want a very hands-off approach with their marketing agency, while others want daily communication. Take the pulse of your marketing team to discover what will best help them achieve their goals.
What to Look for in a Marketing Agency
Once you’ve determined you need an agency and have identified the talents you’re looking for in an agency, how you define success, and what the “rules of engagement” are, you’re ready to begin your search for the best agency for you. Here are the top criteria to ensure you find the right fit.
Industry: There are vast differences between an agency that markets sneakers and one that markets a SaaS solution. Make sure the agencies you’re considering have B2B experience. Decisions about boosting web traffic, posting on social channels, and scoring and converting leads differ dramatically from B2C. Make sure the agency knows how to advise and guide a company like yours. Likewise, investigate the agency’s experience in your vertical. If you offer a hybrid software and hardware solution, like wearables, does the agency you’re considering know how to talk about it and show it? Agencies with an industry focus are already immersed in the intricacies and complexities of that world, rather than having to learn it. This helps them serve their niche client base better.
Expertise: Once you’ve identified the skills your team lacks, creating a list of what you need from an agency becomes easier. Agencies vary in expertise. Some focus on web design or branding, while others focus on PR, SEO, or inbound strategies. If your team requires more than one area of expertise, look for an integrated marketing agency. An integrated marketing agency offers numerous areas of expertise under one roof — such as web design, video, SEO, content production, PR, and inbound — and knows how they work in concert with one another for greater success. An integrated agency can also work well if you only need one service. They know how to maximize a particular area in the context of all that your team is doing.
Culture: Spend time researching the people, mission, and values of the agencies you’re considering. When you hire an employee, you make sure the new team member will fit your company culture. Make sure the agency you hire does the same.
Size: Some companies want a big agency because they believe they will reap the benefits of a big team. Other companies pursue smaller agencies because they feel a smaller one will be more nimble and commit more resources to them. In reality, the size of the agency is a small consideration. Industry focus, expertise, culture, and fit are far more important. Talented staff flow between big and small firms. Don’t let large or small turn you away from an agency. Go for fit.
Partnership: How does the agency you’re considering handle account management? Will you only have access to your rep, or will you have open communication lines to executives plus the artisans and writers who are serving your account? What levels of involvement, partnership, and communication do you want and need? Ask these questions in the hiring process so you know you will have the kind of partner you want most.
Transparency: There’s nothing worse than paying for something and wondering when you’re going to get it. Therefore, you need to understand the tools and processes an agency uses and how transparently they report. Most agencies will use some type of project management software to keep clients in the loop. At the beginning of the process, you should expect a timeline of deliverables (or activities) so that both teams are held accountable. We recommend working with a KPI document with weekly reporting. Don’t get too caught up on things like hours; You aren’t buying time; you’re buying results.
Client List: Who has used the agencies you’re considering? What have been their experiences? What do they say publicly about the agencies? Don’t be afraid to ask for permission to call and talk with a past or current client. Outside of the sales process, you can dig into the experience a reference had. The references provided should be similar to your company in size, vertical, or both.
Hiring a Marketing Agency
There are thousands of agencies. The sheer number makes narrowing your list of contenders difficult. However, it is unrealistic to interview twenty or thirty prospective agencies. Once you’ve done your research, narrow it down to three to five agencies for interviews or meetings. You can always expand that list if you don’t find what you need in the first batch.
In addition to interviews, make sure to check out the company on LinkedIn and look at the individual profiles of their employees. This will give you more insight into the company culture and the backgrounds of the team you may work with.
The process of requesting a proposal is changing. Many companies opt for an RFP as a way to easily weigh the pros and cons for each agency. Whether or not your company wants to go the route of a formal RFP, there are some questions you should ask all your vendors.
12 Key Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your Agency
- What services do you offer?
- What is your process? How do you determine what services will be most effective?
- What does your agency do best?
- What types of project management and communication software do you use?
- What does your reporting structure look like?
- How do you handle communication and collaboration?
- How big is the team that will be managing and executing our work? What is their experience?
- How do you structure the project timeline?
- On a monthly basis, what KPIs does your team focus on?
- Do you have any references we can speak with?
- What is your employee retention rate?
- What is your client retention rate?
Hiring a marketing agency isn’t an easy process — but when you identify the right needs and goals, the process becomes much easier. If you’re looking to work with an integrated marketing agency with a track record of success in the B2B tech market, schedule a strategic consultation today. We’re prepared for your tough questions. We’d love to hear how we can help.