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How to Choose the Right Inbound Marketing Agency in 2014

By Stephanie HawkinsJan 6, 2014

how do i choose an inbound marketing agencyDeciding which agency to work with can be tough. Maybe you like the fact that Agency #1 included a design mockup in its proposal but also liked the thought-provoking questions Agency #2 asked you during the sales process. You know Agency #3 only works on retainer and Agency #4 charges "between $8K and $23K for a website redesign." You need a way to compare these things, but they're not like variables. So what're you supposed to do?

One way to be more objective during the agency selection process is to look at the way each agency does its own marketing. This is effective for two reasons: 1. You're comparing apples to apples. 2. You're examining concrete evidence (i.e., whether an agency is capable of successfully marketing itself) rather than hypothetical pros and cons.

What follows are my suggestions for things to look at when considering different agencies. 

Website Design

You need a great website—one that fits your company perfectly, looks beautiful and makes you proud. The people who build your website should share your values. If they don’t, you’re not going to get the website you envision.

Go to the agency’s website and look at it purely from a design perspective. Don’t read anything in depth—just look at it. If this was your company’s website, would you be happy with it? Would the design do your company justice? Is it modern? Is it mobile responsive? Do you have to squint to read the font? Are there photos of real people on the About Us page? Is there evidence of original graphic design or do the CTAs look like stock graphics? Is this a website you’d be proud to have your logo on?

Now read everything on the home page...really read it. Is it clear? Does it give you a sense of who the agency is and how it’s different from its competitors? What’s your emotional reaction to what you’ve read? Are you charmed? Bored? On a scale of 1-10, how much desire do you have to read another page?

Pretend this website is the best this agency can do. In theory, it should be. If the agency won’t  step up to the plate for itself, why would it do a better job for you?

Inbound Marketing

You’re not looking for general marketing help—you’re looking for help with HubSpot and inbound marketing. To figure out whether an agency team can really help you, ask yourself how well they’re helping themselves. If you see little evidence of inbound on an agency’s website, ask yourself why. If the agency team doesn’t have the resources to do inbound well or lacks the chops to keep it up, how will they find the resources and motivation to do it for you?

What does “doing inbound well” look like? Here are some places to look and ways to evaluate what you see.

  • Explore the resources page. Inbound marketing specifically means you’re generating credibility and goodwill with your buyers by educating them. What kinds of resources does this agency have on its website? There should be at least a handful, including a mix of eBooks, videos, webinars and interactive tools.
  • Look at the blog. Blogging regularly (at least twice a week) is a core part of inbound. Does this agency blog at least twice a week? When was the most recent post published? If they’ve abandoned their own blog, that’s weak sauce.
  • Examine social channels. Another central tenet of inbound is a multi-channel approach. Visit the agency’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. How many followers do they have? How often do they post? Read through a few of their latest updates. Does what they share appeal to you? Are you going to follow/like the agency now? Why or why not?

Strategy

You’re looking for someone to help you attract and convert your target audience. Every agency will tell you they can do this for you. If they’re right, they should be awesome at attracting and converting their own target audience, which in this case is you.

You are a real, live example of a target buyer for the agencies you're evaluating. To find out if their strategies are working, ask yourself the following questions.

When you looked at the agency's resources page, did you feel motivated to download any of them? How many of the agency's videos or webinars appealed to you? If your answer is “not many,” you can safely say the agency doesn’t understand its audience. If the resources were attractive to you, the agency has effectively understood you, which proves it may be able to do the same for your target audience.

Next Steps

This is not a be-all, end-all way to pick an agency. It’s more of an early-stage narrowing-down process. However, it's extremely useful to figure out which agencies walk the walk. Through their own marketing, these agencies offer verifiable evidence that they're capable of helping you manage your efforts...or not. If you make this vetting process your starting point before talking about details like price, scope and deliverables, you'll be off to a good start. 

photo credit: hang_in_there

Buy-in, Budgets, & Best Practices
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The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie is a Strategist at Kuno Creative and writes about content marketing, buyer persona development and inbound marketing strategy for Brand & Capture. She lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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