Digital marketing requires so much work and so many different moving parts it’s often impractical for businesses to try to keep the work in-house—and remain up-to-date with current best practices. Outsourcing to a digital marketing agency ensures you will have a team of dedicated experts without the overhead. Essentially, your organization can stay on the cutting edge by hiring an agency (often the cost of one to two team members) versus five to six new hires.
But here’s the catch: There are many digital marketing companies out there, and not all of them provide the same quality of work or the same types of services.
Of course, you’ll first have to do the work of researching digital marketing companies to identify those that look like a fit for your needs. Then you’ll want to have conversations with each to figure out which is right for you. Going into those conversations, you want to be prepared with a good set of questions that will enable you to distinguish what makes each digital marketing company unique and make an informed decision about hiring the one that’s right for you.
To help you start crafting that list, here are a few good questions to learn more about these digital marketing companies and how they work.
This is a question with a potentially big answer—it should cover both how they approach digital marketing and how they approach working with clients. Most digital marketing companies that have been around for a while have figured out a general process they use to work with clients. Their answer will give you a feel for the kind of experience they have and how organized they are in their work.
In addition to hearing generally about how they work, ask follow-up questions to dig down into how they approach the different areas of digital marketing you need help with. What’s their process for blogging, email marketing and lead generation? How do they approach each channel and type of digital marketing, and bring it all back together in an overall plan?
Hearing them talk a little bit about each of the specific types of digital marketing you’ll be hiring them to perform gives them the chance to show their knowledge and expertise and you the chance to look for any signs that they may not be a good fit.
One of the benefits of hiring a digital marketing agency is trusting that they’ll have employees with specialized skill sets to bring to your digital marketing campaigns. Instead of trying to find a generalist to work in-house, you can lean on their full staff of specialists.
That’s the idea anyway, but you want to make sure it will actually play out that way with the agency you hire. Ask how the work on your account will be divided: Who will be in charge of what, and how does their experience match what they’ll be assigned to?
Pay attention to how well the skills of the specialists they mention match your priorities. If your main goal is improved SEO, then you want to know someone with solid SEO experience would be assigned to work on your account. If you’re more focused on building an email list, then you’ll want to know they have people skilled in inbound lead generation and email marketing.
You’ll want regular check-ins about how your campaigns are going and any insights your digital marketing company learns about your audience as they go. Find out how often they get in touch with clients and what kind of information they provide each time they do. What form of contact do they prefer? If they stick primarily with email, but you prefer regular conference calls, then that’s something to be aware of up-front.
You also should find out if you’ll have one main contact for communication, or if you’ll have direct contact with the various individuals working on your account. Which is preferable is a personal question. One clear contact makes communication simpler—you always know with whom to get in touch. But the ability to provide information directly to the writer working on a blog post or the designer putting together an email layout for your brand can be useful for those who want a little more hands-on access.
Any good digital marketing company will understand that marketing technology is an important tool to achieve success. While this isn’t a question with clear correct answers (whether an agency opts for Buffer versus Hootsuite doesn’t tell you much about the quality of their work), it will help you understand how they work and give you a chance to confirm that their technology is compatible with any tech you’re already using.
For example, if you’re a loyal HubSpot user, you’ll want to know which of the digital marketing companies you talk to is a HubSpot partner and will know how to use the CMS technology to help you get the most from your marketing efforts.
Defining and measuring success can be tricky in digital marketing—you want to be careful not to lean too much on vanity metrics to the exclusion of data that shows you which marketing activities are leading to sales and profit. Ask the digital marketing companies you speak with what analytics they pay attention to and report on for clients. Find out how often they send analytics reports and what form they send them in.
You want to make sure you and any firm you hire are on the same page in how you measure success, in what you expect success to look like, and in how it will be communicated to you over the course of your relationship.
Obviously, you can’t make a decision without knowing the cost of each agency. If you have a budget in mind, make sure what they charge works within it. And just as importantly, you want to know that what you’re getting for your money matches your expectations. You don’t want to realize after you sign the dotted line that you assumed you’d be getting social media services that the agency doesn’t actually offer.
Ask each agency to describe, in clear terms, what their monthly rate includes. And ask if there are services clients regularly request that cost extra. If you can think of specific future needs you might have that aren’t covered in the monthly rate, talk to them now about the expected costs for those if they arise.
If there’s something you know you need they don’t offer (or charge more for than you’re comfortable with), then you need to know that going in so you can get quotes from other providers for that service and factor the difference into your decision.
Marketers know the importance of positioning—if they can’t provide a satisfying response that clarifies their own positioning in the industry, it doesn’t speak well to their ability to do so for you.
Give them the chance to pitch you on why they’re special and what they do better than everyone else. It’ll give you the chance to make sure their specialties line up with your unique needs.
Nothing a business tells you about themselves is quite as persuasive as seeing evidence of their work or hearing from a peer who has worked with them. In response to this question, the digital marketing agencies you speak to should be able to provide evidence of their successful relationships with other customers in the form of case studies and testimonials.
They also should be able to point you toward the visible results of their work—whether it’s websites they’ve helped design, content they’ve created, rankings they’ve helped clients achieve or social media accounts they’ve run. Digital marketing usually leaves a clear trail of evidence, so every agency you consider should have good examples of their work.
A digital marketing agency could consistently do stellar work and still not be the one that’s right for your company. You don’t need just a good digital marketing agency; you need one that’s good for you.
Give them a chance to explain why they feel their agency is a good fit for you. If they’ve been doing their job during the interview, they’ll have gathered plenty of information about what your company does, what you’re looking for, and what your goals are by this point. Look for a customized plan that will help your organization accomplish its goals.
Digital marketing is a long game. To get the results you seek, you want to establish a long, productive relationship with a digital marketing agency. It’s better to be picky now and find the agency you want to stick with in the long term than to make a rash decision and go through this process again in a year. Take your time to vet the potential candidates and consider which is the best fit for you. Once you do, you can begin to see how much a strong digital marketing plan can benefit your company.
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