Hall and Oates. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Key and Peele. Ben and Jerry.
The best partnerships are those in which two parties continually push each other to excel. Each brings unique talents and characteristics to the relationship. It's a relationship based on mutual respect, honesty and open communication.
As marketers, these are our relationship goals. Whether we run a marketing department or work for an agency, we all want a partner who gets it, but isn't afraid to challenge our way of thinking. We want someone who trusts their team to do what they do best but still gives appropriate feedback.
Like all successful relationships, strong partnerships require work on both sides and take time to develop. Here are a few steps you and your team can take to start off on the right foot.
If your sales team isn't on board with your marketing goals and the role your agency will play in achieving them, the relationship is doomed from the start. Take the time to meet with your sales team, executives and other key stakeholders before hiring an agency. Spend some time educating them about the importance of inbound marketing and what's in it for them. Be sure they understand how you plan to qualify leads and at what point marketing will pass them off to the sales team. Give them the opportunity to ask questions, meet with your agency and stay involved throughout the process.
One good way to get key stakeholders invested in the effort is to invite them to be involved in content creation. They can be interviewed for guest blogs, give feedback on a proposed resource or weigh in on sales emails to ensure their voice is represented in anything that goes out to your customers or prospects.
Beyond the services, terms and conditions outlined in your contract, you and your inbound marketing agency should set shared goals so you both agree on what success will look like. What are your most important goals? What metrics will you use to measure the extent to which you achieve them? How often will you review your progress?
At Kuno, every month we use a scorecard to review metrics such as website traffic, conversions, marketing qualified and sales qualified leads.
Putting these goals in writing and committing to them holds both sides accountable for results. In the same way, establishing clear roles ensures everyone understands how their individual responsibilities contribute to the big picture. It also helps everyone avoid confusion, oversights and duplication of efforts.
While it's important for your team members to be involved in your marketing efforts, it can quickly turn into "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. Before you know it, you've spent three months on a single resource that's still in draft mode. Worse, you could have half a dozen different sales reps vying for their vertical to be equally represented in the next marketing piece—even though it may not make sense for your company.
Designating a single point of contact to manage communication between your team and your marketing agency will help you avoid this. Ideally, that point of contact should have enough authority to single-handedly make decisions, but not so much authority that they don't have the time to review things. The CMO may have too many other priorities to manage, so the marketing director may be a better fit. It also helps to determine what types of content need additional input, and from whom.
Generally speaking, the CMO and the rest of the executive team should sign off on things that involve high-level strategy, such as website layout, navigation and core messaging, but they don't need to sign off on the copy for every site page. Similarly, they should agree with the general direction and design of an eBook, but they don't need to comb through every sentence.
Depending on your industry, you may need a more intensive review process that involves your legal team. Your point of contact can streamline these reviews by looping in those parties early on, while the content is being created, giving firm deadlines and being diligent about following up.
Technology has made it easier than ever to work remotely, but there's nothing like a face-to-face meeting to build trust and rapport. It's more than a feeling; research on top-performing virtual teams shows teams that meet within the first 90 days actually perform better than those that don't.
Inviting your agency out for a site visit also gives them a better understanding of how your business operates so they can capture it more accurately in your content and design. It's also a great opportunity to take high-quality photos and video or even conduct interviews with key stakeholders.
Trusting your agency to handle certain aspects of your marketing can feel a little like handing over your baby to someone you've just met. It might make you nervous at first, but if you've hired the right inbound marketing agency, you have no reason to worry. Remember, while you are the expert in your field, they are the experts when it comes to inbound marketing, and this isn't their first rodeo. Your success is their success.
If you're having trouble letting go, offering guidelines can help you remain in control without micromanaging. Make sure you have clearly communicated your vision and have provided written guidance in the form of branding documents, collateral and other resources. Then, trust them to take it from there.
After hiring your agency, you may have breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of passing off a section of your to-do list to someone else. But this isn't the time to step back. To do the best work for you, your agency needs your feedback and support. They need to know what your company is doing, what new initiatives you have in your own marketing plan, and what sales goals you've established. These things tend to change over time, so be sure your agency is aware of these changes to ensure your efforts are still aligned. Plan to meet at least once a week at first and at least twice a month once you have a good routine down.
Keep the lines of communication open in the meantime. Don't rely solely on email; recognize when a phone conversation or in-person meeting is needed. Both parties should also maintain transparency about the project schedule and what's in the works. Using a project management software can go a long way toward making tasks visible to everyone and holding team members accountable. If you don't need a monthly subscription, there are some great free project management tools out there, too.
Starting a new partnership with a marketing agency is exciting. With two teams working together, you can effectively double your efforts and bounce new ideas off someone with expertise your team may not have. The possibilities are endless, provided you are willing to put the work into developing a strong relationship. But even if you've been working with your agency for a while, there's no time like the beginning of a new year to start fresh. If your team has fallen off track in the past few months—you've lost enthusiasm for an initiative after getting a strong start, or your marketing calendar has begun to look more like a wish list than a practical roadmap—you can still recover. Start by revisiting these six tips with your marketing agency.
Want to learn more about what it's like to work with an agency? Read these five stories about successful partnerships we've had with our clients and how the relationship unfolded from start to finish.