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How to choose a marketing agency

Choosing an online marketing agency can be a special kind of maze. With so many consultants and boutique firms out there, how can an ROI-minded business give itself the best shot at outsourcing marketing successfully to a successful long-term partner?

Today I want to focus on 5 pointers to  help you choose an online marketing agency in a competitive situation where multiple firms are bidding for the business.

1. Hire all of them. That’s right, I’m suggesting you contract will all of the marketing agencies on your short list — for a test period of 2 to 4 weeks. Spell out a very specific project for each marketing firm, giving each a distinct project with well-defined action items and success metrics. You’ll quickly see what working with each firm feels like, and importantly, which team hustles to earn your business.

2. Get specific with references. Of course you’ll want to call each online marketing agency’s references if you’re serious about hiring them. But beyond the basic reference call, I recommend asking specific questions about the results these clients saw. Politely make them point to measurable improvements in conversions and revenue as a direct result of working with the partner in question. You’ll quickly discover who deflects and who is happy to show you exactly where they saw lift.

3. Get a commitment on responsiveness. Over time, agencies get complacent. During the sales process, require each agency to spell out their policy on replying to emails and phone calls. Not only will this show you which agency is ready to collaborate with you and be maximally communicative as you try to achieve results together — it will serve as a handy guideline many months down the road and hold them to a high standard.

4. Require an action plan. Ask for a detailed action plan from each marketing agency you’re seriously considering. This is at the same level as a reference check — I wouldn’t do it unless I was 95% ready to hire a couple of agencies. Ask them to provide a timetable of what happens in the first several months of the engagement, and have them outline their thinking for why this order of operations is optimal. The quality of work and turnaround time on this deliverable just might give you the answer you’re hungry for.

5. Get an expert’s opinion. Have a marketing stud in your network read the agency’s blog and peruse the content they’re putting out there (videos, webinars, white papers and the like). Do they know what they’re talking about?

This post is intended to provide a few pointers for marketers who are close to a decision and are in the late stages of evaluating options for outsourced online marketing. That said, it’s good to have a rubric in the earlier stages to help you narrow your options. This RFP template for marketing software, while not specifically tailored for selecting a services business, can be hacked to offer a rubric for evaluating online marketing agencies. The scoring system stands up — you’ll just need to adjust the criteria. Good luck!

Of course, if you have any questions during the sales process and could use a few expert digital marketers’ thoughts, just give your resident Zebo a holler.