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How to work better with your marketing agency

I’ve been on both sides of the client-agency fence at a number of different levels. While it’s clear that marketing agencies can add tremendous value (why I started Clever Zebo :), it’s important to know how to get the most out of your agency team. Having worked with dozens of clients on the agency side of the fence, I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of what client behavior is most effective at driving KPIs. Here are a few recommendations.

BE demanding. It’s up to us to say no if something is out of scope.

DON’T ask us to make up numbers. While forecasting is critical for budgeting and resource planning, there’s a fine line between thinking ahead and wishful thinking. Our job is to bring you ideas for hitting your goals and then help you execute on them. Developing a plan based on historical performance and ramp is wise; making up a data story to conform to investor demands is a way to run in circles and create a lot of anxiety.

GET a clear plan from the get-go. Know what is going to happen when and who is going to do it. The outset of an agency relationship often makes or breaks the ultimate product. Request a timeline with action items and then share them with a couple of your smartest marketing friends/co-workers/employees for feedback. Dealing with concerns upfront prevents a lot of wasted time.

BE upfront about what’s working and not working for you. We’re here to solve problems for you. Don’t worry about our feelings or motivation — we’re not employees! We’re paid to tackle very specific tasks for you. If you don’t like how we’re communicating or tackling those tasks, say so. You’ll be amazed what a fire it lights under an agency’s ass when you complain a little.

DEMAND regular check-ins, progress reports, and analysis. We’re hacking through the details. Your job is to make sure it’s all moving in a direction that works for your company. Ask questions until you feel like you understand what’s being done. But also …

RESPECT our time. Time is our most precious resource. We can either spend our time trying to make you comfortable or spend it trying to get you results. If a check-in call only needs to be 5 minutes, let it be. If an update can be communicated through bullet points, request a quick write-up. Needle us enough to make sure we’re delivering 110% but then give us the freedom to do our thing.

BRING ideas to the table. No one knows your product better than you do. Shoot over thoughts, ideas, and recommendations. If we don’t like it, we’ll say so, but never underestimate the power of your expertise; it could be what inspires a major breakthrough.

INCENTIVIZE the relationship. While it’s harder to structure deals where compensation is partly based on results, it can pay big dividends. Why wouldn’t you want us both to benefit when good things happen?

BE realistic. As much as I want to instantaneously double every client’s revenue, progress is often gradual. Sometimes we strike gold right away; sometimes it takes failure, iteration, and perseverance. Ensure you’re getting hard work and quality thinking. If those are in place, the results will follow; it’s just a matter of timeline.

If you have other recommendations for how to work best with an agency, I’d love to read them.