12 Lesson From Interviewing 70+ Marketing Agencies

Behdad J.

Behdad J.

Marketing Broker and Business Consultant

A guide to picking the right marketing agency

You are going to make a mistake picking the right marketing agency… or at least the chance of you doing so is very high. 

Over the last two years, I’ve interviewed and researched well over 70+ marketing agencies. I’ve covered the agencies who say they can do it all and outsource everything overseas, to agencies who have systems that will wow any prospecting customer. 

I know how hard it is to find the right marketing partner for your business.  So, I’m hoping that I can make the process less painful for you.

Let’s get into the factors that you should keep in mind when choosing a marketing agency:

1. Balancing between your budget and the skillset

You need to consider what you can get for your money — and be realistic about it. If you have a project that has a lower budget, you will likely want to work with a  smaller agency that is still building their brand or wants to prove themselves by working hard to make their customers happy. 

If you have a larger budget, that same agency may not be a good fit because they might lack the skill set and technical knowledge to take your project to the next level. You may need to work with a large or experienced agency whose team has the expertise you need to complete a more complex final product. 

On the other hand, if you hire a large agency to work on a small project, you may not get the kind of attention and service you expected. Because the agency’s focus will be on bigger and more complex projects. What I would recommend doing in these scenarios is finding out what sized projects agencies typically do and see if it aligns with your expectations. 

2. Don’t get fooled by logos

Some marketing agencies will say that they’ve worked with large brand names, like Nike or Red Bull. But that does not necessarily mean that you should hire them because of this.  You should ask questions. 

  • What type of project did they actually take on for that large customer? 
  • What was the scope of the project? 
  • Was this agency providing the main marketing solutions or did they only take on a small part of a small project? 

 

It is important not to get sidetracked by recognizable logos and make sure that you’re looking into each project individually. The goal is picking the right marketing agency that will meet your expectations.

3. Beware of price changes

Sometimes, if your budget does not align with the actual scope of work and cost, an agency will quote you a second, lower price.  The agency will then use a different technology stack to complete the project and take shortcuts to complete it within budget. These shortcuts are sometimes not in the best interests of your business, and you typically won’t know until it’s too late.

This is one of the reasons why there is a lot of mistrust between agencies and customers in this industry.

4. The size of marketing agencies should not be the deciding factor

When you’re looking for a marketing agency, typically, the size doesn’t matter.  When you work with a big agency, you’ll have a smaller team within that agency working on your project. Likewise, when you’re working with smaller agencies, you’ll have a team of a similar size. At the end of the day, it comes down to the skills of the team and the connections they have. 

However, depending on the type of project and goals you have, you’ll be choosing what kind of agency makes the most sense, size-wise. For example, if you are looking for a full-service marketing agency that provides services across the board and that has to do minimal outsourcing, usually you want a larger organization. On the other hand, if you are looking for a specific service like email marketing or conversion rate optimization, you generally want a team that is very niche and boutique.  

5. Some agencies do amazing work but struggle with communication

I work with some wonderful small agencies, and they have very talented staff. Some people who are masters of their craft are introverts and may struggle with communication in customer-facing situations. For example, they may not be able to explain the various aspects of marketing and why certain strategies are better for your business.

This results in customers who do not understand why the agency took a certain direction, and it takes someone like me to come in and explain both sides of the situation for things to be clear. This doesn’t mean that the agency wasn’t doing good work — it just means there was a communication barrier that had to be overcome.   

6. Some agencies communicate well, but lack execution

For other agencies, they might have salespeople that can connect well with clients, but at the end of the day, they don’t have the team to deliver what they promised. It’s important to spot their shortcomings  in the work they do. And it’s not easy to do that unless you have marketing experience.

Generally, a good way to  figure out if someone is just a good salesperson is to ask some deeper questions. Try to understand  the technology and processes that they use, and how they work with their customers to deliver the final product. If you notice the answers are not clear and concise, I would probably look somewhere else.

7. Most full-service agencies are only good at one to three things

Agencies often say that they can do everything. But most full-service agencies are  only good at one to three things. This is especially true when you are working with smaller shops with six to eight marketing professionals. Of those 6 to 8, they are really only capable of providing expert knowledge in their core digital marketing services.

Unless your budget is high, the secondary services are typically done by hiring cheaper contractors or employees without specialized knowledge to fill in a gap.  

8. Some projects require multiple agencies

While working with over 12 different agencies and over 20 different marketing partners, I’ve come to realize that it might take a couple of different agencies to get one project done.  This is often the case when you have a small to medium budget.  For these types of budgets, I will typically find some smaller agencies that are good at specific things for my clients.

For example, one agency might be skilled at website design, while another might be skilled at website development. Then that same project may require Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”), and so a third agency  might be the right fit for that aspect.

9. Sometimes, you need one agency to do all the work

When you have a large enough budget, you might be able to work with a larger agency that has the team and skill set to complete all aspects of your project. These larger agencies also will have vendor partners that will complete specific aspects of the project.

You benefit from the years that these agencies have been in business and the industry relationships they have made. On top of that, you will get the experiences they’ve gained from a larger customer base.

 

10. Run away from the cheapest option

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers tell me they regretted spending money on cheap marketing solutions that did not actually help their business. 

Initially, the customer will have talked to me about their marketing needs. I set expectations to show the client what their budget will actually get them. Despite that advice, some customers will outsource the work to someone who provides a cheaper rate, thinking that they found a shortcut to fulfill their goals. More often than not, those customers end up coming back and asking for the original price and project that we initially scoped out.

We have a post that explains website pricing if you want to have a look.

11. Ask the right questions

You should know some basic questions to ask while looking for an agency, Some examples are: 

  • What technology stack do you use to build out your websites? 
  • How do you  build out certain pay per click advertising strategies and why have you  chosen those ones over others? 
  • How do you  approach off-page SEO and what kind of connections do they have?
  • How do you  measure performance and what stats do you  use to measure that?
  • Where are your employees located and how do they communicate?
  • Describe a situation where you have lost a customer and why did that happen?

 

These are very important questions. Unless you ask them, you really won’t have a clear picture of the agency and if they are right for you and your business.

12. Trial and error is necessary

At the end of the day, until you work with  an agency, you won’t know how good they are. One of the benefits of working with a marketing broker like myself is that I’ve seen how different marketing agencies handle projects from beginning to end.  I know which agencies excel at specific tasks, and how each agency prices their services. With this knowledge, you know what to expect right from the beginning and end up picking the right marketing agency.

In conclusion, choosing a marketing agency is not an easy task. Finding the perfect agency for you really depends on your project, your business, the budget, and your expectations. If you’re looking for someone to help guide you through the marketing world, I’d be happy to be your marketing broker and connect your business to the right marketing partner.

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