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From the Trenches

Vetting an Outsourced Marketing Agency? 6 Questions to Use

Right Source | January 29, 2015
How to Trust An Outsourced Agency

I recently had a prospective client ask me where one of my team members went to college. We then got into a deeper discussion about why we hired this person above other candidates, and what we looked for in candidates when hiring new employees. This struck me as odd at first, but then I realized that this client was doing things the right way. He wasn’t just vetting our services to see if Right Source was the best marketing fit for his company, but was diving in deeper to see if we employed the kind of people he would want as a part of his team.

“Who’s on the team?” is only one of the questions you need to ask if you’re hiring an outsourced marketing partner. How do you really vet a firm, what questions do you ask, and how do you know if the answers make sense? After sitting on both sides of the table — client side and agency side — for countless years, here are a few tidbits I have learned that will help you find and vet the best outsourced marketing partner:

  1. Is the agency listening to you? Do they understand your goals? Any prospective partner should ask you about your business objectives and marketing goals very early in the conversation. Give them your story then sit back and listen to what they have to say. Think hard about what they are saying to you — do their suggestions address your goals in a way that might demonstrate meaningful results? If your goal is lead generation, you might hear, “We can get you 3,000 new leads over the course of the next month.” The problem is, those 3,000 leads are useless if they are all the wrong people and won’t yield a single sales opportunity or deal. The agency should get to the root of your needs and explain in a comprehensive, logical manner how they will help you reach your goals. They should explain how, from a lead generation perspective, they understand your industry and audience, and how they will develop targeted content and campaigns to generate the right kind of sales prospects.
  2. Does the agency plan or just act? I’ll be the first to admit that I never used to like planning. My mantra is, “I’ll just wing it,” as my colleagues know all too well. This is born out of a long career entrenched in the inner workings of a company where speed and reactiveness outranked planning. Take the time to do things the right way with your outsourced partner, but beware that not every agency views planning as critical to an engagement, so make sure to ask how they operate. I’ve learned my lesson, though. The planning piece is extremely important. I’ve run into countless clients who wonder why we do so much research and planning up front instead of simply executing on what they, the client, thinks needs to be done. You hire an agency because you value their input and know that you need help. If your outsourced agency simply acts upon whatever you dictate, you’ve lost 90 percent of their value. You need them to step back and take a strategic look at your business and processes. You will be more successful in the end by having them evaluate and plan before executing.
  3. Do they have great people? Not just good people, but great people — people who are experts in their fields, people in whom you can have a high level of confidence. These people are meant to supplement your existing marketing department (or even become your marketing department), so you want them to be strong in areas critical to the successful completion of your goals. Look people up on LinkedIn, investigate their backgrounds. Meet as many of them as you can and talk to them as much as necessary to develop an initial level of trust and confidence. As you whittle choices down to your finalist, ask the entire account team to come in and meet your internal team to discuss roles and process so you are comfortable with how things might really function. You’ll be working with this agency team as if they are your employees and teammates, so you need to believe in them.
  4. Can you work well with the agency? We have the opportunity to work with a lot of different companies — all different sizes, industries — and each has its own personality. It can be different for you, as a company, to work with an outside agency versus your in-house team, and you have to be willing to adapt, otherwise you run the risk of becoming a bad client. Make sure you get along with the prospective agency, its people, and the way they do business. You need to be able to trust them, their process and their knowledge across the board, otherwise you and the agency will become frustrated and you won’t meet the goals you set out to achieve. At Right Source, we have an “ideal client checklist” that we use to vet clients to make sure they are a fit for our company. This checklist includes all the standard things like client revenue, industry, and budget, but more importantly, it includes the “softer” items that can make or break a relationship. Is the relationship going to be partner-partner, not client-vendor? Will the client treat agency employees with respect for their knowledge, time, and effort? Create your own checklist for your search — remember your prospective agency partner probably won’t tick all the boxes, but they should check most of them.
  5. Do they do more than just one marketing thing? Historically, companies marketed in silos. The perception was that if you needed to improve search engine rankings, you would hire an SEO agency. If you needed some media coverage, you hired a PR agency. If you wanted a nice collateral piece, you hired a good designer. What everyone now (hopefully) realizes is that all of these things need to work in tandem, and someone needs to understand how they all fit together to meet the end goals of the business. Many agencies have specialized in something in the past, partially to differentiate themselves. However, when interviewing agencies in today’s marketing landscape, you need to make sure they know about everything. And not just a little about everything. They need to be well versed. Yep, that’s a lot to ask, but today’s outsourced marketing agencies should be staffed with the best modern marketers. Modern marketers know a lot… about a lot. If you’re talking blog post writing and they can’t answer SEO questions, there’s a problem. If you’re talking website design and they can’t discuss how marketing automation could fit in, there’s a problem. Look for a breadth of knowledge to help your business grow and thrive.
  6. What do their references say? Ask your potential outsourced agencies for references from clients who have similar goals to yours. You should ask pointed questions, so that the responses are telling and meaningful to your decision-making process.
  • Do they make you feel like they’re a trusted partner, not just a vendor?
  • Is the agency responsive to you/your needs?
  • Have they backed up all the promises they made in the courting stage?
  • Are the people performing at the level you hoped?
  • Do you feel like you’re getting ongoing value out of the relationship?
  • Is the agency continuously helping your business grow with new ideas?

You can think about your agency like a new employee(s) because they truly are an extension of your team, and should be vetted that way. But one employee will never replace a good outsourced marketing team’s varied skill sets and roles. Choose correctly, and your agency will be 10 times more effective than any one single team member you might hire.

If you’re considering an outsourced marketing agency and want to see how we stack up, contact us to see if we’re a good extension of your team.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.