Partnering with a digital marketing agency allows businesses to streamline operations and focus solely on core competencies. The problem is, most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs/SMEs) either don’t know the right questions to ask, or don’t dig deep enough in their line of questioning, to effectively screen potential agencies. Questions are posed over the phone and in RFPs that only scratch the surface of what could discover about an agency’s process, culture, clients, drive, and accountability. This is your time to prod and poke—and don’t be afraid to get specific—just remember, as a rule of thumb:
If you ask a vague question, be prepared to receive a vague answer.
It should be noted, these questions are intended to aid in the agency screening process and help businesses save time by asking direct, detailed questions that force agencies to deliver thoughtful answers. Use these as fodder for quick calls and emails (before RFPs are even discussed) so you’re not wasting your time or the agency’s should the relationship not pan out. As you begin to narrow down a selection, we provide technical RFP questions and templates in the next section.
Can you describe your agency’s website process in general? Then, can you explain how you adapt for different types of projects, clients, and industries?
This line of questioning accomplishes a few things. First, you can get a sense of how an agency works with a client on a foundational digital marketing project, such as a website. Does the response include frequent collaboration and review, for example? Perhaps the process is loose and specifically catered to each client’s unique needs and goals. At the very least, the agency will be talking off script, hopefully, and the canned process answers will be reduced.
How Do I Compare to Your Other Clients?
Agencies have insight into the marketing successes and failures of all their clients and while you’re not looking for proprietary information, they can share broader information as to what has worked in the past and what hasn’t. Experienced agencies may also have statistics to share on their client base as a whole, such as average ad spend for a specific ROI, or potential timeframes to expect in order to achieve results. Essentially, choose an agency with a database of companies in the same ballpark as yours and you instantly attain the collective knowledge of marketers who know what works in your industry.
How does data affect the strategy you put in place for clients?
Digital marketing best practices, tools, platforms, and analysis are constantly evolving. And while there certainly isn’t a lack of tools and subject matter experts to collect, manage, harmonize the data—there is a shortage of actionable data-driven strategy that determines what the hell all this data means and how to produce content to take advantage of the invaluable insight. Look for an agency to explain, not only the rationale behind tools and platforms, but also how the data informs the complete strategic process, from gathering numbers all the way to content in front of the user eyeballs.
What makes a client great to work with? And what makes a terrible client so bad?
Give potential agencies a chance to open up a little and divulge what they expect out of the relationship. Keep an eye out for organizational or cultural redflags—for example, maybe the agency’s best clients don’t see results in their search campaign for at least a year and you’re looking for an immediate SEO ramp up next quarter. Some agencies just won’t fit with your business and this is a good questions to quickly weed out a few.
How do you measure success and how will report our progress?
Do the monthly reports only offer analytics? Will I be able to interpret this data and draw reasonable conclusions?
Reporting, whether monthly or quarterly, needs to tell the whole story and provide both the numbers and the insight. How did the previous campaign/project perform? Why? What did we learn and how will we improve? What are we planning for the next campaign and what are the KPIs? Reports that simply report—are useless without strategy for the future and accountability for the past.
What an Agency Will Need from You
Here are a few things most agencies will request from you as you enter into a partnership
- Marketing Assets
Collect all on- and offline collateral an agency can use to get up to speed.
- Access to online accounts
Provide credentials for analytics account(s), domain/hosting, FTP, blog, and social media.
- Detailed summary of past marketing efforts
Clear picture of which marketing initiatives that have worked in the past and which have not.
- Defined goals and expectations
Realistic, measurable, goals for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years.