More often than not, an agency is hired because the last agency failed to meet expectations. Simple as that. Now, new agencies are lining up with big ideas and potential outcomes that sound too good to be true. Needless to say, you’re skeptical. You’ve heard it all before, probably more than once or twice, and you’re wary to jump in with another agency since you’re not sure where you or your company went wrong screening the last one.
You had clear goals and KPIs. You perfectly balanced the in-house and vendor workloads. You’ve asked all the right questions in the courting process and even received explicitly detailed proposals from the RFPs you sent out. But the relationship soured and now you’re doing it again.
Maybe the issues didn’t stem from a lack of preparation, but a lack of compatibility. Businesses often put blinders on when they find the services and track record their looking for without taking the time to evaluate cultural fit.
To evaluate how an agency aligns with your company, dig into our agency compatibility checklist, below.
Core services are in-house, not outsourced.
By now, you have an idea of a few basic online services your business needs succeed. While assembling the services together into a cohesive strategy is the job of an agency, it’s crucial that the core capabilities are performed at the agency. To determine this, try asking probing questions that force the agency to provide detail around how each step of the strategy is going to be accomplished. If anything is glazed over, double back and inquire exactly who will be doing the work during that particular phase of the project.
Granted, not every agency will have the talent to deliver a complete strategy on their own—especially, if you’re trying to save money by going with a smaller shop. If the agency does use outside vendors ask about the partnership.
- How long has the agency been working with them?
- What do turnaround times look like?
- What, specifically, will be shifted to them as opposed to in-house?
Operates as an extension of your team
The best, most successful agencies don’t feel as if they’re working for your business as a contractor—they feel like part of your team. Be it the agencies experience in your industry, their effort to collaborate and listen, or simply the dedication to continuously build, measure, analyze, and improve with you, rather than for you.
To get a sense of how an agency approaches client relationships, ask about collaboration touchpoints.
- Do they have clearly defined part of the process in place for not only your feedback, but also time allocated for collaborative workshops, brainstorms, and interviews?
- Ask about the process and find out how much time is dedicated toward collaborative strategy before each deliverable.
Emphasis on accountability through analytics and measurement
Was that campaign last month successful, and why? How are my conversions lining up with the time I’m investing into certain projects? What’s my ROI for my KPIs—and is that hitting our goal?
Marketers ask these questions everyday and your agency should be able to answer them and directly correlate effort to analytics. These periodic reports will be able to show what worked, what’s underperforming and—most importantly—why and what adjustments need to be made going forward.
Some questions to keep in mind while screening agencies for their data chops would be:
- How often will you report back to us on campaigns and progress?
- What tools will you use to measure our projects?
- What changes can be made, both short and long-term, to metrics underachieving?
Experience in your industry (and outside it)
When screening agencies you will naturally browse portfolios and case studies to see how closely related their past clients are to your industry. Understandably, if you’re in the tourism business and the potential agency only has B2B experience—take notice. That’s not to say agencies can’t be extremely versatile, but it can be encouraging to see proven results from clients within your industry. That said, be wary of agencies with experience in one or two industries. Specialization can stifle creativity and you may run into a shop with little left in the tank, creatively, to really push the boundaries.
From the sales process, to strategy and delivery—each touchpoint should be tailored to your businesses specific challenges and needs. Early on, potential agencies should be asking you:
- What are your goals and how they’re being measured?
- What are the benchmarks and metrics that matter most to you?
- What does success look like 3 months from now? Six? A year?
From these answers, agencies should be able to tell you:
- What they recommend you do first, second, third
- How this plan resembles proven success they’ve had in the past
- What they see as the most critical piece of inbound marketing for your business and goals.
“In most things success depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.”
Strong project management skills
Seems like a no brainer, right? But often, marketers focus on the hard skills of an agency and shiney case studies rather than analyzing an agency’s ability to plan and organize teams and projects. Agency managers, from directors to project and account managers, are responsible for directing the time and skills of their own teams and requesting time from SMEs on your team. Often, more time is requested at the beginning of an agency relationship to get up and running quickly—followed by ongoing check-ins to make sure campaigns or projects are on track.
Try asking potential agencies:
- What types of questions and request, technical or otherwise, do you and your team anticipate making of myself and my team as our relationship kicks off?
- What types of ongoing requests to you anticipate making of myself and my team?
- What tools, software, spreadsheets, reports, or other orientation materials should I expect to receive when the relationships kicks off? What about on an ongoing basis?
Trains and educates your team
While we’re not teaching anyone how to fish, the Chinese proverb rings just as true for content marketing as it does for angling. An agency worth its salt understands digital marketing—specifically content marketing—requires a ton of work and a cohesive effort balanced between agency and business. Successful agencies take the time to train your team on the best practices surrounding inbound marketing, website maintenance, content marketing, and more so you’re all working toward the same goal, with the same context.
User Experience is a Priority
Any web design company can include user experience on their list of services—the question to ask is:
- What is the depth of this web design company’s UX services?
- What are the tools they use to develop the user experience?
- Are their wireframes based on the personas?
To take it even further, do they include the details of functionality and calls to action that align with the tasks that each persona needs to accomplish when visiting your site? One area agencies can step up UX is wireframes. Basic wireframes use design best practices and common sense while robust wireframes put the user in the driver’s seat, and base all information architecture, site structure and experience flows on their wants and needs.
Content Governance Plan
One of the most common ways an organization can lose control of the modernness and relevancy of their site is by not knowing when to remove or update content, and where that content resides. An experienced agency considers long-term content planning and governance when making redesign recommendations, not just what content the site will launch with. A content governance plan will consider the form and topic of your content, its lifespan, how it can be repurposed, and when it should be retired or redirected. Paired with a content calendar, the content governance plan ensures that your team can maintain and refresh your site for years to come.
Do you have a firm grasp of the agency’s. . .
- Pricing Model