Ready to hire an outsourced marketing agency? Great! Think you’ll never have to mention the word “marketing” again? Not so fast…
While it’s true that your outsourced marketing agency will take a huge chunk of work off your plate, you still want to sit at the table and be a part of the dinner conversation.
In this article, we discuss tips for managing your marketing agency, key questions to ask your agency, and some advice for transitioning from one agency to another.
Tips for Managing Your Marketing Agency
1. Define your internal stakeholders and management team
One of the many benefits of hiring an outsourced marketing firm is that their team of experts can align seamlessly with your team of experts. But success happens when there are clearly defined roles and expectations. Choose one member of your team to be the agency’s primary point of contact. This will ensure you have someone on your team who is up to speed at all times with the agency’s progress and goals.
Similarly, ensure you have a primary point of contact on the agency side as well. Who can you call or email if you have questions?
But be careful not to just dump everything into the lap of one person. Setting regular update calls, debriefs, or status presentations with the larger marketing team - including the C-Suite - will ensure everyone is on the same page. Which brings us to our next point.
PRO TIP: Marketing firms have a notoriously high turnover rate. That can be enormously detrimental to your success with an agency. If you spend months getting a new contact onboarded and they leave for another opportunity, now you’re back to square one. Ask your agency what their employee happiness and turnover levels are. And check out their listing on Glassdoor for an insider look at employee satisfaction.
2. Set your expectations for updates, reporting, and input levels
As an outsourced marketing client, you can be as low or high-maintenance as you want to be. You can ask for monthly traffic meetings or quarterly reports. You can request your own dashboard login and do your own performance analysis, or you can wait for scheduled updates. You can personally review every word of content marketing that’s written on your behalf, and you can ask for revisions. But whatever you want to do, it’s best to communicate your desired level of involvement and your expectations at the outset.
Questions to consider when outsourcing your marketing:
- How involved do you want to be in the day-to-day implementation of your agency’s marketing tasks?
- How often do you want updates and reporting? What should those updates and reports look like, and how should they be communicated? (For example, via email, on a call, or on-demand via a live dashboard?)
- Who should be copied or included on updates from your side of the business?
- How can the agency share success with internal marketing stakeholders so you look more successful?
- What is the internal review process for content and other marketing deliverables? Who is the point person for different types of content deliverables? For example, will someone be reviewing the content and copy, with another person reviewing design? How long should that process take? Who needs to say yay-or-nay before something goes live? Outlining these details is extremely important to the success of your partnership.
- What is your outsourced marketing budget and who will oversee that? Things sometimes change so it’s important to have a team member who can review and approve additions or subtractions to your budget.
Marketing agencies often employ different types of account managers, writers, and designers. Some are expert collaborators; others are better at producing with minimal directives. By asking these questions now, you’ll establish common ground for everyone.
PRO TIP: It’s okay to start off your relationship with your agency in a more heavily-invested state. Perhaps you want to read everything they produce in the first quarter or two, then once you have more trust (and results), you can take more of a backseat. Finding the right agency relationship means you can come to trust them as much as you trust your internal employees. Eventually, you should aim to get to a place where you assign a task and they run with it, only involving you according to how you want - and need - to be involved. This is the difference between working with a vendor and working with a strategic business partner.
3. Create clearly defined goals -- and check in often on those goals
It goes without saying that success with an agency should be measurable and specific. And those goals sometimes span beyond the marketing department. As you define specific KPIs and metrics that you’d like your agency to help you meet, it’s important to ask yourself:
- What are my business objectives and goals this year?
- What are the sales objectives and goals I would like to achieve?
- What are my specific marketing metrics I’ll need to meet those goals?
Saying “we need more traffic” is vague and can lead to frustration when it comes time to review the success of your partnership with an agency.
Saying “we need to significantly increase our organic traffic so that we can drive 10 new MQLs per quarter by Q2 next year” -- now that’s a SMART goal.
Make a list of goals that include numbers, percentages, and timelines. A good outsourced marketing agency will have the insight to help you determine where you stand currently and which figures are reasonable. Then, using your goals as a guide, the agency can propose targeted strategies to meet or exceed those goals.
PRO TIP: Goals and success may look different depending on your perspective. Try to think of what success looks like from multiple angles. We like to ask our clients the following questions:
- What does success look like for the overall business?
- What does success look like for marketing?
- What does success look like for sales?
- What needs to happen for you to say, “I am so happy I engaged with PMG to do this work!”?
- What potential obstacles are there to any of these successes?
4. Trust your marketing agency's expertise
Why did you hire an outsourced marketing agency in the first place? If you were just looking for some order-takers and executors to implement basic work, that’s one thing. If you’re looking for strategic, digital B2B marketing partners to create, review, challenge, and optimize your entire marketing strategy, then that’s a different story.
Your agency is probably engaged with a handful of other businesses in your same industry. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Even though you know your business better than anyone, consider that your agency may have insights into marketing best practices and successful outcomes that you don’t.
If they challenge an idea, process, or outcome, try to rely on their experience so that you can be successful together. We always recommend hiring an agency that can serve as a strategic business partner in helping you accomplish your goals.
5. Expect a bit of give and take
There are lots of great benefits that come with outsourced marketing. Instant gratification is not typically on the list. Remember that marketers are trying to balance your input and preferences against the many best practices that have proven effective across all business sectors. There’s a learning curve on both ends of the equation.
If the first effort is less than stellar, judge your agency by its ability to incorporate feedback. Grade them on listening skills and follow-up. “Give and take” is the best way to ensure your agency will consistently meet your expectations, and deliver even better work in the long run.
PRO TIP: While you should expect a bit of time for on-boarding, don’t be afraid to ask your agency how they are working behind the scenes to drive immediate value from your engagement. There are plenty of tasks your agency can complete during the on-boarding process to make sure things move smoothly and quickly.
6. Share your industry finds
Your agency will do its research, yes. The agency may already have some industry-related clients. Still, they aren’t walking in your shoes every day.
The reality is: you know your business the best. So expect to be one-part marketer and one-part teacher to your new agency.
How? Share your secrets. Send links to the articles and reports you love. Send along newsletters, LinkedIn groups, or channels that you subscribe to. Be clear about who your business competitors are. What do they do that you like? Forward any samples of great work that you find. When you’re jolted from sleep by a brilliant, brand-based epiphany, call your marketing team. They’re probably awake, too.
PRO TIP: When working with new clients, we like to get the inside scoop into everything that’s important to their customers. That includes asking about:
- The places their customers go for news, insights, and to socialize online
- What acronyms, lingo, shorthand, or other language do they use?
- How do they search and find products online? And how often?
- What kinds of content do they prefer to consume? Whitepapers? Videos? Social media?
- What tradeshows, events, or online media do they attend to develop their careers or business?
If you know the answers to all of these, send them along to your agency. The more information they have, the better they can develop and curate a strategy that’s best for YOUR business.
7. Tap different team members to review agency work and collaborate
Part of the reason you’re hiring an outsourced marketing department is to avoid overloading your team with additional duties. As a part of that team, YOU are also susceptible to overload, burnout, tunnel vision, over-caffeination —and other horrible work-related fates.
Don’t be afraid to pass the baton. Everyone on your staff has unique insights. Some employees may even have a knack for blogging or an active interest in social media. These are great opportunities to start merging outsourced strategies with in-house talent. And somewhere down the road, you may find you don’t need so many dedicated hours from your agency.
PRO TIP: If you've made it this far, you're probably considering work with an agency. This guide can help. Check out 7 Signs You're Ready to Outsource Your Marketing for even more advice on a well-managed marketing partnership.
8. Communicate often, openly, and honestly
Sometimes your business needs and goals change. Sometimes you need to be flexible. Sometimes you need to give feedback on a deliverable that didn’t meet your expectations. Other times you may not get along with your account manager or point of contact.
Do you need more reporting? Do you need less involvement in the overall marketing process? Do you need to meet more frequently?
Working with an agency has an enormous amount of benefits for your business. But a relationship with this much investment isn’t always easy. It’s important to have level-headed conversations with your agency representatives and agency management regularly.
A great agency will check in with you often about your satisfaction. But if that’s not the case, it’s important that you speak up so that everyone can realign and get back to meeting your business goals.
Questions to ask your outsourced marketing agency
We’ve worked with a lot of incredible clients over the years. Here are some of our favorite questions to answer. And while these are great to ask before you begin an engagement, your agency should be prepared to answer them during any stage of your relationship.
- What is the tenure of your clients? You want to work with an agency that has a strong track record of success. If clients are staying for multiple years, that’s a good indication that they’re satisfied and continuously growing with the agency.
- What is the tenure of your employees? What is your rating on Glassdoor? Happy employees mean that your direct point of contact within the agency is less likely to turnover -- affording you a more long-term, sustainable partnership based on cumulative growth and knowledge.
- Do you have specific and extensive experience in my particular industry or field? It’s great that many agencies have extensive experience across several industries. But you’ll likely see the most success by working with experts in your field.
- Who will my team be? What are their specialties and experiences? Knowing who will be handling your day-to-day marketing can help you understand whether the relationship will be a good fit.
- Have you completed a project like this before? Can you share the results? Industry experience isn’t the only important factor. If your business is the pilot for certain marketing initiatives -- like a website redesign or PPC campaign -- you may want to reconsider.
- What is your HubSpot agency partner tier? How long have you used HubSpot? How long have you been a HubSpot partner? If you’re using HubSpot, it’s important to work with an agency that has extensive experience with the platform.
- What makes you different from other agencies? Why should I work with you instead of a competitor? Ask yourself: what is important to you as a business? Is it a focus on philanthropy? Is it just results, results, and more results? Is it a team with personalities you love working with? Make sure this key differentiator aligns with your idea of what an agency relationship should look like.
- When can I expect to see results from the engagement? Be realistic here, taking into both ‘quick wins’ and long-term plays. A great blog, for example, can take 60-90 days to be successfully indexed by Google. Results, like any great thing, take time.
- My business is very niche -- how can an agency provide strategic direction for me? Your agency should work with your subject matter experts, research your business, and continuously seek opportunities to learn from you. Even the best agencies will lean on you more at the onset, as they grow and learn more about your business. Additionally, a highly qualified agency will also be able to carry forward its learnings and experience with other businesses to make sure you’re successful.
- How is the work plan determined? A strategic partner should take time to understand your business goals and shape a long-term plan that will achieve them. However, there will also be times when you’ll need to carve out time for the basics. Do you need to shift things a bit to get some blog posts or emails out the door stat? It’s your dollar, and your requirements should take priority.
- How often can we meet with you to get updates? How long should it take to hear back from you if we send you an email? Stay away from agencies that try to push you into quarterly meetings. You should have a primary point of contact that you can speak to at any time. Depending on the project, meeting weekly may be necessary. Otherwise, bi-monthly or monthly check-ins are standard. When it comes to emails, we respond to our clients within minutes or hours. We hold ourselves to a 24-business-hour maximum response time. Don't be afraid to ask what the expectation is at the agency you're interviewing. It's important to have a clear idea of how long it will take to get replies.
- What if our needs change in the middle of a plan or project? It happens. Flexibility is key to success in marketing. Your agency should be used to rolling with changes. It shouldn’t be a problem to swap out similar projects or investments. If it’s far enough in advance, you may need to flush and rethink your entire 90-day strategy. Just keep in mind, your agency is a business, too. Dramatic changes may come as a cost if the work is already in progress. Both sides should be fair and make the pivot work.
- What if we don’t like or agree with the work provided? Agency work usually comes with a revision agreement -- so be sure to ask about this ahead of time. If it’s not in line with what was discussed in the planning stage, be open to having that conversation so that expectations can be clearly set in the future.
- What if we butt heads with the agency Account Manager? Be sure to have a level-headed conversation with either the agency owner or their manager. The beauty of an agency relationship is if personalities don’t mesh, a switch of players can often be made.
- What is the scope of work? Can we start off with a project before moving to a retainer? Be wary of agencies that require you to sign a 12-month commitment before moving forward. It doesn't have to be that way. While a monthly retainer is generally the best way to get the most value from your agency long-term, only sign a contract that you feel absolutely comfortable with
Tips on transitioning from one marketing agency to another
It happens often. You work with an agency but then, for one reason or another, it just doesn’t work out. We wrote about this topic comprehensively in this guide right here. If you are transitioning from one agency to another, here are some key tips to keep in mind:
- Know that there are other fish in the sea. Just like a personal relationship, every business or agency relationship is unique and different from the previous one. Enter your next relationship with an open mind. And most importantly, don’t assume your next relationship will come with the same strengths OR the same shortcomings.
- Embrace the opportunity for growth. Make a list of everything that went really well, and everything that went poorly. It’s important to take responsibility for the things you could do better too in your next relationship. Outlining the areas for improvement will help your next agency understand what success will look like in your new relationship.
- Get your ducks in a row. Be sure you have access to all your accounts, logins, and all the work the previous agency delivered within your possession. If there was something complex that they were managing that you don’t quite understand, be sure to get the details in writing. Then, inform your new agency of what was in the works, so they can pick up where the other left off.
Managing your outsourced agency doesn't have to be difficult. At Precision Marketing Group, we embrace four key standards: Excellence, Integrity, Flexibility and Fun. That's right. With the right agency, your partnership can be fun. If you want to learn more about how we can help you grow your business by 40% (like we did for our client Kardex), get in touch today. We'd love to start learning more about your business. Want to keep learning more? Here's another guide on agency management to keep this momentum rolling.