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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Feb 23, 2017 13 min read

Hiring An Inbound Marketing Agency? 7 Signs You're On The Right Track

Many Inbound Marketing Agencies Look And Sound Similar; Here’s How To Identify The Winners

How To Compare Inbound Marketing AgenciesAsk HubSpot how many agencies are in its partner program and the answer is going to be somewhere around 3,400. That means you have at least that many inbound agencies to choose from. If you’ve made the decision to work with an agency and inbound marketing is at the core of your marketing strategy, this is the pool you’ll be fishing in.

The big challenge is how to find the best of the best in this sea of digital agencies that all look and sound very similar. There’s a lid for every pot, and in this case, there’s an agency for every company looking for one.

Here are seven important signs to look for to help you find the right agency for your company and one aligned with your business goals.

1) The Agencys Marketing Strategy Work Consists Of More Than Personas

I get it; you want to start producing results right away. You want quick wins and you want to put points on the board. I understand the desire to produce results and do so quickly. But if you skip the strategy portion of an inbound marketing effort, you’re introducing an incredible amount of risk into your program. You could be months into the execution only to realize you misaligned your messaging with prospect pains.

To mitigate this risk, look for an agency that thinks strategy first. Look for an agency that can deploy the strategy in a way that allows it to get campaigns up and running while strategy is being formalized. Basically, you want a team that is nimble enough to take what’s been agreed to strategically and start deploying it. As the strategy crystalizes, the rest of the campaign assets also come together and you get to current work streams that converge simultaneously. This allows you to do the strategy work and get the results-generating campaigns up and running at the same time.

The best way to be sure your agency of choice works like this is to ask the agency to describe its approach to strategy. How does the agency deploy it and leverage it? How does strategy fit in with campaign creation, launch and testing? If the agency can walk you through a logical process, you’re in business. If the agency struggles to explain it or you don’t understand its process, you might want to keep looking.

2) The Agency Is Obsessed With Results

inbound marketing resultsMost agencies will say they are focused on results, but in our experience the agency either lives this daily or just pays lip service to it. One way to uncover how committed an agency is to your results is to ask the agency to show you performance metrics projections for your company and some samples it has done for other companies. The agency should not be sharing other client data, but sample representations are fine. What it produces for you is even more important.

How close is the agency to its own numbers? Does it know how many leads it has generated across all its clients? How often is the agency reviewing these numbers for clients? Hint: It should be daily! You should know how many leads you generated yesterday and your agency should know, too. There are probably other results to keep tabs on, and you’re going to want to talk to all the agencies youre considering about the numbers they think are important.

For example, funnel conversion rates are critical indicators of success for clients. Being able to turn leads into new customers is something your inbound agency should want to help you with. Make sure this obsession with metrics is across the entire agency. It’s not enough for just the owners to talk numbers. The team working on your engagement should be just as savvy and just as obsessed with making your marketing work and work well.

3) The Agency Has Processes, Systems And Methodologies

Inbound marketing includes a lot of heavy lifting, and the lifting gets done day in and day out. When you’re looking for an inbound marketing agency, look for agencies that have figured out the systems and processes required to stay on top of the work, do it efficiently and do it in a way that produces results for clients in a repeatable way.

If your agency is figuring it out all over again every time it does something, it’s going to cost you more and take longer to get results — if you even get results. For example, how does the agency prioritize what to work on? How do you collaborate with the agency in that effort? How will you resolve conflicts around what to work on and when? Your agency should have an answer that’s been proven to work well over time.

4) The Agency Tells You What It Thinks

For me, this is critically important. Many agencies are happy to do whatever you say, whenever you say it and do it exactly the way you want it done. But I don’t think that’s going to get you the results you’re looking for. Why? It’s simple. If you knew what to do, you wouldn’t need an agency, would you? You’d need a vendor, not a strategy partner.

I’d suggest you look for an inbound marketing agency that has it in its DNA to give you the right advice and no-fluff guidance. The team at your agency should be telling you based on its experience what it thinks you should do and how you should do it. If you don’t trust your agency to do what it thinks is needed to get you the results you’ve agreed to, you’ve hired the wrong agency.

5) The Agency Can Quickly Optimize And Adjust

Another area has to be optimization. It’s easy to say you work to optimize campaign performance, but how? Ask your prospective agency to tell you exactly what methods it uses to leverage data, identify campaigns that could be improved, create the tests designed to improve performance, execute those tests, analyze the data, make smart decisions, and then do this over and over again.  

Ask for examples of campaign optimization and the actual results associated with those optimization efforts. Why were those elements selected for optimization? What techniques were used when creating the test plan? How was the data evaluated? What happens when tests fail (because they will fail)? How will the agency respond to those situations? You’re attempting to dig below the surface to find out exactly how the agency is set up to deliver one of the most important aspects of an inbound engagement. Get this part wrong and you’re looking at lower-than-expected results.

6) The Agency Realizes Inbound Isn’t The Answer To Everything

It’s rare that inbound marketing answers every challenge a company is facing from a revenue generation perspective. Sometimes you need some targeted advertising, sometimes account-based marketing might be right and other situations might call for affiliate or partner marketing.

In other cases, sales might need some support. You want your agency to be supportive of the prospect experience from click to close. This means the agency can help you with sales process improvements, sales communication, sales orchestration, lead scoring and tactics that shorten the sales cycle, like advocacy and referral programs. Make sure your agency has the background, people and experience to deliver the components you need today and in the future.

Make sure the agency spends enough time with you to understand your business so it can diagnose your marketing requirements and offer support in the right areas, not just the areas it excels at or the areas it wants you to purchase.

7) The Agency Has A Broad And Agnostic Approach To Technology

Make sure your agency understands technology and can help you select it, deploy it and optimize it. You’re going to want to work with a technology agnostic agency, one that helps with a wide variety of products and product categories. Tech is such an integral part of marketing and sales today that if your agency doesn’t have this skill set, you’re not getting the right advice. You might also be spending time and money on activities that could be automated or even eliminated with the right application of software.

Technology is rarely the only answer. It’s just a piece of the puzzle. You’ll want your agency to work with you to fix the core challenges first and then apply technology to the new normal, instead of swooping in with technology and deploying it on a broken process. This will not produce the desired results.

Selecting the right agency for you doesn’t have to be complicated. By asking the right questions, by looking for agencies that practice what they preach and by digging below the surface, you can uncover the insights you need to make a solid decision. One other piece of advice is to look at your agency relationships as long term. You don’t want to switch every year and you don’t want to bail on your agency in the middle of the program. Youre about to get married, so spend as much time dating as possible until you’re sure this is the right agency for you.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.