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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistTue, Oct 2, 2018 13 min read

How To Define What Success Looks Like When You Work With A Digital Marketing Agency


Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder, But Agreement Is The Key

GettyImages-600416150You’re looking for an agency to help you with your company’s marketing. Maybe you’re looking for an agency or consultant to help you close some deals. Perhaps you’re looking for a strategic partner to help your company do a better job at consistently hitting your monthly revenue goals.

Regardless of what your goals are or what type of agency you’re looking for, if you want a successful relationship with them, an important conversation needs to be had before you sign anything.

You must agree on what success means and when that success will be delivered. This must be agreed on by you and by your agency. Without this, your engagement is an accident waiting to happen.

If you want more guidance around what might feel like a challenging conversation, here are some questions to ask your potential agency partners. Their response should trigger a series of conversations that lead up to agreement on exactly what success looks like for both parties.

Knowing what you know about my business (any agency that hasn’t started looking under the hood as part of their sales process should be disqualified immediately), what key metrics do you think your agency can deliver for us and in what time frame?

It’s a great question and a great conversation starter because to answer this in a helpful way, the agency is likely going to need a little more from you, like your short and midterm business goals.

For example, one of the most overlooked KPIs that impacts revenue growth the fastest is close rate on proposals submitted. If you told us that you wanted to drive more revenue, that is one of the first KPIs we’d look at.

If we can move that from 10% to 20% in three months, you can double your revenue. Wow, right? But if your close rate is already 80%, different KPIs would need to be discussed, like sales cycle length, the quality of the leads being generated and the number of sales opportunities flowing into sales.

This conversation is also going to rely heavily on the current state of marketing and sales at your company. If your website is horrible, if you don’t have any content or if your sales reps are stumbling with the current marketing-generated leads, then it would be smart to step back and look at other definitions of success for the first three months.

Simply stopping the bleeding and getting a new website homepage, creating better content and conversion offers on the site, and supporting the reps with a CRM tool might be a much better definition of success. It’s not always a set of metrics; it could be some solid tactical deployment, too.

Here’s what I think success looks like for my business (this is where you share what you want to see happen); is this something you can deliver and, if so, in what time frame?

Understanding what you and your team think success looks like is a great place to start. Hearing first-hand what you expect and when you expect it starts a conversation that might require some resetting, explanation, experience sharing and education.

You might set the bar too low, and any good agency should be quick to adjust your thinking to be a little more aggressive. The goals should not be set too low simply to achieve success. They should be set so that you and your agency are 100% comfortable that they are attainable.

If you overachieve, everyone can rejoice and take a more aggressive goal-setting approach for the next 90 days. But unrealistic goals help no one.

What is required from me and my team to make this success happen?

This is a wonderful question, and we love it when potential clients ask us for clarification around what’s going to be required of them and their teams. We specifically outline what we’ll need from them and gain their signed consent around their ability and willingness to deliver.

We’re agreeing to a specific success delivery, so we need you to be equally committed to making this work. It might mean an agreement on turnaround for reviewed items, a consistent and available point person to work with who has the authority to make decisions, regular attendance at meetings where decisions are being made and not changing direction or strategy during the 90-day period.

Of course, businesses sometimes need to pivot, and that’s fine, but agreeing to this means recognizing that if the overall company strategy changes, so does the definition of success.

It also means agreement exists around trusting your partners and leaning on your agency to do what they do. Once you start telling the agency what to do, they’re no longer responsible for success, and its all on you.

Getting this out on the table and discussing it up front paves the way for a smooth and successful engagement on both sides.

What can we expect from you while delivering this level of success?

Yes, in the previous question you asked to understand what’s expected from you, and now you’re asking what the agency is committing to do.

You should be looking for transparency into what they’re doing for you and the results from that work. You should be looking for education and guidance around the areas you’re working on together. You should be expecting a certain degree of responsiveness. Its good to talk about these expectations up front and agree on what’s reasonable.

The agency should be happy to take responsibility for any reporting on progress toward success. They should be open to leading the 90-day strategy conversations and guiding you and your company toward those agreed-on definitions of success every 90 days.

But perhaps the biggest request you should make (and one of the biggest signals a potential agency should be sending) is that their success is directly tied to your success, and that when your company grows, they feel like they’ve had some hand in helping you grow. Youre in it together, not on two sides of the table.

What happens if you miss on delivering what we agree to here?

When you agree on what success looks like, that’s only part of the story. You also have to agree on what happens if the agency misses on delivering what you agreed to. Sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t work out as expected.

Plus, you’re committing to being responsive, being decisive and not changing direction midstream.

Any agency worth the investment in their teams should be comfortable putting some skin in the game should they miss their commitments to you. Agencies that excel at delivering for their clients should be more than willing to provide some financial incentives if they miss what was agreed to. That could be in the form of a cash payment, free services or some combination of both.

Don’t expect to get a full refund, as that would not be fair to the agency. They did put work into your support and have hard costs associated with those services. But it would be fair for them to give you something as a penalty for not hitting the agreed-on goals.

When will you deliver the success we agreed to, and what happens next?

Now that you know what success looks like and what you’ll get if the agency misses the agreed-on goals, you should also be clear on what happens when the agency does hit the delivery goals.

What is the agency going to expect from you? One of those requests might be to participate in their advocacy program and be an advocate for the agency. They might ask you to be part of a case study or success story. They might ask for referrals. They might ask you to write a review on a directory page.

Delivering successfully as agreed should come with the ability to leverage that success to tell your story, either privately or publicly.

Carefully consider the responses to these questions before selecting an agency.

This discussion is one of the first important conversations associated with getting to know each other. If its challenging getting to an agreement on what can be done over what time period and your willingness to participate and be active in the work required to get you there, it might be an early indication that you’re not right for this agency and they’re not the right agency for you.

Tens of thousands of agencies exist. Not every agency is right for every potential client. These types of business conversations are not typical from agencies, but they are what you should start expecting and demanding.

These conversations should be some of the most enlightening, educational and constructive for your business.

You may come into these conversations expecting your agency to generate 1,000 leads in just two months with your $4,000-a-month budget. Knowing you’re currently only getting 10 leads a month and only 1,000 visits a month to your website means the best agencies would push back on your initial expectations and then help you understand what can be done, over what time frame and for what level of investment.

That’s the kind of agency you should want to be working with.

Over a day or two, you should be able to come to an agreement. In three months, you’ll go from 10 leads and 1,000 visitors to 25 leads and 1,500 visitors. That move is going to need an investment of $11,000 a month for three months. If more than doubling the lead flow and driving a 50% improvement in visitors to the site in three months is success in your mind and the investment justifies the lift, you’re on your way to a great relationship with your new agency.

You’re also looking for an agency that uses this 90-day success definition as part of their methodology, so that every 90 days they’re sitting down with you and discussing what success looks like, reviewing the numbers and using data to help drive agreement on this. Put a few of these 90-day sprints together and in no time your business is going to look a lot different, and in a very good way.

Not all agencies are created equally. Look for agencies that want to have these high-level, strategic conversations with you. This is a lot different than the way agencies used to work, and the best ones are looking for clients who enjoy having conversations like this.

Square 2 — Building The Agency You’ll LOVE!


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.