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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Sep 19, 2018 13 min read

Why NOT To Fire Your Digital Marketing Agency In The First 3 Months, 6 Months Or Even 12 Months

digital marketing agencies

Treat Your Agency Like You Would Treat A VP Of Marketing Or CMO

digital marketing agenciesBad news for marketing leaders at companies: The average tenure of these leaders is 44 months, as reported last year in the annual analysis from Spencer Stuart. This is not surprising. The marketing lead has the lowest average tenure of any leadership position.

What is surprising is the massive disparity between the way people treat their marketing leaders and their marketing agencies. If you’re going to give your marketing leadership hires almost four years, why would you not give your agency the same time frame?

First, your agency is probably costing you less than your VP of marketing. Glassdoor shows the average annual salary (not including bonuses) for the head of marketing at around $190,000.

This means you’re in for close to $200,000 a year, plus investment in tactics like content creation, website development, paid ads, events and organic search engine optimization. You should be looking at a budget for marketing in the neighborhood of $300,000 a year.

Let’s say you’re in a cheaper market and/or you hire a less experienced head of marketing, like a marketing director. Your compensation is now around $100,000 (all-in with benefits), plus the $100,000 for all of the tactics required to execute marketing. Now your budget is a more modest $200,000.

You could still work with an agency for less than that and get everything you want plus a rich set of experiences to drive results.

You see where I’m going with this.

You’re going to invest the same amount of time selecting an agency as you would hiring your new head of marketing (or at least you should). The process of picking an agency should be just as comprehensive as the process you go through to hire someone.

But would you think about firing your new marketing leader in just three months or even six months? What about a year? Probably not. Assuming nothing dramatic is going on, you’re going to give them the time they need to learn your business, get their strategy set up, build the program and then optimize it to produce results.

You need to give your agency the same runway you would give a marketing hire. No one is going to come in and drive 1,000 leads in 30 days.

Here’s how to guarantee your agency or your new marketing lead gains success out of the gate.

Define Exactly What Success Looks Like

What does success look like? How will you know when you get there? Are all parties involved thinking about what success means in the same way? These are difficult questions to ask and, in some cases, difficult questions to answer.

These apply to internal hires and agency selection. How will you know if the agency or your new VP of marketing is doing a good job? How will you know if they’re doing a great job?

Is it because people say nice things? Is it because stuff is getting created and looks great? Is it because key metrics are moving up and to the right? What key metrics? Is it because you have more leads? More sales-qualified leads? More sales opportunities? Or is it the holy grail, more new customers? What about revenue? How important is that? What about timing? When do you expect specific things?

Success ranges on a spectrum, and it means different things to different people.

This is the most important conversation to have, whether you hire a person or an agency. You need to agree on what success looks like and when.

The timing of this agreement is also critical. If you agree new leads are the measure of success and getting 50 new leads a month means success to you, then how long should it take to get you from five new leads a month to 50 new leads a month? One month, two months or 20 months?

You should realize by now that this might require some negotiation, some education and a lot of discussion. You want the goals to be a challenge, but you also want them to be attainable and reasonable.

This is also where you should expect a reality check. You might need 100 leads a month but only be able to afford $2,000 a month for marketing. That won’t get you 100 leads, so now you have to reset your definition of success or raise your budget.

Again, your prospective hires and your prospective agencies should be talking to you about this important aspect of your expectations.

Set 90-Day And 30-Day Goals

If you really want to build a revenue generation machine at your company, you’ll need to accept that this might take a few years. You should see month-over-month progress, but this could take longer than you expected. It will be worth the wait but, in the meantime, here’s how you manage progress.

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Break down that big goal into smaller goals. Define a strategy and an approach. Every 90 days, discuss what success looks like, and agree to that in 90-day blocks.

Some of those initial 90-days goals might be to simply build your foundation marketing materials or optimize your website. After a few successes, these 90-day goal blocks can turn into metrics-related successes.

Its possible that if your marketing, sales and revenue generation is already in a good place, your first 90-day goal could be metrics-based.

Once you agree on what success looks like 90 days out, have your new leader or your agency plan in 30-day sprints. You should be less concerned about what they are doing because you agreed on what success looks like. Let them do what they do.

You can have interim 30-day goals, too. A good agency or a good marketing leader will set these up on their own as milestone markers to make sure they’re on track to hit or exceed the agreed-on 90-day goal.

You hired them for their expertise, and micromanaging them around the 30-day plan might actually prevent them from doing what they do best. Remember, you picked them, so let them do what they’re trained to do.

Agree On A Budget

We talked briefly about the budget and investment level as it relates to what success looks like. This is a very important part of the conversation with your new hire or your prospective new agency.

Big goals require a big investment. More modest goals require a more modest budget. You can make all of the demands you want and set all of the unrealistic expectations you want, but that won’t produce better results or help your company in the long run.

Based on my experience, its like giving an employee an unrealistic goal. They usually shut down, look for another job or make bad decisions to somehow throw the “Hail Mary” and try to hit your goal.

You can say you want to improve lead flow 10x and only plan to invest $1,000 a month all you want. You’ll probably find someone somewhere who takes on that challenge, but they won’t hit your goals and you’ll fire them — and have to start over again.

Lowering your goals and expectations will produce a lower level of investment. Its all up to you. What do you want for your business? Do you want a productive, educational conversation with someone who tells you how much you’ll need to invest to improve lead flow 10x based on your current metrics? If that is critical to your business, you should take their advice and invest properly. If its not, lower your expectations and work with that same expert to reset the investment and budget requirements.

Agree On Strategy And Stick With It

Finally, businesses need to be agile. They need to pivot on occasion. They need to adapt to what’s going on in the market. All true.

But what you need to know is that every time you pivot your business, change your mind, adjust direction or redirect your company’s strategy, that affects marketing.

You will have to start over in almost every situation. The impact that has on what success looks like is massive. All of those agreed-on goals have to be reset.

A decision like this could set you back three months at a minimum and in some cases six or more months. As you think about changing your company’s direction, keep that in mind.

In my experience, any issues or challenges you’re facing rarely have to do with overall company strategy. They almost always have to do with marketing and sales execution. You might not want to admit that, but that has been our experience.

Don’t change your mind every three months. Pick a direction and stick with it for the entire year. Every single business operating system, like EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) or Rockefeller Habits, teaches planning around three-year, one-year and then quarterly cycles. This forward thinking limits the amount of short-term strategy pivots that kill companies.

Trust Your Selection Process And Be Patient

No quick fixes exist in marketing. Anyone telling you they can drive high-quality leads that turn into sales opportunities on day one for $100 is trying to sell you. Anyone who talks about revenue without wanting to talk to you about your sales process is trying to sell you.

You have a defined hiring process for your company, and you need a defined selection process for deciding on the right agency. After you work through that, trust your decision and give your new agency the same time, respect and patience you would give an internal marketing hire.

You might not know this, but every time you bring in a new agency, its starting from scratch, just like when you hire someone new. There is no secret sauce here and no agency magic. That pain you feel when you consider firing someone and having to start all over again should be the same pain you feel if you’re considering firing your agency. This should be a break in case of emergency consideration.

Unless something major happens, or the agency is unethical or negligent, give your agency the same chance to make mistakes, fail, learn and improve as you would with an internal hire.

Not every move is going to pay off. Revenue generation requires experimentation, and failed experiments teach you more than successful experiments. Let your agency fail, as long as they recover and have a process for improvement — this is part of how revenue generation machines are built today.

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.