At some point in a growth phase, every B2B business is going to need to hire a digital marketing agency to help grow their business, increase traffic or generate leads for a hungry sales team.
There are a lot of different agencies out there that specialise in different services, like SEO, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email Marketing or Paid Advertising. Picking the wrong agency can end up costing you time and money. Picking the right one can help you achieve the growth your business is looking for.
When choosing an advertising agency you need to focus on a few key things to make sure they get it right.
Review Marketing Results
Always ask to see results.
Any digital agency worth their salt will be able to demonstrate proven results they've achieved for their clients.
Not sure what results to ask for? An agency will be asked to do different things for different clients, so make sure you know what you want from your agency.
Are you after increased web traffic, brand awareness, leads or to assist with the conversion of leads into customers or do you want the agency to work on a campaign for a product launch for the next six months?
Depending on your requirements, you’ll know what results you want to see.
At a core level results centre around three metrics:
- Visitors - Can the agency demonstrate they’ve grown web traffic for the client over a period of at least six months?
- Leads - Can the agency demonstrate how they’ve been able to increase the % of leads that are being brought into the business?
- Customers - Has the client seen an upswing in business to their sales team directly attributed to the digital marketing efforts?
Experience in Your B2B Niche
Hiring an agency that doesn’t have experience in your niche can be expensive. Selling sunglasses is a lot different to selling multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plants to mining organisation around the world. Finding an agency that has experience (and success) in your sector or industry means they can hit the ground running and you won’t have to spend as much time educating and bringing them up to speed before they can really start making some headway.
- Direct Industry Experience - In the first instance find out if the agency has expertise in your sector. Let’s take the above example of wastewater treatment. Has the agency worked with other wastewater treatment companies in the last 2-3 years with success. Yes? They may be worth talking to.
- Related Industry Experience - if they don’t have experience in your direct industry how about in a related industry with a similar buying process or even for a client downstream of the service. Have they worked for a water utility or some other industrial organisation selling into the same markets that you are selling to?
- B2B Experience - in the absence of direct or related industry experience, do they have experience in complex B2B industries similar to the ones you are working in? This may be complex industries like commercial finance, commercial healthcare equipment or services, or similar.
Using these three questions will help you whittle down the agencies to those that already understand the complexities of working in an industry similar to yours.
Any agency you speak to should be able to give you the names and numbers of at least two or three clients that they have worked for. Verbal references will eliminate your risk and get you talking to people just like you who have used the agency.
When speaking to referees focus your questions around four core areas to get a good understanding of how the agency works and wins with its current clients.
Questions to consider would be:
- Results - Did they achieve the results you were after?
- Planning - How did they go about planning and strategising to get you what you wanted?
- People & Service - What were their people like to deal with? Are you still using them? Would you refer them to other clients? Why wouldn’t you use them?
- Wrong Turns - Find out how the agency reacted when things went wrong. How were they at communicating, what did they do to rectify the situation?
Read more: 3 Metrics for Digital Marketing Success
How Does the Agency’s Own Marketing Look?
Looking at the agency’s own marketing is important.
Any digital agency should be doing its own marketing. If they’re not, this might be a tell tale sign that their sales processes are strong but their marketing is not - and because you’re paying for their marketing, and not their sales skills, this might come back to bite you. They might not be able to deliver the goods when they come to work on your account.
Here’s how to review:
- Blog Active- Check out their blog - are they blogging regularly, at least once or twice a month? If it’s just once a month are those blogs comprehensive?
- Social Active - Are they active on Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. If they’re light in some platforms check-in with them as to their strategy.
- Paid Advertising - Are they doing paid advertising in some form or another either on Google or Facebook?
- Email marketing - Do they have a regular monthly email that you can sign up for?
- Calls to Action & Forms - Do they have forms and calls to action on their web pages for visitors to download content?
Check Their Client List
Speaking to a few of the agency’s clients will give you an idea of how they work with them. But scanning the agency’s client list past and present can tell you a lot about them.
You’ll need to check the kind of projects that they have done for each client. For example, you may come across an agency that’s done work for Microsoft, Oracle and Intel.
If you’re looking for an agency that’s been able to work with leading brand like this you might be thinking if they’re good enough for Microsoft they’ll romp in with our stuff.
But don’t be fooled - the agency might have only done a few ‘banner ads’ for the client as a freelance job for a single campaign and they’re living off the name. Your job is to dig into the client projects and find out more about them. Often agencies are doing great work for SMB’s like yours, but sometimes they’re not.
Read more: How to Sell Digital Marketing to Your CEO
How Does the Agency Rank in Google?
You’re after a digital agency right? How do they rank in Google? The simplest way to do this is to put the agency’s details into SEMRush. SEMRush is a tool that you can use to see how companies are tracking on Google, how they are ranking and how their competitors are ranking.
SEMRush has a free account that allows you to check the agency’s traffic and how they are doing against their competitors.
A lot of agencies are great at doing things like running Facebooks Ads, running Google Display ads, linkedin Ads, Creating Landing pages and getting stuff moving.
While getting stuff done is all well and good, you want an agency that understands your business and what you want to achieve, and that ultimately can work with you to develop and plan a digital strategy.
Your agency should be able to explain to you the difference between strategy and tactics. They should be able to tell you what their process is for setting up a strategy and how that strategy is going to drive their tactics.
Two of the key focuses for your agency around strategic piece should be:
- Finding out about you and your goals.
- Finding out about your customers.
Questions to ask here are:
- Do you work with us to develop a strategy first?
- What does that strategic process look like?
- Do you do any work around buyer personas?
- Who will be involved from your agency? Do you have a dedicated strategist? Can we meet her?
- How long does the strategy process take?
- What happens if the strategy isn’t working?
A lot of agencies are great at doing work, but less so at strategy. The best agencies develop a strategy and action plan in collaboration with their clients so that everyone is onboard and understands the process.
Platform & Tools
Every digital agency will have a set of tools they use to get the job done. While the tools themselves will never guarantee success, it’s important to find out what tools and systems your agency team will be using to get the results you are looking for.
There are a multitude of tools that your agency can use. Find out if they use a single platform or if they run a web of tools and platforms to track and measure their results. This is important because you want to make sure that your agency is able to track results in real-time so changes can be made quickly.
What is the Agency’s “Sweet Spot” - Their Area of Real Expertise?
Every digital agency is different. Some will purport to be your answer to every digital marketing problem you have. But the truth is that many will be good at most and great at a few. You need to find out what the agency’s sweet spot is in terms of their service.
- Are they great at SEO?
- Are they digital strategy experts?
- Are they email marketing Gurus?
- Are they Google Adwords Ninjas but have little knowledge of social?
- Are they Facebook experts?
- Are they Linkedin masters?
The best agencies aren’t the ones that can do it all. The best agencies are the ones that are comfortable communicating what they do best. Building a conversation around their sweet spot will help you identify where their strengths and shortcomings might be so you can make a better choice about which agency fits with your business.
The agency you choose should have analysis software in place for real-time reporting on your marketing campaigns. Being able to measure results in real-time allows you to see progress at any point of the campaign, and helps you quickly make decisions on what things to do more of and what to do less of.
Using a platform, like Hubspot, will allow the agency to capture all digital marketing efforts and give you reports at different intervals, for example, weekly (to see how things are progressing midway through a Facebook campaign), monthly, quarterly (to analyse the success of a particular campaign) and yearly.
It may take some time, but finding a digital agency that meets all of your specific marketing criteria is well worth the effort. The right agency will support your business in its growth phase and ensure its long term viability in the future.