Evaluating inbound marketing agencies can be extremely difficult -- especially since the best of the best all seem to look alike.
They all have slick websites, showcase solid case studies, and make big promises.
But given that you'll be spending anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 in a six- to 12-month period on an inbound marketing strategy that might be a make-or-break choice for your marketing team, it's important to get it right.
You Have Questions, but Can They Answer Them?
Before you enter into any sort of arrangement with an inbound marketing agency, they need to be able to answer these questions for you first:
What results will we see?
How will the agency help to produce them?
How much will it cost?
How long will it take?
By having these four questions answered before you sign any sort of contract, you can feel confident that you're choosing the right partner.
There's just one small problem, though.
How can an agency realistically be in a position to give you the answers to those questions with any sort of authority since the typical agency sales process involves only one or two -- possibly three -- phone calls or meetings with a business development specialist or sales rep before they're asking you to sign a proposal?
No matter what they say, or how confident they act, they can't.
That's a big problem, and here's why:
Let's say you call a doctor’s office because you were having trouble walking. You spend an hour or so on the phone with someone who represented the doctor and could speak to their track record, and you go back and forth asking each other questions.
Later on, you have a second phone conversation -- still not with the doctor -- at the end of which they then recommend that you come in for knee surgery.
Would you do it?
Probably not. In fact, you'd probably want to actually meet with a doctor, get an x-ray or MRI, or maybe even go elsewhere for a second opinion.
Yet this is what many inbound marketing agencies are asking you to do -- to spend lots of money on an inbound marketing strategy they're prescribing to you without taking the time to fully understand what you need.
Just as you want a doctor to demonstrate they've carefully examined you before giving you a diagnosis or sending you off for surgery, you should expect the same from a prospective inbound marketing agency partner.
They must be able to show you they understand the depth and complexity of your marketing challenges before they start making promises about what they can do for you -- the level of detail that can't be uncovered through the course of a couple of short phone calls.
They should also be able to lay out precisely how they’re going to gain an understanding of your current business needs, assess your competition, identify what targets for growth you should pursue and in what order.
And if they’re asking you to commit to a retainer agreement without having done all of that work, you should challenge them to explain how they can feel confident they’ll show you results without it.
Unfortunately, standing up to this level of scrutiny can be a challenge for a lot of agencies.
In order for an agency to meet you at that level of understanding about your own business, they have to invest a lot of their time and internal resources -- to the point where they often hesitate to do so, because it's a lot of work to do without getting paid for it.
Admittedly, we used to hesitate about that ourselves.
But we found a middle ground, because we realized that we needed to be able to answer those four critical questions before a client came onboard.
How We Solved This Problem at IMPACT
For our prospects, we offer them something called the Audit-90 -- or the audit and 90-day inbound marketing plan.
Instead of us making educated guesses over the phone based on limited information about how we can help, we spend two weeks performing a deep dive into your marketing as it stands, and, ultimately, prescribe a detailed 90-day plan for how to achieve your goals based on our findings.
As part of this process, we send multiple members of your organization a survey to fill out to learn about your company's sales and marketing potential from a diverse range of perspectives.
We also evaluate the internal capabilities of the sales and marketing organization, assess sales-marketing alignment, determine your commitment to a documented strategy (or lack thereof), and probe for other areas of need or opportunity.
Dive into your Google Analytics account to gain a sense of where your web traffic is coming from and to which areas of your site;
Leverage SEM Rush and Screaming Frog to assess the SEO health of your web presence;
Analyze the performance of your website from a UI/UX perspective; and
Research your market and identify how/where you fit into it.
From this and other activities, a well-researched 90-day marketing plan is born, where our prospects know the solutions -- and dollar amounts -- being proposed are tailored to their exact situation, needs, and goals.
Why 90 days?
The first three months of any inbound marketing partnership are critical. If we eyeball our recommendations and get off on the wrong foot, we might crash and burn before we’re barely even off the launchpad.
We do charge for the Audit-90, however. Not only because we put our best people on it, but also because we firmly believe our prospects should have proof they can literally hold in their hands of our ability to think, strategize, and execute before we ask them to spend $5,000-$10,000+ per month with us.
Moreover, they should have the ability to walk away if they determine we're not the right fit after seeing us in action.
Does this work for everyone? Of course not.
But it was our way to ensure we'll never be the doctor who tells you to get surgery after a 30-minute discovery call -- even if the recommendation is made in good faith.
The Right Agency Should Be Able to Support Their Answers
The moral of today's story is that you should be skeptical of agencies who guarantee results or make bold assertions about what you should be doing for your inbound marketing without knowing your entire story.
So, what do you do if an inbound marketing agency is doing just that, all while asking you to make a long-term financial commitment after a few conversations?
The answer is simple.
If the answers to those four questions you're getting are:
-- challenge them to explain to you how they got to those conclusions.
Ask them how they can be so confident they're going to deliver the promised results in such a defined timeframe without knowing more about your business or your current marketing needs.
Maybe they'll have an audit solution like ours to offer, or maybe they won't.
It doesn't matter how they do it.
Instead, the most important thing you can do is to hold an inbound marketing agency's feet to the fire to prove to you they're not going to send you off for inbound marketing surgery without at least giving you an x-ray first.