VP of Revenue, 15+ Years of Sales and Marketing Expertise, HubSpot Alumni
December 10th, 2019
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 client results, and are knowledgeable and friendly during the sales process.
But given that you'll be spending anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 in a six- to 12-month period on digital sales and marketing AND that it might be a make-or-break choice for your marketing team, not to mention your career, it's important to get it right.
That’s a high-pressure packed sentence right there.
But in my 10 years working in this industry, I’ve never once met a client that took selecting an agency lightly.
Marketers at organizations of all sizes know their decision can have dire consequences on the success of their company and their job security, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — it shouldn’t have to.
You should be so confident that the agency you choose is going to do exactly the right things to help you meet your goals that you’d bet your salary on it.
Most marketers would never think of doing such a thing, because experience has shown them that nearly every agency relationship they’ve ever had has failed and here’s why.
Most client-agency relationships are doomed from the start.
You’ve heard of the saying “It’s not you, it’s me,” right?
It’s possible you’ve used this line in personal relationships or you used it while breaking up with an inbound or digital marketing agency.
It’s time you stop telling yourself and your agency that because it’s not you - it likely is them, and it starts at the very moment you engage in their sales process.
Because we used to do this here at IMPACT, I can say from experience:
The way inbound marketing agencies sell services is fundamentally flawed and broken.
I understand saying this is a bold statement, but I’m okay with that.
(For the record: I don’t take saying that statement lightly. I’m a career sales person and I take pride in the manner in which I interact with all prospects who have ever been interested in doing business with myself and with my organization.)
My goal in saying it is to help you make the best agency decision you possibly can.
So whether you are considering hiring an agency for the very first time, or you have been around this rodeo before, here’s what to expect from the vast majority of agencies out there.
The conventional inbound agency sales process
You’ll be connected with a salesperson who will ask you about your goals, needs, and challenges in a 30-60 minute call.
They will schedule a second call to recap what they learned in the first call and to pitch their solutions.
Then, they’ll ask you to sign a scope of work or contract.
Yikes. That was fast.
Because of this quick, one-two, sales process, the agency ends up making recommendations without knowing the client’s true needs.
They don’t get to really know the organization well, let alone their sales, marketing, and leadership team's before proposing a long-term commitment.
No one ever truly discovers what the actual problems and priorities of the client.
The client, feeling rushed through the process agrees and the agency ends up making surface level recommendations that keeps them busy and completing tasks in their scope of work, but without ultimately produce impactful results.
The client quickly becomes unhappy and impatient and you guessed it — the client churns.
Most agencies are jumping the gun
Let's say you call your primary care physician’s office because you woke up with back pain.
You spend about five minutes talking to the doctor explaining how you feel. The doctor recommends you come into the office as soon as an appointment time opens up.
The next available appointment is in two days.
At that appointment, the doctor asks you how you’re feeling. You say, “the same as two days ago.” The doctor then asks you some more questions, asks you to touch your toes, move your head side to side, and evaluates your range of motion with a few more mobility exercises.
At the end of that appointment the doctor says, “Okie dokie, it looks to me like you need surgery.”
The doctor then gives you a list of all of the things included in the surgery then asks, “How soon do you think we can get that scheduled?”
Would you do it?
Before committing to surgery, you'd probably want to meet with a specialist, get an x-ray or MRI, or maybe even go elsewhere for a second opinion.
That specialist might find that the cause of the pain is stemming from another, much more serious problem. Or, the specialist may find that surgery isn’t necessary at all and your problem can be solved with a cortisone injection, massage therapy, and/or physical therapy.
Phew, what a relief!
Think what could have happened if you didn’t see that specialist. That primary care physician would have prescribed a solution to a problem that wasn’t actually the problem and taken a lot of money from you to boot.
No one wants that.
And 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 diagnose the problem.
"The inbound doctor will see you now..."
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 agency partner.
They must be able to show you they understand the depth and complexity of your organization and 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 place in the market, 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 make a difference within your business without it.
Instead of a speedy sales process, you’ll want to look for an agency that:
Will conduct an in-depth discovery process
Offers a “try it before you buy it” option so you can experience what it’s like to work with them before you commit to a longer term engagement.
Has some sort of risk-free guarantee
Unfortunately, giving clients such intimate access to its team and their work and opening themselves 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. So much that they often hesitate to do so.
Admittedly, we used to hesitate about that ourselves.
Instead of making educated guesses over the phone based on limited information about how we can help, we spend four - six weeks consulting with you.
We perform a deep dive into your marketing as it stands, and, ultimately, prescribe a 12-month recommendation on how to achieve your goals based on our findings.
As part of this process, our most senior consultants will work with you one-on-one 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;
Analyze the performance of your website from a UI/UX perspective; and
Evaluate your market and competition to identify how/where you fit into it.
From this and other highly consultative activities, a 90-day roadmap and 12- month recommendation are born, where our prospects know the solutions -- and dollar amounts -- being proposed are tailored to their exact situation, needs, and goals.
Now, we do charge for this Fast Start engagement, but with reason.
Not only do we put our best people on it, but we also firmly believe our prospects will get 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.
Plus, we provide guarantees.
We guarantee clients will look at their business in a way they never have before. We guarantee that they'll have the most proven inbound strategy in the world at their fingertips.
We guarantee that they'll align their sales, marketing, and leadership teams more than ever and that if they follow the exact plan we lay out for them, it will lead to dramatically more traffic, leads, and sales.
Last but not least, we also provide a money-back guarantee.
If a client is unsatisfied with the quality of work during this engagement, we will give them their money back. No questions asked.
Does this approach 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.
Hedge future regrets and challenge their plan
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.
Challenge them to explain to you how they got to those suggestions.
Ask them how they can be so confident they're going to deliver the promised results in such a defined time frame without knowing more about your business or your current marketing needs.
Maybe they'll have a 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 running proper diagnostics first.