< Back to previous page

5 things to check before partnering with a digital agency

Choosing any business to partner with yours is a difficult proposition, and the wrong decision can cost your company dearly. I recently discussed this topic with a very savvy CEO who was frustrated after severing ties with their agency. After a lengthy discussion (and several glasses of wine), here is the shortlist.
1: Are they focused on your objectives?
Have you ever spoken to a marketer that has told you that what they do is difficult to quantify? It may be because they do branding, or 'top-of-funnel' marketing, which doesn't directly result in sales. It could be hard to measure due to an extended user journey from awareness to conversion. It could even be because the sales department failed to close the many leads that marketing generated.
Do these sound like excuses? They are!
Excuses like these are a sure sign of an agency that can't deliver.  If we as individuals or businesses are going to succeed at something, we need a very clear target or objective that we are aiming for. If you are talking to an agency that only talks about your campaign in terms of 'tasks' or 'hours', then you know they are focused on their output, not your outcome.
The agency you choose to partner with should be completely focused on your campaign objectives, and how best to achieve them. As an example, a great social media agency working to increase your engagement with users will talk to you about how they plan to increase likes, shares & subscribes. Other agencies may focus on non-critical metrics like the number of posts, or the number of views they will deliver within budget.
2: How does the proposed solution solve your problem?
I know, when I say it like that it sounds obvious, but this is a mistake that many companies make. Your goals and objectives will determine the marketing strategy, channels & platforms you need. A good agency will be able to walk you through their solutions and explain how it will fulfil your specific business objectives.
You may run into agencies that will try to convince you that their niche will solve your problem, regardless of what that problem is. But how to you know when a prospective agency partner is doing this? It can be difficult, especially if you and your team do not have skills and expertise in digital marketing.
The biggest hint that this is happening to you is when an agency has a solution for you before they even find out what you are trying to achieve with your campaign. If you are lucky, the proposed solution will meet some or all your needs, but it will most likely fall short because your needs were never factored into the strategy.
Another sign to look out for is if an agency tries to tell you what your objectives should be. You know your business better than any external agency, so you determine your business needs, and it is the agency's responsibility to recommend solutions that will fulfil those needs. Sure we can provide advice, guidance and ideas, but the decision should be yours. Ideally, you should have an idea of what outcomes you want/need to achieve before approaching an agency.
Finally, subject any solutions to a basic logic test. When your agency recommends a solution, ask them to explain how it will solve your problem or achieve your objective. You do not need to be an expert to see if the proposed solution fits the problem or not.
If you don't understand how that solution is going to deliver the results you want, then don't do it!
3: Do their case studies check out?
Every agency will tell you that they achieve results, but can they prove it? The best way to see how good they are is to have a look at their case studies.
Case studies are like an agencies 'greatest hits' album, so of course, you are only going to see the successes, not the failures. What you are really looking for are examples of how they have solved similar problems and the outcomes of them. So if you are engaging an agency to help you with brand awareness, make sure that their case studies show how they helped similar companies solve similar problems.
Having 2-3 case studies that have some relevance to your business and/or your marketing objectives helps you understand the agency's process and helps set your expectations about the type of results you may be able to achieve.
If your prospective agency can't provide case studies that are relevant to your objectives, it is possible that they don't have the experience that you are seeking.
4: What do their references say about them?
If you want to know what it is like partnering with an agency, talk to their customers. Ask your agency for 2 or 3 references that you can speak with. Even better if they are the same companies provided as case studies!
When you call the contact, you will want to get a feel for how their experience was working with this agency. Here are some questions that should give you insights into the agency and whether you want to work with them in future:
  • What were the objectives?
  • Did the solution deliver on those objectives?
  • What kind of results did you get?
  • What was the agency like to work with?
  • What do you wish they would do better?
  • How long do you see yourself staying with them?
5: Who will you be working with day-to-day?
Partnering with a digital agency is a relationship between your company and theirs. It is also about the relationship between you, your staff and your agency contact (and their support team).
Getting results is the most important factor, but you can't get those results without open communication and strong collaboration between all parties. The sales manager or business development manager that you talk to pre-sale may not be the person you end up working with.
Make sure you meet your account manager, as well as any other key stakeholders that you and your team will be working with. A strong, positive & collaborative working relationship will ensure stability, clearer communication, and better results for your business.

What do you look for when choosing a digital agency?