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As digital matchmakers, we speak with thousands of brands each year that are hyper-focused on growth. Most of these brands have decided that hiring a digital agency is their best chance at success but aren’t quite sure how to hire the right digital provider for their specific needs and budget.
Despite all of the evidence that shows the efficacy and importance of a professional digital marketing team, a large percentage of brands never actually end up hiring an agency—even though that was their goal from the start.
To each their own, but if you want to grow your brand and decide to ignore your digital channels—or give a half-baked effort to your strategy—you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Why? Over five billion people are on the web and 2.14 billion of them are online shoppers. That’s a lot of opportunity to reach people who are interested in your business—or an ever-growing whopper of missed potential customers.
Mark this lack of commitment up to cold feet, tight budgets (read: How much of your revenue should you invest in marketing?), or just simply having too many tasks on your front-burner. In any case, this is a common scenario.
What’s Your Scenario?
If this is you, you probably find yourself in one of these scenarios:
- Your business has shrunk and you need to accelerate your traffic (and sales).
- Your business has gone flat while your competitors have grown, and you need to accelerate your traffic and sales.
- Your business has grown significantly and you want to accelerate that and continue to capture market share.
Whichever applies to you, the process of finding a marketing agency is the same. And since I genuinely believe that hiring a digital agency is the right approach for most companies, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t teach you what we’ve learned from the last decade of seeing companies hire well—and hire not-so-well.
Here are the things we’ve learned that you need to do as you’re looking to hire a marketing provider. We’ll cover the process as well as questions to ask to make sure you hire the right provider for your specific brand.
The Time-Tested Process For Hiring an Agency
I believe in processes for anything; from managing your money to booking travel to hiring an agency.
We were recently hiring for a new position here at Credo and I was struggling to get it done. We had a few candidates, but it was impossible to know if we were picking the right person for the job.
Of course, you can never be 100 percent sure of a hiree—or much of anything for that matter. But there is certainly a process you can follow to avoid turning around and starting over a couple of weeks or months down the line.
So, after a call with my mentor’s COO, we had a plan for where to publish the job ad, how to promote the ad, how to track candidates, how to sort through them to find the best, and the process for the final selection.
Going through this process with someone who had done it dozens of times before made all the difference. That’s the power of set processes (and mentors)—it gives you clarity and concrete next steps to get things done.
Here’s our agency hiring process you can follow, assuming you are clear on your marketing strategy and ready to hire. Not clear on your marketing strategy and need a hand with hiring? Book our one-on-one Porter Service.
The Hiring Process
First and foremost, there are many ways to hire successfully.
I’m not going to say that our process is the only way to hire well. What I will say is that after seeing over 6,500+ brands come through Credo is that we know what works and what doesn’t. To start, use the guideline below.
After you understand how to choose an agency, use this process to get yourself off the blocks:
- Be clear on your marketing goals before signing a contract.
- Contact enough providers to understand what’s out there.
- Focus on longer calls with your top candidates to check if any red flags arise.
- Get proposals that have the same details.
Be clear on your marketing goals before signing a contract
Before you sign a contract, and even before you start having conversations with agencies, you need to be clear on your business goals—including your KPIs (key performance indicators) and OKRs (objective key results).
Only after you nail that down, can you identify the goals, KPIs, and OKRs of your marketing efforts.
This is imperative. Without your business goals and an idea of how you can reach them with a marketing strategy, you are much less likely to hire the right agency. And even less likely to get needle-moving marketing results.
If you have never given much attention to your SEO (search engine optimization), start there. How’s your content marketing strategy? Make sure you have capable developers to achieve your marketing goals—that’s key, too. Basically, you need to identify what already do well and where you’re falling short.
You then fill those gaps with the agency hire. Most agencies excel in certain areas, so wherever you need the most help, look for agencies that specialize in that focus. This can be tricky, but that’s why we’re here.
By having business goals set, you are then able to track these over time. There are various approaches to managing this part of the process. Inside our business, I have a dashboard and spreadsheet that I update daily to see how we are trending toward our own business and marketing goals:
Once you have metrics to measure your business goals, you can decide which channels to continue, stop, or start utilizing. From there, you should be able to track if they are getting you the results you expect.
Contact enough providers to understand what’s out there
Once you’re clear on where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, it’s time to reach out to agencies.
You can search on your own through a search engine and have conversations with agencies. Another option is to use the Credo Platform. You can also ping us to help outline your general hiring strategy and brand needs.
I recommend conversations with at least three and probably more like five or six agencies if you haven’t hired an agency before. Especially if are not quite sure what you are looking for.
This helps you understand what is available, and general pricing information. You will also get introduced to the hiring process.
From those discussions, focus on these items:
- What it looks like working with them;
- What services they offer (marketing channels, strategy, and services);
- Pricing model fee structure (flat rate, percentage of ad spend, blended);
- Typical engagement length.
I’m a spreadsheet guy so I use one to keep all of this organized:
Focus on longer calls with your top candidates
After you have conversations and understand what is out there, go deeper with 2-3 agencies. Speak with them about your business and see how well you get along. Try to work together through pressing issues you have. It’s important to see how well you communicate and if there is any clash in company cultures.
I call these “strategy calls” because you’re talking together about your current brand challenges.
You should bring everyone who will be involved in the project from your side to the table. Likewise, the agency should also bring the initial point of contact and a few subject matter experts to talk through strategies with you.
Ideally, you want a customer-centric agency that won’t forget about you after the contract is signed.
You want to get a feel for how they approach marketing—and for how they treat their clients. What you want and deserve from an agency is a customer-focused approach with timely responses to any questions or concerns.
Get proposals that have the same details
Now that you’ve had in-depth conversations, it is time to get proposals in your hand.
Before you ask an agency to send you a proposal, make sure that you are aligned with them on how the project scope and what their rates are. If they don’t bring up their rates, make sure to ask them in your strategy call. That way you understand how they think about scoping and pricing their work.
You should also ask each agency when you can expect their proposal. Then, watch to see if they deliver on time. If they promise you the proposal on a certain date and don’t deliver, how can you expect them to deliver work on schedule? Promptness matters and they should set clear standards of excellence throughout the hiring process.
There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a process, and then receiving a proposal that’s wildly outside of scope—and your pricing expectations. At this point, you either have to go with a project that is not the right fit, go back to the drawing board, or negotiate.
I recommend receiving at least two, if not three or more, proposals so that you can compare. This is also important so that you can negotiate back with each agency by leveraging each proposal. Agencies are no less competitive than other businesses—they want your business! So be confident and put your strongest foot forward.
When reviewing proposals, you should also make sure that they all contain the same things so you can compare apples to apples.
Every proposal should include:
- Length of engagement;
If they don’t have these, then go back to the agency and request them. If they won’t provide them, then your best option is to move on and just consider the ones who have.
Any proposal that does not include all of the above should probably not be considered.
Now that you have all of the proposals in hand, it’s time to review and negotiate. For most people, negotiation is a sticky, uncomfortable subject. However, you’re putting your brand in the hands of others so keep this in mind:
First, understand how each is pricing their services and why. Often times proposals will vary because of the scope of work. So, understand why each agency is proposing what they are. If you don’t understand any aspect of the proposal, ask them to clarify.
Second, you can negotiate back with each agency. Ask them to include certain services or ask them why they included something that the others did not. While you can absolutely negotiate, be mindful that any experienced agency has put painstaking effort into its pricing model and fee structure.
Third, it is perfectly fine to negotiate back on scope—and therefore pricing! This means either trimming back the number of things they are doing for you, elongating the timeline to reduce cost, or shortening the timeline and adding in more services. This will increase the cost but frontload the efforts and get you faster results.
As mentioned, any agency worth it’s salt will not just reduce costs. Remember, this is a negotiation! Instead, they should ask you what you’d like to remove. If an agency’s rate is too high for your actual budget, then negotiating that down isn’t going to work in your favor. If anything, you’ll become their lowest-paying and least profitable client. Sadly, that just means you’ll get less of their time and attention than those paying their going rate.
You’re much better off paying their going rate—or slightly above, if possible. That way, your brand gets more attention and top-tier service. Long story short, you’ll get the level of service you pay for.
Finally, once you’re ready to make a decision you should commit to an agency.
If you’re hiring for ongoing services, don’t be afraid to commit to a minimum of three or more months. In fact, the industry consensus is that digital marketing results generally take six to nine months to show up.
Truth be told, marketing takes that long to show tangible results. There is a very real risk of pulling the plug too early before your agency is able to start getting you the results you expect. Be diligent with oversight to make sure your provider is on track but give them ample time to deliver on the KPIs and OKRs you established together.
So help yourself out and commit to a long enough time frame. Once it starts working, you can consider if you enjoy working with the team or if you should switch agencies for a better culture fit. You don’t need to be best friends but it helps to partner with a like-minded provider who understands your brand and needs.
Ready to Hire?
If you’re ready to hire a digital agency, Credo has pre-vetted agencies ready to solve your marketing woes. We’ve vetted and approved them before we introduce you to them, and that is the time-saving power of our platform.