Over the years we’ve spoken with thousands of companies who are trying to grow their business and have decided to do so by hiring and working with a marketing agency.

While we’ve spoken with thousands of companies over the years, a large percentage never end up hiring a marketing firm even though that was their goal from the start.

Maybe this is you. You probably find yourself in one of these three scenarios:

  1. Your business has shrunk and you need to accelerate your traffic and sales
  2. Your business has gone flat while your competitors have grown, and you need to accelerate your traffic and sales
  3. Your business has grown significantly and you want to accelerate that and continue to take market share

Related resource: How much of your revenue should you invest in marketing?

Whichever of the above three apply to you, the process for finding a marketing agency is the same. And since I genuinely believe that hiring a marketing agency can be the right approach for many companies, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t teach you what we’ve learned from the last half 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 agency. We’ll cover the process to run as well as questions to ask to make sure you’re hiring the right firm.

The ideal agency hiring process

I believe in processes for anything, from managing your money to booking travel to hiring an agency.

We were recently hiring a new position here at Credo and I was struggling to make progress on it. We had a few candidates here and there, but it was impossible to know if we were getting enough to have our pick of the right person.

After a call with a mentor’s COO, we had a plan for where to distribute the job ad, how to track candidates, how to sort through them to find the best, and the process for hiring.

That’s the power of a set process – it gives you clarity and concrete next steps as well as some pro tips and what to look out for.

Here’s an agency hiring process you can follow, assuming you are clear on your marketing strategy and ready to hire. If you’re not clear on your marketing strategy and thus your hiring strategy, book our Porter Service.

The Process

There are many ways to be successful at hiring, so 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 5,000+ companies come through Credo over the last few years, we know what works and doesn’t.

The ideal agency hiring process looks like this:

  1. Be clear on your marketing goals before signing a contract
  2. Reach out to enough providers to understand what’s out there
  3. Focus down on the best with longer calls to see how well you work together
  4. Get proposals that have the same details
  5. Negotiate
  6. Commit

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 first and then your goals with marketing.

This is imperative because without your business goals and an idea of how you can reach them through working with a marketing agency, you are much less likely to hire the right agency and much less likely to get results even if you do.

By having business goals set, you are then able to track these over time to see how you are trending towards them. Inside our own business (we work with agencies too!), I have a dashboard and spreadsheet that I update daily to see how we are trending towards our own business and marketing goals:

Once you have your business goals based off your current metrics, you can put together the channels to continue (or start) investing in and be able to track if they are getting you the results you need to see.

Reach out to enough providers to understand what’s out there

Once you’re clear on where you’re going and how you think you’re going to get there, it’s time to have conversations.

You can search on your own (Google is your friend) and have conversations with agencies. We can also match you through Credo (and help you with your hiring strategy!)

I recommend conversations with at least 3 and probably more like 5-7 if you haven’t hired an agency before and are not quite sure what you are looking for. This will help you understand what is available, what pricing you should expect, and more.

It’s important to learn:

  • What it looks like working with them
  • What services they offer (both marketing channels as well as strategy vs services)
  • Pricing model
  • Engagement lengths

I like using a spreadsheet to keep all of this organized:

Hiring an agency review spreadsheet

Focus down on the best with longer calls to see how well you work together

After you have conversations and understand what is out there to get you to your needs, go deeper with 2-3 agencies to talk in depth about your business and see how well you have conversations and work together through things. It’s important to see how well you communicate and discuss through things that can sometimes be as clear as mud and hard to align on.

I call these “strategy calls”, because you’re talking together about your business challenges and the strategies to get around those and meet your goals with marketing.

You should bring everyone who will be involved in the project from your side to the conversation, and agencies should also bring not only the person you had the initial call with but also a few subject matter experts to talk through strategies with you.

You want to get a feel for how they think about marketing and marketing your business.

Get proposals that have the same details

Now that you’ve had longer conversations, it is time to get proposals from the agencies you are interested in working together with.

I mostly coach agencies on this side, but right now I am speaking to you, the hiring company.

Before you ask an agency to send you a proposal, make sure that you are aligned with them on how the project will look and what their rates are. If they don’t bring up the rates conversation, make sure to ask them in your strategy call so you understand how they think about scoping and pricing work.

You should also ask each agency when you can expect their proposal, then watch to see if they deliver that on time. If they promise you the proposal on a certain date and don’t hold true to that, how can you expect them to deliver work you’re paying them for on time? Promptness matters, and they should properly set your expectations from the start.

There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a process thinking the proposal will be spot on, and then receiving it and it’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 back hard.

You owe it to yourself to understand what they’ll be pitching and their pricing before you even request or receive a proposal.

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 make sure you 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 have:

  • Pricing
  • Timelines
  • Scope
  • Length of engagement
  • Terms

If they don’t have these, then go back to the ones that have not included any of those elements and request them. If they won’t provide them, then in my opinion you should move on and just consider the ones who have it all.

Any proposal with less than all of the above five things should not be considered, as it’s not a full view into working together and you stand to be taken advantage of.

Negotiate

Now that you have all of the proposals in hand, it’s time to review and negotiate.

First, understand how each is pricing and why. Often times proposals will vary widely because of the scope of work, so understand why each agency is proposing what they are.

Second, you can negotiate back with each agency and ask them to include certain things or ask them why they included something that the others may not have.

Third, it is perfectly fine to negotiate back on scope and therefore pricing! This can mean either trimming back the number of things they are doing for you or elongating the timeline to reduce cost, or shortening the timeline and adding in more things which will increase the cost but front load the efforts and get you to results quicker.

Any good agency will not just reduce their cost if you ask them. 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 serve your purposes. If anything, you’ll become their lowest paying and least profitable client and that just means you’ll get less of their time and attention than those paying their going rate.

I’d much rather pay their going rate (or slightly above if I can afford it) in order to get more attention and better service.

Commit

Finally, once you’re ready to make a decision you should commit to it. If you’re hiring for ongoing services, don’t be afraid to commit to a minimum of three or more months.

Realistically, marketing takes that long to really rev up and start showing results. There is very real risk of, and I’ve seen it happen many times, not investing enough into marketing and then pulling the plug before it is able to start working.

So help yourself out and commit to long enough of a time frame to start to see it working. Once it starts working, at that point it is a question of if you enjoy working with the team you’re working with or if you should switch agencies for a better culture fit.

Ready to hire?

If you’re ready to hire a marketing firm, Credo can introduce you to qualified firms within our network who fit your needs. We’ve vetted and approved them before we introduce you to them, and know what they are good and who they’ve worked with.

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