Have you ever gone on a first date, and then returned home and realized you hadn’t asked a question that you really wanted to know the answer to (like their first name)? That’s what commonly happens when companies go to hire a marketing agency – they finish the first call and realize they don’t yet know enough to know if they should continue the conversation!

The purpose of this article is to outline the questions I have been coaching companies to ask for years. I’ve done well over 100 hour-long coaching calls with companies who are looking to hire, and spoken with a few thousand companies to learn more about their needs.

These are the most common questions people ask me about agencies (that I tell them they should ask the agencies themselves) and the questions that I most commonly see companies not ask that would set them up for more success if they asked.

Let’s get into it.

What’s your founding story?

Good companies come from good stories, so ask about the agency’s founding story.

Why did they start offering marketing services? What is the problem they saw that they felt uniquely positioned to solve?

A good founding story gives you clues into how the culture will be once you begin work with them.

Can you tell me about the services you offer and how your team is world-class at them?

A lot of agencies claim to offer a lot of services, but what you’ll find is that they’ve bolted on new services as they’ve seen an opportunity but they haven’t done it in a way that scales quality.

By asking an agency what they are world-class at, you’ll start to understand what they will prioritize when it comes to your marketing.

As an example, if they started as a paid ads agency and also offer SEO, they’ll likely push you more towards ads even if that’s not the direction you want to or should go.

What does your team structure look like?

Before agreeing to a contract with an agency it is important to understand the levels of people you will be speaking with. Ask questions like:

  • Do you use account managers? If so, what is their role?
  • Will I be able to speak directly with the people implementing the work?
  • How often will we speak? What if I need calls more often?
  • How often will there be a senior person in meetings about my account, if at all?

Many companies will try to vet an agency by asking who specifically on the team they will be working with, but this is usually counter-productive because agencies are always juggling capacity and their own team, and therefore cannot guarantee that a specific person will be on your account.

Instead, it’s important to understand how they train their team and who will be your main point of contact.

How do you train your team? How senior or junior are they?

Agencies operate at scale and are always hiring and replacing employees. They’re often high-turnover organizations (which means that an agency with great retention is a very good sign), and so it’s important to understand how they hire and how they train new employees in their way of delivering value for clients.

So ask them:

  • What does your training program for new team members look like?
  • How do your employees stay up to date on the latest and greatest strategies and tactics?
  • How long has your senior management (if it exists) been at the agency?
  • What are the experience levels of the people who will be assigned to my account? How do you measure their performance internally?

How often do you report metrics to clients? What if I need it more often?

You’re not just hiring an agency to do a bunch of things. You’re hiring an agency to do the right things that will get you to the results your business needs.

As such, agencies should report metrics to you alongside their actions. At the start of an engagement they should look at your analytics to ensure you’re tracking the conversions or other metrics that they are going to be moving.

On the call, ask them:

  • How often do you report metrics to clients?
  • Which metrics do you need from us in order to report them accurately?
  • What if I need more frequent reporting?

Many agencies will set you up a dashboard from which you can grab metrics at any time. Just make sure that you receive reporting at the cadence you need, not just the cadence at which they want to give it to you.

A quick sidenote: if they don’t report metrics or don’t know which metrics you should care about, do not hire them.

Why did other clients choose to hire you? What makes you stand out compared to other agencies?

It’s great to understand what an agency says they are best at and their origin story, but what you really want to know is what others saw in them that made the client choose this agency over another.

Hearing why other clients that have seen success chose the agency gives you more insight than almost anything else, and tells you how the agency perceives themselves.

Can you tell me about some clients you’ve worked with whose business is similar to mine and the results they saw?

When hiring an agency, it’s useful that they’ve had experience working with businesses like yours and growing them. By asking this question, you’ll quickly learn if they have the experience you need so that they can drive you results.

By asking the results they were able to achieve, you quickly learn how they think about marketing. Are they just thinking about specific tactics that are working right now but may not later, or do they actually understand your business and think about it as a business and not just another contract?

What made that engagement successful?

Agencies are businesses just like anything else, and if you’ve been a professional for a while then you know that sometimes business relationships and engagements work out and sometimes they don’t.

Knowing this, we want to optimize for the relationships that we think have the greatest chance of working out. Part of this is finding people or other companies that have a track record of relationships working out!

When engaging with a marketing agency specifically, it’s important to understand if they have reverse engineered what makes engagements successful or not. They should be able to tell you what made an engagement work, such as:

  • Their director of marketing has been with the company a long time
  • They had a budget that they could afford to lose, which let them take more risks and find better results
  • They had hired 4 agencies before and knew exactly what they wanted and didn’t want

Do you do exclusivity? What does that look like?

Some businesses have a lot of competitors, such as HVAC, real estate, auto dealers, or lawyers. As such, it makes sense for agencies to offer exclusivity so that they’re not working against their own clients.

If this is you, ask an agency if they do exclusivity and what that looks like. There will sometimes be an extra fee, or they’ll ask you to agree to a certain length of engagement. This is to be expected, and an agency that doesn’t charge it probably doesn’t give exclusivity.

What would you need from us to be successful?

Before signing on with an agency, understand what they’re going to need from you before they can get to work and drive results.

Most will say:

  • A written marketing plan
  • Access to your Google Analytics and Search Console
  • Access to your Google Ads and conversion data
  • An understanding of your team
  • etc

What you may find is that they need things that you do not yet have, such as good conversion tracking. This helps both you and them understand how the project will go at the start if you choose to work together.

It is also best to be completely transparent with them that you may not have something they need, as they can likely help you get that in place quicker and then started on your marketing campaigns sooner.

What are the next steps?

At the end of the call, ask them what their next steps are in getting to know you and your needs.

An agency that is good at sales will have a specific process they take you through because they know it helps both of you achieve the goal of hiring or being hired.

An agency that is bad at sales will not have a specific process and will let you guide. This will drag out the process and you may end up never hiring, which does not achieve your goal of hiring.

While it is absolutely true that some bad agencies are great at sales and some great agencies are bad at sales, it is almost always better to get going faster so you can see results than hanging around and hoping that a great agency will eventually come along who will sell you.

Go with the agency that communicates well and gives you clarity.

I hope the above questions help you understand what you should ask an agency early in your discussions with them so that you know if they are worth continuing the process with.

If you’re looking for a good marketing agency, schedule a call with our team here.