There’s a scene from an old Seinfeld episode in which George Constanza explains why no one trusts car mechanics.
When you ask the mechanic for help with a nonspecific issue, you're at such an information disadvantage that you're unsure if you can believe them.
The mechanic says you need a specific solution (like, say, a new Johnson rod), and you’re not sure. You don’t want to look dumb or cheap — and you feel awkward about calling the mechanic’s expertise into question. After all, they know cars and you don’t.
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So, you shell out for the Johnson rod (which doesn’t exist, by the way) or something equally obscure, hoping it will fix your problem and get you back on the road — at least until you need your next service.
Something very similar can happen in the digital marketing industry.
As a business leader, you’ve got a problem. You know you’re lacking something, and you’re not sure what will fix it. Maybe your traffic is down, or your leads are not as qualified as they’ve been in the past. You see an agency offering some kind of free audit — it could be of your HubSpot portal, your website, your marketing, or anything else.
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If a company offers a free assessment service, potential customers will line up around the block, eager to gain from free expertise. Once they’ve heard the assessment, they’re like the car owner. They're stuck in a position where they have to pay for the solution.
They're going to offer what they say is the perfect service to solve your problem. But is it really the right solution for you?
How does the savvy business owner know the difference between a fishy offer and a genuine one?
The problem with free audits
Nick Bennett is the head of partnerships at IMPACT. He’s analytical by nature and is known around the office for his honesty and humor. He’s not a fan of agencies offering free audits, and he sums up his objection to the tactic like this:
“The problem with a free audit is that it allows the provider to change the narrative and set you off in a direction that may not ultimately lead to the outcomes you’re looking for.”
As soon as the provider starts pushing the proverbial Johnson rod — whether it’s that you’ve got a messy HubSpot portal or that you need a website redesign — that becomes the singular focus of the solution they’re offering.
Nick advises caution whenever someone “sells you a solution that’s not based on sound sales and marketing principles and methods.”
Any organization offering you a free audit can invent the solution to your problem by narrowly scoping that problem in such a way that their solution seems essential.
It can go something like this:
Customer expresses vague problem: “We’re not getting qualified leads to our site”
Agency offers narrow repackaging of the problem: “Your website doesn’t have animation that people love.”
Agency proposes the solution they were ready to sell all along: “We’ll build a new site with animation. After all, your site was due for an update anyway.”
Here, the solution doesn’t really address the problem, it only seems like it does. Here’s why.
Your website is your organization’s storefront in the digital world and should look up to date, but a website is not a marketing strategy. The sleekest, prettiest site that doesn’t deliver value to visitors will be passed over for one that does — and agencies ignoring this fact are off target. Or disingenuous.
A content marketing strategy that focuses on answering the buyers’ questions and establishing your brand as a trusted educational resource will truly drive traffic to your site and bring in qualified leads. A beautiful site will not.
An agency can sell you that new site, but it’s not going to solve your marketing and sales challenges if that site is not part of a bigger, well-conceived strategy.
How can a business leader know who to trust? How can they know that the solution being talked about is a solution that will actually help them overcome their challenges?
According to Nick, it’s all about deliverables.
If you’re hiring an agency, make sure they’re doing more than waving a stick and pretending it’s a magic wand. “If they’re going to click around your HubSpot portal and magically make the leads show up — I don’t think that’s going to be a genuine solution.”
After all, your challenge is an ongoing one: bringing qualified leads into your sales pipeline. The solution needs to be an ongoing one as well.
The bottom line is simple: Beware anyone selling you a quick solution for a chronic challenge. Instead, look for companies that talk about principles, training, and growth. Running a business is about playing the long game, and outside partners like agencies and consultants should be talking about long-term solutions.
“If an agency is coming to you and recommending that you make some changes and their suggestions are rooted in sound sales and marketing strategy and philosophy, and focused on helping your team understand what they're doing and helping them gain ownership of their success, then that’s a genuine offer.”
Otherwise, be wary. You should always be skeptical of someone selling you a quick fix for a complex problem.
A few weeks ago, IMPACT started working with a client who told us something interesting. The CEO was very frank: He had been speaking to a half-dozen inbound agencies who had all done the same thing: They had offered a free website audit and then said this: You need a new website, and it will cost you north of $60,000.
We told him what we tell all potential clients: A website is only as useful as the content that’s on it. The most beautiful, trendy website in the world will not really drive traffic and leads unless users find what they’re looking for. If you’re not answering their questions and building trust with them, a new website won’t turn your business around.