Director of Account Management, 10+ Years of Digital Marketing Strategy and Account Management
June 4th, 2020
When shopping around for an inbound marketing agency, there are potentially countless aspects and options to consider in your search and vetting process.
From requirements in the technology you use and security standards to areas of expertise and pricing — all of these add up to helping you find the right agency that will meet your needs and expectations.
Whether it’s your first time looking for an agency or if you’re in the process of replacing your current partner, there is some basic prep work you should complete before you research or reach out to an agency.
This includes knowing what ongoingwork or projects you wish to outsource to an agency, the list of mandatory requirements and expectations your organization needs to meet as part of this relationship, and a ballpark figure of your budget.
With that information, you can focus your search to compile a list of the top agencies you’d like to consider.
Not sure where to start? Check out HubSpot’s Partner Directory, where you can find top partners and reviews from real clients like you.
Once you’ve compiled and then vetted your list, select a handful of agencies to speak with directly — aka schedule a sales call.
Whether you’re excited to learn more or dreading being “sold” by a sales rep, take time to prepare for these calls in a way that will:
Make the most of your time together
Fill any gaps you were unable to answer after conducting your own research
Address any outstanding questions or concerns that will enable you to make your final decision
Your goal shouldn’t be to compile the perfect lineup of questions to ask an agency sales rep, but rather identify what critical information you haven’t been able to gather through your own due diligence.
Having worked at inbound agencies the entirety of my career, I had my own assumptions about what the most important questions a prospective client should ask.
However, to make sure I had multiple perspectives, and particularly from those on the front-line of these conversations, I asked IMPACT’s sales team not only what the most frequently asked questions they get are, but also what prospects should be asking.
Here’s a summary of the main categories of questions recommended by our team’s collective experience.
Question 1: How much do services cost?
As I mentioned above, the cost of working with an inbound marketing agency is always a critical aspect of the sales conversation.
Yes, agencies may publish their pricing models (hourly, monthly retainer, project, or points) to their website, but this will not always equal the same amount reflected in your invoice.
Why is that?
More often than not, people want to combine, subtract, or negotiate a different combination of services, as well as the duration of their contract.
Because this can vary substantially, you’ll most likely need to request a proposal from the agency in order to determine the full cost of your investment.
That said, you should be able to nail down a ballpark estimate of the work you’re looking to contract with them during the sales process.
If you’re looking for something very specific and straight forward, such as monthly support to developing effective content or an on-site training workshop for your team, you may be able to calculate your exact fees through the agency’s website.
If that’s the case, be sure to ask a few followup questions, such as:
Will my team need to purchase any additional software or assets to support this partnership or project? E.g. project management tools, marketing automation or email software, stock images or video files, etc.
Are there any additional fees not included in your rate?
Do you offer any benefits or discounts for paying upfront or in-full?
Question 2: Who are your most successful clients and what have they done to achieve this success?
Take time to look at resources that showcase the social proof of their work, and consider any follow-up questions you might have to fill any gaps that need to be addressed.
If you can’t find this information on their site, or if the case studies are outdated or irrelevant to the work you’re considering, ask.
Why? Because unless it’s a brand new startup, every organization should have a catalog of their best work to reference. This helps other prospective clients learn more about their capabilities and see the results in-action.
You shouldn’t have to wonder if the agency can actually deliver on what they promise — you should be able to see or speak with other companies who have experienced success as a result of working with this firm.
Additional questions under this topic may sound like:
What does a successful journey with your agency look like, and what services typically fall into that experience?
Is there a particular path you recommend starting on based on my team’s level of knowledge, the lifecycle stage of my business, and/or the maturity of our inbound marketing program?
How long will it take to reach a point of success or see a return on my investment (ROI)? This may also be a standalone question that makes the top of your list.
How do you measure client success? Specifically, what reporting does your team offer to track and measure progress made against deliverables or key performance indicators (KPIs) we’ve agreed to as part of our partnership? This could also be a standalone question, depending on the type of work being outsourced to the agency.
Question 3: Who is an ideal fit for your agency, and who isn’t?
You should not leave a sales call without having an answer to both of these questions.
Why? It’s just like dating — every agency should know who their ideal customer is and, even more importantly, who it isn’t.
Ask the sales rep what their ideal customer profile (ICP) looks like, as well as the types of organizations or relationships that haven’t worked out well in the past and why. If they know their business and are honest, they should be able to paint a clear picture for you.
This is extremely helpful to know upfront, as it will potentially assist you with self-selecting in or out of additional conversations and a future partnership.
The answer will vary depending on the agency, but the description of their ICP should cover items like:
Size of business
Size of budget
Size of and number of teams working on the project (how many points of contact can they easily manage and are they willing to work with other vendors)
Types and extent of work contracted (aka the level of support needed)
Retainer of project-based agreements
Possible niche industries (if they work with a specific vertical)
Level of knowledge or expertise in-house (at your business)
With this information, you as the prospective client can reflect on your own organization, team structure, how you work, the expectations you have of a client-agency partnership, etc., and decide for yourself if you fall into the “ideal fit” or “not a fit” category.
Question 4: What does the timeline look like?
Many businesses seek out an agency partner to accomplish a specific goal, within a specific timeframe.
That deadline, as well as any other critical milestones, should be mentioned upfront to determine if the agency can deliver on your project and meet your larger business goals.
Here are some similar or related questions to timelines:
When can your team get started?
How long will it take to complete this project or the total contract?
What could potentially alter or delay this timeline?
What will you need from my team in order to ensure we stay on schedule?
A common issue we see arise with clients is missing deadlines due to unexpected internal delays or additional steps that weren’t accounted for at the project launch. Examples of this include a client team not accounting for:
Multiple levels of internal review and approval (including legal)
Having to coordinate multiple internal and external teams contributing to a project
Vacation time, holidays, PTO, or other scheduling conflicts that limit critical team members’ availability
Before you set a deadline for a project, ensure that your team can do its part to bring this project to fruition.
Ask the agency how much time or what commitment is needed from your team to make it a success.
If you need to pad in additional time or make adjustments to hit your deadline, it’s better to plan for it now.
Question 5: What does your master service agreement (MSA) or statement of work (SOW) language include?
This question comes later in the conversation, but I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the terms of your agreement with an agency partner.
You should know the details of a contract before making your final selection or signing a document, as it may ultimately change who you decide to partner with if it doesn’t work for your business.
If the terms and conditions don’t align with your organization’s processes (such as billing and payment cycles), lack desired flexibility, or are not something you feel comfortable committing to, then this could lead to major issues during the relationship.
To understand what you’re entering into and protect your company’s best interest, there are a number of questions you should ask, or have clarification on, prior to receiving or signing a contract:
What are the payment terms? E.g. net 15, 30, or 45.
Do you offer flexible payment options?
What are your cancellation terms, and are there any associated penalties?
Can I pause services temporarily if needed, and what does that process look like?
What other penalties might I run into?
How do you account for changes of scope, and what is your process for notifying clients of those changes?
If legal language needs to be reviewed in advance, ask for a sample of the agency’s MSA to run past your team.
At the end of the day, it is your responsibility as the client to understand the ins and outs of an agreement you sign.
Asking these questions upfront will hopefully help you avoid any issues during the execution of the contract that could have been easily avoided.
Question 6: What questions do you have for me?
Surprised to see this one? You shouldn’t be, and here’s why:
When it comes to allocating your marketing budget to an outside partner, you want to ensure your investment yields:
High value and quality of outsourced work
Produces a reasonable ROI to justify the expense
The agency you select should be as invested in your success as you are. Meaning, if they don’t care to ask you questions about your business, goals, and expectations, then they aren’t doing their part in the process and probably won’t during the time you spend together.
When you’re speaking with an inbound marketing agency sales or business development rep, they should be touching on the following:
What are your business, sales, and growth goals? What are the specific numbers you’re looking to hit in the [BLANK] amount of time?
What does a successful agency partnership look like to you? What expectations do you have of an agency you work with?
Have you worked with another inbound marketing agency before? If so, what worked and what didn’t work?
Can your team meet the project deadlines outlined in our agreement? What potential roadblocks could hold up work on your end that we should account for upfront?
The most important takeaway from this question or aspect of the conversation is that you feel confident the agency understands your business, goals, and objectives, and what is needed out of a potential partnership.
They obviously won’t know every aspect of your operations, but they should have a grasp on what is needed to accurately determine if they’re a fit to support your business.
The goal is to find the right fit for YOU
As you conduct your search for an inbound marketing agency, you may alter these questions to better accommodate the specific needs or considerations for your business. Regardless, this list should be a common starting point for many conversations.
Some additional questions we often hear from prospective clients include, but are not limited to:
Do you have experience in my industry or work with any of my competitors?
Who will I work with and how is that teammate or team selected for my business?
What tools do you rely on the support project management, client communications, and the overall partnership?
How do you track deliverables or work completed so my team has visibility into what has been received and progress made as part of our contracted work?
The list can go on and on. That said, use best judgment to determine what is most important for your organization and facilitate the conversation around your needs. If you do that, you should have everything you need to make an informed decision!
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