Agencies deal with regular client churn, so they need to constantly bring in new ones to hedge against those departures. They are spread thin and operating with tiny profit margins.
But that doesn't mean you —a business owner or agency client — should get short-changed.
You need to know your agency is doing everything it can to help you succeed and grow. You need to be sure you’re not getting put on the back burner at your agency, paying for more than you’re getting back.
Below, I’ll explain how you can tell if you’re getting the best treatment from your agency — and how to know when it might be time to move on.
Let’s dive in.
Are you on the back burner at your agency?
So, how do you know you’re not getting the treatment you deserve from your marketing agency? Keep an eye out for these common scenarios and red flags.
1. You face the brunt of their high turnover
Marketing — agency marketing in particular — is a notoriously unstable field where turnover is rampant. That’s par for the course and it can wreak havoc on clients.
When the designer or writer you’d been working with leaves, the effect can be profound. You lose the rapport you'd built with someone who really understood your brand.
But when an account executive or main point of contact leaves, it can be devastating. You can feel totally adrift.
As a client, you now have to build a relationship with someone new — who may be new to the agency, not just new to your account.
You’re thrust into an unbalanced onboarding process that slows down the work and hinders your progress.
And if this keeps happening, you start wondering if you’re getting the best people assigned to your account.
Every agency will deal with attrition and have to replace great people who leave for other opportunities, but in general, the healthier the agency, the lower the turnover and the lower the headache for you.
Watch for this red flag:
During onboarding, your agency should talk about backup for their service providers. If they don't that's a red flag.
Sure, sometimes people leave a company. They also get sick, go on vacations, and have babies.
Agencies should know how to handle these events and provide a smooth experience for their clients. And those clients should feel well taken care of no matter what happens.
2. You feel kept in the dark
Marketers win with persistence and consistency.
The customer journey today is one of dozens of impressions and touchpoints that precede a sale. Your agency should be working constantly to create demand (or fill your funnel, if you prefer) using the tactics that suit your needs.
And they should keep you up to date on everything that’s happening, both good and bad.
As a client, you don’t want to be kept in the dark.
Regular meetings allow for alignment and course correction — and help build a strong relationship. If you’re not meeting regularly, you’re not going to be in touch with what’s going on. Or worse, there’s nothing actually going on.
Watch for this red flag:
If you’re not having regular meetings (or you’re the one asking to schedule meetings), you’re not getting the attention you deserve. Speak up.
3. They never push back
A healthy agency-client relationship is one of collaboration and shared purpose. For this to exist there must be discussion, debate, and candor.
If your agency team is full of yes-men and women who never push back and challenge your ideas, you're not getting your money's worth.
Your agency team likely cares more about keeping you happy than pushing you toward a more refined strategy. Even worse, they may not have any additional insights to share.
This might keep you happy in the short term, but your long-term results will suffer if the agency doesn’t flex some expertise.
Watch for this red flag:
If you suggest a new approach in a meeting, monitor the conversation that follows. You want your agency to poke holes in anything you bring up so you’re sure your strategy is sound. If they’re only saying yes, that’s a red flag.
4. They don’t care about your entire business
Marketing agencies tend to focus on, well, marketing. Traditionally, their domain has been things like demand, lead generation, and brand awareness.
But today, marketing is more integrated into other aspects of business than ever before. Today, “marketing” likely includes things like sales enablement, customer newsletters, and brand mission statements.
When a marketing agency only cares about the narrowest definition of marketing, they’re not invested in the broad success of your company.
Be wary if your agency has no interest to learn about your sales process, your customers, or anything beyond their narrow scope.
5. They're focused on the quantity of leads
If your agency mostly talks about the number of leads you're getting, you should be skeptical. Leads are fine — but we all know that the wrong leads won’t do anything for your bottom line.
An agency can come in and promise to double your leads, but bad-fit leads don’t turn into customers, and you’re back where you started (after the agency gets its share of your revenue).
Instead, you want an agency that’s focused on creating and capturing demand for your brand. That is, good-fit, ready-to-buy prospects, not just more email addresses for your database.
Watch for this red flag:
When you’re in the sales process with an agency, watch for a too-heavy focus on leads. Be prepared to push back and talk about fit, qualification, and lead scoring to make sure the conversation comes back to revenue.
6. They won’t help your team learn and grow
If your marketing agency guards its secret marketing sauce, that’s a bad sign.
A colleague of mine hired an agency at her previous company for help getting HubSpot up and running. The agency came in and set everything up but would never train anyone inside the company to use HubSpot themselves, including the most basic functions. Even when the clients asked to learn.
The result was a complete dependency on the agency to do everything.
The company was stuck — it couldn’t fire the agency because the agency had all the operational knowledge, but the agency was also impeding the company’s growth.
Eventually, they did fire the agency and had to slog their way through HubSpot bootcamp to learn how to run their own marketing.
Here’s an example: When your agency presents a research report that will help you plan for the next quarter, ask about how they got their data. Ask to learn how to use Google Analytics or HubSpot so you can access data yourself. If they’re hesitant to train you, that’s a bad sign.
Give your agency the chance to make it right
Relationships are built on communication
If you’re feeling slighted or neglected by your agency, you don’t necessarily need to storm out of the Zoom room and slam the (virtual) door. Start with a conversation. Express your concerns. Explain what you’d like to see change and why.
Give the agency a chance to make it right.
Remember, changing agencies comes with its own challenges, so don’t rush to make a change unless you’re sure that’s the best path forward.
But always remember this: Your agency is your partner in growth. A true partner wants what’s best for you. That means they’ll be honest, transparent, and invested in your success. If that’s not what you’re getting from your agency, take the steps to make it better.
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