The question posed in this piece is what you need to know to hire the best digital marketing agency to help you drive sales and grow your business. But there’s a prior question you need to answer before you sign on the dotted line: do you want to hire any digital marketing agency?
That’s an important question. After all, you might think the strategies you’re currently employing—say, print ads, or telemarketing, or TV and radio spots—are working just fine for you. What’s to say digital marketing, or inbound strategies, will work any better? And that begs some other questions, like “what is digital marketing?” “What are inbound marketing strategies?” “Do they really work better than traditional, outbound strategies?”
Why Digital Marketing?
Over the last two decades, marketing has changed. It hasn’t changed because marketers got tired of doing things the same old way and wanted to try something new. It changed because consumers have changed, and consumers have changed because the world has changed. There are now hundreds of cable channels. Direct mail pieces now crowd our mail boxes, promotional emails seem to fill our inboxes faster than we can delete them, and telemarketers have become the bane of our existence.
Well, consumers don’t like being pushed. They don’t like receiving phone calls from strangers about products and services they don’t want. They’re frustrated with TV ads that seem to occupy more air time than the programs they sponsor. So, consumers started to push back. They signed up for to “do-not-call” lists by the millions to escape pesky telemarketers, and they now use TIVO to fast forward through television ads.
Forward-leaning marketers got the message. Their response was a new kind of marketing—digital marketing(sometimes called inbound marketing, though they’re slightly different), which responds to growing consumer skepticism by establishing trust before pushing sales messages. Using strategies like search engine optimization, social media marketing and content marketing, digital pulls consumers to products and services with content that helps them solve problems, and, in the process, establishes credibility for, and trust in, their products and services.
Is Digital/Inbound Marketing More Effective Than Traditional Marketing?
That’s a fair question, and it has two answers. The first is that marketers certainly trust inbound more than traditional, outbound strategies. Every year, for example, Hubspot surveys more than 4,000 marketers in large and small, B2C and B2B companies in multiple industries around the globe to get their views, and publishes the results. This year’s report, The State of Inbound 2016, once again found that marketers, by whopping margins, believe digital and inbound marketing works best. According to this study:
- Inbound is now the principal approach to marketing for 73% of surveyed marketers
- 81% of digital marketers rated their marketing efforts as “highly effective” compared to just 18% of traditional, outbound marketers
- 3 of 5 marketers said digital strategies generate the highest-quality leads, while less than 1 in 5 said the best leads came from outbound strategies.
- 89% of marketing agencies and 84% of ecommerce businesses rely on digital strategies either primarily or exclusively
That’s persuasive, but those numbers are based on opinions, not facts. Are there fact-based data which demonstrate the superiority of digital marketing? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” According to Search Engine Journal, for example, inbound/digital leads cost 60% less than outbound leads, and companies that post blogs on their websites as infrequently as once a month generate 70% more leads than those which don’t, according to Business 2 Community.
Said differently, marketers prefer digital strategies because they’re both more effective and more cost-effective—which takes us back to our initial question. How can your company get the most out of digital marketing by choosing the best digital agency, the one that’s best-equipped to help you grow your business?
If you Google “digital marketing agency” along with the name of your city or town, you’ll come up with a lot of results. With all those options, how do you choose the best agency for your business?
The answer is that it’s not just about them—and it’s not just about you. It’s about both of you, the way you click, the extent to which you and the agency can establish a collaborative working relationship. You can find digital marketing experts who understand how to create great content, or optimize websites, or effectively leverage social media marketing. They know digital marketing, but you know your business better than anyone, including your digital partners.
The best agencies will walk into your initial consultation prepared to listen more than they talk. They’ll want to know the problems you’re encountering, see your business plan, understand your principal objectives and learn what strategies you’ve used to this point. Even the best marketing agencies can’t help you if they don’t know who you are and where you want to take your business, and they can’t know who you are unless they ask. Said differently, you don’t want the best digital strategies—you want the best digital strategies for your business.
So, pay attention to the questions each agency rep asks you, and be sure to ask that rep the right questions. What are the right questions? Here are 5 questions that should be on your short list:
1. What Digital Strategies Have You Used, And How Have They Helped Your Clients?
Marketing changes over time, and so does your business. As you grow and change, your needs will change, and you need to be sure the agency can effectively solve not only your current problems, but also those that might crop up in the future. That means you want a “full-service” agency, one that has been successful deploying a wide range of digital approaches, including (but not limited to) experience with the following:
- Driving traffic to your website
- Lead generation
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Custom content creation
- Conversion strategies
- Search and social marketing
- Creative design services
- Marketing automation
- Marketing strategy
2. What Precisely Will You Do to Help My Business?
This is where the rubber meets the road. The best agencies won’t try to impress you with a lot of insider jargon and generalizations. Assuming this is your first meeting, the answer you want to hear is, “Before I can answer that, I need to know a lot more about your business.” Based on that conversation and a careful analysis of what’s worked for you and what hasn’t, the agency you want to work with will explain what they think your problems are, and how they can solve them. They will also tell you that achieving those goals will require ongoing collaboration with your in-house marketing team.
3. Will You Provide Me with a Marketing Plan?
You wouldn’t hire an architect who didn’t share blueprints with you, and you shouldn’t hire a digital marketing agency which doesn’t provide you with a specific marketing plan, one that includes measurable goals they can achieve across a designated timeframe. The plan should include the strategies they plan to use, and the ways those strategies will achieve your goals. They should also tell how they’ll report their progress, and at what intervals. Will they give you weekly progress reports? Will they schedule regular in-person meetings or report via phone calls?
4. How Many Businesses Like Mine Have You Worked With?
It’s one thing for an agency to have experience deploying a wide range of strategies—it’s another for them to have experience working with a wide range of clients. It’s not reasonable to expect any agency to have worked with a company that’s precisely your size, and in your city, and in your industry. It is reasonable to expect that they know more than just ecommerce, or SaaS, or retail, and that they’ve solved problems for those companies like the problems you have.
5. Can You Describe A Specific Marketing Problem You Solve for a Business Like Mine?
This is where the rubber meets the road. An agency might have specific experience working with businesses like yours, and they might offer lead generation or email marketing services. But you need reassurance that they know how to identify the mistakes their clients are making, and that they understand how to leverage those services to fix the problem. If a previous client wasn’t generating sufficient qualified leads, for example, what precisely did they do increase leads, and how successful were they in that effort?
To choose the best digital agency for your company, you need a plan—and a willingness to take some time with each agency, asking them the questions which get at the heart of your primary concerns and the problems you need to solve. If you know where your business is and where you want it to be and the obstacles which are preventing you from getting there, and you share this with each agency, you can find the best agency to take you to the next level.