The process of evaluating marketing companies and choosing a marketing partner is filled with uncertainty. There are so many different kinds of marketing companies, with varying levels of skill and focus, different team sizes, and contrasting styles. It’s a daunting task for a business leader to figure out how to scrutinize the various marketing options and select the right one.
This is the third part in a three-part series to help business-to-business (B2B) companies evaluate how to go about marketing.
Part One looked at whether hiring a full-time marketing manager is the way to go, or whether an outside marketing company might work better.
Part Two discussed four types of marketing manager that small and mid-sized B2B companies should avoid in order to improve their likelihood of marketing success, if they're hiring.
And this article focuses on how to evaluate marketing companies, for organizations who are considering working with a marketing services provider.
The Starting Point For Evaluating Marketing Companies
Most articles about choosing a marketing agency tell you to start by defining your budget, your marketing needs and your objectives. That’s all well and good, but for many business-to-business (B2B) companies, marketing is new territory and they don’t know what their budget should be, what kinds of marketing they should be doing, or what objectives they should set. When marketing companies ask for answers to these question, the business leader will either stare blankly in response, or make up an answer – either way, it’s an unproductive situation for everyone.
If you’re new to marketing in your B2B company, this post is for you. It shares some basics to look for in evaluating marketing companies, and 3 useful questions to guide your discussions.
You may have begun your search for a marketing company by looking at suppliers of specific marketing tools and methods – like a website, or social media marketing, or PR. If it’s just one marketing project that you need, then your approach is fine. You can safely embark on discussions with those suppliers – and use the 3 questions below to get into meaningful conversations with them.
If, on the other hand, your marketing needs are more complex and you don’t exactly know what you need, how much you should spend or how to set objectives, then it might make more sense to look at an outsourced marketing company or a fractional marketing director.
Starting with these will give you a broader approach and help you to avoid buying something that doesn’t ultimately achieve your goals. An outsourced marketing company or a fractional marketer will first look at your company’s situation and determine the strategic marketing direction and specific marketing methods, and will give you guidance on what you can achieve at various levels of investment. If your company could use a shepherd in its marketing journey, this is a good option.
3 Questions To Help You Evaluate Marketing Companies
Once you’re in talks with the right kinds of marketing companies for your needs, you’ll have lots to discuss. The marketing companies will likely share their past work experience, information about their teams and their approach. Beyond those basics, there are some questions you can ask that will help you evaluate the knowledge and working reality of the companies you’re talking with.
Question One: How much time will you need from my team?
Business leaders who have hired outside suppliers before know that even though they’re bringing someone in to solve a problem, it doesn’t mean they get to walk away and won’t need to be involved in the solution. It’s the same in marketing.
Asking how much time the marketing company will need from the client’s staff will give you guidance on two things:
- How much experience the marketing company has in integrating with in-house teams in order to deliver effective marketing
- An understanding of whether your team can commit to the marketing process. If your team is fighting fires on many fronts and are already stretched for time, it might not be the right time to embark on a strategic marketing initiative.
Here are a few things to look for in the answer:
- Marketing point person (might be CEO or VP Sales & Marketing): one hour per week to ensure the marketing company’s work aligns with the company’s business strategy and goals
- Senior management: five hours in total over the first six weeks to develop and confirm the marketing strategy and action plan.
- Technical experts: five to eight hours on a quarterly basis to review content produced for technical accuracy. They’re the experts on your product or service, so their input is vital.
Managing a marketing effort doesn’t have to take up loads of time, but your involvement is the best way to guarantee success.
Question Two: How do you communicate with clients and ensure that the work stays on track?
Look for a the marketing company that communicates well with you and responds clearly to the questions you ask. Also look for a willingness to adapt to your communication styles and preferences. For example, if you’ve demonstrated a preference for text messaging, have they responded in kind? This can give you a sense of whether they’ll be able to adapt to the preferences in your industry.
The company’s project management processes are critically important. Marketing is one of those functions that has an unfortunate habit of falling off the radar. If someone isn’t managing it aggressively, it won’t get done. That means your marketing company needs a point person who is ultimately responsible for seeing your marketing to completion.
Apply your own principles here. Your company has honed its processes to produce the best product or service. Apply that same logic when vetting marketing companies. The one with proven processes and frameworks in place to map and execute your marketing is the one that will achieve results.
Question Three: How do you come up with a plan?
You should expect marketing companies to map out a plan and delineate your marketing strategy (your position and messaging), what marketing methods will be used, what the timeline for marketing projects is, and whether additional budget might be needed. Be cautious if marketing companies are not charging for this work. If they aren’t, it means they aren’t spending much time thinking about it – and that means that you’ll have a plan that isn’t worth the paper its written on. Given how much money you’re investing in marketing, make sure to spend it on the things that will achieve your goals.
These are some of the questions to ask when you’re evaluating marketing companies. But they aren’t the only questions to ask.
For more questions to help with your evaluation process, get Evaluating Marketing Companies: Everything You Need To Know But Didn’t Know To Ask.
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