Whether you’re in need of some external expertise or you’re trying to free up some time for your internal team members, hiring an inbound marketing agency can be an effective way to advance your company’s growth. But, it’s also a big decision that requires thorough research.
Choosing a poor-fit partner can lead to frustration and cause you to waste time and money on a lack of results. On the other hand, choosing a good-fit agency can invigorate your marketing strategy and bring you massive ROI.
Here are some questions you should ask when evaluating inbound marketing agencies to determine whether or not they’re the right partner for you:
Key Questions to Ask When Hiring an Inbound Marketing Agency
1. To what extent will you work with our team? How much time will we need to dedicate to the engagement internally?
Different inbound marketing agencies offer different levels of partnership depending on their capacity and the needs of clients. We classify them in three different categories based on how much work they do first-hand and how much autonomy they have.
- Executors complete deliverables for a client but have very little say in strategy. When working with this type of agency, your team will need to direct them about exactly what you need done.
- Consultants provide recommendations for your strategy but don’t complete deliverables or implement their recommendations. When partnering with these types of agencies, your internal team will be responsible for majority of the day-to-day deliverables.
- Partners act as an extension of your team and can act as both executors and consultants depending on your team’s needs. They collaborate with your team, so when working with this type of agency it’s important to communicate about who’s responsible for what and keep all parties informed of work status.
Which type of partnership will work best for you will depend on the capacity of your team and what areas of expertise you have. However, regardless of how responsibilities are distributed, you will need to devote some time to maintaining and managing the partnership. So, it’s important to understand what expectations exist before choosing an agency to hire.
2. Given your understanding of our situation, goals and challenges, what strategies and tactics do you recommend we implement?
The inbound marketing agency you work with needs to have an understanding of your business goals and challenges, and they need to be able to take actions that address your needs.
If an agency cannot tailor their playbook to your company’s unique situation, that should be a red flag. This question can help you evaluate their understanding of your needs and what they consider to be the priorities for achieving your goals.
3. What deliverables can I expect? How will your services help us achieve our goals?
What work will the agency actually be completing on your behalf? Will they be creating an editorial calendar? Writing blog posts? Scheduling social posts? Compiling keyword recommendations? Creating email nurture campaigns?
You need to understand what you’ll be getting out of a partnership before hiring an agency. You don’t want to sign a contract thinking that the agency will completely take care of your content marketing, only to later find out that they just do content strategy and your team will be responsible for actually creating every asset you need.
As part of learning about the specifics of their services, you should also consider asking about their process for project scoping and hour allocation. It’s important to understand how the hours or projects you’re paying for will be used.
4. How soon can I expect to see results working with your agency? What results can we expect to see? How will you measure success throughout our engagement?
It takes time for inbound to start producing results, and you should expect that when entering a partnership. If an agency says their work will start increasing the number of customers you close within the first month of the engagement, they’re probably not accurately representing their services. But, you also might not be able to wait a year to see any impact.
At New Breed, we’ve found that it typically takes three to six months for organic inbound efforts to fully take off. But there are smaller quick wins we can achieve in the meantime so that our clients can start to see leading indicators of achieving their main goals. That time frame will differ from industry to industry, so ask the agencies you’re evaluating to discuss the time-to-value they’ve provided to companies like yours.
Another factor that can impact time-to-value is what your ultimate goal is. It takes a lot longer to influence revenue than it does to convert leads, so it’s important you’re on the same page about what KPIs you’re using to indicate success.
5. What is it like to work with your team?
There are so many components of how an agency works with you: communication practices, project management, account team structure, areas of expertise and more. This question opens the door to discuss all those areas so that you evaluate if you’re able to have a healthy working relationship with the inbound marketing agency in question.
Communication can occur via phone, videoconference, messaging apps, email, etc. And, those messages could be sent out whenever there’s an update to be made or at an established cadence regardless of work progress. Do the communication practices of the agency align with your company’s needs? How flexible is the agency in case of emergency?
Some agencies will have designated account managers who will act as both project managers and points of contact, but in other cases, you might communicate directly with the team member who’s completing deliverables for you. Some agencies will have designated account teams that remain the same for the duration of your engagement, and others might have a consistent point of contact, but the other experts you work with will switch out from task to task. Some agencies will be able to complete all of their assigned deliverables autonomously, and others will require input and approval at various stages from your team.
Having the right expectations around all those areas is key for starting a partnership on the right foot, and if their way of operating doesn’t align with your company’s needs, you’re better off finding another partner.
6. Do you have experience with other companies in my industry? How have you helped companies like ours grow?
The more experience an inbound marketing agency has with companies like yours, the more tried-and-true their efforts will be. If your solution is niche or hypertechnical, industry experience is extra important, but even with more well-known verticals, relevant experience will lead to faster results.
When asking this question, don’t just accept a yes or no answer. Agencies should be able to back their claims up with proof, such as case studies and testimonials. You might even be able to be put in touch with a current or former client to better understand how this agency can help companies like yours grow.
7. What platforms do you have experience with?
Your tech stack plays a big role in your marketing strategy, so depending on the services you're seeking, familiarity with your software of choice can make or break the hiring decision.
If you’re getting web services, do they have familiarity with your CMS? If they’re helping with your social media, do they use a social scheduling tool? Are they experienced with the CRM and marketing automation platform you use? Can their reporting tools access the data of the software you use?
8. How much do your services cost? How does your cost structure work?
Price is often a deciding factor in the hiring of an inbound marketing agency. While you shouldn’t go for the cheapest option just because of their cost, it is important to hire an agency that’s within your budget.
Pricing structure can vary from agency to agency: Some base it around deliverables. Others have an hourly rate. There are even agencies that have a hybrid of deliverables and hours.
Because of that, the same amount of money can get you different amounts of work at two different agencies. So, when evaluating cost, always try to contextualize it with what value you’ll obtain from the partnership.
Hiring an inbound marketing agency can help your business grow. But, to get the best results possible, you don’t want to work with an agency that only cares about the outcomes of your marketing efforts.
Marketing cannot contribute to your company’s bottom line if those efforts aren’t followed up by sales, and sales won’t lead to scalable growth if those customers aren’t being retained and expanded. So, you should try to find a partner that cares about how their work is contributing to the holistic growth of your company — not someone who will convert a handful of leads and then call it a day.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.