I don’t think it is possible to share how many agency pitches that I have been in without giving away my age. Let’s put it this way, I have been in the agency world for over 15 years. Throughout those years I have pitched for almost every type of business in almost every type of industry. Most importantly, I have probably lost as many pitches as I have won. Have I learned a lot along the way? Yes. I have learned that there is no silver bullet and there is no magic formula for either client or agency. Most importantly, I learned that every client is different and everything depends on what the client’s needs are.
I hate to admit but in the past I have made the mistake of not truly understanding what the clients needs are when putting together a strategy. The result was that we were not the best agency for that client in every pitch we went into. Our recommendations were in line with what they thought they wanted and not what they actually needed. Would we have done a good job? Sure. Did we win the business? Sometimes, but usually we did a lot of work, spent a lot of resources only to come up second. What this means is that when choosing an agency you first need to have a clearly defined list of your goals and resources that you have and/or need to execute. This helps you bring the right agencies in and for you to choose the best one. This also helps the agencies put together their best recommendations.
Here are a few things that I feel are important for every client to take into consideration and evaluate when jumping into a marketing partnership:
Asking the Right Questions
An agency that you are interviewing should first ask about your conversion goals and who your ideal customer is. Understanding these will help determine what recommended channels you should focus your budgets on. Just because you know that you should be participating in SEO does not meant that you should if it doesn’t fit into your budget or help you achieve your overall marketing goals. For example, if you are looking for quick results and you have a limited budget then SEO is not where you should start.
During the agency review does the agency display knowledge of your business and who your target customer is? Do they have experience with lead generation, ecommerce, and brand building? Just because an agency has run many paid search campaigns does not mean that they understand how to reach your customer and how to engage them. For example, if you have an ecommerce business that is built on a Magento platform and sells furniture you are gong to want to look for an agency that has experience selling higher priced items and has experience with Magento. This type of experience alleviates some of the learning curve such as understanding the synergies of SEO on Magento and/or building out landing pages and ad copy for larger ticket items.
Processes and Systems
My belief is that in order to execute a campaign successfully you need to have processes and systems in place that help create efficiencies. Not only should their services have well defined deliverables and timelines but also a process or system that helps control the flow of communication.
We all want to work with people that we like and trust. #1, #2 and #3 are very important but with the number of agencies out there the competition is that much greater for strong talent. The truth is that when you have narrowed your selection down to 3-4 agencies all of these things are true: we all have top clients we have worked with, we all have amazing case studies, we all have won awards and none of us are going to give you a bad reference. The difference between us and the other agencies is our team. What this means is that we aren’t just selling our services, we are selling a team. In an ideal world the client service team will have experience working with another client in your space and is someone that you feel will best represent your best interest and marketing goals at the agency.
There are no Guarantees
The last and most important thing to understand is that there are no guarantees. Nobody has a special relationship with Google or any search engine that gives them a leg up on any other agency. It all comes down to doing the work, analyzing the data and making the correct optimizations to continuously improve performance. You should expect transparency, quality reports and strong communication.