Now that 2015 is a few weeks old, it's time to look ahead. Have you finalized your 2015 marketing goals yet?
Yes? Great! (If not yet, here's a handy little template to get you going.)
Maybe you've already convinced your boss to invest in inbound marketing this year, or you are still trying to. Congratulations - that's a smart start for the year!
Now, the question is, can you do it in-house or do you prefer to have an Inbound Marketing agency help you? If your answer is the later, you'll have a tough job ahead of you to find the right agency.
But don't despair - we put together a list of criteria and questions that you should ask yourself and your shortlisted inbound marketing companies.
Service Offering: Full-Service Agency or Specialized?
I know this is a "putting the cart before the horse" scenario, but you need to know what services you will need before you find an agency that can provide them.
A full-service Inbound Marketing agency will be able to provide everything from A-Z, including buyer persona research, strategy planning, weekly blog posts, social media, email marketing, lead scoring, and analysis and reporting.
Then there are other Inbound Marketing companies that focus on one aspect of Inbound Marketing in particular, such as strategy, SEO, CRM Integration, COS Design (website design on HubSpot), Content Creation, Social Media Management, Email Marketing and partner with other agencies for the rest.
And then there are Inbound Marketing consultants, which will advise but the actual work will have to be done by you in-house.
Questions to consider / ask:
- Is your agency a full-service Inbound Marketing agency?
- What services do you particularly do well?
- What will you be doing? What will my staff or I do?
- How is your staff structured? How many writers do you have on staff?
- I need especially help in [...]. How will you address this?
Industry Focus: Generic vs. Niche
Are you operating in a hyper-focused industry niche that is hard to penetrate without sufficient knowledge? Are your sales processes anything but normal and your business models require detailed explanation? You should find an inbound marketing firm that has experience and expertise in your field and has worked with clients like you before that faced similar problems.
This has the obvious benefit that you and your agency are immediately ready to dive into your specifics instead of spending lots of time making sure they know enough to understand your business. But it is also important to find someone who is passionate about your industry. For example, an agency that focuses on fresh produce marketing will have an easier time producing the best quality content for your micro-green farm.
Questions you should ask / consider:
- How competitive is the niche I am in?
- How different is my business model or sales process?
- How long does it take to train new staff?
- Do I need to hire someone with preexisting industry expertise?
- Can you show me clients in my industry you worked with in the past?
Small Local Inbound Marketing Agency Or A Big National One?
Next, you should consider if you rather work with a local marketing agency or one of the big names, such as Impact Branding, Kuno Creative or PR 20/20. While those companies do fantastic work, there are also benefits working with a smaller, local agency.
While it is not common to meet on a regular basis with your inbound marketing agency, it is possible to meet if the situation warrants it.
There are also financial considerations, as bigger agencies usually come with a larger price tag - you can expect to pay from $8,000 - $15,000 a month. Smaller agencies also can provide you a more personalized service as you are maybe one of 5-20 clients instead of 200.
Questions to consider / ask:
- Does the size of your business and your need to grow require a larger Inbound Marketing agency?
- What is my budget like?
- How much personalized attention will I need / do I want?
- How diversified are my needs?
- How important is it to support a local business?
What Marketing Automation Do I Plan On Using?
It helps to do a little homework before starting your search for the right marketing company. You can read up a little on the different software platforms out there, such as HubSpot, Marketo, Infusionsoft and many more.
While it probably does not make sense to solely base you decision on that, it should play some role in your decision-making process. If you already have a marketing automation software in place and you like it, stick with it and find an agency that works with that software.
You have to also consider, which e-commerce solution or customer relationship management (CRM) system you are currently using? Some platforms work better with some shopping carts and integrate natively into certain CRM's. For example, HubSpot works best with Magento, Shopify and Salesforce - you can find more information on integrations here.
Ask the agency, if they are a partner certified agency for that software vendor.
- How long have you been a certified partner agency?
- What made you choose this software platform over others?
- Are you continuing your education on this platform?
- Would you work with other platforms?
The marketing agency which you will contract with will represent you, be your voice, and their work will portray what your company stands for. Wouldn't it make sense to hire someone that represents the same values?
For example, Organic SEO Press (Now 3P Creative Group) works best with businesses that not only have the goal to make profits, but also can trace their supply chain, provide fair and humane working conditions for their employees, consider environmental impact of their manufacturing choices and are guided by general principles of sustainability. We as a company, are offsetting our carbon footprint, have an office CSA, work with natural sunlight and for a paperless office as much as possible. We also regularly donate our services to deserving non-profits and volunteer to make an impact in our local community.
Questions to ask / consider before hiring an Inbound Marketing Agency:
- What values is my company based on and what should my marketing reflect?
- Is sustainability an integral part of my business strategy?
- What tone do I want my voice to my customers to be (casual, fun, serious, formal, etc.)?
There is a huge number of agencies to choose from. Industry and vendor certifications give you a good indication how serious this company is about investing in continuous education. But be aware to check the reputation of the certification.
For example, there are several levels with HubSpot to get certified: Inbound Certified (everyone can get this certification who passes a simple online test), HubSpot Certification (which involves not only passing a more involved theoretical test but also a practicum showing you can master the HubSpot platform successfully) and a HubSpot Partner Certification. Only about 200 HubSpot Partners are actually partner-certified worldwide. A certified partner agency will be more likely to help you use your marketing automation software to the fullest.
Questions to ask / consider:
- Do I want to transition my Inbound Marketing services in-house eventually?
- How does the agency invest in continuous education of its employees?
- How important is in-house education for you?
How Is The Agency's Own Inbound Marketing?
Before contacting the agency, check out their website. How is the agency using Inbound Marketing for their company? This will give you a good impression what the agency is capable of.
Questions to consider:
- Is the agency providing helpful information just tailored for you?
- Are they addressing your needs?
- Can you easily find information?
- How is the tone of their writing?
- Do you like the visual style used?
Are there any other criteria you are considering when choosing an agency?