You’ve weighed your options, the math adds up and you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re officially looking for a dedicated B2B marketing agency to take your inbound strategy to the next level, or at least shoulder some of the load in order to stay on course.
It’s an uncertain time for a B2B company, entering into a process that’s quite a bit like interviewing internal job candidates and a little like going on the first three dates with someone new. Assessing potential agencies will take time and doing your homework. First, you have to ask yourself plenty of questions to determine what it is you’re looking to improve upon and define what makes a good fit in a marketing partner. Next, you’ll need to have a good arsenal of questions to ask prospective firms—questions that get you answers that elucidate how your client-agency relationship may play out in the short and long-term.
There isn’t a set list of questions that will work for every B2B business—it’s up to you and what you discover in the preceding self-assessment to tweak them for your specific needs—but there are general and important themes that you need to address in any agency assessment process.
1. How do we ask for something we want done?
Establishing a plan for healthy and consistent communication with your potential agency is number one with a bullet. When you need to push a campaign, prioritize new content or just get updates, find out whom to reach out to and what sort of notice is required.
Their willingness to accommodate will tell you a lot about how well they will fit with your plans.
This isn’t just to gauge what an agency prefers; this is also an opportunity to place some of your needs in front of the firm you’re interviewing. Lay out how your company’s decision-making tree works and inform them of how urgent issues or last-minute changes can arise. Their willingness to accommodate will tell you a lot about how well they will fit with your plans and they’ll appreciate your ability to be upfront about these things. If they’re good they’ll want to help you with strategy and not just execution.
2. How quickly can we count on you to respond?
On that same note, get a feeling for their overall availability and accessibility. Are they an agency that can only be reached from 9-to-5 from Monday to Friday or do they have staff that will be able to address issues on a Tuesday night or Sunday afternoon? Furthermore, will they have the dedication to get back to you swiftly during normal operating hours? Ask these questions with examples specific to the scale and scope of your company and make sure they have enough competence to handle anything you might throw at them in a pressurized situation.
3. What have you suggested before to companies similar to ours?
This question does two things for you: First, it uncovers an agency’s past experience with a company of your same size, scope and industry. Second, it gives you a preview of how well they can tailor their strategy for your specific needs.
Ideally, they will start with actions they’ve taken in the past and draw a line from them to their initial plans for your company. Look for solid demonstrations of improved results and not just busy activity.
4. And what worked for them?
With this follow-up, start crafting a roadmap for your joint efforts before committing to bringing them onboard. Implied in this is that they will also address what didn’t work or what lessons they learned from previous missteps.
Additionally, use this question as a jumping-off point for discussing how their previous clients’ needs compare to the goals you’ve enumerated prior to the meeting. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand how the examples they provide relate to your needs and aspirations. This is a crucial step in the assessment process as it sheds light on how well they can adapt and map their wisdom to your company identity. Also listen for what may have been lacking on the side of the previous client and review your own methods to avoid shortcomings on your side.
5. What do you use to assess and analyze our joint efforts?
In a partnership with a B2B marketing agency, you’re not just looking for extra sets of hands to create content, distribute it, and maintain a presence—you need actionable insights based in facts and gleaned from hard data. You want them to bring you proven strategies or at least strategies that will prove/disprove your axioms.
This question is only partially about what the agency uses, between metrics and platforms to gather and crunch the numbers. It’s also about how well they can explain to you the methodology behind their analytics and how it relates to real concepts for your business. Furthermore, you should guide them to talk about how these numbers reflect on their portion of your shared inbound efforts, as well as how they use them for their own self-assessment and improvement.
6. How often will we appraise results and update strategy?
For a partnership to be both strategically and fiscally worthwhile, you want it to endure for enough time to get a real return on your investment, a healthy sample size of data and good lessons from that data.
Follow up on the roadmap formulated in the fourth question to talk about the nuances of a potential partnership. How often will you reassess how a campaign is performing? How quickly can we expect to see some results? Will we have to request updates or will you be able to provide them with regularity? Don’t just get a feel for the timing of these events, but also dig for how proactive an agency will be in alerting you to needed adjustments. Clear reporting schedules signify agency accountability and transparency.
Go with the agency that defines a clear strategy that you could not have created in-house.
Come into your meetings with a prospective agency with a clear gameplan of the information you want and a good idea of the fit you’re looking for. The better prepared you go into the process of finding and selecting a B2B marketing agency, the more confidently you can decide which one is the right one to partner with so that you both can get right to the task of improving your company’s inbound marketing and reaping the rewards. And by all means go with the agency that defines a clear strategy that you could not have created in-house.