INBOUND MARKETING

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HOW TO SELECT THE BEST INBOUND MARKETING AGENCY FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Feb 09, 2016 - Mike Lieberman, Chief Inbound Scientist
Inbound Marketing Is Complex, And So Is Finding Someone To Help You

Selecting An Inbound Marketing AgencyOnce you’ve come to the conclusion that you need help getting your company’s inbound marketing program up and running, the next step is starting an evaluation process to find the best agency for your business.

The major challenge here is that there are lots of inbound agencies of all shapes and sizes. Many of them look similar on the surface but are dramatically different under the covers. How you evaluate them is going to be important in making sure you get the best agency for you.

Here are a few tips to make sure you select the best inbound marketing agency for you and your business.

Vendor Or Strategic Partner

This article talks a lot about knowing what you want. This is very important when selecting an inbound agency. You have to know what you want so you can make the right choice for you. The first aspect of knowing what you want is asking yourself: Do I want a vendor that will do what I say, or do I want a strategic partner that will help me figure out what to do?

Inbound is very complicated. So, I would think you’d want someone who tells you what you should do, based on their experience. However, a lot of people feel very confident simply giving their agency a list of things to do and then expecting them to execute those items. Either way is fine, but picking an agency that’s designed to give you guidance and handing them a list is the fast track to a frustrated agency and a dysfunctional engagement.

Set this objective upfront. Come to an agreement. If you want a vendor, look for agencies that excel at being a vendor. There are a ton of them, and many are very good. If you want an agency that is going to give you their opinion, you should expect that they’re going to want you to follow their guidance most of the time. They’ll understand that it’s your business, but they’re going to want you to follow their lead because they know that their suggestion is going to work, more than likely because they’ve seen it work before.

If you’re looking for an inbound marketing agency that’s strategic, you need one that’s been around for a while, one that’s been practicing inbound for over 10 years, one with senior people in their shop and one with a large number of engagements under their belt – probably upwards of 100 or so inbound efforts.

This is a tough one. Clients love buying stuff, and they understand buying stuff because they’ve always purchased stuff. You know what I mean. One website, four blog articles, two whitepapers with landing pages and one email campaign. There are a lot of inbound agencies that also love delivering stuff. These typically have pricing published on their websites and have packages of stuff to deliver. Again, I’m not saying this is bad. I’m just saying it's important to match this approach with how you want to work with them when selecting an agency.

On the flip side, you have agencies that want to get you results, and the stuff is less relevant to them. If they write one single blog article and the result is 100 leads, they don’t care about the other stuff on the list. Their job is done, assuming 100 leads was your goal. There are agencies today that only focus on results, and they’re committed to doing whatever they have to do to get you the agreed upon business results.

This has its limits, too. They can’t work solely on your company at the expense of their other clients, but what they do and when they do it is not governed by a list of stuff, a contract or a checklist. They might blog 20 times this month, publish a 20-page e-book next month and launch a webinar campaign the month after that. It’s all about the results, not the agreed upon list of stuff.

Which of these approaches appeals to you more? This will dictate the kind of agency that’s right for you.

All In Or Partially In
 10 Questions You Need To Ask Before You Hire An Inbound Marketing Agency

This is a big one. Are you all in on inbound, or are you still interested in doing outbound and interruptive marketing, too? If you’re all in, you need an agency that’s all in. If you want an agency to help you with your advertising or your cold-calling program, make sure they’re OK with this approach strategically.

It’s difficult to find an agency to support your all-in approach if they’re not all in themselves. If they still do long website projects, traditional PR or advertising, they’re probably going to be really good at those types of tactics and not as good at inbound. They’re also probably going to be trying to convince you to do some of those old-school tactics because they still believe in them.

If you’re not all in and you select an all-in inbound agency, they’re not going to be equipped to help you with some of your non-inbound requests. So again, neither is good or bad, right or wrong. But, knowing what you want upfront helps make a better match during the interview and selection process.

Marketing Or Marketing And Sales

Today, marketing and sales are blending. Do you want an agency to help only in the marketing area, or do you want an agency with the capabilities to help you in marketing and sales? For instance, if you just get help with marketing, you might find your lead flow increasing but your revenue remaining the same because your sales team is not on par with your new marketing. Does that sound like a problem? If not, you only need inbound marketing help.

If you’d like your new inbound agency to help you get better at closing leads instead of just generating leads, they need to be prepared to help with your sales process, teach your sales team to use social media and technology tools, help you integrate content into your sales process and provide a full funnel analytics review. Make sure that the agencies you’re looking at provide both inbound marketing and inbound sales services.

Advanced, Intermediate Or Basic Inbound Experience

How important is expertise to your decision-making process? More experience from an agency usually translates to more value to you, which might mean more investment requirements. If you look at it on the surface, any agency can hire kids out of college or interns to work on a client engagement. This allows them to make more money and charge less for their services.

A more experienced agency with more experienced people would have to charge more to afford those highly skilled people, so cheaper doesn’t always mean better in the inbound agency community. You’re going to have to put a value on experience. Are you more comfortable with more experienced people and a more expensive engagement, or would you be more comfortable with a lower level of investment and a less experienced team working on your inbound marketing?

Again, neither is right or wrong, but which one feels right for you and your company?

Advanced Or Basic Inbound

The last question is: How advanced does your inbound agency need to be? If you’re just getting started and you can afford to go slow as you figure it all out, an inbound agency with basic or starter skills might be perfect for your company.

But, if you’re looking to get started fast and get results quickly, you’re already doing the basics and you need help with more advanced inbound tactics, you need an agency with advanced skills and more comprehensive experiences.

For example, the optimization phase of an inbound engagement requires a set of skills and defined processes that allow your agency team to analyze the data, review what the data is telling them, respond with an action plan and get that plan implemented quickly to impact results that month, not three months down the road.

Selecting an inbound marketing agency isn’t easy, and if you make a mistake, it can set back your program a good year. Even the best inbound agencies run into trouble if they’re working with a mismatched client. Take your time, make a good match and you’ll see the results you’re expecting from inbound marketing and inbound sales.

Start Today Tip – Get your selection criteria down before you reach out to even one agency. Once you know what you’re looking for, you should start your search. Keep in mind that you want an agency that practices inbound internally. If they don’t use inbound on their own firm, how are you going to trust them to do it for you? You need to feel inbound and the click-to-close experience aspect of inbound as you go through their own process. Agencies that are missing a sales process, don’t have content on their site, don’t nurture their leads and don’t tell a compelling story are going to struggle to do that for you.


Back in April we simply recommended that your agency have a strategy phase of their engagement, but today you need to look deeper and make sure that any strategy work being done for you includes not only personas, but also messaging, differentiation, content planning, editorial calendars, budgets, schedules and projections for both website visitors and leads.
How will you infuse search strategy into the content creation and execution?
Today, search engine optimization is so connected to content marketing that you need to see exactly how your agency of choice is planning on connecting search and content. How much SEO expertise does the content team pose? Who is responsible for creating and delivering content as part of the engagement? Make sure you understand your agency’s defined process to ensure on- and off-site SEO and how that work will impact your results.
What is the full complement of team members that will be working on my business?
Inbound is complex. Simply assigning a single point person is a recipe for failure. You should be looking for a team. You want a senior person to help with long-term strategy and directional guidance. You want someone to handle the day to day and you also want search, social and content expertise to be intimate with your business all throughout your engagement.
How do you ensure your entire team is intimate with our marketing strategy?
You should be meeting and working with everyone on your inbound team. This includes content, design, interactive and marketing people. If all these people are involved in the strategy, planning, foundation building and then optimization phases of your engagement, you’re going to get the best results. If these people are freelancers and pop in and out of the engagement, you’re probably going to struggle.
After we launch, what does the team do to optimize our inbound program?
Getting an inbound program off the ground is actually easy. But getting an inbound program to perform and improve month over month is much more challenging. Ask your inbound marketing agency to tell you, specifically, what goes on month over month to optimize performance so that at the end of the engagement, the results come in above expectations.
How many inbound engagements has your team executed over the past two years?
This might be one of the most important questions to ask. Why? Inbound expertise comes from experience running inbound programs. The more you do, the better you get at driving results. Unfortunately, this means you should be looking for bigger agencies, with bigger teams and bigger client portfolios. No, bigger isn’t always better, but in this case, agencies with more experience and more clients are going to be better at inbound.
Do you have experience working in my vertical?
This question isn’t about experience in the traditional sense. In our opinion, you don’t want an agency that only works in a single vertical, because that usually brings the same recommendations for all of their clients. What you are looking for is an understanding of a particular industry so that the team supporting your inbound effort understands your business and your industry, and won’t have to spend a lot of time learning your industry. This typically means a faster track to results.
Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is regarding performance commitments?
Any inbound agency worth their weight should be willing to make a financial commitment that’s connected to performance. If they’re not, consider another agency. The nature of this performance-based relationship varies, and this should come with a solid, contractual agreement that you’re willing to commit to as well.
Are you going to help me, our team or our company learn how to do inbound?
You should be looking for an agency that’s willing to teach you how to do inbound. This is important if you want to bring your inbound program in-house. Even if you don’t want to ever take the program in-house, the smarter you get around inbound, the more valuable you’re going to be to your organization.
What are your company’s core values?
This might seem like it’s from left field, but it’s not. You should be looking for a strategic partner – and not a vendor – for inbound services. If your strategic partner and your company don’t align around basic core values, you might have a difficult time getting on the same page during the engagement. Simply ask your potential partner to share their core values with you. If they don’t have them and you do, this might be a misalignment. If you don’t have them and they do, take a look at their core values and make sure you can connect with them.
Inbound requires a long-term, strategic commitment. If you’re not thinking about your inbound effort like this, then you probably aren’t thinking about it correctly. Look at the selection process the same way you look for a spouse. We get married to our clients. We consider them friends and we’re looking for long-term relationships. If your agency of choice isn’t thinking about their engagements in a similar way, my advice for you is to look for another agency.
Start Today Tip – It’s a complicated exercise to select your first inbound marketing agency. Make sure you’re all in on inbound before you start down this path. Once you’re committed to inbound, start your search with the questions above. One thing to make sure you stay away from is packages, packaged pricing or published pricing. Agencies with this approach don’t truly understand that inbound is a methodology that has to be applied differently to each company. One-size-fits-all is the worst possible approach to generating real results for clients. Make sure your program is customized and personalized based on one thing only – your business goals.