For many businesses, researching marketing agencies is not much fun.
It tends to inspire the same sort of anxiety that emerges when the average person goes to a new auto mechanic for the first time. In each case, you’re at a disadvantage because you have to trust an “expert” to deal fairly with you.
There are countless stories of businesses feeling like they were fleeced by a marketing agency that knew “exactly what to do”. This toxic environment can erode trust so much that shopping for a marketing agency shifts from exciting to anxiety-inducing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are things companies can do to control the vetting process so they feel confident before they speak to an agency for the first time. Who knows, you might even catch them on some BS.
Here are a few tips for companies in the process of figuring out which marketing agencies to talk to:
Tip #1: Ask Trusted Colleagues & Peers for Recommendations
The best way to mitigate risk is to ask trusted colleagues and peers for recommendations. They will have your best interests at heart and are unlikely to knowingly point you in the direction of a bad agency.
This is by no means foolproof. It’s entirely possible the agency’s strengths don’t align with your needs, or that it’s a poor fit personality/culture wise for your company. It could also be that the agency’s ownership has changed hands since your colleague or peer worked with them in the past. Regardless, it’s a good starting point for your search.
Tip #2: Check Online Review Sites
The best agencies are usually meticulous about managing their online reputations, so a string of poor reviews or customer complaints should be a huge red flag. Similarly, reviews that seem obviously fake or insincere are also suspicious. Below are a few sites to check out for online agency reviews:
- HubSpot Partner Directory: If you are using (or planning to use) HubSpot as your marketing automation platform or CRM, then this is a great place to start. Most agencies will have five stars and receive great recommendations, but the volume of recommendations is a good indicator as to how established the agency is within the HubSpot ecosystem. The fact that all reviews require LinkedIn authentication and feature the reviewer’s name and company are also decent indicators that they’re legitimate. If you have doubts, then just find the reviewer on LinkedIn or look for their contact information on their company’s website and contact them directly.
- Salesforce Partner Directory: Very similar to the HubSpot partner directory, but instead focused on Salesforce partners.
- G2 Crowd: This site is primarily known for the reviews it provides on SaaS and other tech companies, but has a growing footprint in the agency area. Similar to HubSpot’s partner directory, most reviews are going to be positive, but if you see an agency that has a bunch of negative reviews, then that should be a significant red flag. Don’t hesitate to contact reviewers for more information.
- Social Media: Whether it ‘s actual Facebook reviews on the agency’s page or general comments made about the agency on social media (be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, etc.), it’s always a good idea to do a quick social search with the agency’s name to see if there are any concerning posts.
- Ripoff Report & Better Business Bureau: It’s unlikely that an agency would show up on these sites unless it has a repeated pattern of questionable behavior, but it’s worth a quick look to make sure that’s not the case.
Tip #3: Examine the Agency’s Earned Media Efforts
If a variety of different respected news outlets have highlighted an agency in a positive light, then that can typically be taken as a signal that the agency has a strong reputation (or at least excels at public relations). An agency’s thought leadership efforts are also a good guidepost to consider. For example, have an agency’s experts been:
- quoted in articles from highly regarded publications?
- interviewed by highly regarded broadcasters/podcasters?
- featured as speakers at highly regarded conferences or events?
Tip #4: Peruse the Agency’s Website
A lot can be gleaned by simply looking at an agency’s website. Considering that marketing agencies make their money by providing marketing services to clients, it is reasonable to expect that the agency itself should have a good website. Below are a few of the elements you’ll want to keep an eye on as you research an agency website:
- Aesthetics: Does the design grab your attention in a good way? Those same designers will likely be the ones working on your website and collateral.
- Content: Do the agency’s services make sense? If it seems really mysterious or is exceedingly difficult to understand what the agency does, then that may be a sign that the agency either doesn’t know what it’s doing, doesn’t want you to know what it does, or isn’t capable of effectively articulating what it does – all of which are bad.
- Social Proof: Any established agency should have testimonial quotes and case studies available on its website. An absence of those things typically signifies that the agency is either very young, or hasn’t pleased its clients well enough to generate any testimonials or case studies. Ask the agency for references so you can talk to their clients yourself.
- Partnerships: Huge companies like HubSpot, Salesforce, Shopify, etc. won’t continue to remain partners with agencies that customers regularly complain about. A Just make sure to verify with those other companies that any partnerships an agency claims to have on its website are active and real.
- Certifications: If you are looking for an agency to provide digital marketing services, there are a set of certifications that most agencies should have (and should highlight on their website). Those include the following:
- HubSpot Inbound Certification
- Salesforce Certification
- Google Ads Certification
- Google Analytics Certification
- Facebook Ads Certification
Tip #5: Trust Your Intuition
At the end of the day, if you feel hesitancy or fear about speaking with a particular agency, then it’s probably best to just cross that one off the list before even getting to the discussion stage. Intuition is rarely wrong.