Bernard May is the CEO of National Positions, a 5-time Inc. 500 company, award-winning marketing agency and Google Premier Partner.
Having over a quarter-century of experience in the digital marketing ecosystem, and nearly 20 years running my own agency, I have seen the tides turn and the winds change countless times. Amid all the changes I have seen firsthand, one thing holds true and is more important now than ever before: Brands that are scaling within the e-commerce space need to ask the right questions of their marketing partner or agency.
I have heard many stories from prospective clients who were sold on false promises about what was possible (or even realistic). Other agencies embellished what they could handle and what the overall marketing machine’s capabilities are when it comes to growing a business. However, I also know that having the right resources, in the form of probing questions, could have provided these businesses with necessary insights before ever signing a contract.
The following are five questions I implore every e-commerce brand to ask of their next prospective marketing partner or agency before laying down their signature.
What is your strategic approach?
I like to say, “Success starts with strategy.” No matter what marketing channel you are considering (or being pitched), it needs to be fueled by a strategic approach.
I may ruffle feathers here, but an agency proclaiming that running Google Ads and Facebook Ads is the strategy is, at the very least, not being honest. These are channels or tactics. They are not strategies.
Your prospective agency should be able to explain how, let’s say, Google advertising is going to help you reach your target audience and convert that interest into sales. How is this agency going to pinpoint your audience? Refine your message? Test and optimize your campaign? Increase and ultimately scale your ROI?
Do you need to understand every single facet of the strategy? No. This is why you are looking for an agency, right? But your agency should be approaching your campaign strategically and willing to share the strategy you are paying for.
Will you challenge me?
Let’s face it, if you knew all the answers surrounding your marketing strategy, you wouldn’t need an agency. So, you should look for a healthy balance: An agency that understands and is eager to execute your goals while still challenging you.
Should your agency just slap you with a “no” at every turn? Of course not. But they should be willing to take your input and provide something better—a better message, design, budget recommendation, or maybe even a marketing channel you never considered. In fact, you should welcome this from your agency.
If you have been striving to grow your e-commerce brand and have been focusing on Google Ads for years, there may be opportunities on Facebook, YouTube or Amazon you just never considered. The great thing? You can always say no. But it is better to have a marketing partner who is willing to push the envelope versus one that never even writes a letter.
Will you own my data?
Let me say this loud and clear: Data, metrics and analytics gathered or produced within your campaign are yours. Period. No marketing agency should have stipulations or limitations when it comes to your data or reporting metrics.
Some agencies may run your ad campaigns under their own “umbrella” or filter your data views through their proprietary company portal. Now, to be fair, there is nothing wrong with this if provided transparently. The trouble comes when you choose to leave an agency and find out that the campaign data metrics that you paid to acquire are not leaving with you. Essentially, without your historical performance data, when you move to a new agency, they will be starting from scratch.
You need to know from day one that you retain ownership of your data like analytics, Google Ads accounts, social media accounts, etc. This should be nonnegotiable. Without knowing you will own your data and have access to your data, no contract should be signed.
Can you show me examples?
You should never hesitate to ask for case studies, proof of performance or references from your potential marketing agency or partner. As they say, if they are going to talk the talk, they better be able to walk the walk.
When it comes to success stories, you should ask to see examples that are within (or at least close to) your own industry. This direct industry correlation is not a 100% requirement, but it shows that the agency at least has an understanding of your specific niche.
Are the case studies current? Are the success metrics being shown based on annual or quarterly improvement? And is the data being represented as a percentage of improvement as opposed to vanity metrics? In other words, if they say, “20K monthly website visitors,” this doesn’t really tell you anything. But, “Boosted website traffic 86% to 20K monthly,” conveys what the agency can produce.
How will you help me scale?
Finally, you need to know that this agency has a plan to help your brand grow over time. How will they help you expand into new target markets, geographies and new marketing channels? This should be a forward-thinking aspect of the strategy they are presenting to you. If you have a goal of increasing revenues by 30% annually, and this goal is achieved in month nine, what’s the next phase? What’s the plan?
You want an agency that is progressive enough to not only build a marketing strategy but a scaling strategy as well. This may include reallocation of budget (or additional budget) for email marketing to nurture repeat purchasing, launching new geotargeted markets for seasonality or diversifying your advertising from Google Ads to Facebook.
All in all, they should be able to present you with ideas for what is coming next once success benchmarks are hit next month, quarter or year.
Bookmark this post so you can reference it next time you’re looking to make a move and interview new marketing agencies. Ask the tough questions and listen (and look) for real answers.