Having run a digital agency for 20-years I’ve had 100s of conversations with business owners, in-house marketers and other agency owners and hear the same questions and frustrations over and over.
I’ll often be identifying the most effective marketing tactics to use, laser-targeting marketing to their ideal customer to reduce wasted budget or working on positioning themselves with more clarity to get better leads.
But often the conversation moves towards something more fundamental – many aren’t even sure they have the right people around the table to deliver their marketing.
And not just their in-house team – most aren’t even sure they have the best matched digital agency for them.
They’re unhappy with communication, results, turnaround times, fees, turnover of staff, lack of transparency and often say they feel they’re not a top priority for their agency.
What’s playing out is the classic situation where the client doesn’t feel the agency is quite right and the agency isn’t excited by the client but neither will do anything about it.
And neither are to blame – it’s simply that there isn’t a 2-way match.
The fix of course is to start a new relationship with a brilliantly matched agency, a relationship that both parties will be excited about for a decade or two.
The issue is that most SMEs don’t know how to select the right agency, they make the same mistakes over and over.
So let’s consider the 5 reasons SMEs appoint the wrong digital agency.
- They supply a brief that describes what deliverables are needed
We receive briefs from prospective clients every week and typically they describe a website the business has decided it wants and some digital marketing tactics it’s decided it wants to use.
At Bespoke our approach is to challenge these briefs even if it means losing the work. They’re normally wrong because they describe what the company wants in place rather than what the customer needs in order to engage.
A better brief simply describes the outcome that’s needed. So for example “we want a website and marketing campaigns that will deliver us 100 good leads per week, we have a budget in the range of X, we want results to improve quarter on quarter and we’d like to discuss our business with you so you can identify how you’ll deliver this result”.
With this results-focused brief a matched agency will always pitch back appropriate tactics and deliverables. The range of responses will also reveal the differing levels of skill and understanding of all agencies that pitch.
The right agency will likely be the one that asks the most questions, wants to spend the most time understanding, rather than the one that sends the most extensive response.
So a good brief doesn’t describe deliverables, it describes goals and outcomes and leaves the door open for agencies to show off their approach and experience by pitching the right deliverables to get results for you.
- They appoint based on price
The ultimate purpose of digital marketing is to generate revenue and return on investment should alway dwarfs costs. So for example, if we’re spending £100k per year on marketing we’re probably expecting to generate leads worth £1m or more.
So the best value is normally in the supplier that is going to deliver the best results.
For example, it’s much better to appoint an agency that will generate £1m of leads for £100k than one that will generate £500k of leads for £50k.
In the big picture agency fees – unless patently ridiculous – shouldn’t be a factor that rules out the best agency for the job.
As agency owners we’ve seen over and over the wrong agency be selected based on price, only for the client to return a couple of years later saying it was the most costly decision they’ve made and would we still consider working with them.
- They appoint an agency with no sector specialism
SMEs normally hire agencies with 10-100 staff, including some account handlers, marketers, developers, designers and strategists.
But normally less than half those staff have sector expertise, the rest are simply responsible for execution.
Some agencies specialise in particular sectors. For example, at Bespoke we specialise in lead-generation for service and manufacturing businesses. Other agencies specialise in hospitality, retail, public sector, e-commerce and so on. And then some agencies are generalists that haven’t yet specialised particularly.
A business will always get best results and the longest most successful relationship by partnering with an agency that specialises in their sector, tech or business size.
Yet so many businesses we speak to have chosen based on price, geography, a recommendation, because they liked the salesperson or liked a website they’d done – it’s little wonder they end up dissatisfied where this is the selection criteria.
- They appoint based on turnaround times
The most successful digital agencies are also normally the most in demand.
One of the reasons they’re successful is because they’re normally booked up with exciting projects that help them attract and retain the very best staff – the busy agencies are the ones the best people want to work for.
At Bespoke we’re normally running at 80% or 90% capacity with a few weeks wait time for new projects.
Yet we’re approached sometimes by perfectly matched clients, clients for whom we’d expect to deliver a remarkable result and retain for a decade or more who have an idea for a project they want to begin within the next month or two.
When we explain we’re in demand and fully booked the client sometimes decides to go instead to somebody less in demand and less fully booked, simply because they can begin their project a month earlier.
This often begins a client-agency relationship based on a very short-term win, overlooking the fact that over a number of years this probably isn’t a great 2-way match.
It’s another scenario that leads to a business finding itself unhappy with its agency a year or two into the relationship.
- Some agencies are pitching for revenue, not the best 2-way relationships
The digital agency world is still a new and relatively immature industry, run by entrepreneurs who are largely working best-practice out as they go along. For most, it takes over a decade of learning to run an agency really well.
So in many cases the agencies themselves don’t know how to choose which clients to pitch for and which to recommend to others.
More mature agencies have a sector-specialism or a technology-specialism. They’ll also be specific on what size of business they work for, for example at Bespoke we work with SMEs with turnovers in the £1m-100m range.
So when a business submits a brief to 5 agencies, it’s likely that 3 of them aren’t the best match and shouldn’t be pitching, but will do anyway because there’s £50k or £100k on the table.
The way to navigate this issue is to look for an agency that is super-specific on who it does and doesn’t work for, one that can explain the sectors it specialises in and why, that can explain the size of businesses it does and doesn’t work for and why and can show evidence that’s it’s delivered results for businesses like yours over and over for a decade or more.
The perfect client-agency relationship
The result of making the right selection is consistent predictable online lead-generation with targets routinely hit, and relationships that are so strong they strengthen and improve your in-house marketing activity too.
Our experience is that only around 20% of businesses have this kind of fully aligned client-agency relationship.
But once you’ve moved from a mis-matched relationship to one that works both ways, you never go back.