We need a new agency. We are thinking of hiring an agency. We’d like to hear more about your agency. Do you do search? We’d like some SEM help. Can you conduct a review of our current program?

How many times have you been asked any of the above questions? How far would you go to prove yourself worthy of providing the answers?

There is no greater cost to an agency than the cost of acquiring new business. The race to build business in an industry experiencing unparalleled growth has led to agencies rarely stopping to ask if they should be answering those questions and in what context.

Client-side staffers often lack the experience to determine the correct course of action, and industry education entities appear to be sitting this one out.

So, what should a client (and maybe the occasional agency) do? Let’s take a look at some common pitfalls and unravel some mysteries.

Time And Task

If anticipated timelines are being missed, achieving success could be overwhelming for any agency, so take a very close look at internal support throughout the pitch process.

Any initiative needs strong internal advocacy, and I see big challenges ahead if it is too difficult to do something simple like schedule a call. If you can’t get everyone on the phone to talk tech resources or even marketing strategy, can you imagine how difficult it will be to get systems configured correctly if you win the business?

The Phony Deep Dive

It’s by and large a red flag when I see any agency willing to do a “deep dive” to try to get some business. A true deep dive is completed post-hiring an agency (or as a completely separate statement of work as an audit), and you wouldn’t really be hiring a true agency to do “project work.”

A deep dive covers all aspects of your online business and how the agency’s work will impact you. It is not something to be taken on lightly.

The Spec Form Fill 

Spec work, in plain language, is doing free stuff to prove your worth. Spec is inherently a conflict of interest for an agency and is not something you would see an established shop doing because they are well aware of the traps of spec work and making a convenient form fill look like a deep dive.

Generally speaking, when I see one of these companies claiming to do a “deep dive,” the process usually involves a form fill execution that takes the following shape:

  • You share your Google Analytics / AdWords logins
  • The prospective vendor inserts some self-serving observations into a form fill document they have built, e.g., “tag images” or “greater utilization of modified broad match,” “expand misspellings,” etc.
  • The observations are implemented post hire, you see a short bump increase in sales, and two months later you (and probably your boss) are wondering why you hired this company

The Right Stuff

Agencies should be hired based on credentials and bringing good ideas to the table, but doing a spec “deep dive” isn’t something any agency should be doing.

Learning where to draw the line between building an accurate scope of work framework and giving it away to those who don’t know any better is the key to winning business on the right terms.

The Review And Switch

In the not-so-distant past, when an agency received an invitation to pitch business, they also received a check to cover the cost of the work. Clients paid the agency for this work not only because it was the right thing to do, but to protect their business.

In the absence of an agreement and compensation there is absolutely nothing to prevent an agency from taking everything they learned in your “spec deep dive” and going to every one of your competitors to implement that intelligence. Think about that the next time you ask for spec work.

When you look for a true agency, think about hiring a marketing partner that will help not only your company but also assist you achieve your goals. Are the people working on your business the same ones that are coming to you with big ideas on the “pitch team?” Spend some time getting to know the people you will be working with and you’ll reap the benefits later. It seems agencies thinking of their clients as people with hopes, dreams and agendas is a lost art. It shouldn’t be.

You can learn a lot more from talking to a couple of an agency’s clients than you will from looking at a phony “deep dive.” Unfortunately, many clients don’t know the difference; it is prohibitively expensive for an agency to try to educate, and we usually have to let clients make these mistakes on their own.

Over the years I’ve seen more clients than I can count head down the path of soliciting spec program reviews, and I usually hear from them a few months down the road looking for help.

At that point, the fees are usually much higher because I have to dedicate a “SWAT” team to clean up the mess others have created. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone to do it the right way first?

Stock image from Shutterstock, used under license.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | How To Guides | How To Guides: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column

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About The Author: is CEO of Motivity Marketing. Motivity ‘s focus is helping companies in the world of connected marketing move forward with greater impact and return than they may ever have thought possible. Kevin takes an active role in guiding the day-to-day strategic execution of client initiatives.



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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “Learning where to draw the line between building an accurate scope of
    work framework and giving it away to those who don’t know any better is
    the key to winning business on the right terms.”

    And it’s something that only time can teach you. When I started my SEO company I would bend over backwards for prospects in order to win their business. But I started to realize that sometimes I’d do so much work upfront that they wouldn’t need to hire me anymore–I had handed them a ready-to-go SEO campaign for free! It’s a hard line to walk.

  • Pat Grady

    Either side bends over at the start, it’ll stay that way. Be frank, look for fit, lean towards no more often that yes. Pressure and desperation are close cousins, know their faces, inside and across the fence.

 

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