Have you ever gone on a first date, returned home, and realized you hadn’t asked a question that you needed to know the answer to (like their first name)? That’s what commonly happens when companies hire a marketing agency – they finish the first call only to realize they don’t yet know enough to know if they should continue the conversation!

The purpose of this article is to outline the questions I have been coaching companies to ask for years. I’ve done well over 100 hour-long coaching calls with companies who are looking to hire an agency, and spoken with a few thousand companies to learn more about their specific needs.

These are the most common questions people ask me about agencies (I tell them they should ask the agencies themselves) and – questions that I most commonly see companies not ask that would set them up for more success if they did.

“What’s your founding story?”

Ask about the agency’s founding story. Good companies come from good stories.

A good founding story gives you clues into how the culture will be once you begin work with them.

Why did they start offering marketing services? What is the problem they saw that they felt uniquely positioned to solve?

“Can you tell me about the services you offer and how your team is world-class at them?”

Many agencies claim to offer many services. What you may discover, however, is that they’ve simply bolted on new services to create an opportunity, but they haven’t done it in a way that scales quality.

By asking an agency what they are world-class at, you’ll start to understand what they will prioritize when it comes to your marketing needs.

For example, if an agency started as a paid ads agency and also offers SEO, they’ll likely push you towards ads even if that’s not the direction you want or need.

“What does your team structure look like?”

Before agreeing to a contract with an agency it is important to understand the levels of people with whom you will be speaking. Ask questions like:

  • Do you use account managers? If so, what are their roles?
  • Will I be able to speak directly with the people implementing the work?
  • How often will we speak? What if I need more frequent contact?
  • How often will there be a senior person in meetings about my account, if at all?

Many companies will try to vet an agency by asking which team members they will be working with specifically. This is usually counter-productive. Agencies are generally juggling capacity on their team, and therefore cannot guarantee that a specific person will be on your account.

Instead, it’s important to understand how an agency trains its teams, and who will be your main point of contact.

“How do you train your team? How senior or junior are they?”

Agencies operate at scale and are always hiring and replacing employees. They’re often high-turnover organizations, which means that an agency with great retention is a very good sign. It’s important to understand how they hire and train new employees to deliver maximum value for clients.

Ask them:

  • What does your training program for new team members look like?
  • How do your employees stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest marketing strategies and tactics?
  • How long has your senior management (if it exists) been at the agency?
  • What are the experience levels of the people who will be assigned to my account? How do you measure their performance internally?

“How often do you report metrics to clients? What if I need it more often?”

You’re not just hiring an agency to do a bunch of things. You’re hiring an agency to do the specific things that will get you the results your business needs.

As such, agencies should report metrics to you alongside their actions. At the start of an engagement, they should look at your analytics to ensure you’re tracking the conversions or other metrics they are going to be moving.

On the call, ask them:

  • How often do you report metrics to clients?
  • Which metrics do you need from us to report accurately?
  • What if I need more frequent reporting?

Many agencies will set you up a dashboard from which you can grab metrics at any time. Just make sure that you receive the reporting your business needs, not just the cadence at which they want to give it to you.

A quick side note: if an agency doesn’t report metrics, or doesn’t know which metrics you should care about, do not hire them.

“Why did other clients choose to hire you? What makes you stand out compared to other agencies?”

It’s great to understand an agency’s origin story and hear what they are best at, but what you really need to know is what made other clients choose this agency over another.

Hearing why other successful clients chose the agency gives you more insight than almost anything else and how the agency perceives itself.

“Can you tell me about some clients you’ve worked with whose business is similar to mine? What results did they see?”

When hiring an agency, it’s useful when they’ve had experience working with and growing businesses like yours. By asking this question, you’ll quickly learn if they have the experience you need to drive your desired results.

This question tells you quickly how they think about marketing. Are they just thinking about specific tactics that are working right now but may not work later, or do they actually understand the specific needs of your business?

“What makes an engagement with your agency successful?”

Agencies are businesses too, and if you’ve been a professional for a while, you know that sometimes business relationships work out, and sometimes they don’t.

We want to optimize the relationships that we think have the greatest chances of working out. Part of this process is finding individuals or companies that have a track record of excellent relationships!

When engaging with a marketing agency, it’s important to understand if they have reverse engineered what makes their engagements successful – or not. They should be able to tell you what made an engagement work effectively, such as:

  • Their director of marketing has been with the company a long time
  • They had a budget that they could afford to lose, which let them take more risks and find better results
  • They had hired 4 agencies before and knew exactly what they wanted and didn’t want

“Do you do exclusivity? What does that look like?”

Some businesses have a lot of competitors, such as HVAC, real estate, auto dealers, or lawyers. As such, it makes sense for agencies to offer exclusivity so that they’re not working against their clients.

Ask an agency if they do exclusivity and what that looks like. There will sometimes be an extra fee, or they’ll ask you to agree to a certain length of engagement. This is to be expected, and an agency that doesn’t charge it probably doesn’t give exclusivity.

“What would you need from us to be successful?”

Before signing on with an agency, understand what they’re going to need from you before they can get to work and drive results.

Most will give answers like:

  • A written marketing plan
  • Access to your Google Analytics and Search Console
  • Access to your Google Ads and conversion data
  • An understanding of your team

What you may find is that they need things that you do not yet have, such as good conversion tracking. This helps both of you understand how the project will go at the start if you choose to work together.

It is also best to be completely transparent when you may not have something they need, as they can likely help you get that in place more quickly and get started on your marketing campaigns sooner.

“What are the next steps?”

At the end of the call, ask them what their next steps will be in getting to know you and your needs.

An agency that is good at sales will have a specific process because they know it helps both of you achieve the goal of hiring or being hired.

An agency that is bad at sales will let you guide the sales process, which will drag it out, which does not achieve your goal of hiring and improving your marketing.

While it is true that some bad agencies are great at sales and some great agencies are bad at sales, it is generally better to get going quickly so you can see fast results instead of hanging around and hoping that a great agency will eventually come along who will sell you effectively.

Go with the agency that communicates well and gives you clarity.

I hope the above questions help you understand what you should ask an agency early in your discussions with them so that you know if they are worth continuing the process with.If you’re looking for a good marketing agency, schedule a call with our team here.