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What SMBs Should Consider Before Hiring a Marketing Partner

As an established, full-service marketing agency, Tangelo Media has the privilege of working with many amazing clients. Our clients are collaborative, open to feedback, willing to try new things — and most importantly — they trust our expertise. Unfortunately, some agencies and clients don't have such a successful partnership. In some cases, the marketing agency sells the client on goals that aren't attainable. In other situations, the customer isn't open to professional marketing advice. Either way, the relationship between the two is doomed.






So, if you're an SMB, what should you consider before hiring an agency? And once you do hire them, how do you start with a solid foundation? Here are three things to consider during the interview process and three ways to get off to a strong start once you've selected your partner.


The Vetting Process


1. Be Realistic About the Time it Takes to Get Results. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Coke, Apple, or Amazon. If you expect results tomorrow, you will be sorely disappointed. And, if an agency tells you they can get you results immediately — you should RUN. They are only telling you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear — ultimately costing you time and money and distracting you from an effective strategy. The industry standard timeframe requires three to six months to see any tangible results.


2. Be Realistic About the Budget.

If you are an established company and already have revenue, your marketing budget should be a percentage of that revenue. The U.S. Small Business Administration, recommends small businesses (businesses with income less than 5 million) allocate between 7% and 8% of total revenue to marketing — assuming your company has 10-12 percent margins. The average marketing percentage has increased steadily over the past ten years, ending at around 13% in 2021, compared to just 8% in 2011. But what if you don't have any revenue? The rule is to apply the above percentage to the projected revenue in your business plan. That said, there are a lot of variables that could determine what you need to spend such as how crowded the market is, how early you are to market, your competitive advantages, etc.


3. Due Diligence

As your company is interviewing potential marketing partners, ask them to be upfront about what you should expect in terms of results. Again, if they tell you they can perform miracles, don't believe them. Interview at least three agencies and ask them the same set of questions. Inquire about their specific expertise, proposed timing for developing a plan, high-level recommendations for budget and tactics, their bandwidth, and examples of success stories. You shouldn't ask them to create an entire marketing plan when you're just interviewing them. That's their intellectual property, and you can't expect them to give that away for free. Once you have narrowed it down to one partner, ask to speak with several of their clients and focus on the agency's response time, level of professionalism, and the outcomes achieved. Trust your instincts. A big part of finding the right partner, whether it's in life or business, is chemistry.

What's next?


Now that you have chosen a partner, it's essential to start with a strong foundation which often means getting on the same page. The agency should understand what you expect as a client and vice versa.


1. Set Expectations Together.

If you want your agency to respond to emails or calls within 24 hours, let them know that and make sure they can meet that expectation. Of course, there will be emergencies when you need something sooner, but not everything can be an emergency. And it would be best if you were also willing to commit to the same timeframe. If they need a response from you and wait three weeks, that's not fair or productive. It's important to remember that both organizations have a job to do. And even though you're the client, you should treat your partner with the same respect you deserve.


2. The Strategy Comes First.

Before you can expect a marketing plan, you should work together to determine the strategy and short- and long-term goals. Tactics without an overarching strategy are not going to get you very far and will fall apart fast. This part of the process takes time, requiring input from both sides. Who are the competitors? What do they do well? How do they market their brand? What opportunities is your company missing? What makes your product or service unique? What does your sales team face on the frontlines? What are current customers saying about you? Are you pricing your product or service competitively? Please think of this as building the foundation for everything else that follows, and don't rush it. If you don't get this right, nothing else will work either.


3. Trust Your Partner.

If you already know everything about marketing and how to execute a plan, you don't need to hire an agency. However, if you don't and have hired one, listen to them with an open mind. That doesn't mean that the relationship shouldn't be collaborative or that ideas can only come from one side. However, it does mean that you brought them to the table for their expertise, so value it. If you second guess each other's recommendations or ask for opinions from every employee, family member, or friend, you're heading for disaster. You should have a small group of people within your organization involved in giving feedback, and they should be experts in areas such as sales and products.


Most importantly, test how your message resonates once it's in the market and ask for feedback from your customers and prospects. Good marketing plans don't remain static; they are fluid and evolve according to performance, market conditions, product improvements, competitive positioning, etc.


Summary

While this may all seem like common sense advice, the trick is to put it into practice. Many business relationships fail simply because there is no clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, mutual respect, and trust. And this doesn't apply to just clients and agencies working together; it applies to every type of partnership. Success comes with clear expectations and when both parties are honest and willing to work collaboratively towards the same goals.


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