Every week I hear a horror story from a service provider who showed zero ROI (Return On Investment) from their engagement with a marketing agency or marketing service company.

To be sure, some of those failures may be the fault of the client. It could be that the owner or marketing director didn’t track their numbers or understand metrics. Perhaps there was a fundamental misunderstanding of how marketing works (or the amount of time it takes for marketing to achieve specific results).  

But very often, the failure could have been prevented with a proper conversation at the beginning of the engagement. Ideally, this discussion should be initiated by the marketing company. Unfortunately, most marketing companies don’t approach the relationship this way. Therefore, it falls to the service provider to own this process.

Before signing any marketing agreement, answer three simple questions. This will help you determine if you’ll be able to achieve your goals with this company or if you’d be better served by pursuing another marketing avenue.

The 3 questions are these:

1. How do we know this marketing is working?

2. What do we do if it isn’t?

3. What do you need from me to make sure this works?

To reiterate, the marketing firm should initiate this chat. But if you’re about to engage with a marketing company, and they haven’t provided this documentation, then you owe it to yourself (and your P&L) to have the conversation. Get these questions answered, and make sure you’re happy with the answers.

How Do We Know This Is Working?

You must be 100% clear what success looks like. Put another way: what exactly are you paying for? Shockingly, only 30% of service providers know the answer to this question!

There should be detailed KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in place. How many social posts will be posted? What type of posts will they be? Will they be unique to your company, or mass produced? How many outbound calls will be made? How many keywords will be search engine optimized, and how are those words selected? How many ads or ad sets will you be creating?

The goal is to have a VERY clear understanding of specifically what the marketing company will execute on. Remember, this is a contract. The BEST time to ask these questions is before there is any hint of non-performance. Yet far too often, these basic details aren’t shared. And some marketing companies are crossing their fingers, hoping you won’t ask them. (The good companies are ready to answer these questions. And the best companies answer the questions BEFORE you ask them.)

If the answer you get is vague or makes you uncomfortable, dig deeper. Perhaps the answer is confusing, and you need more clarity. Now is the time to dig into those questions; get the answers you need. Those answers may help you determine if this company is offering the tactic you need today.

Also think critically about the offer. You are likely hungry for leads. If a company promises leads, make sure you’ll receive leads. Hint: Facebook ads are not leads. A cold list is not leads. Social media posts are not leads. SEO is not leads. Know what you’re buying, and recognize when a strategy is needed beyond what you’re paying for.

Put simply: what YOU desire is the trailing indicator (leads). What you are buying is often the leading indicator (tactics such as lists of names, social media posts, or SEO). Be crystal clear about what you’re purchasing, and be honest with yourself: do you have the skillset to turn these tactics into leads. If not, proceed cautiously – if you proceed at all.

Should you choose to engage, treat the marketing company as you would an employee: They must have a KPI to achieve and you must have weekly meetings with (or about) them. The KPI is the number they are responsible for achieving. There cannot be any grey area. They either met their number this week or they did not.

What Do We Do If The Marketing Isn’t Working?

Recently, I realized that the results of my (outsourced) calling team had dropped significantly. But the root cause was my fault. I had stopped measuring them and holding them accountable. When I checked the call logs, I found many, many days when they weren’t hitting their KPIs.

At this point, it was clear the marketing wasn’t working, and as the CEO, I share the responsibility to make sure the marketing machine runs smoothly. So I called a meeting. I apologized for dropping the ball since I hadn’t been closely monitoring their efforts, and I asked why the phone calls weren’t happening. I approached the meeting in a spirit of collaboration. Perhaps a system was broken; perhaps a team member dropped the ball. It turned out to be miscommunication between the owner and the team executing for me.

I did a quick recap, explaining
that I was looking for a successful relationship, and that I’d keep an eye on things to make sure that could happen. I confirmed the previously agreed to KPI, and they agreed to that number. They further agreed that the tracking mechanism would be accurate at all times. Easy conversation!

In your case, you’ll want to find out (before signing an agreement) how you determine that the marketing isn’t achieving your goals. What is the measurement? How is that measured? And will you have visibility into that number? And what happens if the marketing is not working? Is it up to YOU to determine that? Do they have an account executive who keeps an eye on that? Will they be open to a meeting if you determine their marketing isn’t working? Are there performance guarantees in place?

Remember, you’re determining all of this BEFORE you sign the agreement. If you attempt to tiptoe through this landmine AFTER a problem occurs, there are emotions involved and it gets significantly more difficult.

With my calling team, I had given them a second chance. After a month, I had conducted four weekly meetings to analyze the team’s performance. Every week, I found missing data and missed KPIs. Every week, they promised to do better. After four weeks, I terminated our agreement. The conversation was very professional. I hired you to do X. You agreed to do X, and you didn’t do it. I reminded you often. You STILL did not do X. Since I cannot trust you to perform that task, our relationship has ended.” Thankfully, I knew their KPI. I knew how I’d have visibility into that KPI, and I was 100% confident the mark was being missed. These facts made my decision clear and removed most of the angst.

What Do You Need From Me To Make Sure The Marketing Works?

The final topic you’ll want to broach, before engaging with a marketing firm, is: what do you need from me? Will you be completely hands off? Will your help be required initially, simply to onboard and connect various tools? Will you need to assist with the initial script creation? Do they need several hours with you to determine the best prospects to target? Or will they need your time weekly or monthly, to manage pieces of the puzzle.

Remember: if you had just hired a new employee, you wouldn’t expect them to get started with zero input from you. So be sure your expectations from the vendor are sensible too. If the vendor insists that you’ll be completely hands off, make sure that someone on their team is managing the process. Dig into their quality assurance process. (I once hired a marketing firm with ZERO quality assurance in place. When I asked if my metrics were better or worse than other clients; they had no idea!) The time to discover these challenges is BEFORE you sign the agreement.

Get answers to these three questions before you engage with a marketing company, before anyone is grumpy. Before you’ve written off the vendor. While this conversation may feel foreign to you, the best time to have it is before any money has changed hands.