Thanks to my career in digital media sales, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting with CMOs and other marketing leaders on a daily basis. Some of the most important learning opportunities that I’ve experienced over the last 15+ years in digital media have come directly from these interactions.
Ten years ago, my conversations with decision-makers almost always focused on results and ROI. People would always ask questions like “how much traffic or clicks on my ad can I expect?” or “how many new leads will I get each month?”
This obsession with ROI made sense since digital was often a newer strategy and these leaders had to ensure that this new-fangled digital marketing thing would pay off.
Oh, how we have evolved! While results are still obviously still paramount, my conversations with CEOs and CMOs have changed. In addition to ROI, I’ve found that three other factors are now equally important in evaluating digital partners.
Of course, these factors differ by client and situation, but these are the few that surface in many of my meetings. Read on to learn about what marketing decision-makers are looking for in their digital agency.
1) Focus on values
Most agencies can furnish great case studies, testimonials and other materials that highlight the expertise of their staff. They can also provide endless reviews and references. While having strong marketing materials like case studies and testimonials are vital, they’re not necessarily the only thing businesses want.
Instead, marketing leaders are gravitating more towards the values and personality of the agency. Mutual values are incredibly important in building a long-lasting partnership. When values don’t align, it’s virtually impossible to develop a great synergy.
In a perfect world, this conversation about values would come up naturally. However, that’s not always the case. If you’re a business looking to learn more about an agency’s core values, I advise you to be extremely focused on what is truly important to your organization.
Is it teamwork? Initiative? Integrity? Sometimes it’s easy to just assume these values exist in a partner. Still, I’d challenge both marketing leaders and agencies to leave nothing to chance. Making sure your business values align with your agency’s values is easy to do early on in a partnership and helps create a strong foundation.
Once you’ve identified what values you need in an agency, find explicit evidence that your potential partner feels the same. This evidence might be part of a mission statement, a detailed “About Us” section on their website, or ideally through an honest conversation.
2) Strategic wins
Most marketing departments are spread pretty thin these days. Folks are wearing several hats, and resources tend to be limited. This has led to CMOs leaning more on their agency partners to be strategic marketers, not just execution experts.
I’ve learned that an agency’s ability to employ a consistent proactive and strategic focus is a new standard of the digital industry.
Gone are the days of showing a few case studies and testimonials within the client’s industry to show their expertise. Agencies must be able to effectively articulate their strategic process early on in the conversation to keep the interest of a CMO...and rightly so!
This focus on being a strategic extension of a client’s team should be evident in every contact. As a decision-maker, you should be able to get a good idea of an agency’s strategic process and focus from the initial outreach all the way through onboarding.
Is ideation a constant throughout the process? Are they able to have off-the-cuff discussions about improvements? Do they have a strategic process or merely a hope and a wish?
A good strategic process should be very clear, replicable, rooted in testing, and allow for optimizations. Since a great partner is an extension of the client’s marketing team, this process should also be easily explained and implemented.
3) The death of the RFP?
We have been hearing about the impending death of the RFP process for years now. And let me tell you right now: the RFP is not dead. More and more CMOs are opting for more personal approaches when choosing a partner.
Many marketing leaders are finding value in getting to know the processes and personality of an agency earlier in the process. They are requesting facetime (or FaceTime!) with the team members that would actually be doing the work before the agency agreement is signed.
After all, creating the RFP criteria and document isn’t a quick task. This can take many hours of meetings, compiling, approvals, and so on. Then, these get sent to several agencies where they spend many more hours meeting, collaborating and creating the proposal and/or presentation. Then, it’s back to the prospective client’s marketing team to weed through all of these presentations in order to find the chosen few to allow to the final round...of presentations! Thankfully, it seems both sides are growing tired of this.
The RFP process used to work well when agencies were order-takers and marketers knew exactly what they needed. Today, CMOs are leaning on agencies to be true marketing partners. They want partners that can be an extension of their team and deliver great results, not just create great proposals.
Fit is better determined by interpersonal contact that allows a CMO to examine an agency’s communication styles, follow-up, process, and expertise.
Ready to talk to an agency that really knows their values and strategy? We’re ready for you. Contact us.