How to Evaluate Your Marketing Agency and In-House Team for Better Results
A good marketing agency or internal team can be a catalyst for business growth and help scale your organization to new heights…or they can actually slow your organization’s growth by stubbornly clinging to outdated marketing tactics or not aligning marketing campaigns with business goals.
Maybe you are a new marketing leader in your organization, newly hired to lead the team and meet a set of goals and expectations. Or maybe you’ve been a leader of your team or agency for a while, but you just are not getting the results you expected. How do you decide if your current team is working out or if you need to bring in new team members to improve results?
Read on to discover six key areas every marketing leader should evaluate—and the questions they need to ask themselves and their team.
1) Assess Your Team’s Expertise
One of the most important factors of marketing growth is hiring an expert team. It may seem obvious, but many people with experience in marketing are not necessarily up to date with the latest marketing updates, trends, and tools. And people with experience in one kind of marketing may not have any experience in another. For example, someone with expertise in social media marketing may not have any or very limited experience in search engine optimization.
As a leader, you should analyze your team’s strengths and weaknesses regularly. Look for:
- Where are they true experts and up to date in their knowledge?
- Where are there gaps where no one on the team is an expert?
- Is there a way to add additional training in gap subjects, or is it better to bring in a new person or agency to fill the gaps?
For your marketing agency, watch for the following:
- If they are partners and certified on the platforms that you use in your marketing—including Google Ads & Analytics, Microsoft Ads, Facebook Ads, Hubspot, and the like?
- Do they keep up to date on marketing trends, platform updates, new campaign types, and new tools and incorporate them into your accounts and strategy regularly? Or have the same campaigns been running for the past two years with no major changes?
- Are your contacts able to answer your questions on reporting calls with the pros and cons of different strategies, or do they have to research most questions and get back to you later?
Since many marketing leaders are not themselves experts in every aspect of marketing operations, they may find it difficult to determine the expertise of each person who works on their team. However, the tips listed above can help clue you into identifying issues with expertise.
2) Look for Transparency in Marketing Campaigns and Results
Another essential element to your marketing operations is that you, as the leader, have complete transparency into what is being done in your campaigns and what the results are. Here’s what to look for.
- First of all, does your organization own all accounts used in your marketing program (ad accounts, tools, reporting platforms, analytics, email platforms, etc.)?
If not, you should transfer ownership of those accounts from your agency or outside organization into your business. It is quite common for a marketing agency to create an ad account for a business because the agency knows how to create it–but then the account is owned by the agency and not the business. If the business were to ever leave the agency, that account would be lost if ownership is not transferred. Accounts should always be created and owned by the business, and then the agency should get access to that account.
- Is your agency or team able to teach you how to go into your accounts and how to see activity, performance, spend, and results on your own without needing them to interpret for you?
They should be happy and willing to teach you to independently check all campaigns and ads that are running at any time and pull reports and metrics on your own. If your agency or team will not do this, that is definitely a red flag.
- Do your agency and team provide you with reports or dashboards that pull metrics directly from the ad and analytics platforms instead of downloaded reports in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or PDF documents?
Downloaded documents can have numbers changed or interpreted in different ways before the client sees them. Live dashboard reports pull metrics directly from the platform and show the raw results, which are more accurate.
If your agency or team does not want you to have ownership or access to any of the marketing platforms that they are using and do not provide you with raw data in reporting and the first-party platforms, that is a huge red flag. Run, don’t walk, and get out of that contract!
3) Evaluate Communication Within the Team
Communication can make or break a marketing team. If the different parts of the team are not effectively communicating with each other and their leader, the marketing strategy will be disjointed and doomed for failure. A successful marketing team needs to be able to communicate their needs, successes, and failures well. Keep an eye out for the following.
- How do the different parts of your marketing team communicate with each other?
The medium of communication is not very important as long as it is used well. Meetings (in-person or virtual), Slacks, emails, texts, or other project management platforms should be used to discuss day-to-day tasks, results, and issues found in the marketing campaigns. All sections of the marketing team should know what the others are working on and how their efforts are working together or even possibly conflicting when viewed by their audience.
On the agency side, evaluate:
- How are strategy and results communicated with the point of contact?
- How are strategy decisions made?
- Are business marketing strategies and internal tactics communicated with the agency?
An agency is only as good as the information that they receive from their clients so that they can target the right audience, communicate the right message, and nurture client relationships. Some businesses may be hesitant to share internal information with their outside agency, but that often limits the effectiveness of the agency’s campaigns in the end.
A good agency is responsive to requests, questions, and concerns from both the marketing leader and others on their team. You should never wait more than a day for an answer to a question. They are quick to make requested changes to the account, campaigns, and ads. They include the marketing leader on all strategy decisions that will impact performance, targeting, and the direction of campaigns. They explain the pros, cons, and expected outcomes of each strategy and give recommendations based on their expertise to help the marketing leader make informed decisions.
The marketing leader should never feel like they don’t know what is going on in any part of their marketing operations. The agencies and team members on the marketing team should share the tasks that they are working on, results of past tests, current performance trends, and future strategy to give the marketing leader the full picture of their responsibilities and what is working and what is not in the accounts.
4) Ensure a Proactive and Flexible Marketing Strategy
A good marketing team and agency are flexible and creative. They should be able to not only adapt to new marketing goals and audiences but also regularly come up with new tests to expand reach and grow engagement. If your team is not able to shift easily when you need them to focus on a new initiative and are not creatively suggesting tests to expand reach and engagement, you likely need to make a change.
In a similar vein, your marketing team and agency should be proactive in solving issues in your marketing campaigns and adapting to platform changes.
- Does your digital marketing agency tell you when Google Ads makes an update to an ad type you are using?
- Do they discuss implications in conversion tracking when Google Universal Analytics switches to Google Analytics 4 in 2023? Do they talk about planning for privacy changes in the changing cookie landscape? Or does it always seem like they are reacting to changes after the fact?
To be fair, there are many platform changes that are not announced prior to when they happen. But a good marketing agency is constantly scanning the digital marketing blogs and Google’s communications for changes that are coming up and how to adapt to them so that they don’t lose performance.
Your marketing team and agency should also be strategic. They should have short-term and long-term plans to improve campaign performance and increase reach and engagement. If your marketing agency exists only to carry out your requests, you should look around for another agency. Your agency should always be bringing new strategy plans to the table based on their expertise and experience with other similar clients.
5) Identify Continuous, Effective Testing
Testing is how you move your marketing campaigns forward. You might test a new ad type, a new audience target, new keywords, new platforms, new ad copy, new ad images/video, or new landing pages. By continually testing new strategies, advertisers are able to learn what their customers prefer and also adapt to changes over time without losing performance. If your agency or marketing team just lets your campaigns run the same way for years on end, that is a major problem. Digital marketing best practices and capabilities are always changing.
On the other hand, if your agency or team is running multiple tests at the same time and they only let tests run for a few weeks or a month before moving on to the next one, they may not understand how testing works. You usually cannot get statistically significant results and learnings when you run short-term tests or multiple tests in the same campaign at the same time. You should also be keeping track of the results of tests over time and referring to learnings, so you are not wasting your time on strategies that have not been successful in the past.
A good marketing agency and team should have a plan for testing and evolving your campaigns. However, they should also wait to get statistically significant results to truly learn from the data and not make assumptions. If your team does not have a testing plan or seems to test things just to test things instead of having expected outcomes, you may want to find a new team.
6) Review Performance—With Nuance
Performance is usually the first element that a marketing leader wants to evaluate their marketing team on. However, just looking at performance can be very misleading, which is why it is last on this list. A marketing manager, especially one new to a company or new to the industry, sometimes has unrealistic expectations of what the cost per conversion should be for a specific campaign.
Without understanding the history of campaigns, past tests, past performance factors, the competition landscape, other factors from other parts of the company that may have influenced performance, and more, it is difficult to evaluate a team on current performance metrics.
For instance, new competitors may have just entered the market and are spending twice your marketing budget, gaining a competitive advantage on the ad platforms. Ad metrics are therefore lower than the previous year. Even the best team may have difficulty in countering this development without getting more marketing budget, which is not under their control.
Every marketing team will have excuses for low performance. However, a good team will know exactly what campaigns or metrics have low performance, why they are low, and they will have a testing and strategy plan to counter the low performance.
For instance, in the example above regarding new competitors with larger marketing budgets, your agency might recommend creating new ad copy and creative that makes your ads stand out against the competitors’ ads. Or they might focus your smaller budget on a more limited audience or keywords so that you can compete with a higher impression share for the most important audience targets.
Every marketing leader should regularly evaluate the job that their internal marketing team and external marketing agencies are doing with their campaigns to make sure that they are getting the best results possible. By looking at each of the above factors, expertise, transparency, communication, flexibility, proactivity & strategy, testing, and performance, a marketing leader can make sure that they have the best team possible working on their campaigns that can adapt to a changing marketing landscape and continue to improve performance over time.
Emily Lutz is from Kalispell, Montana and has been camping more times than she can count. She geeks out over musicals and the TV show Firefly (yes, she’s on some chat sites). Before joining Perfect Search, Emily was a zookeeper for ten years.