A prospect recently pointed out to us that he was having a hard time differentiating between inbound marketing agencies—mainly because there are so many out there and they all “say the same things.”
He’s right on.
In fact, if you Google “inbound marketing agency” you’ll get 1.26 million results! (That doesn’t mean there are 1.26 million inbound companies out there, but it does hint at the saturation.)
HubSpot can help you whittle that list down from millions to thousands, but it doesn’t exactly assist you in differentiating between them. Allow me to explain...
Why Do Inbound Agencies Seem So Similar?
Here’s the backstory:
- HubSpot started noticing a lot of marketing agencies, print shops, web design companies, and other related firms becoming leads on HubSpot.com.
- HubSpot then made a very smart move—in 2009, they decided to build a program where all types of agencies could become “partners” if they signed up for HubSpot and became “inbound marketing certified.”
- Agencies got a cut of HubSpot’s monthly fee if they sold it to their clients.
- The pitch—particularly to print and web design companies—was that they could smooth out their up-and-down, project-based revenue by attracting monthly inbound marketing retainers.
- From there, HubSpot built out an entirely new content plan specifically targeting agencies. They provided templates, plans, ideas, and even a sales process for partners to follow.
The program now has 2,050 “certified” partner agencies (and the list is growing)! The program is a win for everyone involved—HubSpot, agencies, and HubSpot clients. The problem is, now all of these partners use the same language, graphics, and materials in their marketing.
Ever seen this before?
Because HubSpot provides such great resources to their partner agencies, it’s difficult to differentiate why one of those agencies might be better than the others. So I’d like to help by giving you the right questions to ask, so you can pick the inbound marketing agency that’s best for your company. If you think I'm missing some, please add them in the comments section below and I'll include them in the article.
What To Look For In An Inbound Marketing Agency
Do you like the agency’s marketing? If a marketing agency can’t attract its own leads and customers, it might struggle doing the same for you. It’s the whole “practice what you preach,” “walk the walk,” “smoke what you roll” mentality. So be sure to ask yourself this question first:
- How did I find this agency?
- Does the agency rank for keywords I’ve searched?
- Do they offer helpful information when I click through to their site?
- Is the agency engaged on social channels?
- Do they have enough of a following and does that following like what they post?
- Do I like the content they provide?
- Once I became a lead, did I receive helpful emails?
- Did the emails help me move closer toward a decision?
- Is the agency’s website ugly?
- Is it easy for me to understand what the agency does?
- Are the graphics crisp?
- Do I like the style of writing on the agency’s website?
- Does it help me understand inbound and their process?
- Does it sound like every other agency?
- Does the copywriting style line up with what we want to achieve at our company?
- Does the agency have a way to generate leads (i.e., offers, landing pages, and forms)?
- Was I willing to fill out a form on their website in exchange for some helpful content?
- Does the agency offer many types of offers depending on where I am in the decision process?
- Have I seen these exact offers on other agencies’ sites? (HubSpot allows partners to “white label” offers.)
- Does the company have a helpful blog?
- Is it updated frequently?
- Are there articles that are specifically helpful to me?
- Does it seem like this blog has readers? (Check for social shares, comments, etc.)
See Also: Visits Are 17% Higher On Days We Blog
Once you become a marketing lead for the agency, you’ll likely be passed over to the sales team. Now it’s time to ask a few questions about the sales process.
- Do I like this agency’s sales process?
- Do the salespeople understand inbound marketing?
- Are they able to provide information about why their agency is different?
Agencies and their clients need to be able to work together for awhile in order to get results (8-12 months at a minimum). Beyond all of the marketing and results, you’ll want to make sure you like the people you work with, since you’ll need to work with them for an extended period of time.
- Do I like the people I’ll be working with at this agency?
- Have they outlined who will be my account manager, writer, designer, developer, etc.?
- Am I able to talk to these people before signing a proposal or contract?
- Are their writers in-house or does the agency outsource writing?
- Will I get a dedicated writer (or team of writers) or will I get whoever is available at the time?
- How will these writers become experts in my industry on behalf of my company?
- Who will be leading the inbound strategy?
- What kind of experience does this person have?
- What results has he or she gotten for similar companies?
- Do I like how I personally mesh with the people from the agency?
- How often will we meet?
- How much input do they want from me and my team?
- How much more work will I take on by having to manage the relationship with the agency?
- What tools does the agency use for project management, file sharing, and meetings?
- Will meetings be in person, over the phone, or by video conference?
Next, you’ll want to make sure that the agency can come up with some case studies. Do they have data to show results for similar companies?
- Do they have a case study for a company similar to mine?
- How long will it take for us to see results?
- How long do companies stay with them?
Proposal & Contract
After all of the back and forth (and you becoming more comfortable with the agency), you’ll get a proposal. Then it’ll be time to ask some really important questions before you get locked into working with the company for a long period of time.
- What are we receiving, very specifically, each week, month, or quarter?
- How will they handle projects that are outside the scope of the contract?
- What happens if deadlines are not met?
- Do they require a year-long contract?
So—to recap—if you started out by Googling “inbound marketing agency,” you noticed those 1.26 million results. You can go to HubSpot’s website to cut the options down to the thousands (2,050 to be exact). Then, by asking these questions, you’ll be able to get it down to one (which is what you really need).
If you think we’re missing any questions on this list, I’d be glad to add them and give you the credit. Let me know in the comment section below or on Twitter (@henryoloughlin). Keep in touch!
From Peter Caputa, VP of Sales - HubSpot
1. Does the agency specialize in my industry?
"A lot of HubSpot partners are now focusing on one or two vertical markets. If they know your industry, they'll be more effective and efficient." (I'll add that there are two ways to look at this question: 1) Yes, having an industry knowledge could be really helpful, but 2) are they also working with my competitors? Make sure to consider both sides. -Henry)
2. Do they understand my business/revenue/sales goals?
3. Do I believe they can help me grow traffic, leads, new sales and net revenue?
From Ryan Malone, Founder & CEO - SmartBug Media
4. Does the agency use all the HubSpot tools?
"In other words, do they have their website on HubSpot so that they can illustrate how they use all the HubSpot tools."
5. Does the agency own and operate the Enterprise version of HubSpot?
"Many agencies will blog all day about advanced features of HubSpot, but if they are not willing buy Enterprise and use them internally, it's hard to imagine how much of an expert they can really be."