Let’s start this with…
To be a doctor you need to go to medical school
To be a lawyer you need to go to law school
To be a dentist you need to go to dental school
To be a plumber, mechanic, realtor or broker you must be licenced.
For most industries there is regulation, a governing body and a standard for education that must be met. Even then, there are problems. So, what happens in unregulated industries?
Well, I can’t speak for them all, but I can tell you about the Internet Marketing space.
- The industry is still young
- The industry is also changing at a fast pace
- The barrier to entry is low (anyone can throw up a website and call themselves an internet marketing rock star)
- The industry is global
The wild west that internet marketing is, yields a variety of different players and in my experience for every 1 good company out there, you’ll find a handful of others that don’t have the know-how, the power to execute or both.
The challenge for business owners and marketers is to see through the smoke and mirrors and pick a competent and trustworthy internet marketing partner. In order to see through the smoke and mirrors you have to know what you’re looking for and that’s difficult if you don’t live and breathe the industry.
For example, an SEO firm in Toronto may quote a price point of $1,500 per month and comparing that long side the company from India who guarantees results for $99 per month is difficult because they espouse to do much of the same things, such as:
- Fix on-page components
- Build new back links
- Build new citations
- Engage in Q&A and content distribution
In the case of Toronto vs India, it may not pass your “sniff test”, but what if it was two local companies and the difference was $500 – $1000? What then?
Does your criteria inclue a Guarantee? If you answered yes, you’re wrong. Don’t take it from us, take it from Google.
That’s just Search Engine Optimization. What about all the other facets to online marketing like web development, ad unit creation, paid platforms, content marketing, social media, etc…?
Do you choose the large company that has lots of employee and lots of clients?
Do you choose the small company that will give you a lot of personal attention where your business really matters to them?
Do you choose the sales person you trusted most?
Do you trust a family member or the warm referral?
It’s a touch choice to make when you don’t know enough about online to ask the right questions and that is exactly why I wrote this. Now, the list of variables is too long to cover every scenario, but I want to provide you with some good general questions to ask and the reason for asking.
What is your strongest service? What service is your weakest?
I would ask the sales person about the strongest service first, let them answer and then follow-up with where they are weak. This is where you want to find out what they really do well, what they don’t and if they’re honest enough to give you straight forward answers.
What is your experience in my industry?
Really try and understand if they have had any prior success or failure. Don’t be afraid to ask for names. It is here that you may take down a few names and see how these cited current and previous clients are performing online. (Opposed to select examples that are shared).
Note: Depending on what you’re going after, not having experience in an industry is not the end of the world. Often, if the company you’re dealing has within its process to learn about you to market better, that alone may prove more valuable. In instances where exclusivity is thought, there is almost no choice but to pick someone that does not have experience with your competitors.
Where does the work take place? What are your internal benchmarks for success?
Work being handled abroad isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Talent exists all around the world, but the further away the work force is from the head office, the less control there is over the quality of the work. That’s why understanding who does what and how they’re measured is important. It’s natural for most sales people to not know all the answers to these questions, but will be able to provide you the answers later. Here are some follow-up questions
- Who comes up with the marketing message?
- Who comes up with the content ideas and who writes the content?
- Who writes my ads?
- Is my account manager local
- Do you offer in-house support?
What is the process after I sign-up?
Understanding the roadmap and game plan before you become a client gives you insight into what will be demanded of you and your team and provide a roadmap you can follow when you’re a client to keep your vendor of choice accountable.
Can I meet the team that is responsible for the work?
Most marketing companies are going to want to keep their clients away from their operations team members because those operations team members need to focus on doing their job. That said, there should be no harm in meeting them, verifying they exist and providing them with a face to the project.
How do you define success?
Who will manage my account / be my point of contact? How many other clients do they have? How much time can I expect they’ll spend on my account every month? Where would I sit in the pecking order of your clients?
This is an important set of questions. An account manager needs to be your advocate in their office because you can’t be. They need to be the one looking for new opportunities to innovate and ensure the different members of their team are doing their job. Ideally, they should be thinking about you and your business more than you think about your marketing company.
That kind of follow-up and critical thought cannot be achieved if you’re one of 50 clients or you’re grouped with other clients that have high time demands your account manager, the guardian of your account won’t have time for you.
What makes some of your clients more successful than others?
This is just a good open ended question to ask. It may provide insight into what their team is good at and what they’re not, but also reveal who they work best with and what kind of partner you may want to be.
Do you engage in the same marketing practices for your company that you have recommended for me?
There are a lot of companies that will profess how well you will rank, yet they do not rank themselves. They may tell you how important content is, but not blog for themselves. There are a lot of companies that will tout the value of their social media services, yet have stale profiles themselves.
Sometimes the response from those who aren’t drinking their own Kool-Aid is, “A cobbler’s children will have the worst shoes” or “The maids house is the messiest” or “We’re the last to eat”.
That may be true, but often that’s simply an indication that from an execution standpoint, they are strained. We recommend NOT hiring the fat personal trainer.
Can you give me a few names of competitors that you think do quality work?
Any good sales rep that believes in his or her own company and is worthy of your trust will offer up the names of other companies and understand your need to ensure you avail yourself of all the options to make an informed choice. Of course, he or she will hope that your findings will lead you back to them. If there is trepidation or objection to offering up names then there is likely a reason for it worth digging into.
If you’re interviewing a few different internet marketing firms and in asking this question you start to hear some common names being thrown out, you’ll have an idea as to whom else to consider, or which of the firms you have checked out has the respect of its competition.
As mentioned, the scenarios and questions are limitless, but these are a few good questions to ask. Remember, it’s more than just the answer, it’s also about how the answers are formed. You need someone you can trust that comes from a company you can trust.
If you’re a marketer and want to comment below with some great questions to ask, go for it! We certainly didn’t cover them all.
Want to see some of the agencies that do a good job of marketing themselves? UpCity is great for that. See our profile here.