Why Can’t I Find a Good Marketing Partner?
Tom Stimson
February 3, 2023
A businessman and woman shake hands in a business crowd after their company and marketing agency start a partnership.

It starts when a client asks me how they can improve sales.

I have to answer that question with some questions of my own. “Do you have opportunities that you just need to process better? Or do you need more of the right opportunities?”

If you already have plenty of opportunities, you just need to hire more salespeople and project managers, and you’re good to go. If the real issue is that you need more opportunities, then it’s not about improving sales. It’s about improving marketing.

My goal is to help these clients reframe their ask — to realize they need to make strides in marketing in order to make progress in sales.

Once that’s established, we can move on to the next piece of the puzzle.

Often, clients tell me, “I tried hiring a marketing firm before and they built me a website, but nothing else happened. I don’t want to go through that again.”

I understand. I really do. That’s a disappointing experience. But to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we need to get to the real issue behind that disappointing experience. And the real issue tends to be that we don’t understand enough about marketing to be a good marketing customer.

If we don’t actually understand what marketing does and what the process should be, then we don’t know how to buy it. And we don’t know if somebody’s selling us what we actually need.

Business owners need to understand what marketing does so they can evaluate what it is that they’re buying.

What Is Success in Marketing?

A lot of companies — both buyers and sellers of marketing services — are too quick to attach Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as measurements of marketing success. What they really need to look at are the actual outcomes. What do you want marketing to do?

Marketing is supposed to make sales and business development easier. If marketing is working, then it’s helping generate opportunities from more ideal customers who are more ready to buy. Better customers ready to buy is an ideal outcome for marketing.

At that point, it’s up to sales to close those opportunities. The marketing job is done. But when you understand what the outcome is, now you can ask what inputs helped make your marketing successful.

Making the correct distinction between inputs and outputs is crucial here. Building a website, for example, is an input. It’s not an output. I have clients who’ve built five different websites, and none of them did anything better than the last because there was little to no attention paid to the purpose of the website.

So if a website is an input, what other inputs do you have? How do those inputs lead to outputs? What’s the path? Is there a process to all of this?

Keep reading.

Where the Outputs Go

If marketing is bringing in better customers ready to buy, then where is that output going?

It’s going into your sales funnel.

Marketing should improve the quality and quantity of the leads and opportunities coming in at the top of your sales funnel.

If you have more and better opportunities, then you have better sales choices to make about which jobs you pursue and which customers you serve. You have a funnel full of customers who are a good fit, have reasonable expectations, and are ready to buy, and you get to sell to the best of them.

So, knowing how important this output is and that there are multiple steps and tools that go into the process that you might not understand, how do you find a marketing partner that can best do it for you?

3 Steps to Choosing the Best Marketing Agency for You

Infographic: ISL - 2/6/23

Step #1: Be clear about your ask.

Asking for help with marketing is like asking for help with project management. “Marketing” is a word that means different things to different people. You can’t just ask for help with marketing, because it doesn’t mean any particular thing.

What you’re looking for is help with growing your sales funnel with ideal customers who are ready to buy. That’s your ask. Make it clear, and find out how a particular supplier can help you do that.

Step #2: Evaluate their response.

There are generally two pools of responses to your ask.

Response A is along the lines of, “Oh, we just do websites.” Okay, great. You can keep them in mind if you need a website in the future (or whatever it is that they focus on).

Response B is much better. It goes something like, “We have a process for understanding what your needs are so we can respond to your request.” If you’re looking for a marketing firm with a capital M, you’re looking for response B.

Step #3: Evaluate their process.

An ideal place for the supplier to begin is with a process for understanding your needs. They might call it a marketing inventory, an evaluation, or a background review. Whatever the name, it’s the initial discovery. The supplier uses this to assess your needs and get a better understanding of who you are.

The next step is a marketing strategy. The supplier should take you through the marketing strategy process they recommend based on what they learned in discovery. This isn’t something you do just one time. I talk to my marketing strategist at least once a month.

Next, they should take you through a goal-setting process. Given the strategy they proposed, what are your priorities (because you won’t be able to do everything)?

Goal setting is an extremely important step in all this. It’s the chance for you, the buyer, to question everything. Marketing firms often add in things that look and sound important, but that have no real value to a particular buyer. You need the chance to question these items, asking the firm to justify why you should spend $3,000 a month on SEO (if that’s what they’re proposing). No item in the proposal should just be a given.

Then, the supplier should take you through a road mapping process. This process maps out how you’ll get to the outcomes you’re looking for without adding the things that aren’t important to you (as identified during goal setting).

What you end up with after going through the entire process is a map of how ideal opportunities will reach and move through your sales funnel until sales picks them up.

What’s Important, What’s Not?

What you’re going to see in a proposal are a lot of tactical steps. Tactics are execution.

The strategic plan includes what we talked about above: strategy, goals, and mapping. The tactical aspect of the plan involves things like rebranding, building a new website, creating contact management mechanics, building a marketing calendar, and outlining a content calendar. These are all tactics that will be part of the delivery process.

As for what’s important and what’s not important, it all goes back to your strategy, goals, and how everything fits into your roadmap. As long as there are clear connections, the tactics are probably sound.

How to Know You’ve Found the Right Fit

How do you know if you’ve found the right agency? They’ve met all the criteria above. They’ve delivered you a proposal that looks comprehensive and relevant. But are they the right people?

When I’m looking for here are indicators that the agency understands what you’re asking for. Do they know what you mean when you say you want to grow your sales funnel? Can they repeat it all back to you in words that are familiar?

And, are they clear and forthright about where they fit and where they don’t fit in with your ask? Not every agency can do everything.

You may find the perfect marketing agency — but they don’t do website development. They’ll work with your website developer, or they’ll outsource the developer for you, but they don’t do the development themselves.

A good agency will be very clear about what they do and what they don’t do. And for anything they don’t do, they’ll offer a solution.

Your ask was, “Can you solve my problem?” Not, “Can you solve part of my problem and leave me hanging on the rest?” Even for the services they don’t provide, do they offer a complete solution?

The Big Ask

If your biggest problem is that you lack marketing expertise and the support inside your organization to do marketing, then you have a big ask. You need overall strategy, project management, and tactical support. And then repeat. Strategy, management, practical support, repeat.

Don’t be afraid of that.

The benefit of a well-executed marketing plan is a sales funnel that always has qualified leads and that can be tailored to evolve with changing times and changing business. This is a very powerful tool once you’ve mastered it.

It takes a big ask to get there. But you’ll find the time and investment are worth it.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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