If you've ever chosen an agency for marketing support, you likely spent a significant amount of time vetting and evaluating their capabilities.
If it was an inbound marketing agency like Weidert Group, you probably evaluated the agency's own inbound marketing performance, the culture of the organization, its resources and team members, client case studies, and maybe even client references. Hopefully, you did all that over a series of meetings where you got the chance to ask plenty of questions.
My guess is, throughout that interrogation process, you asked tough, penetrating questions as you tried to gather as much information as possible about the agency before signing a deal. And if you did all of that, I hope the relationship has led to fruitful results in terms of company growth.
Unfortunately, too often, clients stop their evaluation process there. The real challenge for clients is continuing to ask the tough questions and learning with the same zest you had when choosing your agency. Specifically, since agencies promise results, clients should monitor their agency in realtime to make sure they're seeing continual progress. The question for most client-side contacts is: What's the best way of monitoring my agency?
Today, I thought I'd provide you with my view—as a non-account manager—on how clients should monitor their agencies on a monthly basis. It's not complicated. It's not even that mathematical. I believe clients should pay attention to goals and assess their agency on whether those goals are being achieved. (Sound simple enough?)
Problem: Keeping Goals In Center View
The problem with the relationship between agencies and their clients is that clients generally look to an agency for help because they're either over-capacity or under-equipped. In other words, client contacts don't have a lot of time on their hands.
An good marketing agency relationship nearly always begins with goal-setting. But because of time, scheduling, and generally speaking, a desire to get things done, many companies don't pay attention to their goals in a precise way month-to-month. Even as an agency's performance starts to suffer, the happenstance of the day-to-day can quickly make it seem like it's all okay. But in fact, if the agency isn't hitting its goals for month #1, then how can you expect the goals to actually be achieved in month #6?
Realtime maintenance and focus on goals is rare among clients, and it's probably the #1 reason why companies say goodbye to their agency help.
Solution: Define Your Goals Precisely and Report Regularly
Goals need definition.
You can look at metrics all day long (and there's a lot of them that can keep you busy), but without a deep, shared understanding of the precise definitions of your goals, your metrics will mean nothing.
In inbound marketing, where lead generation is front and center, companies should evaluate their agencies by the leads generated. Before you start digging into blog views, social media shares, traffic growth, etc., establish what it means to generate a lead.
Then, provide more precision. Establish your goals for marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads. With these three simple (but precise) goal definitions, you should be able to get a holistic view of how your agency is doing.
An inbound marketing lead is a website visitor that converts by submitting a form full of his/her contact information in order to access your content. It's important to understand this definition because a lead may or may not be qualified. If it's not qualified, it's not likely to help achieve your primary goal.
An unqualified lead that has no potential to be a customer provides no value. Although it's easy to evaluate the performance of your inbound marketing program in terms of leads, this metric is not specific enough for meaningful analysis. Instead of discussing your inbound program in terms of leads, you'll want to focus on Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).
2. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
MQLs are those leads that fit the profile of your "ideal" customer. Criteria used to determine if a lead is marketing qualified could include:
- Size of company
- Number of employees
- Geographic location of company
- Professional title of the lead
- Budget, etc.
Understand what an MQL is to your organization and evaluate the performance of your inbound marketing program in terms of them. How is your agency attracting marketing qualified leads versus leads in general?
3. Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)
SQLs take MQLs one step further. Not only do these leads look like an ideal customer, they're ready to buy. These are the most valuable leads because they are both a good fit and have high levels of interest. They're ready to engage in the sales process and are the closest to becoming a new customer.
You can determine interest levels for a SQL in a number of ways. Some examples include:
- Request for quote or consultation
- Download of X number of content pieces within X number of days
- Views of X number of website pages within X number of days
What makes a lead sales-qualified to your organization? Establish this definition with your inbound marketing agency and discuss the efforts to nurture your MQLs to SQLs each month.
Report Goal Achievement Regularly
After you've defined the meaning of Leads, MQLs, and SQLs to your organization, you'll be equipped to regularly look at how your agency relationship is performing. In October, did you and your agency produce 25 MQLs when the forecasted goal was 30 MQLs? Why did that happen? What behaviors were involved?
Reporting on, and analyzing, how lead generation goals are being achieved should be the bedrock of an inbound marketing strategy. In most cases, regular reporting just doesn't happen. Or, the client relies on the agency to do all of the reporting. If you don't build accountability into your relationship with your agency, the rapid pace of marketing can quickly dissolve your progress toward goal achievement.