Digging deeper than the basics to find out if they’re the right partner for you.
There’s no shortage of articles on this topic. With their general lack of insight, I’m hoping to be more helpful than average. Challenge accepted.
Full disclosure, my lens is coming from a mid-sized independent agency. Your mileage may vary, but I hope you find a nugget or two of useful information.
There are the standard needs when looking for any new partner, things you already know to ask about:
- Strategy & Process
- Team Fit
- Experience & Competence
- Analytics & Data
We’re not going to dig into those topics. There’s a plethora of content out there already that covers those basics. Most with frustratingly little insight.
An Eye to the Future
In 10+ years of digital marketing, I’ve seen a lot of questions from prospects. But there are things you should be caring about that are rarely asked. To my best recollection, I’ve yet to see any of these questions. When searching for a new digital partner, often the primary concern seems to be, “has the agency done things like this before?”.
Experience counts, but with the industry’s pace of change, it’s not the only concern. Also, concern yourself with how your agency will handle your project with a fresh set of eyes. When seeking a new digital partner, find one who is constantly evolving their process. How do you do that? Let’s jump into the questions you may not be asking:
1. Explain what you see as new and unique in this assignment?
So often the focus seems to be, “How have you done this before?” or “Show me similar examples of work.” You want to ensure competence and experience, but not only that. A true partner will be looking at every project as an opportunity to innovate and grow.
What to look for in the answer? A healthy mix of experience and a process that allows for the integration of new thinking. When your business has something new and challenging, they will do their best work. It’s an opportunity for them to grow which yields the best work for you, rather than a templated rubber stamp.
2. What are some technology’s you’re investing in but haven’t yet used for clients?
The natural question is “What are your technical capabilities?”. Vet expertise, then look deeper than only execution. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and a host new technologies offer exciting opportunities.
You want a partner who is investing in the future. If they’re not testing new ideas, how will they bring them to you? If they’re not investing in their future, you shouldn’t be investing in them to lead you into that future.
3. What’s the most recent project you executed with new technology?
Related to #2, but with an important distinction. You need a partner that can not only experiment, but can bring new ideas and technologies to market. The answer to this question will show an agency’s ability to learn and adopt new technologies.
Their processes will also cater for this and adaptation. Let’s face it, as much as you want innovative; you don’t need someone who’s playing in a sandbox all day. A healthy mix of innovation and pragmatism goes a long way.
4. How has your User Experience (UX) / Customer Experience (CX) practice changed in the past year?
UX/CX is one of the most critical aspects of any project. Technology is a key ingredient to having the toolbox needed for the right solutions. Technology for the sake of technology is an extreme waste of money. The other side of that coin is strategy coupled with customer experience. Like technology, UX/CX is an ever-growing practice. A practice that most impacts the success of your projects.
An agency who is evolving the skillset of their customer experience team is one who understands the importance. They will go beyond your immediate need and build an experience that will differentiate your brand.
5. Describe a project that ran wildly over budget. Why and how did you deal with it?
It happens to us all and it should. Like most things in life, you learn the most from your challenges. If your potential partner hasn’t had this happen and hasn’t learned from it, they’re not trying hard enough. Extra points for pushing them for a recent example.
What will the answer tell you? It’ll tell you where they’re growing and stretching themselves. It’ll tell you how they deal with that challenge. It should also prove insightful to learn when they expect to absorb some of those costs or when you are supposed to bear some of that responsibility.
6. Based on our limitations/requirements, what is something you don’t feel you can execute that you would otherwise recommend?
Every assignment and engagement come with strings attached. Yes, often those are budget related (more on that next). Others include technology, time, team, industry, compliance, legal, and data limitations.
You need two things. First, a solution that fits your needs. Second, ideas that will push and stretch you. Someone who will always play within a box is equally as frustrating as a partner who fails to acknowledge that limitations exist.
7. If we had twice the budget, what would you do with the extra money?
Have and shared a budget? It’s sometimes a sensitive topic, but it shouldn’t be. You should be more concerned about an agency who can’t work within a budget. Like most things in life, you have options from cheap to premium. Not providing guidance on budget handcuffs your potential partners by hiding essential information.
That said, find out the limitations of your budget. Find out what they’d do if they had more budget for the ask. This will teach you a few critical things: How they prioritize based on your needs, where they would push in future phases, and if their approach would be incremental or strategically different.
8. Based on what you know about us, what’s an idea you think we’ll say no to? Why should we say yes?
There are always ideas left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes because they’re bad, but often because there’s a hesitation that the client will react negatively. This may be the single most important question you can ask. Create a relationship where your agency can bring you ideas without risk of censure.
9. Provide a few examples of data-driven insights you’ve surfaced for your clients in the past year that has led to new projects.
Let’s face it, we love to pretend data drives everything and because it’s “digital” it’s trackable. The reality is data is often incomplete or paralyzing. Reporting is easy. Actionable insight is hard, takes work, hypothesis, testing, and thought. You’re going to want a partner who will go beyond reporting data. The answer here will give you a sense of how your agency will turn all that data into actions you can use.
That’s it. Helpful?
Do you agree or disagree? Was this at all helpful? Did I miss something? Have you already thought of these things and this added no value? Let me know.
I’ve spent the past 10+ years at Laughlin Constable evolving, growing, and leading digital marketing. We’re a proudly Midwestern, fiercely independent agency. We work best with clients looking for a transformational and not just incremental change. Leveraging creativity, technology, and an inflection point take brands from Now to Next.
Before that, I spent my days building enterprise software solutions and nights gaming. Being a father of two amazing daughters shapes much of my perspective.