We're big believers in the power of the agency – we know, we would say that, as we are one! But we also recognise a marketing agency might not be for you. Working alongside an agency, whether it's for your marketing strategy, sales advice or offering fantastic customer service, should be an experience that frees you up to do more of what your business needs, safe in the knowledge that other areas are being well taken care of.

But not just any agency will suit any business – you need to find the right fit. So we decided to pool together our top advice to help you find your best-fit agency (and tips about the tricky questions you need to ask from the start). Based on some of the informative queries that were raised at last week's 'Grow with HubSpot' event, which we were lucky enough to attend, we've got a clearer idea than ever about the concerns people have about working with agencies.

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Speaking to a packed room about what it’s like to be – and work with  a HubSpot agency, the speakers – which included advice from our own directors, John Kelleher and Lucy Seymour, plus B2B Marketing Lab’s Verity Dearsley and Jessica Packer – were certainly qualified to discuss agency life: ESM Inbound recently became a Platinum-Certified HubSpot Agency Partner, while B2B Marketing Lab celebrated their Diamond HubSpot agency partner certification last year. If the agency you’re currently deliberating about can’t clearly answer the questions we've collated below, then you might want to look elsewhere.

1. How do they communicate with clients?

Does your marketing agency have clear rules regarding communication? What are the expectations about contact in terms of form and frequency?

You may want to ask questions such as:

  • Will we ever meet in person? How and where will these sessions be conducted? Are they part of our retainer or onboarding process, or will they be charged separately?
  • Will you conduct video call? How often will these be? How many of our team members can sit in on them at one time?
  • How will phone calls operate? Can we ring you any time or are there limitations? Is there a switchboard or help desk, or do my calls come directly through to your team?
  • Do you respond to email? How promptly do you aim to reply? Is the email inbox a shared one which is manned all the time, or do I have to email specific team members?
  • Do you use a task-management system? Does everyone have visibility of projects?
  • What is the typical turnaround time? Do you have targets about how fast clients are replied to? Are you a 24/7 agency or do you operate out of hours?
  • Will I always be touching base with the same person? Are there multiple points of contact in your business, specialising in different skills? Or will I have one point of contact?
  • Do you use chatbots, or instant-messaging services? Will there always be someone there to fire a quick response back to me?

This may seem a lot of questions to find answers to, but, as FormKeep has reported, communication issues are one of the biggest problems between clients and agencies:

“Ninety-eight percent of agencies and clients agreed that trust was a major factor in maintaining relationships, but that poor communication was a major factor when there was a lack of trust.”

Establishing expectations at the start of your working relationship – including what is deemed under- and over-communicating – will ensure a much smoother process.

Top tip: Ask for communication guidelines to be outlined in your SLA (Service-Level Agreement) to help effectively manage expectations, clarify both parties’ responsibilities, and minimise chances of future conflict.

2. Do they have clear pricing?

Does the marketing agency you’re considering working with have a clear and precise, tried-and-tested pricing structure? Are they transparent about these prices from the early stages of your communication with them?

You may want to consider questions such as:

  • Do you have a dedicated pricing page on your website? Am I able to freely browse your products and services online without having to give anything in return?
  • Is pricing fairly increased in increments? Does it appear an honest and logical pricing structure where I'm asked to fairly increase payments based on the level of service I require?
  • Are you up-front about costs? Are your sales team happy to discuss costs in an open way? Or am I going to be passed on to different departments where no-one is able to give me a direct answer?
  • Will there be any hidden costs? Is the price you quote you all-encompassing? What exactly does that quote include? Will there be any further payments to make further down the line?
  • When and how will I pay? How much fee is required upfront, and what will I get for this? At which stage of the process will I be expected to make up the balance?
  • Am I paying for software, such as HubSpot, as well as the service the agency provides? If so, will there be ongoing fees to maintain this? Does it make financial sense for my business to hire an agency as well as the software?

During ESM Inbound’s panel session at ‘Grow with HubSpot’ many audience members had questions about justifying the cost of HubSpot. ESM Inbound’s Director of Growth, John Kelleher, explained this further:

“In terms of justifying the cost of the HubSpot software, you’re not going to have to pay us anything after time X to do maintenance and updates on your website – you might choose for us to provide other services which are much more valuable than that – but your HubSpot subscription takes care of the technical maintenance.”

Verity Dearsley, Managing Director at B2B Marketing Lab, supported this thinking:

“There are no other CMS platforms at HubSpot’s price point that allow you to do this level of smart tailoring natively within the platform: being able to have a huge amount of personalisation, smart forms based on devices, region or languages – that is the real value.”

Top tip: If your agency is providing you with their HubSpot onboarding service, it’s likely you’ll find the costs are more than worth it, once you consider how much you’re currently spending on other sales softwares, analytics platforms and content uploaders which can then be integrated into HubSpot so everything is in one place – but do shop around for the agency that suits your team, budget and goals.

3. When can you expect to see results?

One of the benefits of choosing to work with an agency should be having a clear timeline to results. Here are some questions to consider ahead of beginning:

  • How long is the onboarding process with your agency? If I am commencing the use of new software with your agency, how long will it take for it to be completely integrated and ready for us to use independently?
  • How long will be be before our first campaign is ready to launch? Is it six weeks, three months, six months? We'd like a clear deadline to be working towards.
  • Are regular reviews planned? Will we receive daily, weekly or fortnightly catch-up sessions with your agency to review progress and recalibrate actions?
  • Do you have a team of experts? Is your agency well equipped with a range of skill sets and able to provide a range of top services?
  • Will you use metrics to judge the success of a campaign? If so, which ones? How do you know these metrics are the best to track for our goals?
  • How much coaching is included? Will there be dedicated calls or training days provided? Will your agency be able to hand off to us at the end of the retainer, safe in the knowledge we understand and can continue the strategy you've put in place?
  • Will I have fast access to problem-solving support? When things go wrong, will you be quick to react with a specialist support team? How will I log issues?
  • Will we be treated as individuals? Are there standard, fixed packages we sign up for, or do you offer a more bespoke service?
  • Is your own internal development a priority? Do you use the software, methods and tools you’re promoting to us, yourselves? Do you invest in continuing your personal development, training and opportunities to ensure you’re at the forefront of marketing strategies?

These final two points came up a few times during the ‘HubSpot Partner Program Customer Panel’, where John Kelleher explained ESM Inbound’s approach to treating new customers as individuals:

“We do an awful lot of work in terms of trying to figure out: is this an existing HubSpot customer, or is it a new business? Those two prospects are going to need very different nurturing through our process. We want to do what it takes for clients to get a personalised HubSpot-onboarding experience.”

While Verity Dearsley explained the approach to prioritising internal development at B2B Marketing Lab:

“In the last couple of years, we’ve really focused in on ourselves. We took one of our most experienced account managers out of our client-services team and put him fully onto focusing on our own business.”

We know agencies aren’t for everyone: your own internal marketing team might be doing a stellar job, you might find working with freelancers is a successful way to add value, or you might want to start using new software directly with the provider – these options are all valid!

Every business is different – but if you do choose to work with an inbound marketing agency, we want to help you feel armed with probing questions so you can find the right one for you, forging an exceptional working relationship together. Keep these considerations in mind when you start your search for an agency, and don’t be afraid to shop around; the perfect one for you is out there!