Choosing the right marketing agency can be a daunting task, especially so if your business is highly technical or specialized. Many times your employees are spread thin or don’t have marketing expertise, and you need outside help to design and execute a marketing strategy. For example, outsourcing content production (e.g., writing, website design, video production, social media) can be extremely effective, but only if you can find an agency with enough knowledge of your technical niche to be effective at communicating your business value to prospective customers.
But you don’t really have a choice, do you? In today’s world, it’s imperative for your business to have a digital presence. You need to partner with a digital agency to position your business in front of your prospective customer across a variety of channels including web, social media, video, and email.
So how do you find the right agency for your firm? No one wants to invest valuable time and money into an agency and not have it work out. In this post, we discuss the steps you can take to choose the right agency partner for your technical business.
Assess Your Internal Resources and Needs
Before you begin researching new agencies to hire, it’s best to take time upfront and clarify your intentions and goals. What do you want to achieve by working with an agency and how do you envision the relationship will work? This self-reflection will make communication with your agency easier and the transitionary period shorter. Assessing your internal resources will help you to gain insight into how much money and time your business can afford to invest in the agency.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. How much time does your team of experts have to give to an agency?
Even if your agency has a ton of experience in your field, every company has a specific niche, so they are going to have a learning curve to understand your business. This is especially true in technical fields. Your agency will require interviews with experts on your team when writing blogs, whitepapers, and other content. The interviews serve two purposes. First, they help your agency get up to speed on your business. Second, they help your agency understand how you want information to be presented to prospective customers - your branding and messaging. Who on your team do you trust to ensure the message of your company will get communicated properly to the agency and who will have the time to be interviewed? This is an important step to make sure there are no bottlenecks in the content creation process.
2. What’s your budget?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. How much money are you willing to allocate to your digital marketing needs and what areas do you wish to focus on? Do you want to spend money on paid ads? Then this needs to be accounted for when determining your budget. You will pay an agency to help execute the ads, but you will also need to have the budget set aside for the actual ad spend. One thing to note: you won’t see results overnight. It’s important to know that in order to get results from your digital marketing efforts, you will most likely need to invest in your agency over a period of time. The lead nurturing process can sometimes take months. Talk with your agency upfront about what your expectations should be, how long it will take, and how much money you need to invest before you start seeing results.
3. What do you want the agency to help with?
Why are you seeking the help of an agency and what can they help you to achieve? Answering this question is an important first step in assessing your needs and clarifying your goals. Create a list of marketing tasks you would like your new agency to tackle. Once you have an idea of where you’d like to begin, a good agency will help you strategize and assess what to tackle first.
Some of the areas where an agency can help include:
- Redesigning your website.
- Creating and maintaining a blog.
- Improving your visibility in search engine results - SEO (search engine optimization).
- Growing your social media presence.
- Implementing a lead nurturing campaign.
- Developing and executing an inbound marketing strategy to generate more traffic to your website and produce more leads.
- Creating and automating email marketing campaigns.
- Implementing paid advertising campaigns on search and social media.
Do Your Research
Once you’ve decided that you have the budget to hire an agency and the time to invest in a successful partnership, you are ready to start your research. It’s important to take your time and evaluate several different firms. Here are some ideas to get your research started.
Ask for recommendations from your network. Ask other professionals you trust for a referral. Many companies have worked with an agency at some point or another. Try to get referrals from other technical companies with similar marketing goals.
Get case studies. Does the agency you’re considering have any case studies they can share? Seeing real-life examples of how the agency handled a challenge with another firm can provide valuable insight into how they would handle your own problem.
Review their own content, website and social media posts. Make sure your agency is practicing what they preach. You can tell a lot about what the agency does and how they do it by looking through their website and social media accounts.
Pick their brains. See if you can have a conversation with the team you’d be working with to assess how they’d handle some of your issues and to see if your work-styles match.
Trust your gut. If you’re not getting a good feeling from interacting with an agency, move on. Your agency is going to be working closely with your company day-to-day and if your initial feelings aren’t positive, there’s a good chance the partnership won’t work out.
Get technical. See if your potential agency speaks the industry jargon. Does the agency have someone on their staff with experience in your industry? Meet them, check their credentials, and review examples of their work.
Make Sure the Agency Understands Your Buyers
If your company sells to technical buyers, any agency you hire needs to understand and communicate well with these buyers. As prospective customers interact with your business, they move through a Buyer’s Journey - “the process buyers go through to become aware of, consider and evaluate, and decide to purchase a new product or service.” The agency you choose needs to understand what your buyers need at each stage of this journey. Below, we break down each stage of the buyer’s journey and what the agency you hire should be able to accomplish with you to support each stage.
The Awareness Stage
In the Awareness Stage, your agency needs to be able to produce high-quality, educational content to attract your target audience. Your buyer is being introduced to your firm at this stage in their journey and by creating pieces of content, like blog posts, whitepapers, and how-to guides, you’re beginning to educate your potential customer on a problem or pain point they need to solve. Here is also where you can work with your agency to create an effective SEO strategy that draws in leads by ensuring that your content shows up in the search engine results for the kinds of queries that your prospective buyers make.
Let’s use the example of a fictitious company, SempraTech, that develops and manufactures video security systems. They are a highly technical, niche business that combines high-end video technology with artificial intelligence software to monitor and detect security threats. Customers in a wide range of vertical markets benefit from their products, including:
- Gaming (Casinos)
- City infrastructure / Government
- Sports Stadiums
SempraTech’s buyer is typically a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at a company in one of these vertical markets.
When SempraTech decides to hire an agency to help build awareness, they look for a firm that can create interesting and authoritative content for CTOs and CISOs. SempraTech has unique and complex technology, so they are aware that they probably won’t find an agency with expertise in exactly what they do. Instead, they look for an agency with some background in security, and a streamlined process for interviewing the experts at SempraTech, augmenting those interviews with independent research, and producing high-quality content.
The agency that SempraTech hires will need to know what questions to ask and how to structure an interview with an expert to get all the information needed to produce authoritative content. During a 30 minute interview, they will need to get up-to-speed quickly on the problem that SempraTech solves, the unique advantages of SempraTech systems, and the benefits that CTOs and CISOs get from SempraTech.
SempraTech expects their agency to internalize the learning from the interviews, combine it with independent research, and produce content for the website, blog, social media, and paid advertising.
For example, SempraTech expects that their agency will be able to author a white paper that discusses the risks small businesses take by not having a video surveillance system, and how an intelligent video system mitigates those risks. Such a whitepaper is designed to be of interest to a Chief Technology Officer. This whitepaper will be gated (behind a form on a landing page), so the CTO will need to enter their contact information in order to download it. This is one way that the agency you select should be able to help you generate leads in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey.
The Consideration Stage
The consideration stage is defined as the stage when “The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.” So, in the Awareness Stage, the potential buyer realizes they have a problem, and in the consideration stage, they are now taking action to fix it. The agency that you hire should be well versed in creating content that assists a buyer in the consideration stage of their journey. Content that your agency produces for this stage should be tailored toward helping your prospective customer evaluate your company’s product or service.
Getting back to our video surveillance company, SempraTech, they decide that their agency should develop a product guide for their two best-selling video monitors. The guide needs to list the pros and cons of each monitor, so that the prospective buyer can compare and contrast. This kind of content helps the the SempraTech lead to consider their options and identify the the best solution.
The content created for the consideration stage is different from the awareness stage. While the goal of the content is always to be helpful, the way that it is helpful differs. In the awareness stage, the agency you select need to produce content that educates people about the problem that your company solves. In the consideration stage, your agency needs to be able to produce content that helps people to pick the right solution for their situation.
The Decision Stage
The last stage in the buyer’s journey is the decision stage. Here, your potential buyer has come to the conclusion that there’s a problem that they need to solve. They have decided on the kind of solution they need. Now, they need to decide who to buy it from and what price they are willing to pay. To support this stage, the agency you pick needs to create content that helps you make the sale.
SempraTech salespeople have learned that free trials and product demos are effective tools for closing business. They are looking for an agency that can help them identify good candidates for free trials and demos, and put offers in front of them via email, paid advertising, social media, and other channels.
For example, SempraTech would like their agency to be able to identify the most engaged prospects out of the ones who downloaded the product comparison guide. Because it can be expensive for SempraTech to set up free trials and demonstrations, they need to focus those activities on only the most qualified prospects.
In order to identify the most qualified prospects, the agency that SempraTech selects should be familiar with marketing automation software, like Hubspot, that can track the interactions that prospects have with the SempraTech website and other content. The idea is to use such tracking to identify the people who are most engaged. Maybe they have made frequent visits to the website. Maybe they have viewed content, like a pricing page, that is considered to be a buying signal. In any case, it is important that SempraTech select an agency with a proven approach to identifying qualified prospects and turning them over to the sales organization to close.
Where to Focus? How to Choose?
Covering every aspect of each stage in the buyer’s journey is a big task. Chances are that your company has specific areas where you feel that you need the most help. Maybe you are great at closing business, but you need more leads. In that case, you probably need more help with the awareness and consideration stages than with the decision stage.
It’s important to clearly communicate with your prospect agency what stage of the buyer’s journey you would like the most help. Are you trying to attract, engage or close buyers? Your goals should be clearly defined. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want more leads?
- A better sales process with higher close rates?
- Better positioning vs. your competition?
- Do you want more web traffic?
Particularly in technical fields, an agency that can help you the most might not be the one that designs a flashy website or sexy ad campaign but is the one that understands your buyer and helps you reach them. Be sure to have clear, concise goals and a well-rounded understanding of your business needs before reaching out to an agency. The right agency will work closely with you as a partner to help your technical business grow.