The Business Owner’s Guide to Grading Your Marketing Partner

The Business Owner’s Guide to Grading Your Marketing Partner

As a business owner, you’ve got a lot on your plate and don’t have the time to micromanage every aspect of the company. It’s not necessary to understand all tasks performed by each employee. As long as there’s proof that they’re contributing to the betterment of the company, you’re happy, right? This proof is collected through an evaluation process.

Just like you evaluate the employees who work under your roof, it’s important to evaluate the external entities you employ, such as your marketing partner. (We’re assuming you work with at least one marketing partner, otherwise, you wouldn’t have clicked on this article.) Are you getting a good return on your investment, in terms of both tangible results and customer service?

This is the guide that can help you answer that question!

Before we break down the key areas on which you should be grading your marketing partner, it’s crucial to understand that a partner is NOT the same as a vendor. A vendor is essentially a “yes man.” They assume that you are 100% confident in your strategy and are just following your lead. You assign them a task, and they do it, no questions asked. A marketing vendor will take orders and output exactly what you asked for in the same way an office supply vendor will deliver the exact products you order.

A true marketing partner takes the business relationship to the next level. They are invested in the success of your company and are willing to push back on your ideas and offer better solutions. They go the extra mile and make you feel like you’re working with a friend as opposed to a robot.

With this in mind, take a moment to think about the marketing group with which you work. Would you actually consider them a partner, or are they just a vendor? If you deem them to be a true partner, read on to find out how you can go about grading their performance. To earn an “A,” you should be able to answer “yes” to each of the following questions:

  • Does your marketing partner understand YOUR company, goals & objectives?
  • Does your marketing partner offer a range of services & cater them to YOUR needs?
  • Is your marketing partner transparent?
  • Does your marketing partner communicate with you frequently?
  • Is your marketing partner innovative & ever-evolving?
  • Is your marketing partner getting results?

Now, let’s dive into these questions a little deeper.

Does Your Marketing Partner Understand YOUR Company, Goals & Objectives?

In order to do the best job possible, your marketing partner should have extensive knowledge of your company. Obviously, they will never know your company as intimately as your employees, but they need to understand key aspects that relate to marketing and sales.

To be successful, your marketer needs to know your:

  • Company Basics
    • Product and service offerings
  • Customers
    • Customer types & what motivates them to buy
  • Marketing Makeup
    • Your internal marketing person/team and their responsibilities
    • Marketing history – past successes and failures
    • Team structure – all in-house and outsourced personnel and how all moving pieces work together

If your partner understands all of these things, they will be able to better help you achieve your goals and objectives.

Does Your Marketing Partner Offer a Range of Services & Cater Them to YOUR Needs?

Is your marketing partner a one-trick pony or a one-stop shop? That is, do they specialize in just one area (web design, for example) or do they offer a wide range of services like marketing automation, search engine optimization (SEO), promotional products and printing? For consistency and overall marketing cohesion, the fewer entities involved the better. Would you rather keep tabs on multiple agencies or just one?

That’s not to say a marketing group that offers multiple services is always better than one that specializes. It’s all about quality. If you’re comfortable managing multiple entities and think they all do good work and are cohesive, more power to you.

The important thing is that your voice is being heard and your needs are being met. Be wary of any partner that doesn’t cater solutions specific to your business. Marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. What works for one company may not work for another. If they’re only presenting you with templated, plug-and-play solutions, they’re doing you a disservice. A good partner will present a variety of options to consider that are the best fit based on your goals and budget.

Something else to consider is the level of expertise of your marketing partner. How many years have they been doing what they do? Are you dealing with two or three people who wear a lot of different hats or a team of experts who each specialize in something different? A group of experienced professionals is better than a couple of individuals who can potentially get spread too thin trying to manage too many tasks.

Is Your Marketing Partner Transparent?

When you think of your marketing partner, do you think of them as an ally that has your best interests in mind or a used car salesman that you suspect of blowing smoke just to get the money out of your wallet?

When grading your marketing partner, transparency is an important factor to consider. You should expect an open book as opposed to a veil of secrecy.

Do you know exactly how much you are paying per service? A quick glance at your signed quote or a phone call to your account rep should be able to tell you exactly how much you’ll be charged for a particular service. There shouldn’t be any hidden fees or rate hikes… you’re not working with a cable company.

Transparency also encompasses new and existing assets, as well as reporting data. There is no reason for your marketing agency to keep any of this hidden from you.

It’s entirely normal for a marketer to ask for login credentials to your website, Google account, social media accounts, etc. It’s essential to allow them to work “under the hood.” What’s not normal is for them to change passwords and keep you out of your own accounts. Keep abreast of any new accounts that get created and ensure you are given login information.

With digital marketing, data updates in real-time and can be viewed on-demand by anyone with a login. You should expect a login. After all, it’s company data. Any attempt by your marketer to keep it under wraps should raise a red flag.

Finally, your marketing partner can score extra points if they’re willing to discuss past marketing failures — either yours or other clients’. Openness about their mistakes and shortcomings is a good sign that they’re willing to learn and improve and helps validate their trustworthiness.

Does Your Marketing Partner Communicate with You Frequently?

With a marketing partner, you don’t have the luxury of dropping in whenever you need to on a daily basis as you do with the employees in your building. You may go weeks without seeing people from your agency.

That said, it’s still critical that regular communication is maintained, even if it’s via phone call or email. You need to know what’s going on with your existing marketing tactics and plan for future ones. Now, if your phone call isn’t answered or your email doesn’t get returned immediately, what’s an acceptable amount of time to wait for a response? It varies from owner to owner. The next day would generally be appropriate, if nothing else to acknowledge receipt of the message and provide a timeline of when the request can be fulfilled or the question can be answered.

Keep in mind your marketer’s hours of operation. Give them bonus points during your grading if you have examples of them responding to emails or answering calls after hours. Deduct from their grade if you frequently struggle to get in touch with them and have to wait several days to hear back. A good marketing partner will make you a priority and do everything possible to make time for you.

Regular meetings are essential to a company-agency relationship. They enable all parties involved to collaborate, get questions answered and analyze results. It’s recommended that meetings occur at least once a month but could even happen weekly. Meetings can be on-location or via teleconference or conference call.

Is Your Marketing Partner Innovative & Ever-Evolving?

Digital marketing changes at a rapid pace. It’s never stagnant. With that in mind, you and your marketing partner must be cognizant of the fact that the marketing channels and tactics that are working now may lose their effectiveness within a year or even a matter of months. Continual improvement is a must!

The onus is on your agency to keep their finger on the pulse of the marketing industry and react accordingly. A good marketing partner should frequently research and test new technologies, tactics and channels so you don’t have to. They should bring new ideas to the table regularly, present data-driven insights and constantly help your marketing plan evolve to keep up with changes to best practices.

Does your partner do a good job of executing in the present while preparing for the future? If not, you can quickly fall behind your competition.

Marketing ROI Toolbox

Is Your Marketing Partner Getting Results?

We saved this grading point for last because it’s the one that is the most important to every business owner. Are you seeing positive results from the work of your marketing partner? Are they delivering what you paid them to deliver?

To decide, refer to your list of goals and objectives they should be focusing on and take a look at the data. Your partner should be supplying you with reporting and analytics summaries at least monthly that help prove ROI. If not, you should be able to access this data on your own as discussed earlier in this article.

Make a list of the items that were accomplished as planned, as well as the items that were not accomplished. If something was accomplished, what were the factors that contributed to success that you can refer to in the future? If something wasn’t accomplished, was it at least close? What can be done differently to push it across the finish line, albeit a little late? If something wasn’t even close to meeting your expectations, why? What went wrong?

These are the discussions that you and your management team need to have with your marketing partner. Hopefully, they’ll be transparent and proactive as opposed to guarded and defensive.

Marketing is difficult, and no matter how great your partner is there will be some bumps in the road. Set your expectations accordingly and know that there may be times when it appears that whatever your marketing partner is doing isn’t working. This is especially true if there is seasonality to purchasing in your industry. Be patient and see if the trend reverses as you get into the busy season. However, prolonged periods of marketing failure and unmet expectations are a cause for concern that should be addressed.

Time to Hand Out Grades

You now know the key areas on which you should grade your marketing partner. Depending on your unique situation, you may be able to come up with a couple more. Evaluate each area and assign it a grade. Use a grading system that you are most comfortable with, whether it’s based on letter grades, a 1-10 scale, a 5-star rating scale, or a simple pass/fail determination.

Next, determine the status of your marketing partnership based on the grades. If they grade out well, carry on as normal (and give them a pat on the back for a job well done). If their marks are generally acceptable with a couple areas of concern, bring it to their attention and make a plan for how improvements can be made. Or, if grades are low across the board, you may want to consider ending the partnership and finding a replacement. Something you could try before making that decision is putting them on “probation” for a specified amount of time during which they can make improvements and re-earn your trust and business.

How does your marketing partner grade out? Make this exercise a part of your annual evaluation process to ensure you’re getting the best ROI and have a business relationship that is built to last.

Have additional questions about digital or traditional marketing or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.


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