What Businesses Are Looking For When They Hire An Agency

What Businesses Are Looking For When They Hire An Agency
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Semrush’s latest report provides all the information you’ll need to lead your agency to success in the future.

The pandemic has brought many changes to the way businesses go about reaching their customers, as they’ve been forced to rely on digital channels more than ever before. Agencies came in to fill that difficult middle role of getting the word out and helping them clear that path safely. But what are the elements that make for a successful agency? Semrush surveyed over 100 businesses in the end of 2021 to see what they look for when they decide to hire an agency, what they require from them and how that partnership can be the key to their success.

What makes businesses decide to outsource?

Initially, it’s worth pointing out that outsourcing marketing isn’t for everyone. In their survey, Semrush discovered that while a good 60 percent of all businesses do look for someone with greater experience in the matter (with 6 percent of them stating that they outsource 100 percent of their marketing) there is still a 40 percent of the market that relies on their own in-house marketing team. So, deciding whether to outsource or not remains a hot topic for the industry.

The key takeaway here, from an agency’s perspective, is that you should not be discouraged in approaching a business as more and more of them are becoming open to the possibility of outsourcing and a lot of potential exists for you to appeal to them. However, keep in mind that you will need to provide them with an appropriate plan to position yourself for success.

In regards to which of their marketing services they were looking to outsource, there were three responses that seemed to appear most often in Semrush’s report, with businesses looking for agencies with expertise in paid advertising, web development and search engine optimisation (SEO). When asked why they were willing to outsource marketing activities, businesses usually replied that they struggled to find marketing experts to work on-site, they had difficulty allocating time and other resources to marketing activities, or that they needed more assistance in publishing more organic content and articles, updating their websites and being more active on social media.

As for the financial aspect and how much businesses are willing to spend each month on marketing, the situation varies, with about 20 percent of participants in Semrush’s report giving as much as $20,000. The average amount was pinpointed at around $7.5K, while the most common response (22.4 percent) was at the $1,000-$2,500 mark. The key takeaway for agencies from this point is that businesses comprehend the importance of marketing and are prepared to spend on it. So, agencies should have a proposal with several different plans and budgets ready when they approach a business.

How about those who don’t work with agencies?

But what about the other 40 percent that we mentioned earlier? The one that doesn’t outsource its marketing but instead chooses to keep it in-house? Are they simply out-of-reach for all agencies or is it just a matter of finding the right approach?

To answer that, first we’ll need to take a look at why they don’t seek out the marketing expertise of a third party. When asked about it, the most common response that seemed to come out was that they simply could not afford it, while the second was that they couldn’t control what outside marketers did with their product.

So, it’s clear to see here that even in this market, there exists an infinite amount of potential, as long as agencies take the correct approach. For example, when a business seems hesitant by saying that they can’t afford the partnership, an agency can offer flexible budget solutions, such as an hourly, project-based retainer or a hybrid pricing plan to suit their needs. Or if the response is that there’s a lack of control with outside marketers, an agency could set expectations for its clients and foster an environment of collaboration and better communication.

Top 10 Do’s and Don’t’s for a successful agency

What exactly are businesses searching for when they decide to outsource? What are the key traits that could set one agency apart from another and turn a difficult decision into a no-brainer? According to Semrush’s report, these are the top-10 most important traits that businesses look for in an agency. 

  1. Experience: An agency with many years of experience in the industry will always be a better choice than one that is considered “up-and-coming”
  2. Realistic plan: Agencies who present viable strategies and timelines are more likely to succeed
  3. Accessible and responsive account managers: Businesses want to rest assured that they can always reach their marketing partner when they need to
  4. Affordability: money is always an issue, which is why agencies should be in a position to provide flexible offers which will suit the needs of their potential partners
  5. Referrals from others: word-of-mouth goes a long way in this industry and if what other people have to say about your services is good then you can be sure it’ll help build you up
  6. Positive, public reviews: Google My Business and social media will help you immensely in this field so be sure to have plenty of good reviews
  7. Access to marketing tools: it always helps when you’re transparent with your clients
  8. Time the agency has been in business: you can still be a newbie and considered great at what you do, but with age comes experience and that might be something that your potential partner looks at
  9. Place in agency ratings: how good is your agency when compared to another?
  10. Certification: businesses view certification as a reinforcement of an agency’s expertise, so always be sure to stay on top of them and include them in all your badges and banners of your marketing materials

Alright, now we’ve spoken about the ten things that businesses look for when they decide to outsource their marketing. But what about the ten things that could break a potential partnership? What are the red flags that a company might see that make them go from indecisive to outright negative? Based on the report from Semrush, these are the things that businesses will try to avoid.

  1. Poor communication
  2. Lack of transparency
  3. Overpromising results
  4. Inability to stay on the same page and achieve mutual understanding
  5. Forcing long-term contracts
  6. Rushing into tasks without a proper plan
  7. Lack of industry expertise
  8. Bad reviews
  9. The agency is vague about owning intellectual properties
  10. Lack of testimonials and case studies

There’s one key takeaway from all the above, and that is that agencies need to be clear and transparent with businesses about what they can achieve, while also maintaining good communication with them. There’s no need to go too far and try to force something that might potentially lead to a lack of trust. Just keep it simple.

When asked about how they decided to work with a specific marketing agency, two were the most common responses among businesses. One was that they were convinced by the agency’s marketing strategy and the second was that they were recommended to them by a third party. Again, what that shows is word-of-mouth goes far in the industry, especially for agencies that do a good job, while it’s also a good idea to do your research and come prepared with a proposal that best suits your next potential partner. Almost 59 percent of businesses replied that they found the agency they’re currently working with thanks to someone else’s recommendation. Fifteen percent said that they found their agency using a search engine so it would also be a good idea to remain active online (website, social media, etc.)

Talking finances

So how is a successful partnership with an agency measured by a business? What are those parameters that are most looked at after a marketing campaign comes to an end that will make a business decide whether it wants to continue working with this team or if it’s time to cut its losses? Surprisingly, the first thing most companies look at, based on the report by Semrush, is how much they gained from their investment in the agency (ROI).

As for how businesses prefer to pay their agency partners and which model usually works for them, the replies varied, with over 40 percent of participants saying they prefer a project-based model, while 30 percent opted for a retainer model. Surprisingly, only 13 percent chose the hourly-rate option. So it’s always a good option to offer various different payment plans when approaching a business.

Regarding the people that agencies need to convince with their pitch towards a company so that they can achieve a partnership, again the answers varied. When it comes to the initiation stage, most companies say that the one who decides that the assistance of a third party is necessary is usually the marketing director. Makes sense, right? That person will usually have the final say on the matter, yet what changes here is the input of other people inside the company, most notably the CEO. So, what agencies need to keep in mind when they make a proposal to a business is that while a marketing director will indeed be the one to reach out to them, they should never neglect all the other people who occupy executive roles throughout a company.

Words of wisdom from industry experts

In closing, there are some things that businesses would love the chance to say to agencies but can’t. So, thanks to Semrush’s report, we thought we’d do it for them.

  • First of all, ask questions and listen. Questions must be within the context of the industry and sales process.
  • Be as transparent as you want your client to be. Communication is a two-way street.
  • Be clear and set expectations properly.
  • Be honest, open and transparent about everything. Company structure, employees, pricing and client results.
  • Respond when you say you will.
  • Communicate and disclose what you are doing.
  • If you’re going to have an account manager, their number one responsibility should be to immediately reply to a client when they email, saying: “I received your email. I’m working on finding an answer now. I’ll have a response within the next 12-24 hours.”
  • Learn the client’s industry first
  • Nobody cares about gross rating points, impressions, or time on page – only sales or defined opportunities
  • Make the customer feel like they’re the only one you speak to. Don’t let them feel like just a number. Get to know their business and try to understand it.
  • Provide regular updates. Don’t wait for the client to chase you. Provide ideas and opportunities broader than the initial scope.
  • Provide status reports. Proactively provide a new idea.
  • Slack is a game-changer. Businesses always feel connected when agencies offer to use Slack for communication.
  • Do the research and really try to get your client’s business. Allocate more time and resources to the discovery stage.
  • Some marketing agencies lack competence and the need to update their knowledge base by taking courses and educating their employees. Outdated SEO practices, for example, will certainly make potential clients run.
  • Transparency is critical.
  • Use a project management tool that the agency and client have access to. If the client has their own project management tool, respect that and find a way to integrate it with your own.
  • Weekly meetings have worked for many businesses

And there you have it! Now you possess all the necessary knowledge and skills to go out there and make your agency a highly successful one as you approach businesses with a plan that suits their needs. Just make sure you do your research first, be honest and transparent and offer a variety of payment plans and you should be on your way to your first project. And make sure to ask for some good reviews as well. It always goes a long way!

But if you need to quench that uncontrollable thirst for knowledge, you can download Semrush’s free report to elevate your agency’s visibility and grow your business right here.

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