12 Common Problems With Hiring Digital Marketing Agencies (And How To Avoid Them)

Problems with hiring a marketing agencyWe regularly meet business owners who have worked with marketing agencies, and say they have been ‘burnt’ by their experiences. In fact, we sometimes meet companies who have hired, and then fired, several different marketing agencies - never finding anyone they were really happy with. 

Rarely is it the case that these agencies are 'bad' or have scammed or ripped anyone off - they are usually genuine, honest businesses. They may make mistakes, and they may fail to communicate at times - but they are usually well-meaning, knowledgeable & competent agencies.

So what causes problems when hiring a digital marketing agency? Why do some business owners leave their marketing agencies feeling disappointed and 'burnt'? 

Sometimes the disappointment is justified, and they have genuinely been let down. Sometimes, however, the agencies have done absolutely nothing wrong. With better collaboration, and more patience, the result would have probably been different.

As a marketing agency ourselves, we've been working with small and medium sized businesses since 2004. We've experienced these types of challenges ourselves, and we've dealt with hundreds of clients who have had 'bad experiences' before.

So in this article we've identified the 12 most common problems when you hire a digital marketing agency. We've split them into problems with the agency itself and client-side problems.

Marketing Agency Problems

Here are some of the most common frustrations that business owners experience when working with digital marketing agencies:

1. Poor communication

I’m often surprised to hear how little reporting or analysis some agencies do. I have come across clients that have cancelled marketing activities which were perfectly legitimate, just because they didn’t understand them. This is down to the agency not taking the time to explain and educate properly. With digital marketing there is a lot of jargon, and there is usually a lot of technical work to do. If this isn't communicated clearly or effectively then it can cause confusion and frustration.

2. Over-inflated expectations

Over promising and then under-delivering is a big issue in the world of marketing agencies. In order to win clients, agencies will often promise results fast, or over-inflate the likely results. Sometimes results do come very quickly, but it usually takes time (read more in our article 'How long will it take to see results from Inbound Marketing?').

Marketing agencies need to be honest about expectations to avoid problems for all parties further down the track. Not all are, unfortunately.

3. Lack of strategy

When reviewing why things didn’t work with a marketing agency, the answer is often that the strategy wasn’t appropriate for the results they wanted.

Maybe some agencies follow a playbook they have found has worked in the past (rather than strategise a new one for each industry/business they work with). Maybe they rush to get results, so get started with ads and website changes without taking the time to really develop the strategy first.

Either way, this is a common cause of marketing programmes not working.

4. Limited capabilities

This can mean some agencies are blinkered to different strategies which may be more effective for a given client. Some agencies are excellent at Google Ads, for example. These agencies often end up trying to solve every marketing problem with Google Ads - it is the solution to everything. As the old saying goes, ‘if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. 

5. Lack of full funnel measurement

Without a way of tracking each and every lead and sale generated from marketing, it is impossible to fully measure marketing results. Do you really care about click through rates, impressions or bounce rate percentages? Most business owners don't - they care about leads, enquiries and sales. Not all marketing agencies measure this, especially the 'sales' element.

Knowing which leads convert into sales is vital. Without this information, you could be getting lots of unwanted or irrelevant enquiries.

6. Stagnation

The agency-client relationship should evolve over time, and good marketing agencies will be constantly innovating and moving with the times. This should mean new technology, new strategies/tactics to try, and constant and ongoing improvement. Many agencies get ‘stuck in a rut’ and results often end up plateauing as a consequence.

These first 6 problems lie with the digital marketing agencies themselves, and when hiring a digital marketing agency it's important to assess the risk of one or more of these problems occurring. The following 6 problems are problems with how you manage and work with your digital marketing agency.

Agency Management/Client Problems

Here are some of the problems with how business owners and marketers work with their marketing agencies:

1. Not giving it enough time

Some business owners have always relied only on word of mouth, and when they start investing in marketing they want to see returns quickly - but marketing should be a constant in your business, rather than a 'try it' activity. Outstanding marketing results are built over time, they rarely happen overnight. We have some amazing case studies with clients who have worked with us for years, and are seeing millions of pounds in additional revenue. Had they stopped early, however, they would have missed out on this revenue. 

2. Suspicion/lack of trust

We have worked with clients who question everything we are doing, and treat every suggestion or recommendation with suspicion. This approach ends up with a client always looking for the flaws, for the mistakes - rather than focussing on the goals and collaborating effectively with the agency. I'm not suggesting that you blindly trust anyone, but that, once you've chosen your marketing agency, to commit to working constructively with them as a partner.

3. Abdication

Outsourced marketing services, however good, are never 100% hands off. You still need to give them some feedback and direction and you still need to work together with them. Leaving them to it and hoping you get the right results for your business will lead to disappointment. After all, they aren’t mind readers, and they aren’t there in your business day to day - which means they don’t have the full picture.

4. Micro-management

From abdication, at the other extreme is micro management. If you need to approve every decision (no matter how small), and require constant work reports and updates then you are going to cause frustration for both yourself and your agency.

The agency can end up spending more time on reports than actually working on your campaign and it often slows down the progress and means getting bogged down in details rather than making progress. This way of working can stem from a lack of trust, and it can mean you don’t end up getting much better results than had you taken on the marketing yourself - as you don’t get the full benefit of the agency’s capability. 

5. Insufficient budget

In general terms, the smaller the marketing budget, the longer it takes to see the returns. This is especially true with paid advertising online - with Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or LinkedIn Ads, for example. Some ads campaigns get fantastic results from day one - but this is rare. It usually takes lots of testing and measuring to find the right combination of targeting, messaging and lead follow-up. With smaller budgets this testing process takes a lot longer.

6. Website problems

Trying to build outstanding marketing results on a poor website is like trying to build a house on quicksand. Common website problems include:

  • Lack of access - website conversion rate is a key factor in the success of your marketing. Ideally, changes should be made to your website on an ongoing basis to optimise for the best results - but if all changes need to go via a third party it can slow the process down significantly.
  • Security problems - website hacks are becoming more common, and this has a huge impact on the marketing - it can sometimes force sites to be taken down altogether for a period.
  • Technical problems - some websites are delicately pieced together with lots of third party plugins or custom code, and they break or go wrong whenever updates or changes are made.
  • Outdated design - good digital marketing will drive people to your website but if it doesn't make the best first impression then you'll lose leads and enquiries to the competition.
  • Slow load speeds - website load speed is becoming a more and more important factor in SEO and has a major impact in website conversion rates. A slow site will act as a hand-brake on your marketing campaign.

How to avoid these problems

There are many ways in which things can go wrong when you hire a marketing agency, as you can see. But these problems are all, for the most part, avoidable. So here are the steps you can take as a customer, as a client, to minimise risks when hiring an agency:

1. Choose the right agency

Picking the right partner in the first place is really important, so start by reviewing the top 6 agency problems above. Ask how results will be measured? How will the results and work be communicated? What happens if results don't go as planned? What ongoing research and development does your agency do and how do you see yourself evolving in the years to come? How will you create a strategy for us and how will it be reviewed? See below for a rundown of how we at JDR Group avoid these problems.

2. Have a clear goal

Have a clear objective, and understand your starting point. Be realistic about the timeframes too - you won't be able to double your turnover in 12 months with a small budget, for example. But by getting clear on your goal and getting your agency aligned on helping you achieve that goal is really important. Many client-agency relationships break down over small details, and without staying focussed on the goal this becomes more likely - so keep the big picture in mind.

3. Work together with them 

A good agency-client relationship should be a marriage of equals, where you add your industry experience to the agency's marketing know-how, and you work together towards a common goal. Sometimes, the agency-client relationship can become adversarial, which is not healthy. I know from personal experience - I've worked with clients where they have been suspicious, and this turns every meeting a justification process, rather than two partners working together to achieve a goal. My advice is that once you've made your decision and hired the agency, then trust them to get on with the job - and acknowledge that you and your team have a part to play in achieving the result too. 

4. Stick with it!

Marketing results are built over time, and with the right partner you will get where you want to go. It can take patience, and it can mean working through challenges at times. You may need to change strategy, and maybe more than once. You might need to make changes at your end - to your sales processes, or to your team. Your agency may need to change and adapt as well. But if the will is there from both parties, you will achieve your goals.

How do we prevent these problems with our clients?

We've been working with small and medium sized businesses since 2004, so have experienced every problem on this article at some point. And while we're not perfect, we have taken a number of steps to minimise these challenges, so if you hire JDR Group as your marketing agency here's how:

1. Honest expectations

If you book a meeting to talk to us about working with us, we will be open with you about your goals and expectations. We will tell you if your goals or timeframes are not realistic - we actually turn down a number of clients each year where we don't feel their expectations are over-inflated.

2. Strategy before tactics

Before starting any marketing activity we always spend time on strategy first. In our inbound marketing programmes, the entire first month of the campaign is dedicated to strategy and planning. We then have ongoing strategy meetings to review the strategy and check that it is in line with your goals and objectives.

3. Data driven

Technology enables us to track and measure every element of your sales, marketing and customer service. We will use this data to continually analyse your progress. We run tests and measure the results, to see what works best for you specifically - we test adverts, website pages, sales messages, email subject lines, and much more. By continually testing and measuring we will evolve the campaign and optimise it to get better and better results for you over time.

4. Sales focus

Your business goals are probably based around attracting new customers and increasing revenue - these are sales goals, rather than marketing goals (marketing goals would be to increase brand awareness, website conversion rates or lead generation). So in order to achieve a sales goal, you may also need to optimise/improve your sales process. Our background in business coaching means we can also provide help to improve your sales - from CRM advice & implementation, sales enablement and even sales training & strategy.

5. Continuous improvement

We have a culture of ongoing and continuous improvement - we invest a huge amount into ongoing training for our team, we are continually researching new technology and new strategies, and continually seeking to improve our systems and processes. So if you work with us, and stick with us, you'll be working with an even better agency in the future.

6. Everything we say, we do ourselves

Everything we recommend to clients, we do in our own business - we invest significantly in our own inbound marketing and get great results from it. We're running our own SEO, LinkedIn advertising, Facebook advertising, Google Ads, and email marketing. This means that a) we put our money where our mouth is and b) we don't recommend anything to clients until we've tested it in our own business first.

So if you're considering hiring a digital marketing agency, book a free 30-minute discovery call with us. You can also watch our FAQ's video (working with JDR Group - your questions answered), read our reviews, and our case studies.

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