Vetting a Digital Marketing Firm – 3 Deal Making or Deal Breaking Factors you MUST Consider

Vetting a Digital Marketing Firm - by Jose Miguel VeraThe era of “fair and equal opportunity” on the Internet is over, which means that when it comes to digital marketing strategies, a cookie cutter approach for small and medium sized businesses will simply not work. Even just a year ago, online marketing was a much different game than it is today. When Optimum7 was founded nine years ago, you were practically guaranteed rankings, traffic, and ultimately monetary gains if you were able to set up the right infrastructure, abide by certain rules and generate content consistently. Those wise enough to invest marketing dollars in strategies like SEO and paid search faced one of three outcomes.

  1. Saw the results and grew,
  2. Saw results and quickly or eventually lost them due to faulty practices,
  3. Or saw results, were hit by Google’s unforgiving updates like Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, but were working with a cutting edge firm that was able to reverse the negative impact and help them diversify their business model so they were not solely dependent on Google as a source of revenue.

Experience tells me that most of you reading this article have not been fortunate enough to experience the last outcome; otherwise, you would not even be thinking of vetting a new firm.

We have put together this piece for both veterans of the digital marketing sphere and new comers. These are 3 questions you MUST ask when vetting a new digital marketing firm:

1. Who are you talking to? Are they asking the right questions?

It may almost seem obvious, but this is something not many business owners actually take into consideration when speaking to a prospective firm. At Optimum7, we pride ourselves on putting your business first. Many times a prospective client will come to us believing they need one thing when, in reality, they need something completely different. Talking to a digital marketing firm is like going to a mechanic, a doctor or a lawyer because the initial service each of them provides is actually consultation. Their expertise can only be put to use after they have established the variables, constants and limitations of your problems and the tools available to them. Only with this kind of understanding can an actionable plan be constructed. So ask yourself the following:

  • Are you speaking to an account person, a manager, or sales person? – This will provide you with insight as to the size of the business, their structure, and the level of control that leadership has on the end result. At Optimum7, the first individuals that you will reach are either the CEO or the COO of our company. The reason for this may not be obvious. The fact is that we don’t believe that “commissioned salespeople” are the right fit for the kind of professional and consultative services we offer. We must focus on what our prospective client needs to know, not necessarily what the client wants to hear. So it is our top executives that actually have first contact with prospective clients to determine if, in fact, there is a good fit between our business and your business.
  • Are they interested in you and your business or just are they just doing business? – If you are not being asked questions regarding your personnel, history, business model, past efforts, and objectives and instead are getting bombarded with media kits, pricing structure, and service lists…chances are they will not be the best fit for you. You can either choose a to work with a service provider or a close collaborator. We choose to be the latter.

2. Are you being told what you need to know?

Digital marketing is more than a simple service; it requires the firm you work with to have a consultative approach to the work being performed. Technology moves at a pace not many in-house teams are prepared to keep up with – quite frankly, there are quite a few 3rd party service firms that are not doing a very good job at keeping up either, especially firms that work with small to medium sized business. The Fortune firms still have a big advantage over smaller firms – bigger budgets.

But what gives a smaller firm like Optimum7 an advantage over bigger ones? It’s the ideology and commitment supporting our services. We have a mantra at Optimum7, and that is:

“Do not tell me what I want to hear, but what I need to know” – Arthur Cooper (Founder, CEO & President of Optimum7)

We call it the “Cooper mantra,” and it is the baseline for the scope of our work. It means that we will not sell you services you do not need. We will analyze your current situation and tell you the straight scoop about what will benefit you most. If you think you need something that you actually don’t need, we will tell you that you don’t need it, explain why and tell you where your money would be better invested. With that said, in our experience, most firms don’t have this kind of belief system regarding their prospective clients or even their existing clients.

So if you want what you want and don’t care about what may actually benefit you, we may not be the firm for you after all. With some prospective clients, we think Colonel Jessup hits the nail on the head:

Vetting a Digital Marketing Firm

3. Can they talk the talk? Walk that walk? If so, it all comes down to numbers

So they are asking the right questions, you have been put in touch with all the main players of the firm, you already trust them, hey…you’ve even gone out for drinks as Sterling in Mad Men seems to have built a career out of

Vetting a Digital Marketing Firm

At this point, it’s all about numbers. Is the price right? Is it within your budget? Do you like them enough to take the risk? Most importantly, are you excited to make this business decision? While the answers to these questions depend on your budget and expected return, they are also contingent on how the firm handled the two headlines above as well as how transparent they were about numbers from the beginning.

A firm that follows the “Cooper mantra” will have already discussed price ranges with you. So if you have come this far, you already know what kind of costs you are looking at and have discussed the cost of investment internally, which means that pricing should not be a huge factor if you’re talking to the right firm.

Now don’t kid yourself, any and every company, ours included, would much rather have you under contract, not so much for our benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of the client. At Optimum7, we prefer longer-term agreements because they create an honest timeframe for us to produce the results you are looking for. Digital marketing is not an overnight fix but a long-term strategy that will compliment your other efforts; any firm that follows the “Cooper mantra” will be up front with you about this fact. Ultimately, our goal is to provide you with the utmost value within the shortest, realistic time frame. The shortest possible timeframe is, of course, fully contingent on the outcome of our conversation, your business goals, and what we as experts and consultants deem realistic.

The Bottom Line

You are probably telling yourself, “This is one BIASED article”. Well, yes, of course it is. If it was not, I would not be sitting on this desk, under this roof, surrounded by the people that have justified my bias. With that said, the points presented here are valid whether you are speaking with Optimum7, another firm, or even freelance consultants. If you are in the process of vetting new digital marketing firms, I invite you to vet this one. Put us to the test; we look forward to hearing from you.