The last time you made a major purchase, did you get the chance to try it out first? For example, think back to the last time you bought a car. When you walked into the dealership, I imagine they let you take the car for a test drive. Some now will even let you take the car home for an entire day before making your final decision.

Why should choosing your marketing partner (which is a huge decision for your business) be any different? Whether you’re an enterprise company or a growing-like-crazy startup, why can’t you spend a period growing into a relationship with a big agency (i.e., testing the waters with a smaller project) in order to see whether it is a good fit for both sides?

Here is some perspective on doing just that.

Walk before you run, crawl before you walk.

There are many places in your life where you grow into your commitment level. First among them? Dating and marriage. This is brought up a lot in new business discussions because the analogy works. Would you marry someone on the first date? Probably not. It takes time to trust that person completely with everything—and business isn’t any different.

The question of growing into working with a big agency by way of smaller projects first is less about whether it works, and much more about which circumstances exist when it works. Because the truth is, sometimes it’s a terrible idea to start out with something small like, say, an SEO audit, with a big agency. Other times it is the best thing you can do. Let’s dive in.

When growing into a big agency works

Sometimes, starting off with a small project can help foster a great relationship with an agency. Here’s a few situations that are particularly advantageous for growing into an agency.

1. You simply don’t know where to begin

Imagine this situation. Your company has the chance to really take off in the next year. Growth is happening, but you know you need help to optimize this successful period. So, you call an agency. But you have no idea where to start.

This isn’t an abnormal spot to be in, and it’s a great place to work on growing into an agency relationship, because it allows the agency time to understand what your needs truly are and guide you in the best direction. You may be surprised by how many times a company asks for one project while truly needing another.

Additionally, this position works well when you have budget to spend but are wary about investing it appropriately. As mentioned above, companies will often make an internal decision about needing a completely new website, when in fact a new content strategy may be sufficient or at least the best first step. By starting small, defining where the relationship will be most effective, and growing into that investment, you can ensure your budget is allocated properly and that you are getting the highest ROI possible.

2. Your technology systems are either new or not functioning properly.

It should be said—if you don’t have a CRM and don’t have any plans to get one, it is highly likely you are not going to be a good fit for a large agency. Data is the currency of business (outside of, you know, actual cash) and big agencies are going to leverage the data found in a CRM to learn about your customers, and how to best market toward their needs.

That being said, perhaps you have a CRM. You invested in Salesforce, or HubSpot, or a CRM specified for your industry in particular. Now, you actually have to use it properly to earn a return on that investment. This challenge in particular can be a nice place for a big agency to help you because they have most likely already helped other clients with similar challenges.

Bringing on an agency to help bring some calm and structure to a chaotic martech stack also teaches the agency about how your business works, who your buyer is, and what the foundational marketing tactics are that you’ll be deploying in hopes of building that business. And guess what? If they’re any good, they’ll take the information learned and come back to the table with opportunities for further growth based on real, data-driven insights.

Finally, this all but ensures your sales and marketing teams will be on the same page from the start when it comes to using the CRM and marketing technology stack. It can be extremely frustrating to invest in this new system to have either sales or marketing refuse to fully buy in. Setting up the foundation properly with help from outside experts can help both sides of the table see the value, use the system, and immediately show return for your marketing partner.

3. You’ve worked with big agencies in the past, but your new company has not.

A common conversation we have at Element Three is often with a new Chief Marketing Officer or Director of Marketing who is trying to make his or her new company’s first outside investment in a big agency. Most companies have hired smaller partners before to run a few online advertisements or to contribute content, but many haven’t ever hired a full-service marketing agency as a partner. When this is the case, there can be a few challenges: cultural buy-in, speed of work, and proving the need for outside help.

We’ll start with the cultural buy-in. People do not enjoy change. Changing a portion of someone’s role, even something they may not enjoy, can still be an intimidating change. When you go right into the deep end with an agency, it is likely many people’s roles may change. Starting slower can help ease that transition stage, and allow them to see the agency as an asset rather than a disruption. It may seem like a small change in perspective, but it can make all the difference long-term.

Next, when your team hasn’t had the experience with a full-service agency before, the rate at which things move can be overwhelming. You’re trying to handle 30 things in a day, and now managing the agency relationship has been added to the plate. Growing into a big agency eases the transition. There is still a relationship to manage, but there are fewer check-ins, the onboarding is quicker, and it is allowed to be less immersive.

Growing into an agency is about when, not if.

Often times, there is far too much focus on forcing a certain process to fit every situation. Depending on the state of your business, your goals, your team size, and your budget, you may be an ideal fit for a utilizing a big agency partner down the road, and growing into that relationship makes a lot of sense.

It is important to always begin with understanding your goals, and evaluating whether a big agency is the right fit to make those goals come to life. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. And if you’re not sure, send us a note. We’d love to chat.

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Joe Mills

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”