YOUR GUIDE TO FINDING THE RIGHT MARKETING PARTNER
5. The Honeymoon Phase and Onboarding
Congratulations, you’ve chosen your new marketing partner! Now, for wedded bliss. Step one is to get acclimated to your new marriage by heading off together on a thrilling honeymoon to get your relationship off on the right foot. That’s right: it’s onboarding time! Here’s what your first few months of marriage are going to look like.
When Client Met Agency
Time to Get to Work
At this point, you’ve picked your marketing partner. They like you. You like them. You decide to work together. And, finally, you sign on the dotted line.
But that’s not the end.
In fact, the onboarding process builds on everything discussed in the sales process and sets the tone and expectations for the rest of your working relationship. Both you and your agency, consultancy, or freelancer have an idea of what happens next. And, most times, that breaks down into three key stages or phases.
Phase 1: The Discovery Stage
If you hired intelligently, your business and your agency should already know each other relatively well. But while some of the discovery process can be done while you’re vetting (and being vetted), that’s likely to give them a much more shallow understanding of your business and industry than they’ll need to be able to really do great work. This is where you really get down and dirty and let them into your circle of trust. Do a deep download with your agency. Sharing as much information as possible, from the technical to the practical of your business and the industry you compete in, is the only way this relationship can last in the long term—and, frankly, be effective in the short term.
In preparation for your meeting, whether it’s in-person or a video conference, share any important documentation with your marketing partner, from style guides to core values. We recommend devoting half a day to a full day to this discovery session. And you should expect to share a lot.
A great first step is to express your company’s goals before moving into the nitty-gritty specifics of your current marketing efforts. Keeping your goals at the forefront of the conversation will allow your marketing agency to work, recommend, and optimize marketing efforts within these goals.
PRO TIP: There are tons of projects that can distract you and your agency from your main objectives. Be sure to review organizational goals and your marketing goals monthly to make sure all of your work is oriented towards those goals.
Once you’ve set and assessed goals, you can move on to other discussion points like historical company information, where your business is in the market, overall health of the market, customer lifetime value, your sales cycle & process, buyer personas, previous & current marketing efforts, and desired projects. Obviously this isn’t an all-encompassing list—the actuals will vary depending on your needs and the scope of the work the agency is doing. But it’s a good start for you to know what kinds of things to expect, and what to think about before discovery.
Don’t assume this discovery session is just going to be you talking at your partner. This is a two-way street where both your team and theirs contribute, share, and learn from one another. While you fill in the agency on all the information they need to know, the agency should be prepared to share how they expect to help you meet your goals within the budgets they have been given.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR TEAM
Obviously now that you’re working directly with your marketing partner, the working group is going to need to be clearly defined. Again, this is probably something that started to come together during the vetting and buying process—this is just where the final decisions are being made. First, make the final determination of who will be working with your agency from an internal standpoint. Will it be a single point of contact, a small marketing team, or a larger group? Making the right call here will be vital to the partnership’s success. It’s important that the main contact person you appoint has good interpersonal skills and communication skills, and is a team player who can work well both with your agency and the rest of your own team.
The next question to answer: who will you be interacting with from the agency you’ve hired? Will it be only the account manager? Will it be various people from their internal team? Making a firm determination of who you are going to be speaking with on a day-to-day basis will help establish trust and confidence between both partners.
Finally, how will the information be communicated and shared? Besides in-person meetings and word of mouth, how will you be informed of project updates? Great options include shared Trello boards, Google Sheets, and Basecamp. Establishing a shared platform makes it a lot easier for you to stay in the loop to know how projects are moving and what roadblocks are occurring. But obviously, nothing beats smart communication. You’re going to want to have regular meetings as well.
Phase 2: Strategy
Now that you and your marketing partner know each other a little better, it’s time to really get to work. The strategy stage is a vital step in your process because it’s where you each take that knowledge and begin to determine what marketing work needs to be done to get your business moving in the right direction. It’s dependent on both you and the agency to work closely together for timing and finalizing the correct deliverables to meet your organizational and marketing goals.
Depending on the size of your budget, the scope of the work, and the amount of deliverables you need, the strategic marketing plan you develop with your agency will vary in appearance. For some organizations, it might be based solely around the performance of one multi-channel paid media campaign; for others it might be an overhaul of a website, multiple paid media campaigns, CRO, and much more.
Regardless, your strategic marketing plan should outline all the activities you’ll be doing with the agency, what it will all cost, and what you should expect in terms of results. The roles that the agency and that your organization are assigned should be clear and well-defined in this strategic plan. It’s a frame of reference to distinguish when requests need to be made to the agency and when they can be handled internally. This helps budget compliance and can eliminate friction between you and the agency you work with. Once you have the overarching strategy in place, you’ll be using it to create statements of work (or SOWs, as we pretty much exclusively call them) that cover budget, timeline, and proposed deliverables for each individual project that will make up your strategy, so it’s important to get the details right now so things don’t slide out of hand fast as you move forward.
PRO TIP: be clear on expectations. Your agency may be good, but they cannot read your mind. While they might have seemed to perfectly understand you in the sales process, they aren’t magic, and it’s critical that you re-educate your account manager on all of your expectations. While I know it may feel like this should be the agency’s role, to protect your investment I highly recommend you review the scope of the deliverable with the team actually executing the work. It’s better to be safe and know that the expectations are clear than to be sorry and end up with crappy work, and this is a collaborative venture. Participate.
Phase 3: Execution
You, your organization, and your agency partner have put a plan in place and mapped out your journey. Now it’s time to start executing on the deliverables you and your agency have settled on. Your agency partner will kick off their internal teams with information and a timeline for when milestones should be completed. Expectations of updates, project changes, and other miscellaneous issues should be communicated by the account services representative to you and any other points of contact in your organization. This not only helps in the short-term but can help you avoid headaches down the road and foster a long-term working agreement that runs smoothly no matter what.
Marketing plans can change over time; that’s actually how they are designed. Because—trust us—in marketing, things change fast. New trends inform agile decision-making. Your organization sees shifts (both good and bad). You need to be able to adapt. Your relationship with your marketing agency will define whether you can or not. An ongoing conversation between you and your agency is critical to ensure your budget and bandwidth support what you need to be doing as things change.
While milestones in projects are being completed, requesting a weekly update is a way to assure you, your team, and your bosses that the agency you’re working with never gets too far behind on any project and keeps you as the priority. Ask for regular updates on what they are doing, where problems are arising, and whether they plan on meeting the deadline. These meetings help you avoid the headaches of being surprised by a missed deadline or a change order request, and they allow you and your agency to keep moving the project along.
Nearing the end of a project, as you are observing the results ask the agency to report on findings and solutions and not just data. Ask them to be the consultant and teach you what the key learnings are, rather than just reporting the weather. This should be a no-brainer step for the agency, as this process will hopefully lead into future projects—as you see what is working, what is failing, and why, it shows exactly what the next steps of your relationship should be.
What can make onboarding suck?
We’re talking about your “honeymoon period” here, but sometimes it’s not all that fun. Your agency can’t move at the speed you want, expectations aren’t being met, and you aren’t getting answers. The responsibility is on both you and your agency to work through road blocks together. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your onboarding process when it gets tough:
1. CHANGE TAKES TIME.
Planning for and executing on major updates to your current marketing program can take months. Your agency will need to research, plan, test, and hypothesize. In addition, there are typically a lot of moving pieces and people involved to get deliverables out the door. It can take some time to get all the kinks worked out and get things running smoothly. Don’t despair too much if things are a little slow at first.
2. FOCUS ON COMMUNICATION.
Nine times out of ten, when deadlines get missed it’s because of poor planning and poor communication between you and your agency. Be open and honest with your agency about updates, feedback, and changes regarding your business, products, or the work the agency delivers. They are working hard to make you look good! They need honesty and the most up-to-date information from your team if they’re to be successful.
Two-way Street: The Client-Marketing Agency Relationship
Explore other sections:
When Client Met Agency
3. IT’S A PARTNERSHIP.
You and your agency are both working together to achieve organizational success, and you both bring strengths to the table. You bring industry knowledge, expertise, and insights, and you know your business better than anyone. The agency you work with brings marketing insights, best practices, and a variety of skills to the table. Working together instead of against each other will only help maximize results.
Next up: Managing Your Agency Relationship
The honeymoon is over, and it’s time to get real. Timelines need to be managed, communication needs to be clear, and trust needs to be built. Next up we’ll talk about how you can go from walking on your first marketing engagement to running down the road to happiness together. Or not—we’ll also show you how you can tell when the relationship just isn’t working, and it’s time to start thinking about (gulp) divorce.
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