Agencies play a critical role in bringing the digital marketing of many large organizations and brands to life. Whether you’re evaluating your existing agency partner, looking to make a change, or it’s business as usual, optimizing your agency partnerships in alignment with your online analytics is critical to help you thrive in a digital landscape.
Here are 10 questions – and some guidelines for what you should be looking for in the way of answers – to open up some excellent conversations with a digital marketing, advertising, or any demand-generating agency, and get the most from your investments.
1. What tools are your team’s specialties? (Adobe shop vs Google shop) Are you vendor agnostic?
Many agencies tend to specialize in one tool or another (Google Analytics vs. Adobe, which used to be Omniture Site Catalyst). But it is very important to be vendor agnostic because sometimes one tool may be better for a client than another and you want to make sure an agency will be capable of making a recommendation from the perspective of what’s best for your business and not from the perspective of what tools they are most comfortable with.
Additionally, your organization may have a tool already installed and you’ll want your vendor to be able to cover any tool you already have.
2. Are the people on your team considered thought leaders and experts?
In all likelihood, you’re going to get a “yes,” in which case you want to look for experts that are well known in the industry. Look for people who have ‘’written the book’’ on digital practices, are active speakers with current expertise on the subject matter and recipients of reputable industry awards.
3. Do you do advanced analytics work?
Even if your organization is still in the early stages of the digital analytics maturity curve, you’ll want to partner with a vendor who will be able to help you grow into more sophisticated applications. You do not want to get stuck with an organization only capable of doing, for instance, a basic analytics installation.
Basic Google Analytics is a great start but since your end goal is to gain business-actionable data, you should be listening for capability to create custom events and goals, advanced segments, plus multivariate testing, behavioral or persona segmentation, cohort analysis, attribution modeling, predictive analysis, media mix optimization and modeling. Again, you may not be there yet, but you will want the capacity to grow into these more advanced techniques.
4. Do you use anything proprietary in your installations?
You want to hear a resounding “no” here. Proprietary anything – such as scripting, code, connectors, or reporting tools – means no one will ever be able to alter or update it except that agency, potentially leaving you locked out of your own data.
You need to be able to rely on standard implementation techniques otherwise your new data may not line up with your old data or you could be locking yourself into a vendor because switching will be too complex and costly to undertake.
5. Do you offer recommendations and analysis with your reporting? Can you provide an example of how these have driven positive change for your clients?
Before listening to what a vendor has to say on this topic you’ll need to be clear on what sort of recommendations or analysis, if any, you’ve acted on to date and what those results were. You’ll need to understand what is currently not serving you, think about what kinds of reporting you need and whether there are any in-house reports or dashboards you will want your data integrated into.
Follow-up questions to a vendor pitch are: Can we see examples of reports/analysis documents? Do you have specific procedures in place for ensuring data is delivered to you, or back to us, in the right format?
You’ll want to look for the capability to generate actionable recommendations (“do this because of that data trend”), not just observations (“the data changed X% since last month”), or worse nothing at all.
6. What questions should I be asking of my data?
This is a real Rorschach test and you should expect these as a good start.
- How is my business doing?
- What is driving my business and making money?
- What needs improvement? How can we:
- Increase Revenue
- Reduce Cost
- Improve Customer Loyalty / Satisfaction
The agency should be responding with business-related answers as opposed to basic kinds of metrics. You should not be hearing about the number of impressions from an ad – the question is: “How well is paid media driving sales?” The connection between the business and the data has to be front and center.
7. How experienced are you with data integrations? What examples can you offer? (CRM, marketing automation, databases, digital analytics, media data)
Data integrations are difficult. Often times the systems are legacy and don’t integrate well with newer systems, and sometimes agencies with little experience may not even look for the right sources to integrate together. Your next agency should be well experienced in integrating sources either directly together or creating a centralized data warehouse to store data from all systems and allow easy access to it that way. Specific examples and types of integrations are important because it will allow you to move to a unified view of your marketing instead of looking at things in silos. You want integrated views of the customer, your marketing and its effectiveness.
8. What is your experience in dealing with the data needs of global organizations?
There are many implications – governance, collection strategy, process, staffing, education, reporting etc. – that are different for global organizations vs. ones who focus on a specific region. Roadmaps are completely different – when you have 50 websites spread all over the world, even if they’re identical, problems with tracking them separately and together can emerge and there are implications for what tools will be used to make sure data rolls up easily and accurately, etc. There’s no right answer, but you need to understand the agency’s ability to not only to work well with whatever your global structure is, but to be able to provide the strategic advice and guidance on what it should be.
9. Do you outsource or offshore?
Outsourcing and offshoring can work for simple items such as basic reporting, but more complex projects should be handled by experts closer at hand who know the clients’ business.
It may be difficult to truly determine whether an agency outsources or offshores, even if they say they don’t. Some agencies may want to hide their offshoring – they may have even acquired an offshore vendor but it is officially part of the same company even though in reality an offshore model is in place.
Also, know the difference between outsourcing and offshoring. Neither of these are implicitly bad – in fact if they are leveraged properly they can generate significant savings, but it is important to understand whether your agency is working with external partners in the United States or somewhere else. Some countries’ talent may be more attractive in terms of being in a similar time zone, tending to be closer to and very familiar with North American standards of training, etc. Just make sure to think about the implications of where your agencies partners are, what they are doing for your business, and how invested they’ll be in your success.
10. What could we improve about our data and how we use it?
To get a good answer to this question, you will have to be detailed, specific and open about your current data, processes and outcomes. Only with a fair amount of honesty will an agency be able to help you roadmap your organization to reach higher levels of analytics use to drive business. Listen for answers that are rooted in the specific knowledge about your data strategy and performance you have shared – as opposed to general comments that sound as if they’re regurgitated to anyone who asks.
Successful digital marketing is data-driven, and your agency partners need to know how to best leverage data to help grow your business. If they can’t answer these questions to your satisfaction, it may be time to consider finding a partner who can.
Dan Linton is Group Director, Digital Marketing Intelligence for Cardinal Path.