When going through the sales process with a marketing agency, make sure to understand who you're talking to and what involvement you can expect them to have in your project.
Depending on the agency's size and structure, you could be talking to different people at the various stages of the sales process. Below, I've listed the positives and negatives you may face when talking with those in various roles at the agency.
Make sure to know the title and role of your primary contact in the sales process. This is often based on the size and structure of the agency you’re speaking with.
If you’re talking with an owner/partner, make sure the story they’re selling is backed up by reality. I’ve seen way too many owners begin to buy their own BS. When you pull back the covers, the actual work produced is weak, and their client relationships are chaotic. Ask questions about what, if any, role the owner will have with your account.
The role of a dedicated business development resource can vary from agency to agency. They may be pure lead generators, pure closers, or a combination of the two. Sales people on the professional services side can hold a number of titles from VP of Business to Account Executive.
At S4, we’ve tried using dedicated sales people a few times and never really figured out the formula. Our experience saw very limited success in lead generation. On the sales/closing side, we felt that we were delivering a subpar experience for the prospective client to prevent the owners and subject area experts from being pulled off other tasks for the sales process. This isn’t unusual. We’re a small business, and it’s unrealistic to expect someone to come in and tell our story as well as the founders. I’ve seen other agencies try the same thing without success, with most sales roles lasting less than a year. In talking about this subject with other agency owners at conferences, I hear the same thing, and the horror stories far outweigh the successes. A few exceptions have involved agencies having sales compensation through pure salary, instead of heavily incentive/commission driven. In these cases, it’s usually a role promotion for someone who has worked at that agency for a few years and really knows their story and product.
When talking with an agency’s dedicated sales person, be sure to understand their role, background, and expertise. Salespeople are renowned for saying whatever is needed to make the sale, overpromising and underestimating, and talking beyond their expertise. Be on the lookout for these tendencies.
The benefit of talking with an Account Manager or, say, the Director of Operations, is that they will likely be somewhat involved in backing up what they’ve sold.
In some cases, especially with smaller agencies, your primary contact may be a subject matter expert with expertise in the area that you expressed interest in during the initial inquiry. This can sometimes make sense if your inquiry was specific and technical in nature. However, you may miss out on a wider understanding of what the agency offers.
In the end, it’s best to interact with as many people as possible from the agency before making a decision, so you understand their contribution in light of their role and future involvement with you if you do begin to work with them.
Excerpted from Pitching a Fit: A Guide for Choosing the Right Marketing Agency by Chris Olberding.
Chris Olberding is a mediocre ukulele player who owns more Funko Pop figures than any grown man should. In spite of this, he has run a successful agency for the past 10 years by providing creative vision and strategic guidance to the S4 team. Chris has been recognized as one of Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, and S4 has been named to the Gator 100, a list of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or run by a UF alumni, for the last two years.