Start by just asking.

Reevaluating goals, strategy and budgets is always top-of-mind for decision makers.  That’s also true in choosing an agency partner or considering a new service offered by an agency.  It’s appropriate to ask questions before making a commitment – so ask.  How they answer your questions will help you size up an agency’s abilities, strengths, strategic alignment and expectations.

Here are a few questions you might ask when considering a new agency partner or service offering to determine its value to your company’s team.

10 Questions to Ask an Honest Agency

1. What’s your agency’s culture like?

An organization’s culture is key to its success.  Culture is a reflection of values and impacts decisions and actions.  An agency’s culture affects creativity, efficiency, management and all business functions.  Ask:  What it’s like to work here?  Why do your teams enjoy their jobs?  What drives your teams to be successful?

Hiring an agency who merges well with your company’s culture and values will yield a partnership that’s both effective and agreeable.  You’ll gain the confidence of knowing your agency partners understand the values that drive your vision.

2. What’s your level of expertise?

There are different types of agencies with varied specialties and experience.  Some agencies have multi-skilled teams adept in a wide range of functions –  from brand design to SEO, content marketing, and PPC management.  Others are more specialized, focusing on one or two specific skill-sets like social media management or digital consulting.  No matter the specialization an agency should know and be able to relate their experience and expertise in specific skills.  An honest agency will also alert you if a request is not well suited to their area or level of expertise.

 3. How are you unique from other agencies?

When a prospective client asks this question, they have already done their homework.  They likely have an understanding of agency services and costs.  They may have already checked reviews, reputation or references.  Asking an agency how they are unique when compared to other agencies gives you a chance to see how they differentiate themselves.

Their answer will give you a chance to see their priorities and core values.  Do they place the highest emphasis on price?  on expertise?  on results?  on integrity? on customer care?  These are all important aspects of an agency-client relationship.  Each one is desirable, but the answer you get will help you ascertain the order of importance they hold in the agency’s eyes.  You will also see if their actions and reputation line up with their words.

4. How will we set and reach our goals?

Any respectable agency will establish short and long-term goals and pair them with strategies for accomplishing them.  The most effective agencies make sure that marketing goals are clearly and strongly connected to your business goals.  Understanding your business goals — in sales, growth, industry changes and other key areas — is key to ensuring your marketing plans and strategies are sound and appropriate.  Ask:  What do you want to know about my goals?  What information will you need about our business?  How will you use that information to help us reach our goals?

You’re the expert in your industry.  Your agency should care about your goals, ask about them and support them through their work.  An agency partner should be ready to research, ask and learn about your industry, your company and your business goals.

Clear path ahead

5. How do I know you will stay true to my vision for our company and its brand?

A marketing agency should be well versed in branding and brand development.  Strong brand development allows you to make and keep value-based brand promises to your customers and audience.   Developing that brand requires a partnership of trust between you, your company and your agency.

Ask:  How will our internal marketers and your agency staff collaborate to reach our customers with one voice?  Will we always see everything before the public?  How will your agency check its efforts against our vision and voice?

6. What happens when something goes wrong?

No one is perfect.  At some point, something unexpected will happen.  A project may encounter a delay.  Client leadership will make a change that affects goals.  What safeguards are in place to help minimize errors?  When something goes wrong – or a mistake is made – what happens?

An honest agency will own their part of the relationship, the communication and any mishap.  They should demonstrate the ability to admit when they are wrong, apologize, and do everything they can to make it right.  It doesn’t happen often, but if it does… will you be able to count on them for support and corrective action?

7. What weaknesses do you see?

Acknowledging weakness is uncomfortable, but profitable.  An honest agency knows where they are working to improve their own efficiency and results.  If you ask what weaknesses an agency sees in your marketing efforts… you can gain insights and opportunities to be authentic, relevant and stronger in the marketplace.

A willingness to be honest with you now indicates you’re likely to benefit from open and honest communication throughout the entire relationship.   That’s true when the agency shares where they are improving, and it’s true when they share ideas for how you might improve.

8. Who are some of your clients?

The old saying “the proof is in the pudding” is true.  Results matter.  So do relationships, referrals and recommendations.  If the agency you’re considering has a wide (and deep) client list, they’re probably great to have on your team.  People continue to use an agency that provides strong value and service.  The depth and range of clients on their list also indicate experience and longevity in the field.

The work and character of an honest agency are demonstrated through the clients they serve and the results their clients enjoy.

9. What’s the long-term value of working with your agency?

Sometimes you get what you pay for.  Sometimes you get more.  Professional services from any agency come with a cost for the services provided, but working with a qualified agency that fits you well brings additional value and benefits.  Ask about long-term results, but also ask about communication, availability, limitations to contracts, and specialized expertise on the agency’s team that will benefit your company.

Inquiring about the value you’ll receive over the life of the relationship is both smart and honest.  You and your agency partner will both have an opportunity to learn more about each other and build a strong working relationship.

10. How quickly will we see results?

In the digital world, what feels “instant” normally takes time to develop.  Depending on your organization’s current digital audience, domain authority and marketing strategies, you may see results quickly after a little fine tuning…  or you may need to spend some time building and engaging your audience and planning the cycles and workflows that lead from landing to closing sales.

Brand audits, logo design, brand guides, website development and SEO strategies take time.  Rushing through research or planning results in lost revenue and effort.  Ask your agency partner about timelines and about commitment levels.  A strong agency will be able to move your brand forward and impact revenue.  They will need your input, insights, data and feedback to do so.  For efficiency and better outcomes, you and your agency team should commit to delivering honest answers in a timely manner.




Cindy is the founding President at 17blue Digital Marketing. She's passionate about helping businesses reach their goals and impact their communities.