With the new year now just around the corner, the last few weeks of 2015 will be for most, a time of reflection; a time to think of what we achieved in the year gone by, and maybe those things that we wanted to, but didn’t.
But whilst the majority of us are likely to be pondering over the small things in life, such as whether we stuck to our new years resolution of going to the gym more, this time of year becomes more important if you happen to be a business owner or a Marketing Manager.
Why? Well, because it’s time to assess how your business has faired over the last 12 months, of course.
In the run up to Christmas, aside from the weeks being filled with plenty of Slade, chocolate and mince pies, it also becomes filled with performance and profit reviews galore.
But as we start to review that’s passed, it’s also just as important for us to look forward to the year ahead, to think about what you want to get from the next 12 months.
And if you happen to be a business owner, or more specifically, that Marketing Manager, then it’s worth leaning on the suppliers that have contributed to your business over 2015, to help you decipher this.
But, where do you start? What should you ask them?
Well, luckily for you, we have compiled a list of 16 things you should be asking your agencies, to help make sure you’re able to get the most out of 2016, before it gets started:
If you’re one of the two positions mentioned, the first thing that you’re likely going to want to dive deeper into when you think about the year gone by, is how your business performed.
So as you turn to your agencies, ask them exactly that; how do they feel you performed in 2015? And when you ask them it, ask them for an honest, unbiased opinion.
If it helps, break the question down into the following:
a) What were the successes of the year?
b) What drove these successes?
c) What were the negatives of the year?
d) What contributed to these negatives?
e) What could have been improved?
f) What lessons did we learn from 2015?
As the experts in their fields, whilst of course they will want to show off the positives of their work, if they’re really good, they should still be able to give you an objective view of how you faired – so don’t be afraid of asking them to do so.
Whenever a new client comes to Zazzle Media, one of the questions that features in our on-boarding process is “who are your main competitors?”.
Having a list of these allows us to benchmark where the client is against them at the start, and more importantly, allow us to closely track how they change against them as we progress forward with our campaign.
So following on from when you’ve asked them “how do you feel we performed in 2015”, ask them how your performance has faired against those in the industry that matter to you most.
Particularly in the world of SEO and content marketing, this should be fairly simple for them to do; comparisons of rankings, search visibility and market share data available through Hitwise are great ways to visually see how you stack up against them. Asking this in preparation for the start of the year, will also help you to have a good benchmark for the year ahead.
I’m sure it’s fair to say that when you work with a agency, it can often be too easy to get consumed with all the ins and outs of daily campaigns and activities, that you forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
As someone who comes from that agency side, whilst we always encourage clients to always do so, it’s great when this is taken this on board.
And in the SEO world, there is always one thing that can be done to help give things a little lift.
Let’s look at a real-life example; you’re working with an SEO agency to improve your organic visibility and over the course of your partnership, they’ve sent you a ton of technical recommendations to make – but let’s face it, you haven’t been able to make all of them due to time and resource constraints, and with only a few weeks of 2015 left, its unlikely they’ll get done before the end of the year.
So if this is you, rather than frantically trying to get all of issues made quickly, ask your agency, “what is the biggest thing that’s holding us back from performing better organically?”. Even better, if you have time to make a few more, then ask for the top 3 priorities.
If you’re in your agency’s good books and have already got all of your technical recommendations sewn up, it’s definitely worth still asking the question, because there might be other things that can be done with social, PR or content marketing, to help give you that all important boost.
Following on from the previous question, whilst it’s great that you’ve reached out to your agency to pinpoint the one thing that’s having the biggest hold on you, there’s not much point in asking it if you don’t plan on following it up.
So as soon as you’ve asked question number three, immediately ask “what do we need to rectify this?”; ask for your client to recommend the best ways to do so and when it needs to be done by to have the maximum effect.
Once you have this, push these actions through with whoever needs to implement them ASAP – particularly if they’re technical recommendations.
When you’re asking questions about your business’ performance, it’s vital that you also ask specific questions about the strategy; after all, it’s this that has contributed to where you are now.
You’ve asked what’s the one thing that’s holding you back performance-wise, but now it’s time to step back and look from a top-level perspective; what is the missing piece in your marketing strategy? Once you have details of this missing piece, ask why and when you need it, so you can fully understand why it could play such an integral part for you in 2016, and as you do so, make sure that it does.
Once you’ve asked question number 5, it’s pretty likely that the answer your agency will give you will then be the answer to this one. If it is, great – you can then probably skip ahead to question 7, but if it doesn’t feature, then make sure the words, “what else should we be investing in for 2015?”, come out of your mouth – because your agency should pinpoint one thing that if you invest in that will help you to stay ahead of the game, and the competition, in 2016.
Continuing to look from that top-level perspective, the final question relating to your business’ strategy for 2016 should be, “what is the overall strategic focus?”, or in other words, “how are you going to meet our main objectives?”.
Whilst compiling an effective and comprehensive strategy takes time and it would be unfair to ask them to drum this up on the spot, they should have at least an idea of what is likely to feature within it, so there are no surprises when it’s delivered.
Again, working hand-in-hand with the above, as you ask about the strategic focus for your account, ask if your agency knows what the KPIs will be for the year ahead – after all, these are the tangible measures of success for if the strategy is working and most importantly, if your objectives are being met.
Use this question as a discussion point between you and your supplier so you arrive at targets that are not only ambitious, but also vitally, are realistic and achievable, before they get set for final.
If you’re in that position of the Marketing Manager, then ROI is going to likely be a hot-topic of yours; given that you’re spending a sizeable portion of budget with your supplier, of course you’re going to want to know what your return on this investment is going to be over the next year – particularly if you have to regularly report to those above you.
So don’t be afraid in asking your agency this out-right; at the end of the day, it’s a reasonable question and one that they should be able to give you a clear indication of.
One thing that we’ve found when working with clients is that it’s quite natural for them to have several different agencies working on several different projects all at the same time, from SEO agencies, content marketing agencies, traditional PRs and social agencies.
But, the thing that has surprised me the most is that whilst it’s great to have a mix of lots of creative brains fuelling your business’ marketing resource, very few clients have the strategies of each combined into one.
How do you know that what your traditional PR agency is doing isn’t having a little bit of overlap with your digital marketing one, for example?
So, it’s for this reason to make sure you ask question number 10; “how do we align all of our marketing strategies into one?” – and quite often, it’s simpler than you may think – get your agencies meeting one another and talking regularly, so that each knows what the other one is up to you, and in the process, no-one steps on anyone’s toes.
Once again, as we write from the side of the agency, we can tell you that this question will be music to any agency’s ears.
Because whilst we are here try to support you and your business in any way that we can, for any partnership to be truly successful, support should be a two-way thing.
Whether it be giving swifter approvals on work, providing access to internal calendars, information or data, or providing honest feedback on how things are working, at the end of the day, asking this question will only ever be a good thing; it will make sure both you and your supplier are working as harmoniously as possible, to meet those all-important objectives.
Moving away from asking specific questions about your performance and strategy, question number 12 starts to focus on the digital industry itself; after all, as experts in this field, that’s what you employed the agency for, right?
So ask them how they feel that your specific industry is developing in their specific industry, whether it be on organic or paid search, depending on which one they predominantly carry out work for you in – if they do both, ask for both!
Once again, this is an opinion-based question with no right or wrong answer, so use it as a basis for a wider discussion on how they think the industry could impact your business’ performance in the year ahead, and what can be done to either mitigate any risks or make use of any opportunities.
Anyone who works in the world of SEO knows that when it comes to Google, you simply can’t predict a thing. So when you ask your agency this very question, please bear in mind that there is no wrong or right answer. Unless we’ve managed to gain secret access to all of the search engine’s secrets, then what you’re asking for is simply our opinion on the matter; and we should all very much have one.
Following on with the theme of asking your agency their opinion on things, comes question 13.
Once again, whilst there is no wrong or right answer to this, it invites your agency to use their knowledge and expertise in the field to draw on what they feel will have a big influence on it in 2016.
Whether it’s co-citation, digital PR or hreflang tags, asking them will also help to educate you on the big things that could potentially come up over the next 12 months, so that when they do, you and your business is in the best possible position to benefit from it.
Whilst the majority of these questions have focused on you asking questions about your business to your agency, don’t forget to ask about your agency about them; as an integral part of your marketing channels, they are ultimately an extension of you, and you are of them, so taking an interest will benefit the both of you.
Start by asking them what new services they will be offering in 2016, whether this be tool-sets, data-offering or activities, and discussing how you could utilise them to make your business stronger in the field.
Unless your agency has a crystal ball, then this question will be quite hard for them to answer; because let’s face it, if someone had asked me this question when I first started Zazzle Media as the eighth employee, I would never have thought that a mere 3 years on, we would be on 45+ people.
But if your agency has a company-wide strategy then they should be able to answer where they want to be in the next year; new offices they want to open, new people they want to hire, new tools they want to create and even, what profits they want to make.
Asking your agency this question will help you to understand how much ambition they have; because if they’re aiming big, then the potential for you grows with it.
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