A good fit

Selecting the right marketing partners to drive business growth.

While the pandemic has created many challenges, it has also created healthy tension for businesses to innovate and re-think their business model. Many organisations have pivoted their focus to leverage existing capabilities to create new products based on changing customer needs, as well as re-oriented their organisation to service customers through online channels. Faced with the need to survive, many businesses have realised the art of the possible and will need to continue to adapt as the market continues to be re-shaped by the pandemic.

Signs you may need to find a new marketing or digital partner

When faced with challenges and such demonstrable change, we will often lean on those we know and trust without stepping back and re-assessing if they are the right partner for the job. If you are solving new problems, it stands to reason that you may need to surround the business with marketing and digital partners who bring a different skill set and new perspective.

“While being surrounded by the right marketing and digital partner/s can significantly improve business outcomes, finding them can be challenging.”

As organisations continue to navigate through the economic, social and technological impacts, it is important your business has the right marketing and digital partners around it. Partners who are experienced in navigating the types of challenges the business is facing, and partners who aren’t afraid to be brave and challenge you in ways that will help you achieve your business ambitions.

The challenges and pitfalls of finding the right partner

While being surrounded by the right marketing and digital partner/s can significantly improve business outcomes, finding them can be challenging and daunting for many. Some of the most common challenges often faced by SMEs include:

  • Lack of in-house knowledge to select the right partner: Often, expertise may not reside internally to assess the knowledge and expertise of the potential partner. This makes it difficult for the organisation to distinguish between potential providers who genuinely have the skills and expertise to drive the business forward and those who oversell their capability.
  • Cost blow-outs: A lack of clarity in scope and deliverables can often lead to unexpected cost blow-outs for projects. This is particularly true of projects in the digital space like website and app builds, where an initial cost is provided but the business finds much of what they envisaged would be part of the solution is deemed out of scope.
  • Being a priority: While a provider may be keen to win your business, it’s not uncommon for an SME to become a small fish in a big pond – meaning that the SME struggles to gain the time, energy and focus from the provider once appointed, as the provider has bigger, more valuable clients.

Improving your chances of finding the right partner

While it may take a little longer to undergo a more thorough review process, the time invested is well spent, as it will enable your business to avoid the costly mistakes from making the wrong choice.

Define clear needs or requirements: Whether you are seeking a provider to aid in strategy development, creative delivery or website development, it is important to establish a clear set of needs and requirements. This will help you assess potential providers on the basis of the business’s core needs.

Have preliminary discussions with at least two potential providers: Canvassing the market and engaging two to three providers in preliminary discussions can help refine your needs, compare service offerings and providers and enable you to make a more informed decision.

Unicorns don’t exist: Marketing and digital is a very broad discipline – if you find that your business has a host of very different needs (ie web development, social media management, search and media) it may be that one supplier will not suffice. Many providers will claim they can service all of your needs but often they will lack the expertise in certain areas, using your business as a test bed. It is important to understand where a provider’s heartland is and isn’t.

Ask important questions

When engaging with potential providers, asking some key questions during the process can help establish if the provider will be the right fit for your business. Some of these include:

  • Outline how you have tackled similar problems or challenges with previous clients.
  • Why do you feel your agency or consultancy is best placed to support our needs?
  • What other clients are you currently servicing and do you have the capacity to meet our needs based on the nature of the engagement?
  • Outline the key outcomes you have delivered that you are most proud of.
  • If you were to win our account, who would be working on the account on a daily or weekly basis?

Specialist assistance

If you don’t feel you have the expertise to assess and appoint potential providers, seek advice from an independent source. This could be someone within your network or a third party provider who can bring a critical eye to the process.

Avoid selecting solely on the basis of industry experience: While a provider with industry knowledge can hit the ground running, it can sometimes impact their ability to “think differently” about your problem. Seek out those providers who bring a cross-section of experience in industries with similar dynamics to your own.

Do your due diligence: When you have identified a preferred provider, it is important to undertake due diligence prior to entering a formal engagement. Ask to speak to two existing clients to learn more about their experiences. In addition, ensure you request to meet with all members of the team you will be working with – to ensure they are the right fit for your business.

Invest time to on-board your provider: The better the provider understands your business, the more likely they are to be able to effectively support your needs. Take the time to walk the provider through the history of the organisation, business performance and other information pertinent to the engagement.

Teresa Sperti, founder and director, Arktic Fox

This story first appeared in issue 30 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine