How to fire your digital marketing agency – the right way.
You’re thinking about or are determined to change your digital marketing agency – what should you be aware of before making the cut and how is the best way to do it?
Hiring and firing is part of the business and sometimes it is just better to get some fresh insight on your account. I have been on both sides of this conversation in a number of different companies and have seen first-hand the best way to do this and the worst. The worst wastes time and money and leaves a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. There are four key steps in this process:
- Make sure you are making the right decision.
- Know your cards.
- Play the field.
- A clean handover.
First, make sure you are making the right decision based on the right information. There are a number of good reasons for letting go of your agency and just as many bad ones that will cost you time and money. It will take time to sort through this and both your existing and replacement company can help in this fact-finding process.
Communicate, be brave, talk to your account manager and explain why you are not happy or why your team is not happy. This does not mean angry tirades or passive aggressive hint dropping in long-winded emails. Pick up the phone or schedule a meeting and put your professional hat on – you want to communicate with the other human being (remember they are just another human being) in a non-aggressive, work with you attitude and it is easier to control perceived tone in person or on the phone, otherwise they may become defensive and the conversation can turn to egotistical point scoring.
If your complaints are performance based, then work out a plan with clear key performance indicators and targets. Be part of this conversation and make sure they connect directly to your business goals and the requirements laid out by your internal stakeholders, whether that’s your boss or your bosses boss. This can be particularly difficult with some mediums/channels within digital marketing but can be simplified if you follow a structured process, from the end goal you want to achieve, to what has to happen to achieve it. During this process, you can use those same KPI’s and targets to approach other agencies. It is very important that you are comparing apples with apples.
If the issue is personal, then talk to their boss or someone more senior, it’s OK for two people to not get on. Your aim here is to get a replacement, not make a name for yourself as difficult to get on with. Sacrificing good results for personal differences is poor judgment.
During this process know your cards. This means the terms of your contract (e.g. it’s duration) and your access to whichever tools or platforms are being used. You should have full access to your Google Analytics, but you may not for AdWords, Campaign Monitor or similar marketing tools (especially programmatic). If you say goodbye to your agency you may be saying goodbye to a great AdWords account that will take time to replace. Some websites are locked to suppliers – if it’s a custom build you may have bought a website that can only be worked on by one company. You need to know this upfront. Changing your web company could mean rebuilding your site.
Second, get your numbers straight. Even if everything is going well, it’s understandable to want to know how much better things could be going and to start the process of looking around for a new supplier. If you have clear KPI’s and SMART (sensible, measured, attainable, reasonable, timed) targets this process can be very productive, otherwise you are wasting your time and theirs searching for unspecified ‘results’. If you have not established exactly what you need in order to reach your business goals you are not ready to start comparing digital marketing agencies. These can be simple calculations, around traffic numbers, conversion rates, conversion goals or online sales, but you need this ready.
Third, play the field. The best way to find a good agency is to find a company that has experience in your industry. Get referrals from clients, suppliers or even competitors. Once you have a number of proposals and companies you like, share those proposals or key promises with each of the companies you have talked to (including your existing supplier). If you’re planning a large marketing spend or website build hire an independent third party, this will save you a lot of trouble later on. By using professionals to tease the fact from the guff you can understand exactly what you are getting – you are either looking for a more efficient and/or effective agency and to do this you need to make sure you compare apples with apples. AdWords, Conversion Rate Optimisation, Search Engine Optimisation, Email Marketing, Display Retargeting – it can all be very confusing. Ask lots of questions, assume nothing and don’t be convinced by the best sales person. Some are great consultative sellers that will listen to your needs and sell you a solution. A lot are hacks selling just what they understand, confusing matters further.
The more honest you are with your existing digital marketing agency the better. Let them know what is happening so they can win you back. This should not be a long-term method for motivating your agency, but I have never worked at a company that worked less on an account that was in review.
Fourth, the grass is greener and you are moving on to blue skies and green pastures. There are some key things to consider in a good hand over. This should be done courteously and professionally. Resigning from an existing supplier is no different from leaving a job, how you do it reflects more on you than it does on your previous company. With the tangled nature of digital marketing you at some point you will need their help again or you may even decide to go back. This is not the time to burn bridges you still need their help.
Do not ask someone else to give notice, do not just stop paying and then demand better results, do not give notice last minute and then go on leave. If possible organise a face to face or at least a phone call with your next action points in mind, follow this meeting with a professional email to all key stakeholders outlining the next steps and expectations. If you have followed this process the proclamation is likely to be expected. If they cared, thank them, if they got anything right, thank them, if they tried, thank them. This is free, is common courtesy and will serve you. If you can put a few good words in with their boss this is even better and worth the two-minute email.
Clear communication – this is your responsibility, should not be expected from your existing supplier and is too important to be left to just your new supplier. There are some key things that will be required for a clean handover. Give each company plenty of notice, if you don’t it will affect your results and cost you money. Your aim should be to transfer as much of the learning and results from your previous digital marketing agency to your new one.
Explain to the previous company and the new company when the transfer will take place and the key things that will need to be actioned. Don’t be afraid to introduce the companies or name the new company you are working with.
Access to marketing tools. You should know what is used and what access you have. You need to ensure this access is transferred.
Here are a few key examples:
- Google Analytics
- Google Tag Manager
- Google AdWords
- Campaign Monitor
- Any other marketing tool
Unless ties have completely broken down, or you are worried about confidentiality with your previous supplier, leaving read-only access to your Google Analytics allows your previous supplier to check in on your performance with your new company. It’s in their interest to find a problem, this can be valuable information that serves both them and you.
Finally, review your decision. Because your KPI’s had clear targets and were SMART you know exactly when and how to review your new supplier. Make a diary entry to do this or when to expect this. Decide when this will be before you sign the contract with the new supplier. If they have told you up front that results will be slow going that’s because of time required for fresh optimisation. That’s OK but should be part of your planned targets and not a surprise.
If you follow this process you should find that risk is mitigated, there are no nasty surprises, as much value and learning is transferred as possible. You are in a great position to get exceptional, measurable results that meet your business objectives and you are the hero that brought it about. If things don’t work out your position is defensible your argument was sound and you can just go back to your previous agency.