How In-House Marketers Can Get The Most Out Of Their Agencies w. Jordan Slover

Published on
September 14, 2022

Episode Description:

Two industry veterans discuss how in-house marketers can get the most from their agency partners. New York based Jordan Slover discusses the importance of KPIs, communication, feedback, transparency and trust in building client-agency relationships that work for both parties.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to build a strong agency-client relationship.
  • Why constructive feedback is important.
  • Why your internal stakeholders should be aligned on goals before hiring an agency.
  • Why having KPIs is critical to success.
  • Why you should treat your agency as an extension of your firm.
  • Mistakes to avoid strained agency relationships.
  • Why you should clarify communication preferences from the get-go.
  • Why you should be generous with positive feedback.
  • How to maximise your agency’s experience and skill set.
  • Why it’s wrong to think that an agency is going to do all the work?
  • Why do you need to get involved with your agency and not just watch from the sidelines?
  • Why dictating strategy won’t get you the best results.

Listen to this episode now!

This is Smarter Marketer, the definitive podcast for Australian marketers.


James Lawrence

James Lawrence

Host, Smarter Marketer
Jordan Slover Headshot

Jordan Slover

CEO, Neon Ambition

About the Guest:

Jordan has been helping companies grow online for the past 15 years. He got his start in online marketing working for Google in NYC and London before moving to Sydney to help start the online marketing division of a web design agency. He started Neon Ambition 8 years ago and now has a team of 25 people helping companies generate more leads online.

He lives in New Jersey with his wife, three kids and a 15 year old pug named Rhys. Follow him on LinkedIn and on Instagram [@neonambition], or visit his website.

Podcast Summary: How to Get the Most Out of Your Agency

Jordan Slover, Founder of digital agency Neon Ambition, shares how in-house marketers can work well with their agencies to generate the best results.

Maximising your relationship with your marketing agency doesn’t mean pushing the scope or boundaries of the agreed upon contract. Getting the most out of your digital marketing agency means learning how you can foster the best relationship with your outsourced team, and in turn generate high quality work that drives results for your business.

Generally, the best client/agency relationships are when there are two equal parties coming together to drive a particular outcome. It’s less about; “I’m paying you the money, therefore you’ll do what I want”, and more, “Let’s work together as a team so both my business, and your business can thrive”.

Consider treating your agency how you would treat your staff internally, because - as clichéd as it sounds - your marketing agency is simply an extension of your in-house team.

How to Build a Thriving Client-Agency Relationship

1. Clearly define your marketing and business outcomes

When you begin working with a digital marketing agency, it’s vital that you clearly define the  outcomes you want to achieve from the relationships so that both teams are on the same page. 

There are a plethora of metrics and results that can be measured to determine success, but is there a particular goal as a team you are trying to reach? Is it increasing traffic to your website, or improving the quality of your website traffic? Similarly, do you want to double the number of leads, or are you after high-quality leads for your product/service? Agreeing on a certain metric or metrics often helps both sides look at the bigger picture and how regular meetings and monthly reports are aligned towards the larger goal.

2. Provide constructive feedback

There’s often the impression from clients that giving too much positive feedback will result in your agency taking their foot of the accelerator - that’s just not what happens! If you feel something is great, send that feedback to your account manager. Often, this positive feedback can lift and motivate your agency when working on your account. 

On the flip side, if something isn’t working then you need to share that with your agency too. If you don’t share criticisms about the complex blog content written, or ad performance not being where it needs to be, you will simply never get the output that you desire. Most of the time, raising your concerns with your account manager will see the issues being rectified quickly.

3. Engage in regular communication

Stemming from our point above about feedback, the value in communicating effectively simply cannot be understated. This not only includes giving and receiving feedback, but establishing from the beginning of your relationship about your communication preferences will help both teams to be on the same page. How regularly do you want to meet with your agency? Does this need to occur weekly, or are monthly catch-ups sufficient? Do you prefer regular email updates, or a quick online call?

Another point to consider is the difference between communicating and micromanaging. You have decided to work with an external agency for a reason, and it’s important to balance your expectations of accountability, as well as trust the agency you decided to hire in the first place. If you don’t trust your agency to complete the work you’ve hired them for to a standard you’re happy with, then you need to consider why you decided to hire that agency in the first place.

4. Transparency

One of the benefits of in-house over agency is the knowledge and expertise of the business. As an in-house marketer, you know how sales are tracking, and how well the product is performing. 

Being transparent about the current status of the business with your agency, such as changes to revenue, the quality of leads coming through, as well as upcoming product launches or sales opportunities, can provide a lot of value in aligning the mindset and objectives between yourselves and your agency. This could even include sharing internal resources such as an updated sales deck or annual report. 

From a data and analytics perspective, your agency can see that they’re generating 100+ new leads a month, but they need you to tell them how good these leads are and whether they are closing or not. This transparency will only improve the overall performance of your campaigns and strategy. 

5. Be prepared for your agency to challenge you

Expectation setting is very important. If you want an agency that is simply going to pull the levers and be “doers” rather than “thinkers”, you need to communicate that from the get go. On the other hand, if you want to work with an agency on developing, executing and growing your marketing strategy, you’re asking them to bring new ideas to the table and perhaps challenge preconceived ideas and tactics you had initially planned for. You need to be prepared that your agency might have ideas that will only improve your business and marketing efforts, but with will require you to actually change the way you’re doing things internally.

6. Understand the people you’re working with

Mistakes happen

At the end of the day, both in-house and agency-side, we’re humans. You expect internal staff members to make mistakes and learn, so it would be naive to assume that agencies won’t make mistakes and need opportunities to learn also. Being open about what isn’t working and coming up with an actionable plan moving forwards is a more pragmatic approach to resolving mistakes compared to simply cancelling your contract at the first sign of a complication.

Before you hire an agency, ask to meet their team

You are about to spend a lot of time with your agency - it’s important you get to know them. Some personalities will mesh better than others, or you may be more intellectually or strategically aligned with one specialist more than another.

At the end of the day, remember that your agency should be caring about your business and your success as much as you do. If you come to your agency and say that something isn’t working, a good agency partner will try their hardest to resolve the issue. Work as a team toward a shared goal, and you will reap enormous benefits.

If you’re looking to work with a reliable digital marketing agency, contact the experts at Rocket. We can work together to take your business to the next level!


James Lawrence: Today I am joined by Jordan Slover. Jordan, welcome. 

Jordan Slover: Hey, James. Good to be back. 

James Lawrence: Excellent. So for those of you that miss Jordan's earlier pod, he started his career in digital at Google, working for a number of years across both New York and London. He had varying roles with Google, including being Strategic Partner Development Manager in the UK. He was the online sales marketing manager at The Web Showroom for three years, which is where we work together in Sydney. Jordan founded Neon Ambition eight years ago, which is one of Texas's most experienced Paid Search, SEO, CRO, and content marketing agencies, now with offices in New York. Neon Ambition recently made it into the ink 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in America, which Jordan I’m so proud of you for that. It's amazing. Jordan, our first pod together is the number one ranking Smarter Marketer podcast, which I don't know if I told you.

Jordan Slover: Oh, nice.

Jame Lawrence: So you're back by popular demand. So today we thought it'd be very useful for the listeners, for us to have a discussion about how to maximise the agency client relationship. When I pitched this to Jordan, I wanted it to be, ‘how do you bleed your agency dry?’ and Jordan said, I'm not going onto a podcast that has that topic. But I think that's the first point to me, which is I think I wanted to phrase it as to how to get the most out of your agency or how to maximize performance. And talking about it before we recorded, we don't want that to be taken as how do you make your agency an order taker, or how do you get your agency to work 60 hours weeks for you? I guess let's talk about that to start with. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, I just didn't want it to be like, how to push the scope and push the boundaries of the agreed upon client relationship. I wanted to be more of how to have the best relationship with your agency and what that looks like. 

James Lawrence:  Yeah. I think I feel pretty firmly that from a Rocket viewpoint, the best relationships we have are the ones where there are two equals coming together to drive a particular outcome. Right. I think that the relationships that generally break down are the ones where historically there's a perception that, well, I'm paying you the money, therefore you'll do whatever I want, as opposed to two professionals coming together saying, this is what we want and we'll agree on some stuff and we'll disagree and we'll challenge each other. Is that fair comment as well, from your perspective? 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, I think so. I mean, there's no guarantees in marketing, generally speaking, and so you're a smart in house marketer and you're doing your due diligence to hire a smart agency, and you both are human beings working towards hopefully a common agreed upon goal. And it's just good to always keep that in mind that whether you're on the agency side or in house, that we're all humans trying our best out here. I think there's some things that we'll talk about in this podcast about how to make sure that that relationship is as best as possible, but always keeping that in the back of your mind. You just never know what people are going through as well. It's just not to to be too much of a hippie or something, but just try to be kind to people in your everyday life. And that should apply to your agency relationship as well.

James Lawrence: Yeah, I think that's right. I think I often run it through the lens of you wouldn't kind of treat the agency how you'd be treating your staff internally, because the cliche is the best agency client relationship is an extension of. So it's probably going to have similar rules for how you treat your agency partners as to how you treat your staff, right?

Jordan Slover: Yeah. 

James Lawrence: Unless you've got a terrible working culture. *laughs*. In which case follow some of the steps in the pod today. So let's get started. So I think we've both come into this with some ideas and preparation. There's some overlap. There's probably some differences. Why don't you go first? First point on how to build a thriving relationship, how to get the performance you want by being but also being reasonable?

Jordan Slover: Yeah. So I don't know if this is an order of importance or not, but the first thing that came to my mind when we were coming up with ideas for this is be ready to provide constructive feedback and how important that is. At our agency, where this applies the most tends to be on copywriting but also on creative assets. So obviously, I think very highly of my team, both designers and copywriters, it's what they do for a living. They're all very experienced and good at what they do. But design is very subjective. What I think is beautiful and what you think are beautiful can be two totally different things. And the same with copy. There's a lot of nuances to writing good copy. It should be educational and informative. But what is the tone that your company likes to use in its copy? How do you talk about your company or how do you talk about your customers? There's just a lot of nuances that we could probably have a whole another podcast on in terms of how to get copywriting. But I've had clients that get disappointed with the very first blog that we send them, thinking it's supposed to be perfect. And these are clients who do pretty complicated things sometimes. Whether it's fast, hopefully my US clients aren't going to listen to this podcast. 

James Lawrence: Go easy, Jordan. 

Jordan Slover: Well, yeah, let's just go ahead and say one of our clients does homomorphic encryption. It's pretty complicated stuff. And so the importance of feedback and understanding that obviously this copywriter is trying to wrap their head around a pretty complex topic and getting to know your tone of voice and how you like to speak to people, it's not going to be perfect the first time. And you just have to be ready to approach giving feedback with a kind voice. 2s Coming back and saying, “this is crap” doesn't help us. 

James Lawrence: I had feedback as my number two, and I think for me, it's even broader than just on the deliverable level. I feel that, if you're managing a staff member in your business, probably the number one thing is feedback. As a manager, it's just something you need to get good at. I see that going both ways. Like I feel sometimes clients think withholding positive feedback - if you give too much positive feedback - the agency will take their foot off the accelerator and it's just not what happens. If you feel something is good or you think a particular member on the agents side is doing a great job, send that feedback across because I guarantee you it will only make the team want to work harder for you. We get unsolicited feedback from a client and it gets sent around the whole agency. And everyone feels lifted and motivated. And I think the constructive feedback is the same. 

James Lawrence: And sometimes I find it's almost the other way, which is a lot of marketers, we're generally dealing with pretty nice people. They're sensitive, they're kind most of the time, and often they don't give the feedback. I almost feel that they'll shy away from it, thinking, hey, if I don't give the feedback about the complex blog content or about performance not being where I need it to be, or about this monthly report always coming on the seventh day of the month when I need it by the fifth. Then kind of resentment builds, and then suddenly you don't hear about it and there's a cancellation in six months time. Like for me, you've got to give constructive feedback; hey, this isn't working, what are some things we can do about it? As well as; you guys are actually doing a great job in all these areas

James Lawrence: For me, it's very similar to managing a team member. And in doing that, you will shape the way the agency behaves towards you and towards your account. Because not all clients are the same, right? Where some clients don't care about monthly reporting but care a lot about performance, others care. All they care about is performance and monthly reporting. Well, that can come within the first three weeks of the end of the month. It's pretty fundamental. Would you agree on that as well? 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, there's a lot there. I think take your average agency account manager maybe has six, seven, eight accounts they work on. They're going to prioritise clients probably by client spend, if their agency owners ask them to do so, which is quite common. But if you got two clients that are spending about the same amount, one's super nice and gives really helpful feedback, and the other is always a jerk… I mean, you know, who they're going to spend a little bit more time on or who they're going to answer first. 

James Lawrence: It's just the reality because I think reputable agencies will always fulfill their contractual obligations, right? If you meant to get these outputs, you'll get them. But then there's kind of a lot of deviance in terms of the depth of that or the speed with which it gets turned around or that little extra round of changes that technically probably shouldn't be there. But you're happy to knock it over to make the client super happy. Like they're the types of things we're talking about, right? 

Jordan Slover: I mean, we go above and beyond for clients we love at the expense of profitability all the time. 

James Lawrence: You sure you want to put that on the pod? 

Jordan Slover: Well, maybe not all the time, but it happens, right? Hey, this is over scope, but what do you think? Let's just do it. The best clients or a jerk. It's going to be a change order every time. 

James Lawrence: 100%. Yeah, I had feedback on there as well. The first point that I had was to agree on success and kind of only worry about that. Which to me is kind of KPIs that north star metric. I feel that sometimes the relationships that break down or the ones that kind of don't feel harmonious or aren't getting our best work are the ones where we're not on the same page. That doesn't always mean, like we're both in digital marketing, it doesn't always mean a strict performance number. Often it does. But I think we need to know what's the outcome we're looking for here. And if we know that it's ROAS within Google Ads, or it's traffic or conversions in organic search, or if it's just something probably a little bit softer in terms of content, but knowing where we're going, we just stick to it. When I think often if it's a vague we're doing these four channels and we're looking at 20 different metrics every month and that's when we are starting to get caught up in terms of I don't like the look of that landing page or that copy is not quite right. When if we all agree on what a certain metric or metrics are think, it can often take a lot of the friction away from the relationship and make it a bit more objective. But actually, that is my number one, which is if we know exactly what we're looking for, often it helps both sides get there. 

Jordan Slover: At Neon Ambition, before we start with a new client, I have an internal kickoff meeting with my team where I bring them up to speed on everything I've learned in the sales process. And here's everything I know about them. Here's everything I know that they want to accomplish. Here's what we're doing. I bring everyone up to speed as much as possible so when we have the actual client kickoff call, they're not walking in cold, so to speak. But I wonder how many of our clients have an internal kickoff meeting before they start with us to align on, okay, why did we hire this agency? Because maybe it was one person leading the agency selection process, but then all of a sudden, there's three people on the call from the client side on the kickoff. I actually might start asking people that because the reason why I'm saying that is because it feels like they're not. It feels like they're not meeting and getting aligned internally in terms of why they hired us and what are the goals. You also have three people from the client side on the kickoff call. They might all three have totally different goals. So really coming to the table with clear ideas of what success looks like and communicating those and documenting those. I've only had one client that I can remember in recent memory that came to the kickoff call with documentation of here's how many leads and sales made from my marketing efforts last year, and here's what I'm expecting to have in the new year. And it was like, wow, this is amazing.

James Lawrence: I think they're such so different to guarantees. They’re KPIs, their goals, their targets, and let's at least have something to shoot for. And then we'll work as hard as we can. And if we get there, then let's reset them. And I have no problem with clients coming in and going, hey, something's changed in our business, we have to change what the focus is. Happy days, right? Like that. These things happen. But to not know exactly what success looks like, it’s hard to get there. Yeah. Cool. They're our first two. I'm going to get you to go. You go next. How do you maximise client agency relationship? 

Jordan Slover: Pay your bills on time. 

James Lawrence: *Laughs*

Jordan Slover: It helps, though. 

James Lawrence: I don't disagree. 

Jordan Slover: I might regret saying this, but I think beating the squeaky wheel. You obviously got to be a nice squeaky wheel. But I know for a fact that some of our clients that are squeakier wheels than others end up getting more mention from the account managers. Now, again, I think being a nice squeaky wheel is the key there. But I guess maybe it's like almost the opposite of your question of how to get the most out of your agency. How to not get the most out of your agency is to not be the squeaky wheel or to not communicate that well with your agency. I have one or two clients in mind who just really don't meet with us very often. And on the one hand, from a profitability standpoint, it's like, wow, I'm not spending too much time on meetings here. They're an easy client, but also if they were talking to us more often, we'd be getting better feedback from them on how things are going and probably be getting better results. So regular communication is super important. And then talking about communication preferences is like an easy, maybe obvious thing. But I hate email. Personally. I wish everything was conducted over phone calls or zooms and we never had to email each other ever again. But that's me. So if you're a client that wants to be communicated over email or slack, where you'd rather get phone calls or you prefer text, like just letting your agency know that and hopefully your agency is willing to meet you, there.

James Lawrence: Yeah, that's good. I didn't have that squeaky wheel and it is such a balance, isn't it? And we would have a small number of clients we just don't hear from, and we try and there's no interest, and I kind of go, what are you paying us for? And obviously we've got production teams doing work, but there's no catch ups, there's no feedback, there's no anything which is so different to every single day on the phone sending emails. This isn't good enough. Why hasn't this been changed? I mean, change history. And I want to know why this bid in New Zealand was bumped up by 10%. And you get to a point where it's so absurd that your expectations you said, take it back, don't worry about what we did with your Google Ads in New Zealand, worry about where we're trying to go as a campaign and via that KPI that we've agreed. But it is a fine balance. I think the best marketers that we work with do push us, right? But push us in a nice way and accept that mistakes happen and accept that people have sick days and whatever else, but they're giving feedback and they're getting their pound of flesh right? And they're asking why this hasn't been done. And they're asking if they can get a little bit more.

Jordan Slover: Or why was this done? Really smart marketers that we work with do push us. It keeps us on our toes. 

James Lawrence: We recently had a new contact take over one of our biggest clients, and she came in pushing really hard, asking lots of questions, and we were like, oh, here we go. Is this going to kind of cascade over? But it didn't. It was just someone coming in who knew the space, pushed really hard. And then I think she was almost like a bit of a boxing contest, right? Spoke to the team members that had been doing all the work, and then she took a breath and goes, okay, I get it. You guys understand why you've been doing this now. And then the respect is built and almost the relationships at a higher level than it would otherwise be. So it's it's almost an art, isn't it? Like, how hard to push before you become the squeaky wheel that no one wanted to attend to. Yeah, that's an interesting one. 

Jordan Slover: Not micromanaging, right? But communicating. 

James Lawrence: That's an interesting I think that micromanaging one, it kind of parlays into one point that I have, which was, it's over if you start dictating strategy and decision making, and it's all on trust. So they're kind of veering into the same area. Some clients do this from the very beginning. Others do it when the relationship is broken down, or it'll happen when a new contact comes in. But for me, once you start dictating to the agency everything that needs to be done, you may as well stop paying your bills, because it never works. And I guess we're talking about it before we started recording and maybe recount that story. But I think you got to have trust, and you've got to know what you're paying the agency for, what's the expertise or work that you're paying an agency for? Doesn't mean you have to be blindly trusting them, but you need to kind of seed certain decision making and certain things to the agency, or there's no point paying. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah. What story were you referring?

James Lawrence: The one about the client that said, we're going to dictate everything and then you know exactly what happens. I think it's an interesting one for the listeners. Yeah. 

Jordan Slover: Okay. It was an account that spends a lot on paid media and very knowledgeable client, which we love and, you know, I think came in a bit untrusting of agencies. They had done things in-house and admittedly weren't excited about hiring an agency, but had someone leave, and we're in a pinch and needed an agency, and we came in and they kind of were dictating how they wanted things done. It’s like okay, we can do that, but you're really not getting the most out of us. We've got ideas, and they just really wanted us to be monkeys pulling the levers. They told us to do that. So we did for a time. And then one day, I got a call from the CEO who said, Jordan, what are we paying you for? You're not you're not bringing any new ideas to the table. And I literally was shocked to hear it and had to remind them, we're doing exactly what you asked us to do. 

Jordan Slover: Of course we have ideas, and we do bring them to the table, but your team doesn't really want to hear them all the time. And so we started bringing new ideas to the table, and things got even better, and now it's a great relationship. You should trust the agency that you're working with until they prove that their ideas are not good, obviously. But the one thing that agencies have in advantage over in house marketers a lot of times is we get to try things on a lot of different accounts, a lot of different industries. We have tested something ten times, you know, whereas maybe someone in house tested it once. Hopefully the ideas that people are bringing to you are kind of vetted through experience, and you should be willing to give it a try, even if it's a test budget. I mean, we're real big on that. That's the beautiful thing about online marketing, is not about whether I'm right or you're right, it's about what the data says. So if I come with an idea that I'm pretty excited about and I think will work for you, don't say no. Say, okay, what's the minimum amount of budget you need to test that and let it get tested at least? And if you're not willing to test, then, yeah, what are you paying an agency for?

James Lawrence: Trust is massive. The next one I had is transparency. I often find one of the benefits of in house over agency is the knowledge. The knowledge of how the business is tracking, how sales are tracking, what the product is doing, product roadmap, whatever else. And I often find that the relationships that break down are the ones where the client isn't being transparent with us as much as they should. And that can relate to a whole bunch of different things. For me, it's just give us updates about what's happening in your business. Is revenue up? Is revenue down? Give us updates about product launches. Give us updates about what you're actually thinking in terms of marketing. We're actually thinking we're doing paid search with you guys. We're actually thinking maybe next year of downweighting, or we're thinking of bringing it in house. I think the clients that feel they should keep things close to their chest do it for no reason, and it actually runs to their detriment. So for me, transparency around a whole bunch of different things is vital. And even just sharing information with your agency that you might not necessarily think is that relevant. It could be an updated sales deck. It could be year annual report. But the more you share with your agency, typically I find, it's to the betterment of the relationship and to the betterment of the results you get. So I'm keen to hear if you kind of agree with that or disagree. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, I do agree with it on a couple different levels, I guess. Yeah. I think sometimes it doesn't happen often, but sometimes you do have clients that you feel like they don't want to tell you how good things are going. They're afraid you're going to take your foot off the gas or stop working or something. At least I can speak for our agency, that doesn't happen. We again, like what we do. It's why we do this for a living. We like seeing client wins and it gets us excited. Whether it's SEO team getting motivated by getting keywords ranking number one or the PPC team getting more leads with a lower cost per lead or whatever, that's the kind of thing that they get geeked out about and get excited about. So usually sharing that things are going well is going to have the opposite effect of what people maybe think. They're going to feel good about the work and it's going to push them to keep it going. We've had clients where we've hit their goals like four months into the year and we don't take our foot off the gas for the rest of the year because then at the end of the year, they'd be like, oh, well, those guys stop trying after four months? Of course not! Share, share, share. I mean, it's again, that feedback, right? Feedback on quality of leads. We might see that we're getting you 100 leads a month, but we need you to tell us how good they are and how many are closing or how bad they are. I think I had another point, but I can't remember now. 

James Lawrence: What was your next point? 

Jordan Slover: Tell the boss when they're doing a good job. It's kind of just the communication. I mean, it kind of really coming back to the communication. Sometimes I unfortunately don't hear from clients until something's going wrong. You get an email from a client, hey, Jordan, can we talk? It's like, oh, boy, what is this about? 

James Lawrence: It’s never a call thanking you for all your hard work. 

Jordan Slover: Usually not, James. It just usually doesn't happen like that. So I don't know, it's pretty self serving to agency CEOs out there. But if your agency is doing a good job, again, kind of touches on James’ transparency, don't hesitate to tell them they're doing a good job. It's going to only motivate them more. 

James Lawrence: And conversely, give feedback if it’s not. Do it in the right way. Hey, I've just got some reservations about my account manager or about performance in paid search or there's been lots of balls drop recently. Not just one or two, but is everything okay over there? Like, not a fire and brimstone. Just come in maturely and ask questions, give feedback. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, I mean, I've also had clients cancel who never gave me any negative feedback. And then I call to say I just get an email, like, hey, we're going to end our contract at the end of the month, or whatever. And it's like, whoa, where does this come from? And they never once gave us feedback that they weren't happy. So that wasn't a good way to make things better. 

James Lawrence: Well, it just means by definition, the past months that they've been paying you, they haven't been getting out of you as much as they should because you're sitting there thinking blindly that you're doing a reasonable job. The next one I had was to get involved, which is, if you think an agency is going to do all of the work, you're wrong. And so, for me, that's a few things; anyone who comes to us and says, I'm going to pay you X for SEO, or X for content marketing or X for paid social, and then I'm going to wake up in three months time and have all these amazing results, it’s just fantasy land. To get the results, it is a partnership and that means responding to approvals on time. It means making yourself available for monthly reporting and weekly whips. It means giving feedback if you actually think something isn't going to resonate with your market. It means probably digging in through your business and going into your sales team, getting feedback or getting information from your product teams that are going to help the marketing agency put collateral together. So I think just if you come into a relationship or an engagement with an agency, thinking, I'm paying X per month, and therefore that's just going to solve my problem, it's very rarely as simple as that. 

Jordan Slover: Expectations need to be aligned early on. I wouldn't want to say it's impossible to just have your agency do everything. That certainly could happen, I suppose, but you really would want to make your expectations clear that that's what you’re expecting.

James Lawrence: Jordan’s is in sales mode here. He's got a prospect who's time poor, who doesn't have any in house marketers…

Jordan Slover:  I know that some of our clients don't have… maybe they have one marketing person. A decent number of our clients have one marketing person, and they are hiring us as their outsourced team, and we will pick up a lot of the things that they can't do. I'm not disagreeing with you. Almost always there needs to be involvement. I guess I'm saying if you do have that expectation that your agency is going to do everything, you certainly would want to make that clear, and it's probably going to make it very challenging for you, or you're going to have to be okay with someone saying something slightly different than the way you would have said it. 

James Lawrence: The flip side of that is, well, what am I paying you for? And I understand why if you're a business owner and you've got no marketers or one, it's easy to say, well, I'm just going to pay this shiny agency with all the awards and all the case studies, this bucket of money, and they're just going to fix the problem. But I find that unless you're willing to come to the table to some level, obviously, whatever the agency is doing, they've got to go off and do. But just this kind of head in the sand. I'll just check back in in a month's time, and it's all going to be fine… because the blog article isn't going to be perfect in terms of the subject matter that you speak of and access to the website won't quite have been as easy as you thought it might be. I think it is generally, to me, is a two way street. 

Jordan Slover: Sometimes a good agency will probably challenge you in terms of how you operate your business, even to a certain degree, in terms of messaging work and trying to differentiate a client from its competition. We're always trying to think about what makes you exceptional, not just better than your competition, but why does someone have to choose you? Sometimes you hear really generic answers like we have the best customer service. It's like, how? Prove it. Do you respond to all inquiries that you get on your website within 24 hours? Great. So does everyone. Can you change that to you'll get back to everyone who inquires on your website within five minutes? That would be exceptional customer service that maybe not a lot of people could say. But in order to put that out there on your website or in your marketing, you might have to change some internal processes to make sure that someone's available all the time to respond within five minutes. I think that's another way that you have to be willing to kind of come to the table open minded, that your agency might have ideas that require you to actually change the way you're doing things.

James Lawrence: That's a good comment. I had some little miscellaneous points. They're not long ones. I don't think they're even worth discussing, but I had them labeled as bonus. So I think the first one is mistakes happen. You expect staff members to make mistakes and learn and whatever else. So don't naively think that agencies don't make mistakes - they do. I have reset if you're about to leave. Unless your agency is really terrible, it's probably going to be much more beneficial - don't have to go out to market, don't have to share all this information again - just ask for a reset. Hey, these things aren't working. I'm thinking of leaving. Can we fix this? I think that's often a much more pragmatic approach. I don't say that as someone trying to as an agency owner, I say that if I was on the other side and the next two kind of interrelate socialize and then be human.

James Lawrence: I think that's what you said at the beginning, which is treat your agency partners as we would treat our clients as humans. You have good days, you have bad days, you have stuff going on in your personal life. And then socialise. You kind of touched on it earlier when you said that you guys are going that extra step because you literally love the client and they're good people. You can have a different tolerance and different people operate in different ways, and not everyone wants to go out for the long lunch, or you might have clients on the other side of the country. But I think just being social and trying to act as human beings coming together will, to me, often be quite positive in driving results. That's what I had. Do you have anything else to chip in there? 

Jordan Slover: Yeah. Before you hire an agency, you should ask to meet the team. You are going to be spending a lot of time with these people, and your own livelihood can be at stake. Sometimes you're a marketing manager. You have goals like you're trying to get promoted, you're trying to get a bonus. The success of the relationship with agency is going to maybe play a big part in whether you achieve those big goals that have impact on your family. So certainly I advise people to meet the people that are going to be assigned to their account before they sign off to make sure you're gonna you like these people first of all. Then one thing that you said about resetting is we got a whole team of account managers; it's certainly happened in the past where personalities just weren't a good fit, and it kind of became apparent pretty quickly that these two people just aren't communicating well together. We switched account managers and it really improved things. And it wasn't because the other person was a bad account manager. Sometimes personalities just don't click right.

James Lawrence: 100%. That's the transparency feedback thing. Don't sit there going, oh, I don't like this person, don't like this person. I'm going to leave. Just give the feedback to the person who introduced you to the business or to the agency owner. Just say, hey, I'm struggling with this. I think it might be a personality thing. Have you got any solutions? Because if not, I'll probably leave, and nine times out of ten, it'll get resolved. And you'll probably actually feel better about the entire engagement because you go, I had a problem that got resolved. These guys actually care about me. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, well, one other thing is as agency owners, we know that it's harder to win a new client than it is to keep an existing one, right? So if you're an in-house marketer, you should absolutely know that as well, and know that if things aren't working, we want to fix it just as badly as you do. It might not be our business, but it is our business. You're our client, you're paying for our livelihood. So we should be caring about your success as much as you do. And I do believe that we do almost always. If you come to an agency owner and say, things aren't working, what are we going to do about it? A good agency owner is going to try their damned us to figure it out.

James Lawrence: If they don't, will it just validate your decision to leave? There's no downside. Except for maybe what you think is a difficult conversation, which probably isn't difficult anyway. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah, 

James Lawrence: Cool, man. I've been making some notes here, just to summarise. Agreeing on goals, giving lots of feedback, positive and constructive, be the squeaky wheel in brackets, not too squeaky, transparency, getting involved, trust, pay on time, and then a whole bunch of little bonus ones. Little ones. But I think there's definitely some good stuff in there. I think if you follow these themes, I can't think you're going to get a worse relationship and worse performance from the agency/client relationship. 

Jordan Slover: Yeah. Well, I hope it's helpful. We all want to have the best relationship with our clients as we possibly can. Bonus topic; try and learn about the people at the agency. I encourage my team members to take note of birthdays and kids names and what sports do they play again? You said socialise and be human earlier, so I guess encouraging clients to do that as well, because we're all just here trying to do the best we can. 

James Lawrence: Good man. Jordan, thanks for coming back onto the Smarter Marketer podcast. Jordan Slover: No problem. Thanks for having me.

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