5 Things to Keep in Mind When Shopping for a Digital Marketing Partner

digital marketing

June 2017—

Having a partner that delivers a return on investment is important—what should you look for when evaluating a provider?

by Neg Norton

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) operate on small budgets and rely heavily on marketing to attract new customers. Therefore, it is essential to have a marketing partner that will deliver a return on investment.

However, finding reliable, trustworthy marketing partners who will consider what’s in the best interest of an SMB can be challenging. The digital marketing marketplace is crowded. On average, SMBs received 24 sales calls a month from someone trying to sell them marketing or advertising services in 2016—a 60% increase from 2015.

The Local Search Association teamed up with Thrive Analytics to produce the “Local Pulse Report” Survey, showing 44% of SMB owners have a hard time finding digital marketing partners who will deliver a return on investment. Furthermore, 38% of SMB owners say they face hurdles in identifying marketing partners they can trust.

When it comes to selecting a digital marketer, the crowded marketplace, ROI and trust aren’t the only challenges facing today’s SMBs. They are often faced with unfamiliar terminology, new products or services, promises they don’t understand and misplaced expectations.

So how can SMBs find a digital marketing partner they can trust? What should they be looking for when seeking and evaluating a provider?

SMBs should seek partners who practice the highest ethical standards. Here are some key business practices SMBs should check to properly vet and evaluate a potential partner.

1: Details regarding fees and/or payments are clearly recorded in an agreement.

Thrive Analytics/Local Search Association’s “Local Pulse Report” Survey reveals 56% of SMBs believe finding a reasonably priced service provider is a top challenge, while 26% also struggle with finding a provider who will not hit them with hidden or additional fees.

That’s why SMBs should demand to see details regarding fees and/or payments in the agreement. Make sure contracts include a scope of work or outline of services to be provided, with costs associated with each of the various items.

Additionally, marketing service providers should outline a payment schedule for services and clearly define how payments will be made. Automatic renewal of services or automatic billing must be clearly specified, in addition to instructions for how to terminate auto-renewals.

2: Contracts and terms of agreement are transparent and clear.

Transparency in a contract with a marketing partner and any associated terms of agreement is essential. When possible, all contracts should be in written form. Alternatively, if working with a partner via telephone, email or online, make sure that all discussions and agreements are recorded in a retrievable format such as an email confirmation, audio file or via an online dashboard. This goes for any amendments or changes as well—make sure they are confirmed in writing or recorded and retrievable at a later date, in case they need to be referenced.

Contracts or contract discussions should include services to be rendered, associated terms and conditions, and conditions of termination.

3: Project/program goals and objectives are established and agreed upon.

Because marketing is an important tool in helping SMBs attract and retain customers and spread the word about their businesses, SMBs seek companies who will deliver a return on investment and work in their best interests.

When working with marketing providers, SMBs and their partners should work together to develop clear goals and objectives that align with your business priorities. The objectives should be reasonable, attainable and most importantly, measurable.

SMBs should also make sure their digital marketing partners disclose the products, services, programs and campaigns they plan to implement to achieve the campaign goals. It is important that SMBs fully understand all the services planned, the value they will add, and all relevant information to confidently make informed marketing decisions.

4: Partner has an established process for communicating client updates.

The “Local Pulse Report” Survey shows 35% of SMBs believe getting good customer service after a contract is signed is one of the top challenges when it comes to finding a marketing partner. SMBs want assurance they will receive regular communications from their marketing partners keeping them up to date on performance and accounting.

At a minimum, SMBs should seek partners who provide updates and report on:

  • Financial reporting on all monies paid
  • Results of the services provided and/or the performance of any marketing campaign

5: Partner has been certified or verified for their ethical business practices.

Look for a digital marketing partner who has been certified by a reputable industry organization, such as the LSA Digital Marketer Certification Program. Certification programs help SMBs identify reliable, reputable marketers who they can be confident will work toward their best interests.

Certified providers have gone through a review process to verify they uphold the highest standards and best practices related to their businesses from service agreements, pricing and sales practices to employee hiring and training practices and more.

By working with a certified partner, SMBs can be assured their marketing partners will stand behind representations made during the sales process and follow ethical and trustworthy business practices.

When choosing a digital marketer, SMBs should look for a partner that provides a clear and transparent contract, goals and objectives that align with their business, frequent progress updates and has been verified for ethical business practices.


Guest post by Neg Norton, President, Local Search Association, a more than 40-year-old not-for-profit industry association of media companies, agencies and technology providers helping businesses market to local consumers. First published on SmallBizDaily.com