THE BLOG
07/23/2014 09:29 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2014

The Right Digital-Marketing Partner in 5 Steps

Most small-medium businesses (SMBs) would rather pick potatoes than pick a digital-marketing partner. Digital marketing is filled with clutter and confusion. SMBs know digital can help but are unsure of where to start. Having a great partner helps, but finding a great partner can be expensive and counterproductive to your goals.

Pick the right digital marketing partner by:

  1. Starting with the right conversations. There's trouble ahead if your digital-marketing partner immediately focuses on keyword optimization, website redesign, and Google's algorithm updates. Digital marketers should be holistic. Good digital marketers start with understanding the overall business' goals and leverage their knowledge and the right tools for the job based on those goals. Don't misinterpret me: Your website should be search-friendly and attractive, but those aren't differentiators online anymore. The Web is full of clutter. Build a plan based on what you want people who visit your online properties (e.g., websites, apps, etc.) to do: calls to action. Then aggressively communicate and promote those calls to action.
  2. Widening the scope. Digital marketing isn't just backlinks and backgrounds. The right digital-marketing partner can leverage app development to improve office productivity and customer service. A hair salon's digital-marketing partner may suggest a booking system. This is low-hanging fruit and gets surefire results. Customers will appreciate 24/7/365 booking convenience. Your business gets more reliable data and a customer database. A good digital marketer can also automate upselling by setting up reminders to go out each month, and by offering a discount code after a customer's reservation. Automating this means fewer staff phone calls and better in-salon service.
  3. Setting real goals. You're responsible for marketing. The salon's CMO leads staff and vendors to goals they make. The CMO, not the digital marketer, mandates that the salon get more Southeast Asian customers. Suggesting opportunities to grow your business is something a digital-marketing partner will do but probably shouldn't. Ideally the mandate comes from you, because you know your business opportunities better than a digital marketer does. Your professional life revolves around generating interest in your salon. A good digital marketer can help with how you creatively reach Southeast Asians using digital avenues and what to say to them. Take any explanation about why Southeast Asians are a great demographic opportunity for your salon business with a hypertension-inducing grain of salt.
  4. Putting a number on it. Outline expectations at the onset of your relationship. Tell your partner what they need to do to maintain your business, and what they can do to get referrals from you. Be specific. "Make me look good" or "Blow me away with ideas" are meaningless directives. Instead, go with something as simple as "Ensure that we have 100 more reservations in Q4." Yes, that's totally transactional, but you are accountable for results. Your vendors should be too. A good digital-marketing partner will either (A) take the challenge or (B) tell you it's not realistic and suggest some alternative. A great digital-marketing partner will ask for very little up front and a piece of the revenue instead, because they are confident that they'll deliver. They'll have to believe in your offering and have a great deal of interest in it. You will need to have some activities guaranteed, though, so arrange a baseline fee.
  5. Tracking progress. Many digital-marketing strategies are implemented without proper tracking. Digital marketing is incredibly data-driven, and any Web- or mobile-based activity can be tracked, quantified and measured. A good digital-marketing partner develops mechanisms for both parties to track progress on campaign outcomes. This matters a lot more then picking colors, fonts and stock photos to use in creative pieces.

Digital marketing can be the lifeblood of your business. If done properly, it can help you open new opportunities, improve profit margins and increase productivity. Finding the right digital partner is about matching up tasks and expectations with your business challenges. Follow the steps above and your digital-marketing partner can be your best friend -- someone you wouldn't mind picking potatoes with.