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Here comes the revelation: bad agencies have nothing to do with your promotion campaign failing at every step.


As the founder of an agency, I have been responsible for both attracting new customers and creating new products. I had to build a sales department from scratch and deal with hundreds of incoming customer requests.


Since SEO promotion is our bread and butter (alongside with hundreds of other things, lol), I’m going to use it as an example to explain why a business may have zero output from tons of marketing efforts. What’s interesting is that in 80% of cases mediocrity of an agency has nothing to do with marketing failures.


There’s one great tip to follow if you’re a business owner: once in a while the owner (or one of the co-founders) should work in the sales department for a brief period of time.




This will allow them to control the quality of salespeople’s work and understand where the market is heading.


Nevertheless, some things don’t change and we still get some insane requests from a certain type of client.

Clients from hell

Who are these people?


They’re like a hunter who has not eaten in a week and only has left a rusty old shotgun left. With only one shotgun shell. He finally sees a deer — the first one in weeks. His hands are shaking, his body is trembling, he takes aim and hopes for the best. 


Some businesses are just like a hunter. They schedule a meeting and tell you: “Come on, Mr. Agency, that’s all I got. Just take this money and make a miracle! You can make miracles in Bridlington, can’t you?


Why is that?


Some businesses work on a purely intermediary scheme: not only they do not produce they also have no USP and pack a heavy lack of knowledge of the product they sell.


Such businesses often hatch spontaneously. Usually as a result of a conversation between two friends. Like this:


“There’s a guy I know, he does house construction, he’s an engineer. You know, wooden houses. He’s ready to give us a 10% cut from all the deals we bring. So we sit down, figure out Google ads, and… We need a website, but that’s easy, we’ll just get a template somewhere cheap. Boom. Done.”




Hey, I have few friends that need a website, let’s find a white label agency and mark up their price




“You heard Dan’s wife? 50K a month from running that online dress shop she has. Let’s open an online store with dresses too. I found an online course “Launch an online store in 14 days”. Listen, I do the heavy lifting on the store and advertising and you take the phone and start looking for the suppliers. Let’s go!”




“Dude, we’ve been working as salesmen in this company for three years, selling those loaders. We know how to sell. Look at our boss. Racking up money like crazy, traveling, driving his Porsche (lol). We need to quit and start our own business. Establish a competing company.”


A healthy business is built on value for its customers, on experience and knowledge in an area where you can create a competitive product. This is a long journey and a hefty stack of knowledge unavailable via online webinars. So what do such businesses even hope for?

Can it be too early for digital marketing?



Before you start thinking about ads, try answering the following questions:


  1. Why should your new company which installs ACs, or resells “whatever” from China even be at the top of Google search?
  2. How is your business better than those who have been working in your field for over five or ten years?
  3. What is your USP? You have excellent customer service, but who claims not to? Maybe delivery times are twice as fast as those of competitors and backed up by numbers? Or maybe your product is just better in every aspect and perfectly solves the problem of the client?


If you cannot give clear answers to these questions, then who on Earth needs your business at all?

The first thing to change

Here’s one common occurrence: you got traffic but no sales. An agency you hired sticks to KPI on traffic and does its job well: the traffic is targeted and of high quality.


Why no sales then?


Well, do you remember what you provided the agency with? A link to your website and a short brief? Right?


And what about positioning? What about USP? And how about a detailed plan for launching new services, a thorough description of a product or a service, a detailed competitor analysis? Were you actively involved in the promotion process?


The agency is doing everything it can: displays soulless landing pages to users online, pushes your website to the top of the SERP mountain, racks up traffic and more. However, users leave and that’s the problem. They do not find the right information or any value, and they simply do not buy a thing.


User requirements to websites alone have changed dramatically over the past five to six years and you need to be on point to get to the top 10.


It’s wrong to: give an agency a link to your website, provide access to web analytics account (if any at all) and sail away with the phrase: “A’right, folks, we need traffic and sales. A lot of it. Now go!”.


It’s right to: provide the agency with maximum information possible about your business — from the regions of presence to the USP and CATs for each landing page. And you need to actively participate in the promotion process.

When it’s time to go digital

You don’t need to be a “corporation”, you just need to have a business that works.


Residing in Bali and reselling products from AliExpress via Instagram to pay the rent and have food on the table is not what I’m talking about. Deceiving search engines to yield mediocre sales numbers is a poor business practice.


But if you have an online clothing store and have built excellent relationships with global brands, have organized your marketing team, which easily rivals some agencies it’s a different story. That’s when digital marketing will be beneficial to your business. Online sales have grown six to seven times over the last four years. As a founder, you have to be a professional, regardless of the company size.

What agencies should your business choose

Every business gets an agency it deserves. All agencies have offers that are more or less the same, but there are those you definitely want to avoid. Let’s take a look at some red flags.


Top offers you should avoid:


  • “Refund for all 12 months available”.
  • “We guarantee that the site will not be banned.”
  • “You’ll reach the top on 50% of requests in six months. Moneyback guaranteed.”
  • “Google Ads campaign management free when ordering SEO promotion”.


Agencies roll out all these guarantees to get a contract from you. Remember, there can be no guarantees in SEO other than on the amount of work to be done. Want to get traffic three to eight times cheaper than in Google Ads? Good luck, take a chance! At least choose guys who really know how to play this game.

How guarantees actually work?

You bring $3K to the agency, the sales department signs a deal and redirects you to the head of the marketing department. The manager looks at the contract and sees the guarantees you agreed on. Do you know what they think? 


“Ok, so in case we need to return 50% of the payment, we need to freeze 50% of the payment on our accounts. We’ll have $1,5K to work with.”




  • Specialists working on your project will receive two times fewer bonuses and, respectively, their motivation will be two times lower.
  • There will be two times fewer resources allocated for your project.
  • In reality, 50% of your payment will just rest on the agency’s account (and the more cunning ones will find a way to spend it on their needs).
  • You read it right, it’s all while you pay 100% of a price every month.


Why is this happening?


Why should they risk by signing knowingly unprofitable and risky contracts? First and foremost, every agency is a business. No business owner will do this. But they will tell you: 


“Yes, we take risks.”


Why though? 


Well, I guess because you yourself want to participate in a game under such dishonest ruleset. Agencies just pack it nicely with their lawyers and sell it to you. They win, you lose.


So what’s the right move for you?


It’s wrong to: hide behind a contract with guarantees and delegate all responsibility for the results of marketing to the agency.


It’s right to: delineate the areas of responsibility of business and agency. You should closely monitor the implementation of the agreements on both parts.

“No-name” agencies and their special offers

Facebook and Instagram ads are rich with the following offers:


  • “Customers are going to flood your business!”
  • “Google Ads campaigns from real professionals.”
  • “A team of targeting pros will boost your sales 6 times.”


The sad funny thing is that no one has ever heard anything about those agencies. It makes perfect sense. Graduates of business courses have poured into the market over the past few years, ready to rush into battle and deliver a heavy stream of customers to your business. 


The landing pages of such agencies look slick and cool, they throw guarantees at your face, promise low CPL and other unrealistic benefits.


The truth is a landing page is all they have. They have no team, or an office, or solid processes. Thanks to the deceptive trend of the last few years, which has been driven by “business bloggers” and marketing seminars: “The main thing is not the product, but the packaging.”


You should not completely write such people off, however. You just need to understand that they are primarily sharpened to promote info business and sundries with an average check-up to $90. Handing such wonderful young people a serious business is a lousy marketing move in 99% of cases.


They understand standard landings, but they lack understanding of your business, business processes, or client service.


It’s right to not chase overly attractive offers, but rather make an appointment with the team and take a close look at the KPIs specified in the contract. You should not start your marketing in the format of “Gosh, it’s about time we choose someone right now!”. 


It is better to spend a month or two to choose a contractor than lose a year on failing and starting from scratch.

How should one choose an agency


Really? Come on, if you believe in these footers with ratings from 2009 you’re in trouble. You should realize that 20% of the employees who were working there in 2009 are likely gone in 2019.


On top of that, the methods of promotion have changed dramatically since 2009. Do not get fooled by the ratings. It’s just a facade, the achievement of the PR department, but not the experts of the agency.

Cases Studies

Ask for the phone number of a CEO or a marketing director of the company listed as the successful case. Oh, they do not provide phone numbers of their clients, do they? Why is it that the agency doesn’t want you to communicate with the CEO, who presumably raised a “lot of money” with the help of that very same agency? Do not believe the words, fact-check.

The team

About 90% of agencies on the market claim they have “the best team of professionals!”.


Why don’t you visit their office? Let them show how professional they are. In 80% of cases, they will be a scattered outsourced team from places with lowest pay rates. What motivation to delve deep into your project will the specialists have if they barely make enough money to feed themselves?


But why come to the office? You can sort everything out by phone, right? Why waste two hours of time? Scheduling a meeting can save you from losing a year of time and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars. You see, in case any problems occur, you will not even be able to discuss issues with anyone. Schedule a meeting, asses the skills of the team and their professional adequacy, establish contacts.

When clients want a free ride

“We have a super-duper business. So you make us a website, run an ad campaign, and we will share 10% of the profit. Approximately $xx,xxx”. 


The agency should ask what’s the structure of the sales department, and usually, the answer is: “Oh, I am the department. I’m N+ years in this business.” End of story.


Such a scheme is not viable in 99,9% of cases. Businesses usually offer about 10–15% of the profits from the ad channel but the agency takes all the risks.


Receiving 10 to 15% of the profit makes sense for an agency when the work is 100% prepaid. Otherwise, it should cost at least 30% to 40% of the net profit of a business.


The primary issue here is profit. It is far in the future and employees want to get paid now.


It is also absolutely a bad decision for an agency to work like that if:


  • a business does not have end-to-end analytics, therefore, sales cannot be counted;
  • a website is terribly designed with a fleur of the year 2005 and has a meager conversion rate;
  • there is no CRM and sales system implemented;
  • there’s a low-skilled sales department;
  • you can’t get direct access to accounting.


Then how can an agency calculate how much the business has earned and how much of it goes to the agency? They can’t.


I am writing this with such certainty because I’ve personally gone through the implementation of everything described above in my company. A tremendous amount of money, resources and sleepless nights were spent on this. Most clients naively want to make a million net in a month.


If you have everything set up, you’ve got excellent salesmen and a high-level marketing and sales department, communicating and working with an agency will not be a problem. In all other cases work to pay the agency for traffic or the amount of work. 


Remember: the responsibility for sales lies in your sales department.


It’s wrong to: give marketing or advertising channel to an agency to work on for a percentage from sales.


It’s right to work with an agency based on KPI, which will be as close as possible to your business. Usually, it is traffic or conversions. Also, cover all possible holes in your sales department. 


Do not pick a bone with an agency for the inept work of YOUR sales department.

To all business owners

In half the cases, the decision to choose an agency is made by a marketing specialist or a marketing director. I am surprised at how low competent people working on the business side often are. Half of all projects are buried alive by marketing employees.


My message to business owners is:


Please, take a 3-day course to learn the basics of all advertising channels. How they work, when are they applicable, what are the main KPIs for each channel. 


This will also let you save money by not hiring useless people on your marketing team.

And the head of the marketing department in the company is the first position in line to submit to strict control from the owner. Do not let your company marketing team loose.


I am sure this article will spark some enthusiasm for people to change the approach to their business and its promotion. Some, I am mostly sure, regardless of the article, will close naturally, making room for a quality businessд that does not force agencies to make up for the company’s lousy marketing.



Author’s bio

Dmitrii B. is the CEO and founder of GRIN tech – a full-cycle digital agency doing design, marketing, and development alongside white-label agency & media outreach solutions.

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