Business today is not a one-way transaction. If you want a successful outcome, you need to build a partnership, not a client-vendor relationship. We try to interview our clients as carefully as they interview us, if not more so. We are looking for lasting partnerships in which they entrust us with an important responsibility – to help them achieve their business goals without hiring internal experts. We often find, however, that the companies and people who seek our services are woefully unprepared for the relationship building, which starts at the first conversation. Here are three simple steps to help you find the right inbound marketing services partner for your business.

shopping for inbound marketing services

Step 1 – Figure Out Exactly What You Want

What are your goals for inbound marketing? We always hear “more traffic and sales leads”. These aren’t goals – they’re metrics. They may well be measurements of how well you are doing to achieve your goals, but by themselves they are meaningless. Think about real business goals like “doubling sales revenues in the next year” or “becoming profitable this year”. Those are nice goals. Now let’s go find a partner that can get us to the Promised Land.

Step 2 – Find the Right Partner

This is where our potential clients really mess things up. You’re looking for one outstanding partner with whom you can build a lasting business relationship. How can that possibly start with an RFP or a competitive interview process? You’re asking for your partner to solve your problems for free (or at least get started) without getting to know you first. Then what? Are you looking for the low cost bidder? Chances are you will end up with the least qualified partner. This process will not only drain your time and resources, but it will also poison the relationship side by failing to build a two-way trusted partnership. Instead, do you homework. Ask around. Do a search. Read their content, all of it. Reach out to them in social networks, Get to know them before you reach out for that first conversation. Remember, they are evaluating you too. The ideal outcome for both sides is that you have already chosen your partner before you start the conversation.

Step 3 – Build a Relationship With Your Partner

You want to accomplish that goal you set in Step 1. Do you know how to get there? No, you don’t. That’s why you selected your inbound marketing partner. So what’s next? No it’s not a contract, it’s a conversation. Tell your partner how you do business and what the problems are in achieving success. What’s your budget? Hang on a sec, we’re not there yet. Listen to your partner. They should be telling you roughly what it will take in manpower, time and resources to achieve your objective. They should be able to tell you a range of monthly expenses you will need to get there and what the process will look like. The biggest mistake customers make is expecting or demanding an exact plan complete with timelines, milestones and deliverables. The first step in the process isn’t building a highway – it’s planning a highway. There are many possible scenarios for achieving your goals, and success depends on building a working plan over time. Your partner understands that you need to get a handle on the expense side and the timing, but if you want real results, you must work together under a relationship that’s fair and reasonable for both sides. Your first 1-3 months should be all about building that plan. My advice? Start flexible with a reasonable monthly retainer for your partner’s consulting. Build a plan together you can both live with and which has a real probability of success.

Now, go execute the plan. Congratulations, you have already won.

Photo credit:David Blackwell