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5 Steps to Address an Underperforming Marketing Agency

Underperforming Marketing Agency - How to Fix It

No matter how much time you spend vetting them, there’s always a chance you’ll end up with an underperforming marketing agency. If (or when) performance issues arise, you need to tackle them head-on before they balloon into critical problems.

Here are five steps to addressing an underperforming marketing agency so you can get your campaigns moving again.

1. Define how your marketing agency is underperforming

Before you confront an underperforming marketing agency, take a few minutes to figure out exactly where and how they’re missing the mark.

Too often marketers approach their agencies with more frustrations than facts. If you start with the latter, however, you’ll not only begin from a position of strength, but increase the odds of finding a solution.

For example, here are some ways to add specificity to your marketing agency’s underperformance:

“You’re not making a big enough impact” “We haven’t seen 10% audience growth each month, which was our agreed upon KPI”

“The content isn’t good enough” “The content isn’t addressing a real customer problem”

“You’re not responsive” “We need some kind of update on a weekly basis”

Focusing on facts shifts the conversation away from people and toward outcomes. While this doesn’t guarantee a fix, it puts both parties in a stronger position to find one.

2. Move from blame to accountability

Assigning blame does no good. Accountability, on the other hand, is essential to conflict resolution.

There’s a fine line between the two. According to organizational change expert Dr. Marilyn Paul, “Where there is blame, there is no learning. Where there is blame, open minds close, inquiry tends to cease, and the desire to understand the whole system diminishes.

So how do we understand the difference between blame and accountability? Leadership development expert Michael Timms has some ideas for how to distinguish between the two.

“To be accountable is to be held responsible for results, good or bad,” Timms says. “It means finding solutions to problems and applying lessons learned in order to improve future results.” In contrast, “Blame is often assigned before all the facts are known and assumes that people, not the systems they operate in, are the problem.”

In other words, an underperforming marketing agency is a problem to be solved, and both sides can contribute to fixing things. A positive, accountability-based approach, can foster drive, initiative, and creativity from both sides.

3. Develop an action plan to address concerns

If you’re going to hold an underperforming marketing agency accountable, both sides need clarity on how to repair the relationship.

Marketing teams should already be familiar with this approach. Many organizations have a service-level agreement between Marketing and Sales to establish expectations around lead generation and followup, respectively.

The same goes for your marketing agency. Develop a clear list of deliverables, the completion of which will re-establish trust and help to salvage the relationship.  Approached the right way, this expectation-setting exercise can drive collaboration, and even improve the relationship going forward.

4. Acknowledge when the issue has been resolved

If your marketing agency has resolved the issues you raised, tell them.

Think about it from their point of view. There’s nothing worse than thinking that there’s a continuing problem and trying to solve it and then finding out that three months ago they were satisfied with how you fixed it.

While there’s always room to improve, there’s a different dynamic between “continual improvement” and “crisis mode.” 

Once you’re out of the crisis, they’ll need to consider other ways to help you continually grow and expand, rather than fighting to keep your business. It doesn’t take long. So just tell them and you can both move on.

5. Don’t hesitate to walk away from an underperforming marketing agency

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your marketing agency will continue underperforming. If the same problems persist and new ones arise, it’s usually best to part ways.

But how you part ways is as important as the parting itself. You want to make sure you do so in a way that won’t expose your business to further risk:

  • Move quickly. Don’t drag out the process, as this only builds resentment. Once you’ve made your decision, go ahead and let them know so everyone can move on.
  • Be clear. Any feedback you have to offer can help your marketing agency improve for future clients. Even if you don’t want to go into detail, make sure they have some idea as to why they lost your business. Plus, it’s the decent, human thing to do.
  • Focus on the performance, not the people. This isn’t personal, so there’s no reason to make it that way. Focus on the facts and why this relationship doesn’t work for you, rather than the individuals involved.
  • Consult your legal team. Keep in mind that this article contains generalized information. You’ll want to ensure there are no breach of contract terms or other concerns within your contract. Make sure your legal team is involved in the relevant conversations.

If you do it right, parting ways can be a net positive experience, with everyone learning something new and moving on to new and exciting futures.

Have you just moved on from an underperforming marketing agency and ready to start again? Contact Fearless Content Group and we’ll see if we’re a good fit.

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