4 Steps to Choosing the Right Marketing Agency for Your SaaS Startup
Updated: May 17
Simplify Your Search and Partner with the Perfect Agency for Your Growth Goals.
SaaS startups looking to accelerate their growth look to agencies to help solve these challenges. Agencies are a fantastic way of getting a pool of highly skilled talent to execute and be a creative partner in getting your brand and product out to the target audience.
The issue is that for many teams that do not have the experience in hiring or vetting marketing agencies, the task can come up short of expectations relative to cost and desired outcome.
You may soon discover that there are many disciplines across marketing that may make it difficult to choose the right agency for the need.
With that said, an agency is as much your marketing strategy as a race car is without a race. In other words, the better your purpose for hiring an agency, the higher probability you will have in leveraging them.
So let's unpack a few things on how to discover, vet and hire the agency to fit your needs.
Here are 4 steps to choosing a marketing agency
Why hire an agency?
They are a great fit for many reasons. The three that stand out are across the people product process spectrum:
Processes they have to move efficiently in the least amount of time
Talent pool across many marketing/advertising disciplines to pick from
Technology to distribute or manage across platforms
If marketing is new to the founders or team, there will be jargon and metrics designed to dazzle during your initial engagement with agencies.
Some of the metrics are vanity metrics, while others are truly useful in helping you ask the right questions about what they did to help their clients get to that point.
What to look for in an agency
Looking for agencies can be painstaking and referrals are a great way to cut through the clutter.
Try asking around in your network, some Slack communities or LinkedIn groups for agencies that specialize in working with SaaS companies.
Domain expertise is a nice to have but not a necessity for most cases and often overemphasized by teams unless the software is highly specialized and requires FDA approval or PhD's.
“Boutique” agencies are small agencies that will typically position themselves as specialists in a particular discipline. They can often partner with larger agencies that need their skills.
Established agencies that cover several areas of marketing may be too much for your needs. Most agencies start with a particular discipline, so it's best to ask if that is still a core part of their business.
Vetting your list of agencies
Put your best detective hat on and get armed with some really poignant and to-the-point questions. Every agency will put its best foot forward, so understanding how it achieved that is important with a few simple rules:
What resources were provided by their client to achieve the results?
Did the client have a marketing team managing and owning this?
What was the budget?
How long did it take?
Was what the agency did part of a larger marketing campaign (not part of their hired tasks) that could have influenced those numbers?
Larger companies have larger budgets (usually) to take on larger campaigns. Agencies of record and agencies for a specific task can be very different. Some agencies create a ‘splash’ others are on retainer and handle marketing team augmentation. Just ask what they were hired for.
What kind of baseline numbers did the agency start with before taking on the client to see the results you are seeing now?
Did the client have a baseline and some brand equity already or was the growth purely as a result of the agency?
Did they start from virtually nothing and grow it to 500%?
Making a decision
Deciding on the partner should come down to a few things that are both qualitative and quantitative.
Do they seem like a good fit on a cultural level?
Do they have the patience to work with a newer company that may not have all its ducks in a row?
Have you spoken to any similar satisfied SaaS customers on what they like/didn't like?
What do they need from you to be successful?
What happens if metrics are not met relative to the budget? What does the process look like beyond the initial proposal and scope?
Justification for the proposal. One proposal may have very different approaches to a campaign than another but is still proposed to meet the desired goal. Find out what information they used to make their decision.
What do we need to help make our new partner succeed? This is a different train of thought, but you are essentially "hiring" a new partner. After all, just like onboarding a new team member, it's important to ensure, if it is your first time doing this, that they have what they need to succeed.
Review the downloadable checklist here to ensure you have all your tech set up as well as some basics like positioning and goals so you can hit the ground running.
The 4 steps to choosing a marketing agency for any task can be a great way to get talent and skill to create an immediate impact on your brand/product exposure with a marketing and sales plan to support the initiative.
Getting eyes on your product is great, keeping that going will take more than an agency. So be honest and if you are just dipping your toes in the water to see if messaging sticks and you are getting some interest to drive traffic, then you are halfway there.
Choosing how and why you want to bring on an agency with this short list of rules should help with the process and how you can get the most out of your new partnership.