What to Avoid When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Working with a successful, experienced digital marketing agency can be critical to helping you build marketing infrastructure and scale for your company down the road. However, if you’re considering hiring a digital marketing agency that isn’t a good fit or can’t get the job done, it could be a very costly mistake. To help you avoid any chance at finding out the hard way, we’ve compiled a few tips about what to avoid when you are searching for and hiring a digital marketing agency.


Research Phase

Don’t believe all agencies are one-size-fits-all

Your business is unique; therefore, the results you are looking to obtain will be unique. You’ll need to have an idea of what you’re looking to accomplish from working with an agency prior to going into the search. You don’t have to know specifics as you will eventually create a definitive strategy with the agency you choose, and they can help guide you in understanding what kind of results you should be able to achieve. However, to start, you’ll want to know some basics on your side

Download the How to Pick the Best Digital Marketing Agency for Your Company essential guide here.

Do you need serious help with your SEO or paid advertising? Does your website need an overhaul? Do you need a major boost around content? Are you looking for a quick fix or would you like to work with someone more long-term? Do you want to work with a local agency that you can meet face-to-face?

Decide what is most important to you prior to starting any kind of search activity for an agency so you at least know where to start looking.

Avoid choosing an agency based solely on location, pricing, or shiny promises

If you are pinching pennies, you may be enticed by the cheapest option you find, or you might be tempted to just find the firm that is closest to you. To be successful in the long run though, you’ll want to look into the capabilities of any digital marketing agency before you dive in and hand them your money. Marketing is a saturated market, there is a massively varying scale of capabilities and ability to produce results. Keeping this in mind, you’ll also want to be careful of being lured in by shiny messaging or promises that are right on the surface. The main point is to do your homework before spending a dime and hiring a digital marketing agency.

Did you know that they are different types of digital marketing agencies? Click here to learn more and find the best fit.

Evaluate more than just the surface

Check out the websites of your prospective agencies. For each one, consider if it clearly describes what they offer. Is the blog (assuming they have one) well-written and informative? Are there any customer case studies or online reviews? Narrow your list of potentials down to between 3-5 and get ready to have some conversations.

Prior to getting on the phone with an agency, have a rough idea of the budget you’d like to stay within. It may be difficult to find upfront pricing online because most agencies do custom pricing based on your objectives and the deliverables required to hit goals. That being said, though, if you have a budget range, a good agency should be able to demonstrate what can be done at that level.

In addition to a budget range, go into your conversations with a few set questions that you will ask every single agency you speak with. It can be easy to get sidetracked or a little lost in initial conversations because there is typically a lot of ground to cover. So, write down your questions in advance and make sure you get to all of them. You may want to save the pricing conversation until near the end of the initial call so the agency representative has an understanding of what you might need from them and can give you an accurate estimation. Here are some questions we recommend asking your prospective agencies.

Overall, hire a digital marketing agency who is transparent, quick to share examples and results, easy to talk to, knowledgeable, and experienced. You should never feel talked-down-to. Especially if you are going to work long-term with them, you’ll want to make sure your communication styles are a good match.How to Pick the Best Digital Marketing Agency for Your Company

Implementation Phase

Don’t allow work to start without a clear plan from the very beginning

Any agency should have a proven, repeatable process framework they can walk through with you. They should also have the ability to customize their typical processes to your specific needs and situation. They should make recommendations and tweaks to their processes based on what you are looking to accomplish and where you are with your marketing today.

Before starting the real work, a Service Level Agreement or some kind of full layout of the plan to get the project up and running should be presented for your approval. (Read about our Sales and Marketing Alignment SLA here!) Once you’ve signed off on it, persona work will likely begin with your agency. All of the work the agency does moving forward will be based on these personas, so you want to make sure they are accurate in order to target the correct audience with all marketing efforts.

At the start of the project, the agency should do a full walk-through (or Kick Off) of their plan with you. They should lay out their strategy and tactics and communicate the expected results. This should typically happen in a conversation that includes some kind of documentation for you to follow along, maybe it’s a slideshow presentation or a handout, but they should walk through it with you before jumping into the actual marketing communications.

hiring a digital marketing agency

It’s also important to note that inbound marketing can take 6-12 months to gain traction and upwards of 18 months before making a major impact. An agency that promises immediate results might be blowing smoke. Similarly, be wary of any agency that seems staunch in their plan. Inbound typically requires fluidity as data are gathered and knowledge gained. The ability to pivot as needed is key.

Project Phase

Avoid confusion later on in the project

Before getting off of your Kick Off call with your chosen digital marketing agency, you should have, at the very least, your next call scheduled. Ideally, you should set up a weekly or bi-weekly recurring time to meet and review progress. Even if you don’t end up needing or using the time every week, it’s great to have it on the calendar just in case.

Another thing you’ll want to establish right away is clear and set definitions of everyone’s role in the process, both from your own company and the agency. Who will be in charge of what, who will provide and receive updates, who has action items prior to the next check-in, etc.. Knowing these answers will help manage your relationship through its entirety. 

Finally, you should have a good understanding from the beginning of what kinds of metrics are important, how they will be tracked, and how they will be reported on, as well as how you can view and understand those reports.

Ready to have a conversation with Lake One? Request a free consultation.


Lake One’s Ryan Ruud Obtains Hubspot Trainer Certification

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime

Ingrained in our culture here at Lake One is coaching and teaching as we engage with our client partners. Yes, they’re asking us to do marketing activity on their behalf but we do so in a fashion that teaches and trains as we go. It’s collaborative and meant to make us all stronger because life long learner is the spice of life – I think that’s the quote, if it isn’t it should be.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that our founder and CEO, Ryan Ruud, has been accepted into an elite group of Hubspot partners to obtain Hubspot Trainer certification.

In the coming months we’ll be developing curriculum around inbound marketing, modern and measurable marketing programs, sales and marketing alignment and more and making these courses available for private onsite instruction as well as looking to establish recurring courses around our region.


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Lake One’s SLA & Why It’s Critical for Sales & Marketing Alignment

Have you ever noticed that despite being separate departments, sales and marketing is called, sales AND marketing? (not Sales OR Marketing). The two go hand in hand, or at least they should. But that’s not always the case however, alignment can only be achieved through detailed continuation and effort to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

In order to help achieve harmony among client-facing teams, Lake One implements a Service Level Agreement (SLA). By Definition, the SLA is an agreement between our client’s sales team and Lake One marketing on the lead management and lead qualification process. It helps drive sales and marketing alignment. Read on to learn about the 7 key components of our sales and marketing SLA.

Sales and Marketing Alignment SLA

Interested in seeing if Lake One may be a good fit for your company? Request a consult!

Goals & Objectives

We are a big fan of goals (and you should be too), so it’s no surprise that our SLA kicks off by stating the goals and objectives of the SLA.

The purpose of our SLA is to ensure that the proper elements and commitments are in place to facilitate a flow and acceptance of marketing qualified leads to sales.

The goal of our Agreement is to obtain mutual agreement for the lead qualification criteria and lead handling between the Marketing department and the Sales department.

The objectives of this Agreement are to:

  • Provide clear reference to lead ownership, accountability, roles, and/or responsibilities.
  • Present a clear, concise, and measurable description of lead qualification, acceptance, disqualification, and nurture.
  • Match perceptions of expected lead quality with actual lead quality and delivery.

Clearly Defined Roles

A plan and an agreement are a great place to start, but if you don’t know who’s on first, it can leave you scrambling when it comes time to actually execute. Roles and responsibilities are broken down into two groups:


  • Generate leads
  • Score & qualify leads
  • Nurture leads & contacts
  • Handoff qualified leads to sales


  • Accepts/rejects MQLs
  • Actively manages lifecycle stages/opportunities and lead statuses
  • Wins Deals

The final component is assigning key stakeholders to oversee the process and teams: one person from sales, one person from marketing. The above is a complete and total team effort, but listing out key stakeholders gives the team a point of contact and holds parties accountable.

Curious about what else Lake One has to offer? Read this post to learn more about what makes us tick.

Sales and Marketing Alignment Roles

Lead Qualification Strategy

If the leads marketing is generating don’t match the expectations of the sales team, it won’t benefit anyone. In fact, this is how inbound strategies fail. In order for marketing to be generating leads that the sales team will get excited about, everyone needs to be on the same page of what a qualified lead actually is.

So in order to start nailing down lead qualification, we ask questions such as:

  • What engagements signal leads are ready to talk to sales? (think completed forms, user actions, etc.)
  • What requirements do all leads need to meet based on your ideal buyer profile? (industry, organization size, role/title, etc…)

From there, we actually build what we call a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) List. The list serves a dual purpose and plays a major part in the process in finalizing what will constitute a lead as well as how you’ll track them going forward. Once the list is created, we can also take a look at historical data – like how many MQLs are there to date – and set benchmarks off of the new definition for goal setting.


What will the SLA accomplish? This is best stated in SMART goal format. In case you need a little refresher, see below.

Specific: For the SLA, goals will likely fall into three buckets – marketing lead volume, lead flow, and a lead management/sales process goal. We always recommend hitting all three as they cover the major components of the Agreement.

Measurable: Here’s an area where the MQL List becomes very important. It’s a clear way to track how many MQLs marketing is able to deliver and when.

Attainable: Be realistic with expectations, but don’t sell yourself short either. The beauty of the SLA is that both Sales and Marketing will be on the same page on what is achievable.

Relevant: Relevance is a great gut check in making sure your SLA goals align with the client’s company goals.

Need a little help with your SMART Goals? Download the worksheet!


We use industry jargon and marketing terminology so often that it is important to define key terms so everyone is using them the same way. We focus our definitions on two main categories: lead status and lifecycle stages.

According to HubSpot, lifecycle stage indicates where a contact or company is in your marketing/sales funnel (subscriber, lead, MQL, etc…). Lead status indicates where a contact or company is within a buying cycle as a lead (New, Unqualified, Open Deal, etc…).

Sales and Marketing Alignment Terminology

Lead Rejection

Just because a lead checks off the boxes and becomes an MQL, doesn’t mean that the lead will convert to a customer. An integral part of the living breathing document that is an SLA, is lead rejection. Just as Marketing sends the MQLs, sales, in turn, communicates back through Lead Status and Lifecylce stage, or for the leads that aren’t so hot, lead rejection.

In our process, lead rejection is defined and agreed upon by both parties and typically results in a form field selection in the CRM.

Sign on the Dotted Line

The final and most critical stage in our process is a signature. It’s not necessarily a signature in the actual sense, but more of what it represents: an agreement of both parties on all of the above! Alignment is impossible without it. 

We do have to add that once you have an SLA in place, it should be reviewed, tracked, and measured against, evolving as needed with the growth of the company. And not to mention, the SLA is a component of achieving sales and marketing alignment, but not the only component. Are you ready to discuss how Lake One could help enable your sales teams and help you achieve sales and marketing alignment? Contact us


4 Essential Benefits of Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Bolstering an existing marketing program or starting from scratch can be a heavy lift, but you don’t have to go it alone. Joining forces with a digital marketing agency might be the best option for achieving your goals. Here are four benefits of partnering up.

Essential Benefits of Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Continue reading “4 Essential Benefits of Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency”

Most-Inspired Content Recommendations from Lake One’s Clients & Partners

Each new year brings with it new goals and resolutions to propel us forward into growth both personally and professionally. So we asked our clients and partners, “What inspired you in 2018?” They replied with their favorite content recommendations and a line or two about why it made their list. From marketing and sales to life purpose, there’s something for everyone to fuel their inspiration into the new year.

Do yourself a favor and keep reading!

Inspired Content Recommendations

Turn your professional development aspirations into SMART goals!



Becoming Michelle Obama, by Michelle Obama
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

In Michelle Obama’s memoir, she chronicles the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore
Recommended by: Chris Knutson, TeamGenius

“Although popular in the startup community, this book is relevant for any marketer. The Whole Product concept is somewhat intuitive, but understanding it well is a game-changer!”

Drop the Ball, by Tiffany Dufu
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

In Drop the Ball, Dufu recounts how she learned to reevaluate expectations, shrink her to-do list, and meaningfully engage the assistance of others―freeing the space she needed to flourish at work and to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships at home.

Fanatical Prospecting by Jed Blount
Recommended by: Ryan Ruud, Lake One

“Marketing is only as good as its relationship with sales. Fanatical prospecting gives marketers a front row seat to the importance of the sales role and how marketing can support their sales partners across the aisle. For organizations that have sales and marketing organized together – this book only reinforces that it’s not sales or marketing – it’s sales and marketing.”

Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale Into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days, by Joey Coleman
Recommended by: Garrio Harrison, Fueled Collective

“In Never lose a Customer Again, Joey Coleman shares best practices marketers with a CRM can put in place to turn their prospects into brand ambassadors.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

This book is a narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.” One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens.

The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann
Recommended by: Jennifer Zick, Authentic Brand

“I love summertime in Minnesota, when half-day Fridays and long cabin weekends come around. That’s when I finally kick back and catch up on my reading. 2018 was a great summer for diving in on a few business and leadership books. One of the books I most enjoyed was “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann. This book was a two-hour read that tells a great little story centered on the power of generosity. The fictional narrative features a young, driven professional – a true “go getter” – who seeks out advice on how to succeed in his career. What he learns along the way is not at all what he expected, but so much more. This book was especially meaningful to me, as I read it just one year into launching my business, and having experienced first-hand the principles of generosity at play in my life and work. I highly recommend this book to any “go getter”!”


inspired reading recommendations


EOS Worldwide Visionary Mike Paton on the Value of Taking Team Meetings Offsite
Recommended by: Garrio Harrison, Fueled Collective

In this blog post, Mike Paton shares best practices for planning effective offsite meetings and also covers why you should never, ever, have an annual or quarterly meeting onsite.

Julie Lindahl Blog
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

Julie is an author, storyteller and activist who lives in Sweden. She is also a contributor to WBUR Cognoscenti and has been featured on National Public Radio. Read her philosophical approach to life on her blog.

Mark Manson, Life Purpose
Recommended by: Claudia Revermann, Lucent Tax Relief

This is my all time favorite. I’ve found this truly inspirational in a way that cuts through the touchy feeling “finding your why” fad and gets to the down and dirty basics of exploring what makes you tick and why things are important to you.”

Marketing Has a Best Practices Problem
Recommend by: Ryan Ruud, Lake One

“I’ve seen too many marketing programs fall off the rails because they’ve ended up chasing something new without giving any thought to ‘is this right for us? Based off of what we know about our buyers.”

Meet the New Freshmen in Congress: More Democrats, Diversity and Women
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

The congressional freshman class of 2019 is the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House. The group includes the first Native American congresswomen and the first Muslim congresswomen. This article breaks down the newest faces in congress.

The 9 Habits of Highly Successful Content Creators
Recommended by: Rachael Cecko, Lake One

“This is a recent HubSpot article, but it quickly became my favorite for 2018. Creating content can be intimidating, but it’s such a key piece of what we do. I love how this article empowers you through practical advice to become a better content creator.”

The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals
Recommend by: Chris Knutson, TeamGenius

“I love the contrasts between the behaviors of amateurs and professionals. I re-read this article a couple times a year and ask myself the two food for thought questions at the end, which is an exercise I’d recommend to anyone.”

Women of Color Mark History at the 2018 Midterm Elections!
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

Before election day hit, history had already been made this midterm cycle. Read all about the women of color who officially made history on election day.  

Feeling inspired? Put your aspirations to paper with our SMART Goals Worksheet.

inspired reading recommendations


Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

This podcast is Oprah’s personal selection of her interviews with thought-leaders, best-selling authors, spiritual luminaries, as well as health and wellness experts. The goal of the podcast is “to light you up, guide you through life’s big questions and help bring you one step closer to your best self.”

Pod Save America
Recommended by: Beehive Strategic Communications

According to the website, Pod Save America is “a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane. A no-bullshit conversation about politics hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor.”

Seth’s Godin Podcast, Akimbo
Recommended by: Don Ball, Fueled Collective

Seth Godin’s podcast is killer. He’s moving from marketing guru to just plain guru – especially as evidenced by his interview with Krista Tippett for her On Being show.

The future of Coworking
Recommended by: Garrio Harrison, Fueled Collective

The Fueled Collective CEO, Kyle Coolbroth, discusses the future of work and entrepreneurship with podcast host Jamie Russo. He also shares about his coworking story, his first space, and the vision for Fueled Collective.

The Tim Ferriss Show: Derek Sivers on Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness, and Saying “No” to Millions
Recommended by: Chris Knutson, TeamGenius

“One of my all-time favorite Tim Ferriss Show episodes, Derek is brilliant and this episode is full of business and life wisdom. It’s from 2015 but earns a repeat listen by me about once a year.”

Smart Goals Worksheet Template