5 Cultural Fit Questions to ask Potential Partners

The cultural fit of your marketing agency can easily cause 15 percent of your budget to be wasted on misunderstandings and disagreements. Selecting an agency you will love working with is so important. Finding the best fit marketing partner is what Agency Spotter is all about, so you can put all of your marketing spend to good use against your goals.

While this seems like a given, when asked about how they choose agencies, even some of the biggest companies admit to resorting to favoritism, deferring to agencies they’ve worked with in the past, or even simply hiring whoever has the coolest website. This list of missteps is evidence of the all-too-common business practice of ignoring good fit , and it is a silently expensive mistake, and one that smart companies do their best to avoid.

What are the top 5 questions to determine a marketing agency’s cultural fit?

We have reviewed the literature and consolidated a list of five questions you should ask your shortlist of marketing agency partners in order to harness the power of cultural fit and hire an agency you can fall in love with.


1. What does your ideal client look like?

Though this question may sound cliché, it gives agencies a chance to reveal their ideals to you in an uncensored, uncurated way. It works best if asked toward the beginning of an interview or correspondence, before the agency knows exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Not only will this reveal a good bit about their values, but it can also indirectly shed light on the agencies self-perceived strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you notice an agency representative repeatedly mention digital and steering the conversation in that direction, it’s fair to assume that is a strong point of theirs. Failure to mention an area, in contrast, could be a telltale sign of inexperience.

Another benefit to asking this question is an opportunity for you, as a decision maker within your company, to take an honest self-inventory and determine whether or not the ideal client they’re describing sounds anything like you. While it may be tempting to want them to want you, resist the urge to compromise your company’s personality at all costs. Your organization can’t be all things to all people, and that’s fine – a strength, even.


2. How are you cultivating yourself as an agency, and where do you see yourself in five years?

Here is where the interview process may begin to sound speed-datey – and that’s okay. After all, the idea is to establish a strong and long-lasting relationship with your marketing agency, not only to make working with them easy and enjoyable, but also to avoid unnecessary and expensive switches. Question number two is designed to test agency stability and forward-looking vision.

Delving into the practical side of this question means finding out if you and the agency’s timeline are compatible. The time it takes for objectives like yours to be accomplished should be a major deciding factor when it comes to this question. If you expect your project to be a quick one, maybe a nimble, hot-blooded agency could bring passion to the table. If you expect your project to involve extensive data collection and analysis, think again.


3. Are you the person who would be managing our account? If not, can I meet the team lead, and if possible, the team?

This one is hard hitting, and its goal is rather obvious; do I even like the person/people I’ll be personally interacting with when it comes to working with your agency?

Psychological studies have concluded that a person can form an impression of somebody within two seconds of meeting them. This, the studies say, is instinctual, and the impressions formed usually withstand the test of time. They are timesaving evolutionary mechanisms designed to aid in the fight or flight decision making process. Is danger imminent? How should I proceed? Questions like these helped our ancestors survive… why should they be ignored during an agency interview? After all, you are trying to get projects in motion as soon as possible. Save time. Without being judgmental, trust your instincts.


4. How will the results be presented to us?

Progress without measurement is reduced to a vague form of change, it is important to be able to understand that measurement and make sure the agency’s normal frequency of reporting aligns with your company’s expectations.
Once again, it comes down to getting the most out of your budget, and part of that is gleaning the most insight from one of your marketing agency’s most important deliverables. Some agency reports may contain so many numbers they’re rendered meaningless, and others may be shrouded in ambiguity.

As an addendum to this question, it may be smart to include a request for a sample month-end report. Is it decipherable? Is it useful? Will it be easy to use to report to your leadership?


5. What do your communication and service processes look like?

All great relationships are based on effective communication. This last question gets to the heart of the power of cultural fit and the frightening 15% of budget that is lost if the right planning and communication doesn’t get done. This inquiry is essentially asking “are you willing and able to nurture this relationship? If so, how?

Agencies that have a clear answer to this question demonstrate a level of corporate maturity that could make a huge difference in the way things get done. Even better? If specific platforms for interaction, project management, and billing are mentioned, you can take that as a sign of experience in dealing with companies like yours. And who doesn’t like a bit of experience?


Start building a shortlist of agencies to share with your internal team today

The shortlist tool on Agency Spotter allows you to mark agencies you want to dig deeper on, share that list with colleagues, drag and drop to reorder top contenders, and even write notes amongst your team about each agency.

To prepare this article, we reviewed literature from marketing experts, consultants, and leading publications including: Brad Smith, Brandee Johnson, Chris Heiler, Christine Lovestrom, Psychological Science’s Eric Wargo, HubSpot’s Jacob Mawhinney, John Ottenbein, Malcom Gladwell, Madeline Jacobsen.

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Paul Weston