Erik Saltvold knows things about digital marketing agencies that agencies don't even know about themselves. In the past eight years, he's worked with six agencies, with only one agency sticking around for more than a year. The 52-year-old founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based Erik's Bike Shop
is a forward thinking, aggressive entrepreneur who has discovered not all digital marketing agencies are created equally. In fact, as he shared with me recently, many digital agencies are still trying to figure out who they are and what their clients need. Saltvold, who started his business in his parents home at the age of 13, shared his observations about the digital agencies hired and fired by his company.
Agencies claim to specialize in too many areas
"Honestly, I don't expect a digital marketing agency to know everything about everything," Saltvold said, matter-of-factly. "That's impossible. What we are looking for is someone with an expertise who can look at other digital channels, analyze them, and give you feedback."
Saltvold says agencies make it difficult to decipher who does what with so many agencies claiming to do, what looks like, the exact same thing. The truth is, most agencies have one area of expertise that is truly their specialty. They may dabble in the other areas or contract specific work to "trusted" partners, but their core capabilities may or may not be what a business needs.
One digital marketing tactic does not fit all
Every organization is different and not all need the same things. And yet, many digital agencies go to work with the metaphorical hammer and treat all marketing issues as a nail. Not driving leads through your website? You may need a new website, you may need an SEO expert, you may need marketing automation
help, you may need content help. Saltvold says, a strong agency knows how to use the right tools with the specific needs of a business.
“It comes down to really understanding our business,” said Saltvold. “It’s really important that an agency is proactive and not doing the same old thing. Instead, we expect our agency partners to keep us up to date with the latest trends after vetting and evaluating them.”
Saltvold observes that the actual solution may vary depending on the specific goals and objectives of the business and it's important that agencies understand enough to consult their clients to the best strategies.
Lack of Leadership
What most businesses need, according to the man known in the Twin Cities as "Erik the Bikeman", is someone who can lead their business through the technical and tactical nuances of the tools available for marketers today.
“We’re looking for that quarterback who knows the best digital strategies, who knows what’s going on, is really digitally savvy and they understand your business."
Too often, Saltvold says, he feels like his account leader implements an approach and then puts his account into autopilot without paying attention to the changing needs of his company. Instead, he values an agency partner that is always thinking on the behalf of Erik's Bike Shop and keeping his team apprised of new strategies.
Avoid Agencies with Turnover Issues
With 350 employees across 26 stores, Saltvold appreciates the HR challenges all businesses face. And yet, as a client, he is frustrated with agencies who parade new account people through his office once every few months.
“Working with one agency, we had three account people in less than a year,” Saltvold bemoaned. "It was really difficult getting momentum because every time a new person takes over you have to get them up to speed about your business and all that’s unique."
Instead, Saltvold recommends making sure the principals in the agency are also familiar with your business. Also, he says to make sure the company has a solid track record of making good hires and that they have strong systems and processes in place.
Lack of clear goals and objectives
One of the most powerful aspects of digital marketing is the ability it gives businesses to measure their performance in specific tactics. Like never before, businesses have the ability to generate information about customer and prospect behavior, yet many agencies still struggle with identifying and hitting specific, measurable goals.
Marketing has changed drastically in the past 10 years and the evolution of the technology and the professionals who claim expertise in this field are relatively inexperienced. Consequently, Saltvold recommends this advice for business owners interviewing digital agencies: Carefully evaluate and vet agencies before hiring them
. Get references, learn their area of expertise, and make sure the agency principals know you and your business. Ideally, he also believes you need an agency that understands how to establish and hit specific metrics of success.
“There are thousands of ways you can identify and target your customers,” said Saltvold. And it’s much easier to measure success metrics through digital channels than it was 40-years ago when he first started his business.