7 Signs Your Agency is Overcharging You

Posted on November 17, 2020
  • You’re paying your marketing agency for expertise, not just deliverables.
  • Expect transparency, two-way communication, and education, in addition to results. Anything less demonstrates a lack of expertise.
  • If your team isn’t delivering on any of these promises, you’re almost certainly being overcharged.

You cut a check to your marketing agency every month, but the services you receive in return don’t quite seem to add up.

While you may get the deliverables they promised, and the work is polished, you’re still not getting results — and you have a sneaking suspicion you’re paying too much for what you actually receive.

Here’s the truth: When you pay your marketing agency each month, you’re paying for expertise — not deliverables. And if your marketing team doesn’t have that expertise, you’re almost certainly paying too much.

Here are 7 signs you’re paying too much for your marketing services:

1. You Were Promised Specific Results

When you were talking to the sales team, did they promise you top rankings for your brand-new website? Or hundreds of leads within the first few months?

If you’re nodding your head yes, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. Being specific about the end result, yet vague on the methodology or timeline is a huge clue that they just want your money.

We recognize this probably sounds counterintuitive. After all, aren’t you seeking results?

Marketing is both an art and a science — especially when you’re talking SEO. Best practices and experience will get your business on the right path. From there, reaching your final destination requires a bit of testing and optimization.

Your marketing partner absolutely should be able to give you a general idea of what results you may expect and how long it’ll take to get there. But very specific promises are iffy — even if they’re delivering on them.

If your marketing agency delivers a certain number of top rankings or a high volume of leads right away, you should always take a closer look. Here’s why: They used questionable techniques, your “results” are garbage quality, or they got incredibly lucky.

Investing in SEO means you’re playing the long game. Even Google itself says, “Remember that it will take time for you to see results: typically from four months to a year from the time you begin making changes until you start to see the benefits.”

In either case, you’re probably not getting real results. Your marketing agency is checking off the box, but setting themselves up to blame the problems on outside forces, like the “mysterious” Google algorithm — or you.

typewriter to illustrate the discovery process

2. The Discovery Process was Non-Existent

When looking for a marketing partner, the sales process is exactly like dating. In those early dates, a great partner will listen more than they speak, and ask questions more than they talk about themselves. It should be the same way with your marketing agency.

When you had your first few conversations, or dates, did they ask you about your business? Your goals, dreams and challenges? When you made your relationship official, did the team dig deeper and start planning your future together?

If you’re shaking your head “no,” you’re being fleeced. If your marketing agency doesn’t understand your goals, they won’t be able to craft a specific strategy to meet them.

You can expect a templated solution at best, and a one-size-fits-all solution at worst. While you may see some results, you can almost certainly do better.

Just as in dating, never settle for someone who doesn’t want to know you and support you in your most ambitious goals. Dump that loser and move on to the next one, because you’re paying too much for a wishy-washy partner.

3. Communication Concerns

Keeping with the relationship metaphor, how often do you hear from your account manager?

Just like your partner will ask about your day and tell you about theirs, is your marketing team keeping you posted on what they’re up to? And are they asking how those leads have turned into sales?

These conversations go deeper than bonding and chit-chat. Your answers help your marketing team better understand what happens after their portion of the business assembly line.

If you’re getting lots of traffic, but none of it is turning into sales, there’s a good chance you’re not reaching the right audience. Same thing if you’re getting leads, but they’re not becoming customers. If your marketing partner is worth their retainer, they’ll have some great ideas for how to adjust.

If you were only hearing from your spouse when they had a problem, or you couldn’t get in touch with them when you needed to, wouldn’t you think something is amiss?

Assuming the communication is decent, are you working with a revolving door of account managers? This is a major sign that things aren’t right at your marketing agency. Sometimes it is inevitable. After all, people do get promoted or leave jobs.

But if you’re constantly getting pawned off, it could be that your agency is using the churn-em-and-burn-em method of management, or you’re simply not as important to them anymore, so they have a junior employee run your account with little oversight. And you’re paying too much to be treated like a number.

circuit boards to illustrate outdated technology

4. They Use Outdated Technology

While outdated technology is a problem in many areas of marketing, it’s especially prevalent with web development. If your marketing agency builds you a WordPress website, this is a clear sign they don’t keep up with industry standards.

And if they insist on adding plug-in after plug-in to your new website, run. Take your money elsewhere. A website built on outdated technology leaves you vulnerable to hacks, increases the risk of a major crash, and sabotages your SEO rankings.

Here’s why they sell you on the outdated technology in the first place: Many marketing agencies throw in website services as a way to increase their monthly retainer or project costs because it’s a high-profit service for their business. Your agency either isn’t tech-savvy enough to understand why they’re putting your business at risk with this approach — or they simply care more about the money.

5. It’s Unclear What Your Marketing Agency Actually Does

Jargon and salesmanship are dangerous weapons. They can easily distract you from shortcomings in strategy and performance.

Is your marketing team transparent about their approach? And do they explain what they’re doing in a way that you actually understand?

Marketing teams that rely on a “secret sauce” or jargon are probably overcharging you. If they can’t adequately explain what they do, they’re probably relying on software or other low-quality methods to actually do the work.

While every marketer has a toolset that he or she relies on, you need human judgment and understanding of your business’s nuances to apply the information they get from machines. And the easiest way to suss out if your marketer actually has this expertise is in the language they use to speak to you.

Do they use a bunch of jargon and get dismissive when you ask for clarification? This demonstrates a major lack of expertise — which will translate into the results you (don’t) get from your marketing program.

The other side of the coin is salesmanship. Do you constantly feel like you’re being sold to? Larger agencies often try to add in as many services as possible to increase their monthly recurring revenue and customer lifetime value. They love to recommend specific services or strategies, but remind you that they’re not covered by your retainer.

locked up like your accounts

6. You Can’t Access Your Accounts

If your marketing agency is building a website for your business, or setting up other platforms like Google Analytics, these accounts belong to you and your business. You should always have the credentials to these accounts, and full access and permissions.

This is non-negotiable. Full stop. If you don’t have full access and clear log-in instructions (or they refuse to hand them over for vague reasons), your marketing agency is hiding something. And you’re being swindled.

are you getting to the top of that mountain?

7. You Receive Reports, But Results Remain Unclear

You might know what your agency is up to, but do you know how you’re actually performing? If your reporting is tough to understand, overly reliant on flashy design and gimmicks, or not tied to your KPIs, there’s a good chance you’re being overcharged.

If they just give you a spreadsheet with numbers and don’t explain what these numbers mean, why they matter, and how they happened, you’re in dangerous territory.

You should always understand what factored into the results you’re seeing, what those numbers mean, and how the results will shape your strategy moving forward.

Even if the results missed the mark, a good marketer will be able to tell you what happened, share theories on what went wrong, and provide insight into how to fix the issue moving forward.

What’s more is that your marketing agency should clearly be reporting on how all of their activities tie back to revenue, in the form of leads and opportunities.

If it’s unclear how your marketing ties back to revenue, it probably doesn’t. Which, of course, means you’re being overcharged by your marketing agency.

The Takeaway

If you’re working with a good marketing partner, you can expect transparency, communication and education — in addition to results.

If you’re lacking any of those things, you’re overpaying for your marketing. As a quick recap, here are the signs you’re overpaying for your marketing:

  • You were promised specific results, without insight into how you’ll achieve them
  • Your marketing agency never bothered to ask about your goals and business plans
  • It’s tough to get in touch with your account manager, they only call you when there’s a problem, or your point-of-contact is a revolving door
  • Your website is built with outdated technology
  • Your team relies on jargon and salesmanship to explain their work
  • You don’t have access to your own website
  • It’s unclear what their reports actually mean

Curious to learn how your marketing agency is doing, even if they’re not setting off these alarms? Grade your marketing agency with this quiz, and uncover specific areas for improvement.