Consumer packaged goods brands in the ‘50s had it easy. Hire an ad agency to shoot a 30-second commercial (complete with a catchy jingle). Spend millions to run the ad on the three major television networks. Then, watch the dollars come rolling in.
Fast forward seventy years and marketing has gone digital. The old plays are dead, and an ad agency isn’t enough.
Today you need a website agency, and a PPC agency, and a content agency, and a TikTok agency and… or do you?
If you’re thinking about hiring a growth agency, this post will lay out the exact steps to take to ensure that you find the right partner for your unique business.
When you hire a growth agency, you get to work with an entire growth team, including marketing strategists, copywriters, designers, developers, videographers, and more.
The best growth agency is a partner whose primary goal is to help your company grow. They are experts in growth, having helped many business owners like you scale their businesses profitably.
What do Growth Agencies do?
To determine the right tactics for your business, you need to look to your customers: where do they hang out online? Where do they go for answers or solutions? What is their buying process?
The key is to meet your customers where they are.
A high-quality growth agency will evaluate and improve all aspects of your digital and traditional marketing. They’ll make strategic recommendations for what to cut, what to do more of, what new tactics to test, and how to achieve your ambitious growth targets.
How to Choose the Right Growth Agency
Choosing a growth agency should not be a decision you take lightly. Typically these engagements represent a significant investment of time, capital, and energy. If you’re not ready to be an active partner in growth, then it’s probably not the right time.
The best growth partner will take the time to develop a deep understanding of your business: what industry are you in? Who is your ideal customer? What specific problem do you solve for them? How does your product or service work?
This understanding isn’t something any growth agency can build instantly. It will require multiple conversations with experts at your company to get it right. However, skipping over this step is almost guaranteed to result in disappointing results and inadequate growth.
Adopt a Business Growth Mindset
Developing a “growth mindset” is an essential first step in achieving success. Without the right mindset in place, any agency engagement will be rocky.
First, you must set realistic expectations. Growth doesn’t happen overnight.
Sustainable growth is built in layers: first, you lay a strong foundation by building an awesome product that users love. Second, you build on top of that a sales experience that guides prospects to make the right decision for them. Prospects should be excited to have the opportunity to buy from you. Next, you layer on a marketing engine that attracts your ideal customer and then educates and inspires them to take action.
Skipping steps and throwing up a hail mary is just gambling on growth, which is a recipe for disaster.
Adopting a growth mindset also means focusing on the right growth metrics, not vanity metrics. Thousands of website visitors who never become customers or hundreds of “likes” on a LinkedIn post without any clicks to the next step don’t drive business results.
Instead, identify and track the metrics that matter for your business. We recommend focusing on the six levers of growth. These levers are awareness, acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, and referral. You should track one or two metrics at each stage of the customer journey to ensure that you are achieving sustainable growth.
It’s essential to understand the conversion rates at each stage. How many people are aware of your brand? How many of those become leads? How many of those leads ascend to customers? What is the churn rate of those customers? How many of your existing customers refer you to their colleagues?
Tracking and optimizing the right metrics gives you a map to follow to achieve growth, rather than wandering around and hoping for results.
What To Look For in a Growth Agency: Green Flags
The best growth agency will make it easy for you to determine whether they are the best fit for you. Some of the main green flags to look for include
- A well-documented, proven track record of delivering outsized growth. Make sure they have compelling case studies, testimonials, and third-party reviews.
- They have case studies for companies that look like yours: similar industry, size, and goals. If you're a brand new startup and they only have case studies from companies like Meta and Amazon, they’re probably not the best fit for you. Make sure that they've gotten results for companies that look like yours.
- They are pleasant to work with. They have reviews that speak specifically about what it’s like working with them. Are they proactive in communication? Are they transparent and helpful? To be reliable, this must be validated by third-party reviews.
- They have a proven process, framework, or system for growth, and they can walk you through it. Their process should be detailed and specific. It's not just trying things and hoping it works. Growth agencies that win consistently have a system for profitably acquiring customers.
- Their growth methodology is aligned with your brand values. Some companies are internally aligned around inbound marketing. Others prefer sales-led growth or account-based acquisition. Make sure that the partner that you choose to work with is aligned with your growth philosophy.
What to Look Out For with a Growth Agency: Red Flags
Many agencies, while good-intentioned, don't necessarily have systems, processes, and people in place to achieve outsized results.
The reality is that it's quite easy to throw up a website and claim to be a growth agency. And with thousands of potential vendors, it's important to do a thorough evaluation and make sure to choose a partner that’s going to be reliable and effective.
Some common red flags to watch out for include
- They make claims that they can't back up. Vendors will say they can 100x your leads in under 30 days. If they can, great. But ask to see multiple examples where they achieved that result for companies that look like yours. If they can't, they might just be blowing air.
- They only have two or three reviews that are a few years old. Some agencies have failed to achieve results for dozens of clients but accidentally struck gold in one or two engagements. Then, they lean on those results for years.
- They have a super pushy sales process. If it doesn't feel good during the sales process, then it likely won't feel good during the engagement. Are they providing you with valuable insights in sales calls? Or are they just trying to bolster and brag to convince you to buy? You should feel energized and excited about the opportunity to work together. If your gut says it's not right, if they feel sleazy or pushy, then it's probably not the right choice.
Choosing the Right Growth Agency in 8 Steps
Step 1: Establish your Growth Baselines
If you don’t know where you’re starting, how can you know where you’re going? Establishing your growth baselines is the first step of a successful growth marketing engagement. Review the last six or twelve months of data in your analytics system to determine
- How many website visitors have you had?
- How many leads have you generated?
- How many of those leads became sales opportunities?
- How many of those opportunities became customers?
- What is your average churn rate?
- What is your average referral rate?
- What is your current quarter-over-quarter revenue growth rate?
Step 2: Define your Growth Goals
Use your baseline growth rate to project where you can expect to be in six, twelve, and twenty-four months. Ideally, partnering with an outsourced growth team will help you accelerate growth, which would mean you can hit your goals sooner. However, it’s important not to set unrealistic expectations. If you’ve been generating five sales-qualified leads each month, no growth agency will be able to instantly move that to fifty.
Define your minimum success criteria for the engagement. How will you know if the agency you work with is on track to help you hit your goals?
Step 3: Define your Selection Criteria
What are you looking for in a growth agency? How will you know that the provider you meet with is the right fit for your business? How can you objectively compare different agencies?
One simple solution is to score each candidate based on a pre-set list of criteria.
Gather leadership from sales, marketing, ops, and product to decide what are the 3-5 most important qualities to look for in a growth agency. Then, after meeting with providers, give them a quick grade on each of the criteria. Use the composite scores to rank the alternatives and guide your decision-making.
Some criteria to consider include
- Social proof– what is the quantity and quality of 3rd party reviews, testimonials, and case studies?
- Personality– do these seem like people I would get along with?
- Specialization– do they work with everyone, or do they specialize in businesses like ours?
- Price– are they close to our planned budget?
- Methodology– do they follow the same growth methodologies that we incorporate? Inbound vs outbound, organic vs paid, sales-led vs product-led.
- Process– can they walk us through a specific, compelling growth process that they follow?
- Values– are their values aligned with ours?
Step 4: Research to Create a List of Potential Growth Agencies
It’s typically best to start your growth agency search by going broad, and then narrow down from there. The goal here is to generate a list of five to twenty potential service providers to consider.
Not every agency that can help with growth will call itself a “growth agency”. Broaden your search to include growth marketing agencies, growth consultants, demand generation agencies, and lead generation agencies.
You can certainly use Google to start your search, but don’t stop there. Lean on your network to add to your list.
Step 5: Narrow Down your List
Now it’s time to cut down your list. No one has time to meet with fifty service providers for thirty minutes each.
For some providers, it will become apparent that they are not a good fit. Maybe they only work with smaller companies than yours. Or their reviews are mostly negative. Or their values clearly don’t align with yours. Remove these from your list.
Step 6: Rank your List and Meet with the Top 3-10 Growth Agencies
Use your selection criteria to rank your list. Decide which growth agencies on your list to meet with. Most agencies have a call-to-action on their website to schedule a meeting, contact us, or request a quote. For example, ours looks like this.
Reach out or schedule some time to chat.
Step 7: Ask the Right Questions
Prepare for your meetings by generating a list of questions to ask the reps. What do you need to understand to make an informed decision? Some good ideas for questions to ask a growth agency include
- What is your methodology or process for driving growth?
- Can you tell me about a time that you worked with a company like mine, and what were the results?
- How will you know how to market to my customers?
- How do you set targets?
- What happens if you’re not hitting the minimum targets?
- How do you account for how our money is being spent each month?
- What will be done each month and quarter?
- What is your process for communication? Do we meet regularly?
- Do we have to sign a year-long contract? What are the exit clauses?
Step 8: Hire the Ideal Growth Partner for your Business
Get together as a team to compare scores and notes. Discuss which providers seem like they’d be a good fit. Remember that nobody is going to be perfect, and at some point, you’re going to have to make a decision and go for it.
Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. If you’ve followed these steps and narrowed your list down to two or three candidates, then there’s probably not a wrong answer. Just pick the one you feel best about and move forward.
Top 3 Growth Agencies with Proven Results
We’ve been a growth agency for quite a while… over ten years at the time of writing! And in that time, we’ve met a lot of other agencies. Some of them are awesome, and we confidently refer them when we’re not the right fit.
Unfortunately, many others are less reliable. Some are unproven, some just aren’t as effective as they claim, and some are straight-up dishonest. And it’s not always easy to tell which is which.
That’s why we want to help jump-start your search for a growth agency by reviewing a few of our favorites.
Tuff Growth is a growth marketing agency focused on data-driven growth for teams of all sizes. They believe that “growth is a process, not an outcome” (we couldn’t agree more!).
- Paid Social
- Content Strategy
- Email Marketing
- Ad Creative
“Tuff is a true growth agency. They are highly skilled in all aspects of performance marketing and specifically what it takes to win at Facebook Ads… we saw immediate results growing our revenue by 50% MoM!”
Kurve is a London-based growth agency focused on scaling tech scaleups and corporations. They do both consultation and done-for-you marketing services.
- On-demand CMO
- Paid social/search
- Google Analytics
- B2B Lead Generation
- Mobile app marketing
“Oren and the team at Kurve were vital in providing a digital strategy that got us excellent results within our budget and within impressive timeframes. His experience and insight were matched by his enthusiasm and dedication to helping us grow, as he consistently went above and beyond to provide valuable support.”
Lean Labs is an outsourced growth team for Tech and SaaS startups and scaleups. We drive growth for our clients with data-driven, full-funnel growth strategies. Our growth team has driven over $100 million in net new revenue for clients.
- B2B Technology
- B2B SaaS
- Authors, Speakers, Coaches
- Growth marketing
- Conversion rate optimization
- Website design and development
- Content marketing
- HubSpot consulting, onboarding, and site migration
“I am normally skeptical of marketing agencies but Lean Labs is a team of solid individuals that have become an extension of our internal team. I have recommended them to friends already because they deliver on what they say they will and have provided amazing results for us. Solid team that understands inbound marketing, delivers solid content, and designs webpages that convert.”
Growth Agency vs Hybrid Growth Team
You are now equipped with the process and tools you need to go out and find the right growth agency for your unique business. By following the steps laid out in this article, you can avoid the most common mistakes that companies make when hiring a 3rd party vendor.
At the end of the day, only you can know which of the thousands of agencies is the right growth partner for your unique business.
We recommend looking for a growth agency that is an expert in your industry and type of business. Generalists can be great, but a specialist will have the context and expertise to make a big impact.
And no matter who you choose, make sure that you’re not just writing a check for growth. True sustainable growth cannot be completely outsourced. You must take an active role, as the leader and subject matter expert, to set your growth partner up for success.
That’s why we actually consider ourselves a “hybrid” growth team. We fill strategic, technical, and creative gaps in our clients’ growth teams to work with them to accelerate growth. And because all of our marketers are experts, you’re guaranteed to work directly with the marketer that’s actually doing the work, with no phone tag through project managers.
To see how our hybrid growth team operates, visit our solutions page. And if you're ready to scale your growth and impact by profitably acquiring customers, schedule a Growth Mapping Session with one of our Growth Consultants.
If you want to see exactly what we’d do if we were your growth team, check out our top resource, the Growth Playbook. This free training will show you how to plan for growth, budget for growth, and accelerate results.