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Marketing Agency vs. Business Owner: Who's to Blame When Leads Don't Convert to Customers?

I've said it before, and I'll never stop saying it, marketing is a collaborative effort between the agency and the client.

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When something doesn't go exactly the way we want it to, it's easy to point fingers at external factors. We are not usually inclined to admit that we ourselves may be responsible for the undesirable outcome. Business owners — like myself and the dentists I work with — can have a lot of pride and don't always like to think that they may be the reason opportunities are not turning into customers (or patients in our case), and so they typically only focus on the source (i.e., the leads or opportunities) rather than reflect on their own internal processes.

I know this because I have witnessed it and have done it myself in the past. As a marketing agency, my company's entire purpose is to generate opportunities for the dental practices we serve to capture new business, and to a large extent, we are responsible for the types of opportunities that the practices receive. However, are we to blame when those opportunities don't convert into new patients? Maybe, but also, maybe not.

Related: Ask These 5 Questions Before You Blame Your Company's Failures on the Marketing

Collaboration is key

Marketing agencies get blamed often for producing low-quality leads, and the same is true with a highly specialized agency like mine that works only with dental practices. In theory, however, the quality of the leads we produce for a practice mostly depends on how specific the parameters are for those leads, and that is information we get from the practice itself. Naturally, the more precisely we can define the types of leads they want to attract, the higher our chances of being able to target that demographic within the area. That doesn't mean that every single lead generated will be perfect, but many of them will be, or close to it.

I've said it before, and I'll never stop saying it: Marketing is a collaborative effort between the agency and the client. The more you can work together and develop a synergy, the better the outcome will be. Dr. David Pearce, a highly respected New York dentist who has worked with my agency and now works consulting with practices on this very topic, agrees with me. In a recent article, he wrote, "The better the dentist is at understanding the marketing company, and vice versa, the more they can help each other." He knows that to get the leads the practice wants, they need to work with the marketing agency to help them understand the practice's needs.

Now, of course, some businesses might find it difficult to define their ideal customer or lead, and that is perfectly understandable, especially if you've never taken the time to really break it down. But that is also where a marketing agency can be a great asset. Marketing professionals are experts at drilling down to get answers. The more a business owner is willing to participate in that process, the better leads they will receive and the less "weeding out" they will have to do to get bad ones out of the mix.

Related: Don't Blame The Marketing: Five Reasons Why Your Company May Actually Be Struggling

Put your process to the test

What about when you're getting a good number of leads, but those leads are not turning into customers? Is the marketing agency to blame then? If those leads don't meet the quality parameters that you established with the agency, then the agency bears some responsibility. However, if those leads are consistently good quality, meaning that they check most if not all of the boxes, then you may need to look internally to understand the disconnect.

Let's take an example from my experience marketing to dental practices. Say a dentist has gotten 100 good leads from a marketing agency, but only 15 of those leads converted (i.e., became patients that followed through with treatment). That is decidedly a low number. But is it because the leads are not good enough, or is it because there is some sort of breakdown in the practice's sales process? Again, this is where the marketing agency can be an excellent partner. If the dentist is willing to let the marketing agency scrutinize the sales process from start to finish, it can identify any weaknesses that could be keeping leads from turning into patients.

Dr. Pearce explained this in his article as well, adding, "While the marketing company cannot make the necessary changes, the best marketing companies have internal mechanisms to help each of their clients improve this process." So, while the marketing agency may not be to blame for the low conversion rate, they can still help increase that rate to a more acceptable number, as long as the dentist is willing to work with them.

That said, in my experience, quality leads do not always turn into quality patients right away. You can contact them and get them to book their first appointment, but that is not where the work should end. As Dr. Pearce says, "Quality patients don't just walk into the office saying, 'Doctor, where have you been all my life?' The best dentists have a system that meets each new patient where they are in their journey to saying yes to optimal dentistry. From this starting point, the team will nurture and grow the patient's understanding and value of optimal dental care." The same holds true for any type of business. Luckily, if a business owner is not used to thinking about leads and customers in this way, they have help. The marketing agency can work with them to identify areas of opportunity and convert more leads into long-term, quality customers.

Related: 5 Things to Look For When Hiring a Marketing Agency

Rely on your partner, but also do your part

If sales and marketing don't come naturally to you or your team, then finding a good agency to partner with will make a big difference. However, for such a partnership to work, you must be open to the possibilities and ready to change how you approach and handle leads. Be sure to ask your marketing partner if they offer sales training or resources to improve your sales approach. Sometimes, they will at least have some materials you can use and distribute to your staff with some tips on how to handle incoming leads.

My company offers resources on how to properly handle new, interested leads to teach the office staff how to properly handle phone calls and form submissions from all digital marketing efforts. You can also ask your marketing company to record phone calls to further give you insight into how your incoming calls are being handled. This is a good way to provide concrete examples of what is going well and where your sales process may need improvement. In short, the more you make yourself and your staff available, the more productive your partnership will be.

It is also imperative that you be honest with your marketing partner. It's not enough to just express your satisfaction or displeasure with the service. If you want to really capitalize on the partnership, give details. Take notes, and tell your marketing agency what exactly you are not pleased with and why. Provide real examples of what you see is not working to your expectations, especially when the relationship is new. When you give detailed feedback, your marketing partner is better able to fine-tune and target campaigns to suit your specific needs, and you will generate more quality leads together.

Once things are humming along and you have found the "sweet spot," be careful not to get complacent. It is easy to fall back into old habits when things are going well, and then your results start to nosedive. To avoid this, request that your marketing partner check in periodically (if they do not do that already) for a status report. These periodic calls will help you and your partner keep your marketing strategies top of mind, plus they are a good time to talk about what is working and what is not. Meeting regularly keeps your marketing partner informed and keeps you and your staff accountable.

So, who is to blame when leads don't work out? The business or the marketing agency? In my experience, it's never entirely anyone's fault, and also playing the blame game just doesn't get you anywhere. Pointing the finger at the marketing agency for not generating quality leads or the business for dropping the ball with its sales process does not resolve anything. Real progress happens when the marketing agency and the business come together as partners to get better results.

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