Sy Syms

Educating the Marketing Consumer: Questions An Agency Should Ask

A defunct, off-price clothing store chain had one of the best taglines.

While it was once present in 13 states, if you’re from the Northeast, and particularly the New York Tri-state area, you might remember the following slogan from Syms:

An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Sy Syms created a brilliant message for his eponymous enterprise. And those seven simple words still connect and resonate today. The idea of creating educated consumers should be the mission of any business. Including marketing firms like ours.

It’s been pointed out to us by many of our clients that we ask a lot of questions. It’s true.

Guilty as charged.

As marketing consultants, thoroughly understanding our clients’ businesses, challenges, and goals, and providing the right solutions, is an agency imperative. Honestly, we wouldn’t be very effective at the counsel we provide if we didn’t ask the scope of questions we do.

To us, a deep dive is essential. The more we know about the prospective client’s business (products or services, customers, and competitors) and what the business is trying to achieve (or marketing problems that need to be solved) it allows us to evaluate options, prioritize resources, and make the right strategic decisions the business needs to reach its goals.

We understand asking more questions at the beginning of engagement might seem like a significant investment in time. But the actionable information we collect allows us to craft highly specific action plans that deliver the correct solution set to solve a client’s key issues. It also allows us to execute subsequent initiatives faster.

As a service to anyone engaging with any flavor of marketing, advertising, public relations service, company or agency, we’re sharing the elemental and deeper dive questions we ask of anyone looking to work with us. And we’ll provide the reason why that question gets asked and what we look for when we ask it.

Let’s begin with our first question. There are two, actually…

“So, what’s happening with your business? May we ask you some questions?

That’s it. Here’s why.

Usually, the typical leading questions from agencies tend to mirror that of a job interview, and include too much of the following:

  • What are you looking for in an agency?
  • Who are the decision makers, and what is the approval process?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What would you view as a success?
  • What is your budget, and when do you want to start?
  • Why do you want to work with our agency?
  • How many agencies have you fired in the last five years?

And so on.

There is nothing wrong with these questions. They’re valid, and to our mind absolutely required to ask.

But later.

After reading the invaluable Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by renowned sales and business development expert Mahan Khalsa, we became admirers of the phrase, “Start anywhere, go everywhere”.

That’s the inspiration behind such broad, low-key, and open-ended questions. The meeting should be all you. There’s no formal agency presentation. No Power Point. No computers. Instead, we bring notebooks, pens, and our undivided attention.

We want the client to openly share about who they are as a company, talk about the business (including competitors and alternatives), and disclose what they want to change, fix, and improve. This allows us to gather up as many issues as possible that can be delved into more deeply later in the conversation, with questions that revolve around:

  • The business problem to be solved
  • Goals (monthly, quarterly, annually)
  • Sales process and objections to the sale
  • What leadership is looking to accomplish
  • Marketing and targeting priorities
  • Barriers to success
  • Customer pain points

Of course, the objective of an initial meeting is to gather information. But we also ask permission. That may seem like a formality, but it shows respect and gives a clear indication we’ll be writing their responses down.

We’ll be delving further into the questions that help determine client needs in future posts. For now, what questions do you think are vital during a first meeting?