How to Find a Good Marketing Vendor

find a good marketing vendorNew website project on the horizon?  Looking for a new printer or designer?  A PR firm?  Copywriter?  CRM consultant?

Whether you have a rolodex full of contacts or you’re beginning a totally new project in the dark, finding the right vendor for the job is a project in itself.  You need to find the best person/company for the project, but when the process starts taking too much time, it’s too easy to just throw up your hands and potentially hire the wrong team.

If your company needs to find a good marketing vendor, here’s a process to help you identify & analyze them efficiently and effectively.

I’m going to split this post over two days – first, here are tips for creating a list of qualified companies.  Tomorrow I’ll write about RFPs, comparing apples to oranges, and making the final selection.

4-Step Process to Find a Good Marketing Vendor

1.   Know what you need. If possible, determine what you’re looking for before you start your search.  You may want to set an initial budget, then develop a timeline for your search, especially if you have important dates to hit.  You don’t want to run out of time and make a selection before you’ve finished your evaluation.

2.   Identify your prospects. Don’t know a slew of people or companies already?  Here are a lot of ideas for developing your list of potential vendors.  Make sure you have enough to talk with – if you want 3 bids, you may need to review 10-20 (or more) companies.

    • Ask for referrals! Not only do you get a contact name and number, you get an endorsement that’s meaningful.  Ask your colleagues, friends, family, and customers for referrals.  Don’t forget your other vendors, too.  For example, if you’re looking for a mail vendor, you can ask your graphic designer or printer for their recommendations.
    • Look on industry websites including trade organizations, associations, guilds, regulatory boards, and certification agencies.  For example, on the American Institute of Graphic Artists website, you can search their member database for a vendor in a variety of specialized categories.Also check out message boards and forums on your favorite industry sites.  If you post a question to the community, you’ll often get a slew of emails from potential vendors for your project.
    • Get specific with Google. Let’s say you are looking for a CRM software consultant.  The word “CRM” will deliver different results than “CRM consultant.”  Then try adding your city and see what happens.  Try a variety of very specific phrases.  And pay close attention to the paid ads on the top and right side of the page – those companies have paid to show up for the term you entered, so they probably provide the service you need.
    • Check out your favorite industry publications, email newsletters and websites.  Pay special attention to the articles, ads and resource listings.
    • Call your local associations or Better Business Bureau. Most cities have some type of economic development organization or professional resource center.  These types of sources will not only offer vendor listings, but often include background information, historical data including any previous complaints or grievances, and other details to help you get a better picture of potential vendors.
    • Who has your company worked with in the past? If you’re new in your position, ask around!  You can also check with your Account Payable or Purchasing departments to see if they have an approved vendor list.


3. Think carefully about your key success criteria.
You don’t want to spend an hour talking with 20 people or companies.  Instead, the first call is about pre-qualifying. What do you absolutely need for the project?

Make a short list of pre-qualifying questions that will give you a good flavor for the vendor’s experience and ability to handle your project.

    • What is your true specialty?
    • Who are some of your current clients?
    • How do you normally handle this type of project?
    • What’s your general cost / fee structure?
    • Do you have any special expertise or specialty offerings that may help my project?


4.  Make your first cut.
You may find a lot of your initial answers on those companies’ websites.  If not, spend 10 minutes on an initial intro call.  Explain the scope of the project, asking the same 3-4 pre-qualifying questions.  Your goal is to narrow down to a manageable list of companies that deserve more time & energy.

From this point it’s time to evaluate in more detail – I’ll post my thoughts on that topic tomorrow!  If you have any questions or issues you’d like me to address, please post a comment below.

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