This is a guest post from our friends at Cardinal Digital Marketing, an agency based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, and is a published author — his latest book “The Anatomy of Medical Marketing” is an all-purpose guide for helping medical groups grow their practice and stay off life support.

Just like any other business in any other vertical, healthcare providers need to keep people coming through the door to survive. As I’ve found at Cardinal working with various hospital systems, urgent care providers, and dental care offices, these are highly competitive spaces. 

So, what does any forward-looking business do when they need to expand their digital reach, generate leads, and keep revenue-generation humming? They turn to the wide, wide world of marketing. And oh, how wide this world can be, especially when you’re looking for a reputable healthcare digital marketing agency

Now, you’ll have little trouble finding flexibility and variety: Whether you have limited in-house staffing, a team that needs help with overflow work, or no staff at all, there’s an agency out there ready to lend a hand. 

Probably dozens.

The challenge is sifting through the noise to find a personable, transparent, and results-driven agency with a proven record in the healthcare field. To give you an idea of what to look for, I’ve put together a list of questions to ask before hiring a marketing agency. Consider this your quick-reference guide to selecting an agency within the healthcare space — a litmus test, if you will — one based on my own first-hand experience.

1) Hiring a marketing agency can be an expensive, long-term investment: How do I know if there is ROI?

You’re going to spend all this money and time and, naturally, you want to know how — specifically — you’ll know that it’s making one bit of difference. This is a great question, because you’ll get some agencies that promise the world in just two weeks, and others that deliver results that are, in the end, vanity metrics that don’t really impact your bottom line.

Good agencies will establish core objectives during the discovery phase, then identify key metrics tied to each of these objectives. If you provide spinal surgeries and want to increase web-generated leads and surgeries every month, your digital marketing agency should be able to plan and execute around delivering these increases — and be able to show their progress with hard data and technology like CallRail call tracking that can be tied to real ROI. (In this case, leads and surgeries.)

2) What kind of expertise can a marketing agency bring to the table?

Look, if you can handle all the marketing stuff using in-house staff, great! But in my experience, even the most experienced marketing teams get gummed up by organizational silos and tunnel vision. A digital marketing agency can bring a fresh perspective and much-needed know-how.

First and foremost, there’s software expertise. To survive in the competitive world of digital marketing, agencies must have a highly technical staff trained up on a full suite of digital marketing software and technology. You might have some of it, but you probably don’t have all of it. Agencies get things set up right so that all marketing activities can be measured, tracked, attributed, and reported on.

Then there’s industry expertise. Look for years of experience helping providers of similar size, vertical, and organizational needs. They’re up to speed on the latest industry trends and best practices. Their digital marketing toolbox is full of strategies and tactics proven to get results in the wider healthcare market. 

3) My industry can be complicated: how long is the learning curve for an agency?

I like to break things down into two phases: The first 30 days, and the following 60. 

The first 30 days will likely be spent getting to know each other through a process of kickoff calls and discovery. Systems audits, strategy sessions, and goal-setting. Assuming the agency you’re working with has experience in the healthcare vertical, the learning curve should get straightened out during this initial one-month ‘onboarding’ process. 

From there, it’s go-time: Systems go live, campaigns launch, measuring, monitoring, and refining.

4) Will I need to change systems or platforms to work with an agency?

I feel like this question creates so much anxiety! I suppose it’s the fear of the unknown. 

A digital marketing agency should be able to either use your existing systems and platforms, integrate them with their own technology and software stack, or execute some combination of both. They’ll work with you to hash all this out during the first 30 days, including a detailed plan to make sure everything is integrated properly and the right people have access to the right tools.

5) What does your reporting look like? How often is reporting delivered? Are there actionable takeaways from reporting or just numbers?

Okay, folks: This one is super important. The work of a digital marketing agency is never ‘set it and forget it.’ To me, that’s a big red flag. Good marketing agencies spend time to identify measurable goals in great detail. They have the technical and strategic expertise to track these goals, report on them frequently, and refine strategy based on what’s working and what’s not. 

The agencies that are serious about data and analytics often have their own proprietary software that pulls together disparate sources and channels. Reporting should happen at least monthly, if not more often, and be delivered to you in a digestible, easy-to-understand format that can be quickly shared with other stakeholders. There should be plenty of actionable data there to make adjustments and fine-tune campaigns.

6) How have you helped other companies like mine? What were the results?

Case studies, case studies, case studies. Case studies and testimonials. Testimonials, and then more case studies. It’s common for job applicants to bring relevant portfolio items and work samples to the interview, right? Same goes for digital marketing agencies. 

Ask your digital marketing agency not only for work they’ve done within healthcare, but work they’ve done for your specific area of healthcare. This could be anything from brand awareness campaigns for large-scale hospital systems, to social media marketing for a local physical therapy group.

Whatever your specialty, look for an agency that can show you work they’ve done for similar clients, the results they achieved, and the specific strategies and tactics they used to get there.

7) How are you following your own best practices on your website?

This one gives me a bit of a chuckle, because it reminds me of an old story about an applicant to a social media position. They had a sparkling resume, and an impeccable work history with demonstrable results for top brands. But here was one problem: Their own social media profiles were full of… well… unprofessional behavior

You know the old saying: A carpenter’s own cabinets tend to be in the worst shape. Well, a good digital marketing agency’s website and digital marketing channels should embody the approach that they recommend to you. Hold their feet to the fire by auditing their websites and digital channels. How can they secure your oxygen mask if theirs is flailing in the wind?

And finally — go ahead and Google “Medical Marketing Company” and see if Cardinal drinks its own Kool Aid.