Marketing agencies spend a lot of time trying to make sure their clients stand out in a crowded marketplace. But how good are agencies—and the people who work for them—at catching prospective clients’ attention? Believe me, the competition is fierce, not just from other agencies but also freelancers, technology companies, professional service providers, digital platforms, in-house resources, and lately, bots and other forms of AI.

To keep up, some firms continually diversify services, adding data specialists, animators, video producers, CRM experts—the list might be endless—in an attempt to control as much of the clients’ work as possible. This is the “full-service” approach to marketing.

Well Done bills itself as a full-service agency. We have a full range of specialists in graphic design, content creation, public relations, digital strategy, web development, branding, and events. The things we don’t do in house, we outsource to partners we know and trust. So do most of the agencies we compete against for business.

So how can we—or any business for that matter—stand out in a meaningful way? To answer that question, you’ll have to take a drive with me to Gas City, Indiana.

SO, What can I learn about full-service marketing in Gas City?

It takes a good 90 minutes to get to Gas City from Downtown Indianapolis. Even though “city” is part of its name, Gas City is actually a town. With all due respect to the 6,000 or so citizens and history of Gas City, I don’t travel there for the convenience or the ambiance. I go there to buy cars.

Specifically, I go there to buy cars from Rob at Mike Anderson Chevrolet of Gas City. Rob is as Midwestern as they come. To know him is to be his friend. He is the antithesis of the hard-selling, wheeling and dealing car salesman. Rob wants to find you a car you can love—even if it is not on his own lot. Case in point: When we needed a van that would hold us and our six kids, he found one—at a dealer in Illinois. It was the perfect vehicle for us, so he had it shipped in at no extra cost.

He’s also not afraid to tell me when what I think I want isn’t really what I need. (As much as it pains me to admit, he’s normally right.) Because I trust him, we don’t haggle on price the way we would with another dealer. If we overpay, it is worth it for the experience, and the genuine, caring service Rob provides.

Full-service marketing lessons from a car dealer

It’s about the service, not the services.

Mike Anderson Chevrolet offers the same financing, service bays, and upgrades you can get at any other dealer. They even have the free popcorn, water, and WiFi. If that was all they sold, no one would be crazy enough to drive past big-name car lots for 78 miles. What makes them different is how much Rob and his team care about their product and the customer.

If your company wants to truly stand out, you need to focus as much on the service you provide as you do on the tactical services and products you offer. Your marketing agency should, too. Yes, you want to work with people who know how to code or write or design. But you’ll get better results working with people who will also make connections on your behalf and speak up if something goes off track.

The best way to tell if you’re hiring a service-oriented firm is to ask for examples of their soft skills. Do they have integrity and a strong work ethic? Do they bring solutions to your problems or wait for you to tell them what to do? How do they communicate, build teams, and resolve conflict?

A service-first agency is also willing to provide a healthy dose of honesty. When I started my first business, I had a hard time saying no to work of any kind. For one, I was afraid the work would ultimately dry up, and for two, I figured working long hours was just part of paying my dues. The reality was that my work suffered because I was working too fast on too many different things.

The next time I was approached about new business, I decided to be candid about my situation and offered to help the prospect find another firm who could provide him with the level of service the project deserved. It was a relief to me and a pleasant surprise for him. I’d rather be known for finding a good solution than for winning the work.

Do you want a partner or provider?

The next time you’re looking for a marketing agency—or any other professional service provider—take a look at how they deliver as well as what they deliver. Data-driven creative and communication strategy should be the price of entry into your office. Ask how they solve problems and share bad news. Find out if they’re looking out for you when you aren’t looking. Make sure they’re a good fit with your work culture. Learn a little bit about how they think.

We’re often told that Well Done seems like a great team to work with—even when we don’t get the business. And when those companies call us again in six months or two years because they’re dissatisfied with the service they received, we’re happy to prove it.

* I did not get paid by Mike Anderson for this blog post. Neither the dealership or Chevrolet is a client. Heck, I doubt I even get money off the next car we buy. Maybe I’ll get a free beer coozie.