This article was originally published on LinkedIn pulse

Sometimes it feels like the digital marketing landscape is shifting faster than quicksand, leaving many businesses, even really large ones, feeling like they can’t plan more than six months ahead. “Strategic partner” is at the top of the list of needs for nearly every new business prospect or RFP put out for bid. Yet, when you actually enter an agency-client relationship, there are times when the strategic part of the relationship hits a snag – or never really gets off the ground.

My role at Metric Theory, a paid media agency recently named Search Engine Land’s SEM Agency of the Year, is to strengthen, grow, and sometimes even repair relationships with our clients. I participate in many new business pitches and onboardings for our largest customers. Bridging the gap from a high-level pitch presentation to everyday execution is hard work, and requires both agency and client to be on the same page about what’s required to get there. Viewing your agency not as an external vendor, but rather an extension of your internal team can accelerate progress and create new opportunities. Here are a few of the signals we see that signify an actual strategic partner:

Take the Time to Ask, “How Do We Compare to Other Successful Advertisers?”

Businesses should hire agencies not only for execution, but also for their expertise and the perspective they have from working with similar advertisers. For example, at Metric Theory we have worked with dozens and dozens of high-growth tech companies. By now, I can spot a well-oiled Demand Gen operation a mile away, and I know when we are going to struggle with a client because their sales and marketing teams are too siloed, or their lead qualification process is antiquated.

Chalk it up to my New Jersey roots, but I usually speak up to inform clients on how their level of sophistication compares to what we see in the market. We train all of our Account Managers to do the same. However, most agencies don’t. Let’s face it – raising your hand and telling your client that they are “behind the times” on strategy or structure can be a little awkward. As the client, open the strategic door for your agency; ask them for the hard feedback, and how you compare. I guarantee there is some good and honest feedback hiding behind that door.

Invite Your Agency to Internal Conversations

The game of telephone is one of the most frustrating parts of agency life. If there is a challenge that goes beyond the direct channel that your agency is managing, and you trust them to represent you, why not bring your agency to key meetings? Two of the hottest topics in our industry right now are measurement (hello, Apple ITP) and the customer journey. How do you ensure that you serve the right message to the right person at the right time in their buyer journey, with all of the channels that you’re managing? And then, how do you measure that? It’s complicated stuff.

These challenges are top of mind for all sophisticated marketers, and they involve several conversations with various departments: creative, web development, finance, and leadership. I can promise you that, if given the chance, your agency would much rather be actively helping you to make that case than hanging around and waiting for assets or decisions. We are available to give our opinions on what works and offer answers to questions that are really complicated, or where there might not be a perfect answer. Plus, if we impress, you look like a hero!

Take Time Out of the Day-to-Day

You know what’s really boring? Having a weekly call that is Exactly. The. Same. Every. Week. While it is important to make sure performance is on track, we highly recommend breaking up the mundane status calls with larger discussions.

I recently flew out to meet a client for an entire day of meetings. Do you know what we didn’t talk about? Day-to-day details, like traffic numbers and Google campaign types. We talked about their place in the competitive market and what the next two-to-three years look like for their company. We spent an hour brainstorming why someone buys their product versus their competitors’ and how we can leverage that in our messaging, landing pages, and retention strategies.

Even if you don’t dedicate a full day to strategic conversation, you should take at least one call per month to get out of the weeds with your agency. We like to rotate these conversations, focusing higher level calls to dive deep on competition, creative, testing ideas, and customer experience .

Though most clients only ever scratch the surface of their agency relationships, viewing them as a means to and end, there really are endless ways that agencies and clients can work together to move businesses forward. Every client has different expectations and needs from their agency, but opening up the relationship to new conversations can be the difference between a hiring an agency and gaining a new strategic partner.