As an entrepreneur, you know marketing is vital to the success of your e-commerce business.
It’s also a lot of work. And the reality is, it’s usually not something you can do halfway and expect to see any real results. Enter, the e-commerce marketing agency.
The right marketing agency can take care of all the fancy ad targeting, marketing funnels, and everything in between to make sure you get the conversions you need to keep your business growing. But choosing to dive into an agency partnership can be intimidating.
How do you find the right partner? How do you decide which approach is best for your business? Should you even bother to get outside help? Or would you be better off hiring someone in-house?
You’ve worked too hard to blow your marketing budget on the wrong agency partner. Luckily, we’re here to help make it easy.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the real challenges of finding and working with an e-commerce agency. We’ll review the potential disadvantages and offer up a few of the top can’t-miss questions to make sure you hire the right partner.
The scoop on e-commerce marketing agencies
- What is an e-commerce marketing agency?
- When should you hire an e-commerce marketing agency?
- 6 benefits of hiring an e-commerce agency
- What are the cons of working with a marketing agency?
- How to choose an e-commerce marketing agency
- Whatever you do, make sure you mesh
What is an e-commerce marketing agency?
You probably already know that a marketing agency is a business that offers marketing services to their clients. In e-commerce, these services can run the gamut, including:
- Branding and graphic design
- Market research
- E-commerce website design and development
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Website conversion rate optimization (CRO)
- Social media marketing
- Video content
- Email marketing
- Ad campaign strategies
- Marketing analytics
- Print marketing
- Public relations
- And more…
An e-commerce marketing agency does all of these things but specializes in the unique needs and strategies that apply to e-commerce businesses. So if you need help with e-commerce website UI/UX, SEO, social shopping tools — or anything else under the e-commerce marketing sun — you’ll definitely want to work with an agency experienced in serving e-commerce businesses.
When should you hire an e-commerce marketing agency?
If you’re sitting on a pile of startup capital and you’re determined to have a high-impact launch, you might be thinking about hiring a marketing agency from day one.
But if you’re like the majority of growing e-commerce businesses, it often makes sense to handle the marketing on your own when you’re still in the early days. As you grow, you’ll likely find yourself with more marketing goals and tasks than you can handle.
So, how do you know when it’s exactly the right moment to pass that growing marketing to-do list over to someone else?
It might be time to hire an e-commerce agency if…
… you don’t have time to manage (or learn about) marketing on a day-to-day basis.
… you’re not getting the results you want from your current marketing efforts.
… you can’t tell what’s working and what isn’t.
… you don’t have the budget for an in-house team.
… you don’t actually enjoy doing marketing and/or you’re avoiding it. 🙈
All of these are totally valid reasons to start exploring the ways an e-commerce marketing agency can help you hit the next level.
6 benefits of hiring an e-commerce agency
Finding the perfect agency partner provides your business with some serious benefits. But before you can find your dream partner, you need to know what to look for (and expect):
Benefit #1. Proven strategy
If experience is the best teacher, agencies are competing for teacher’s pet. E-commerce marketing agencies are particularly experienced at developing and executing strategies for e-commerce businesses—and they’ll have the A-grades to prove it.
With a variety of clients to serve, agencies have the opportunity to design and execute on dozens of diverse strategies, see how they perform, and improve with each new campaign. And they bring all of those past experiences and hard-earned wisdom to the table when they strategize for you.
It’s like paying for access to multiple winning e-commerce strategies, with one monthly fee. 👌🏾
Benefit #2. Immediate access to marketing expertise
Agencies typically offer a suite of services from marketing and advertising to customer experience design—and they have the resources to deliver.
While it may be overkill for you to hire a full-time video creator or PPC specialist, agencies can give you access to highly-skilled individuals…and switch gears whenever it’s needed.
Benefit #3. Fine-tuned systems
For a brand-new team of in-house marketing employees with unique career histories, it can take time and effort (not to mention a pile of cold hard cash) to create a process that works.
Agencies, on the other hand, have usually worked out most of those kinks before they take your business on as a client, which means they can hit the ground running.
Plus, many marketing agencies invest in the latest tools and technology to make sure they can deliver first-class service — with speed and at scale — for their clients. That means you gain all the advantages of those tools without having to pay for your own software licenses and subscriptions.
Benefit #4. Customer savvy
Depending on how you choose your marketing agency, you might work with a team that’s experienced serving your particular customer demographic. Whether it’s drawing on consumer trends or suggesting great partnerships, having someone who knows the lay of the land can give you a huge leg up over your competitors and reduce the time it takes for your agency partner to get up to speed.
Benefit #5. A fresh perspective
On the opposite side of the coin, most e-commerce marketing agencies won’t serve a single exclusive vertical, which means you can gain not only depth of experience but breadth. These agency partners can help you stay focused on the needs of the customer and remember to look at things from the outside in — which is sometimes where the best inspiration comes from.
Benefit #6. More value, less money
The cost of bringing in all the expertise and capabilities of a marketing agency in-house would be too much for most growing e-commerce brands. But that’s the point — by hiring an agency, you only have to pay for the expert services you need, and you don’t have to worry about all the extra costs that come with hiring someone full-time in-house.
Okay, so what’s the downside of working with a marketing agency?
Of course, working with a marketing agency does come with its challenges and potential disadvantages, for example:
- Agencies manage multiple clients simultaneously, which means your business may not always be a top priority (especially if you’re competing with higher-paying clients).
- You are putting your brand (and your business) into an outsider’s hands. It may take some time for them to fully grasp your brand vision and voice and get familiar with the nuances of your niche.
- Alignment and communication can be challenging when your agency partners aren’t available on-site.
- Agencies deliver a lot of value, but it comes at a cost. And while most agencies can offer scaled-back services to fit your budget, it may still require a significant investment depending on your needs.
If you’re crystal clear on the benefits and challenges of working with an e-commerce agency and you’re still ready to partner up, next you’ll need to know how to choose the right agency for your business.
How to choose an e-commerce marketing agency
Before you start evaluating potential agencies, you’ll want to take some time to determine your business needs, goals, and preferences. Don’t be afraid to get granular — any agency worth its salt will want to ask you some questions, so coming prepared will make your selection process much more effective.
Here are a few things you may want to take into consideration:
- What’s your budget for agency services?
- What are your expectations for an agency partnership? How much involvement or control do you want to have?
- What goals or outcomes do you hope to achieve with the agency? Do you have any hard KPIs in mind?
- How will you evaluate your agency partner’s performance?
- Do you have any specific projects you need help with (e.g., Redesigning your website or preparing for Black Friday)?
- Do you want to work with an agency that specializes in a particular skill, such as video content?
- Do you want to work with an agency that has experience serving a particular industry or consumer demographic?
- Is there a desired timeframe or urgent deadline you need to meet?
- Do you want to work with a local agency, or are you comfortable working with a remote team?
- Are there any examples of e-commerce marketing campaigns that have inspired you?
- How would you describe your brand personality?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you — and any agencies you meet with — determine whether the partnership is a good fit.
You’ll also want to get a feel for the agency’s track record. Be sure to ask for examples of previous work (especially in your industry) and case studies featuring real client results. If possible, you should also try to speak with current or former clients to get a truly unbiased review of the agency’s services and a clear perspective of how they work and what you can expect.
In addition to getting to know a few of the agency’s past or current clients, there are some simple actions you can take to make sure you’re sizing up a viable partner.
Review the agency’s About page and LinkedIn
How many employees do they have and what are their job titles? Is it a one-person show or a dedicated team? Sometimes it makes sense to work with a consultant or lean agency that tends to outsource most of their work. In other cases, you’ll need a more dedicated team (even if that comes at a premium).
Try to get a feel for the agency’s setup, culture, and infrastructure before you reach out so you don’t waste your time on a partner whose business model simply isn’t a match with your own.
What kinds of questions are they asking
Traffic and domain authority are always awesome, but a truly stellar agency partner will go beyond vanity metrics to really get to know your business.
Are they asking about which sales channels currently bring you the best results so far? Which challenges are currently holding you back (e.g., decaying inventory, poor AdWords results, etc.)?
Keep in mind, the right partner won’t be afraid to get under the fingernails of your strategy, including which product lines or categories with the best margins to get a real feel for your ROI potential.
Do they walk the walk?
Survey the agency’s website, email marketing, and social media. Do they seem to walk their walk when it comes to the services they offer? How creative is their own marketing?
Remember that no agency will be a 10/10 in all areas, so it’s best to keep an open mind as you evaluate potential partners and know which things are nice to have and which are non-negotiable.
Whatever you do, make sure you mesh
For many businesses, a good way to navigate the pros and cons of the in-house vs. agency debate is to have a hybrid approach consisting of 1-2 marketing professionals in-house, along with an agency partnership.
This approach enables the business to leverage in-house understanding of the brand and the expertise and capabilities of an e-commerce advertising agency.
An in-house marketer can ensure the agency has everything they need to execute the strategy and monitor progress on various objectives. Meanwhile, this can also free up bandwidth for a business owner who no longer has to be the point-of-contact and manage the agency relationship on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
No matter which approach you choose, the most important thing is to choose an agency that really gets you. They should understand what your brand is about today, and what you want your business to look like tomorrow and be 100% bought into the goal of helping you hit the next level.