Running an eCommerce business can be overwhelming.
You need to take care of sourcing the products, marketing them, delivering them to the customers, handling refunds…
At some point, it becomes too much for one person and you need to either start building a team or start outsourcing.
One of the tasks that you can outsource is email marketing.
However, there are countless marketing agencies out there, all of which claim that they can help you increase your revenue.
So how can you make sure that you choose the right one?
Do they specialize in email marketing for eCommerce?
One of the worst things you can do is hire an agency that “specializes” in everything.
You know what this means. They will redesign your website, they will take care of your email marketing, they will run Facebook ads for you, they will create content for your blog, they will make videos for your YouTube channel…
The problem is that each of these tasks requires expertise in a specific skill. There’s no way a single marketing agency could do it all while maintaining high professional standards.
You need to immediately eliminate these Jacks of all trades, masters of none from your list of candidates.
You should also eliminate agencies that specialize in “email marketing” because there’s a huge difference between promoting personal brands, software companies, and eCommerce businesses via email.
What you want is an agency that specializes in email marketing for eCommerce businesses.
That way, you will be sure that you are working with people who have the exact skill set that you need.
Are they clear about what kind of results should you expect if you hire them?
It’s best to avoid agencies that are not clear about what kind of results you should expect if you hire them.
People who have the necessary experience and know what they are doing will tell you precisely how they can help you.
For example, “Increase Your eCommerce Revenue by 10-30%.”
This might seem like a risky promise to make, but an agency that is confident in their ability to achieve a 10-30% increase in revenue has an established track record of producing these kinds of results.
Now, consider how different “We will help you increase your eCommerce revenue by 10-30%” is from “We will improve your email marketing”.
One statement is concrete and quantifiable, the other is vague and doesn’t say much. What does “improve your email marketing” even mean?
Would you be happy if you hired a marketing agency and they increased your average open rate by 1%?
Probably not, but technically, they did improve your email marketing, so they fulfilled their promise. Did you get your money’s worth, though?
You need to be suspicious of agencies that do not set clear expectations because it indicates a lack of confidence in their ability to deliver results.
Moreover, vague wording makes semantic games possible, which means that it will be much harder to get a refund if you are unhappy with their service.
Do they have a systematic approach to delivering on their promises?
Imagine that two friends of yours tell you that their New Year’s resolution is to lose weight.
Friend A says that they will:
Meanwhile, Friend B says that they will:
a) Go on a strict carnivore diet from January 1st to June 1st.
b) Lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
c) Go for a one hour walk on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Now, if you had to bet money on one of them, which one would you choose?
Obviously, you’d put your money on friend B because friend B has a clear plan.
Well, it’s the same when it comes to hiring an agency, you want to go with someone who has a clear plan as to how they will deliver the results that they promised.
An agency should have a systematic approach to client work. When you ask them what’s next, you should expect an answer along the “Okay, so first, we will do X, then, we will do Y, next, we will do Z…” lines.
Avoid people who start stuttering and rambling when asked this question because that’s an indication that they haven’t thought things through.
Why would you trust someone who’s clearly flying by the seat of their pants? They can’t even organize their own business, don’t expect them to help you with yours.
Do they have an established track record of producing results?
One of the great things about the Internet is that it has democratized knowledge.
Now you don’t have to take out a five or six figure loan and spend four years at a university in order to get a piece of paper that allows you to work in your field.
You can teach yourself, produce results, show those results to people and get them to hire you.
This is true for a wide variety of skills such as writing, web design, coding, marketing, etc.
However, while this is a revolutionary development, it has also introduced new challenges.
For example, in the bygone days, if you wanted to be a marketer, you had to get a marketing degree, which prevented a lot of talented but poor people from pursuing this profession.
But the upside of that system was that if you hired someone with a degree in marketing you could be sure that they have at least the theoretical knowledge required.
Meanwhile, nowadays anyone and everyone can become a marketer, which is great because it expanded the talent pool, but the downside of this is that it’s harder to evaluate someone’s skills.
That is why you need to make a decision to only work with people who have a proven track record of producing the results that you want.
Sure, there might be exceptions, for example, you might meet a young person with a lot of potential who you are willing to invest in.
However, when it comes to outsourcing you need to make sure that the people you are hiring are experts in their fields.
When you are considering a particular marketing agency, see if they showcase any customer testimonials or case studies on their website.
If an agency is actually getting results, they will shout it from the rooftops, so if you notice a conspicuous absence of social proof on their website you probably shouldn’t hire them.
Do they offer a free consultation to see if you are a good match?
An agency should offer a free consultation during which you can explain your situation, get their advice, ask questions, etc.
Avoid agencies that try to pressure you into hiring them without providing that free consultation.
Think about it. How can they possibly promise to help you grow your business if they don’t know anything about it? That’s just money-grubbing predatory behavior.
Moreover, accepting clients without taking the time to understand whether they are a good match also reeks of desperation.
Professionals who know what they are doing and are in demand don’t work with just anyone who walks through the door. The better someone is at their craft, the more options they have, which means that someone who is a legitimate expert will want to see if you are worth their time.
An agency that is ready to draw up a contract with anyone who merely glances at their direction probably isn’t that good. Why else would they be so desperate?
Are their prices affordable enough?
Entrepreneurs don’t outsource tasks just because, they outsource tasks because it’s the most profitable way to run their businesses.
This means that you need to make sure that you are getting a return on investment that is high enough for outsourcing to make sense.
Luckily, if you have your eyes on an agency that is clear about what results you should expect, it’s very easy to see if the math works.
Also, while agencies often don’t share their prices on their websites, an agency should be able to give you a clear estimate of how much their services are going to cost you.
Avoid agencies that start to babble when asked to provide a price estimate. That’s a sign that you are either dealing with amateurs who have no clue as to what’s going on or with grifters who deliberately confuse you in order to hit you with unexpected fees later.
Do you get along with the team?
This is the vaguest of all the criteria listed in this article.
Basically, you want to work with someone you get along with, so pay attention to the vibe you are getting from people at an agency you are considering.
Now, you don’t need to be besties with them and commiserate about the Game of Thrones finale together, but if there is a lot of awkwardness and misunderstandings, in the beginning, it might mean that you aren’t a great match.
And if you get a feeling that something is off, don’t brush it away, humans have evolved to be very perceptive when it comes to our interactions with others so it’s always best to listen to our social intuitions.
This is especially true when it comes to things that might indicate a lack of professionalism such as being late, telling you they will send you information tomorrow and forgetting it, etc.
Of course, you shouldn’t overreact either, we are all human, things happen.
Also, if you have a hunch that someone is a person of questionable character, it’s probably best to not do business with that person. Better safe than sorry!
Do they have a good reputation among eCommerce entrepreneurs?
Finally, before you sign the contract, it’s best to do some online digging and see what you can find.
Generally, if the agency is small, they probably won’t have generated enough buzz to be the topic of online discussions.
Also, if an eCommerce company finds a great eCommerce email marketing agency, they might want to keep it secret to retain their competitive edge.
But when people have a bad experience with an agency, they tend to vent about it online, especially on the anonymous forums where they can share the story without losing face.
So use your Google-fu skills to see if you can find any unhappy customers.
Of course, keep in mind that while one scathing review might be a red flag, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should immediately ditch the idea of working with that agency.
However, if you find several negative reviews and the complaints of those dissatisfied customers overlap, you should probably reconsider.
Beware of the grifters!
You are probably aware that the profession of sales has a bad reputation. The phrase “used cars salesman” is actually used as an insult. Salespeople are often perceived as pushy and sleazy.
This field has more than its fair share of people who just want to make money, ethical considerations be damned.
That doesn’t mean that every salesperson is like that … But it does mean that you should keep your guard up until you are sure that you can trust someone.
Well, the profession of marketing has the same problem, though to a lesser extent.
The issue is that in marketing, just like in sales, it’s easy to focus so much on making money that you lose track of everything else (ever saw one of those expensive “get rich quick” courses that have great marketing but provide little value?).
That means that there are quite a few grifters out there who only see their clients as cash cows. You don’t want to do business with these people.
You need to protect yourself by exercising caution. Sure, listen to what people say… But also use the objective and quantifiable criteria outlined in this article.
Don’t let anyone sweet talk you into signing a contract that you will later regret.
Outsourcing your email marketing to professionals is a great decision.
However, it’s important to make sure that you choose the right eCommerce email marketing agency.
Otherwise, you might end up wasting money on incompetent people or fall prey to unscrupulous grifters.
In order to avoid that you need to pay attention to how the agency operates and what is their track record.
So do your homework before making the final decision.