How to Hire an Ecommerce Consultant in 2015

An ecommerce consultant can bring insights, information, and expertise that a small or mid-sized retail business doesn’t have. But hiring an ecommerce consultant can be relatively expensive, so you’ll want to make certain you get a good one.

Ecommerce consultants can do many different specialized tasks, from helping a brick-and-mortar retailer plan for the addition of ecommerce to helping an online retailer plan its pay-per-click marketing strategy for the year. The aim is for the business to benefit from the consultation.

The Consulting Role

In his book, How Not to Be Wrong, mathematician Jordan Ellenberg tells a story of Abraham Wald, a statistician who worked with the U.S. Statistical Research Group during World War II.

According to Ellenberg, “When American planes came back from engagements over Europe, they were covered in bullet holes. But the damage wasn’t uniformly distributed across the aircraft. There were more bullet holes in the fuselage, not so many in the engines.”

U.S. Air Force officers, Ellenberg explains, “saw an opportunity for efficiency; you can get the same protection with less armor,” which Ellenberg points out can be heavy and slow down planes, “if you concentrate the armor on the places with the greatest need, where the planes are getting hit the most.”

The Air Force wasn’t sure how much armor was appropriate, so they asked Wald to calculate it. But, as Ellenberg points out that “wasn’t the answer they got. The armor, said Wald, doesn’t go where the bullet holes are. It goes where the bullet holes aren’t: on the engines. …The reason planes were coming back with fewer hits to the engine is that planes that got hit in the engine weren’t coming back.”

The Air Force was only looking at planes that survived combat. The planes that got shot down looked rather different.

Here is the lesson: Ecommerce consultants should be like Wald, helping you identify where the bullet holes aren’t and why that is meaningful. Ecommerce consultants should fill in the knowledge and experience gaps in your business.

Here is the lesson: Ecommerce consultants should be like Wald, helping you identify where the bullet holes aren’t and why that is meaningful.

Address a Specific Problem

Ecommerce consultants should be hired to address a specific problem or to help achieve a specific goal.

In the example from Ellenberg’s book, the Air Force was not simply asking Wald for his opinion about how to manage the air war in Europe. Rather, it brought him a specific challenge. Ultimately, Wald helped the Air Force reevaluate the problem, but it was still a specific problem that was being addressed.

In the ecommerce context, retailers need to do the same. A small boutique that wants to start selling products on Amazon might want to find an ecommerce consultant with that sort of specific skill. But that is a very different task than a pure-play ecommerce business seeking purchasing advice or help setting up an ecommerce warehouse.

Look for Specific Knowledge or Expertise

There are certainly some good, general ecommerce consultants who have experience working across many areas of ecommerce, such as site development, product management, and marketing.

But there are also specialists — ecommerce consultants with specific skills to tackle your ecommerce challenges.

Want to attract more customers without overspending on advertising? An ecommerce marketing consultant with experience in social media and content marketing could be the proper choice.

Understand What the Ecommerce Consultant Will Do

The U.S. Statistical Research Group was tasked with solving mathematical problems for the military with the aim of helping to win a war. Although the help the group provided might take several forms, it was clear to everyone involved what service was being provided.

Clarity of purpose is also in order when you hire an ecommerce consultant. Be clear about what the consultant is to do and what form the ecommerce consultant’s work product will take.

Do you want a document that outlines how to build your online marketing strategy or do you want an actual online marketing strategy lined out with dates, media buys, and the like?

Are you looking for advice about how to choose a new ecommerce platform or do you want a report comparing several ecommerce platforms?

Use a Contract to Define Deliverables and Dates

Lastly, make certain everything discussed is documented in a contract and statement of work that includes specific language about what the ecommerce consultant will do for your business, how that work will be delivered, and when it should be expected.

Include information about the rights to the consultant’s work product, how conflicts will be managed, and how the contract can be terminated if you’re unhappy with the process.

Ecommerce consultants, in summary, can be very helpful — providing insights, information, and expertise your business otherwise doesn’t have.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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