Outsourcing aspects of an ecommerce business can help management focus on critical areas. It can also deliver sophisticated skills and insights that are unavailable in-house.
But choosing the right outsourced partner is not easy. I know. I’m a former ecommerce entrepreneur, and I now work for a large digital agency.
Agencies offer services that include brand strategy, experience design, technology implementations, online store optimization, and marketing services. They may also provide change management services, content strategy, writing and editing, and custom and native mobile app development.
There are “full-service” and niche agencies. Full-service agencies, while valuable, are often expensive and therefore seek larger clients. Smaller, niche agencies often have more flexibility and lower rates.
Follow these steps to find an agency partner.
First, share with prospective agency partners why you need their assistance, whether it’s a one-time project or an ongoing program. Agencies can be better suited to one or the other.
- Explain why you are investing.
- Be clear on your vision.
- Describe the specific outcomes are you targeting.
- Explain how you will measure success.
- Outline the problem you are trying to solve.
- Address deadlines.
- Explain your budget.
Prospective agency partners need to understand your selection process. This will impact how they staff the engagement to deliver the required services. Agencies will often spend much time and money in preparing an approach, estimates, and plans. Knowing a potential client is committed and has the budget to execute will impact their efforts.
Be prepared to disclose who is sponsoring the engagement, including the decision maker(s). Also, address your budget. Is it is established or do you need assistance in building a business case?
Frequently, businesses withhold some or all of this information from potential agency partners. That is a mistake. A true partnership should start with trust and transparency.
Sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement upfront. It protects you and the agency and makes sharing information much easier. It also helps both parties to see quickly if there is a potential fit.
Provide potential partners with as much information as you can about your needs.
- Known requirements.
- What you don’t know.
- How the work is done today, including known gaps.
- Technology requirements.
- Competitor issues.
- Staffing resources you would provide.
User stories, use cases, reports, and data can also help a potential agency. Consider sharing:
- Style guides and goals for evolving your brand experience.
- Analytics and data for your online store and digital channels.
- Customer feedback.
- Target markets, personas, customer journey maps.
- Product information, such as categories and SKUs.
- Revenue by channel.
- Sitemaps and taxonomy.
Making a Decision
In my experience, a scoring method can help identify the right agency for your business. The scoring should track with your objectives and how you will measure success.
The scorecard may be as simple as a spreadsheet, listing objectives and then scoring each agency on its experience, approach, and your perception of its ability to execute. Ideally, all internal stakeholders should participate in the scoring.
Ask agencies to provide the following information to help with your decision:
- Experience in your industry and with your engagement needs.
- Approach to meeting your requirements and delivering your work.
- Projected timeline and staffing.
- Location of work — local office, regional office, multiple offices, offshore.
- Internal process — planning, communications, delivery.
- Reporting, including frequency. For marketing projects, you should expect real-time analytics and weekly reporting at a minimum. For design work, how many versions will you review?
- Customer case studies.
- Examples of work products, such as search-engine-marketing campaigns and metrics, wireframes, requirements documentation, and brand guides.
In the end, selecting an agency is often intuitive. But agencies can bring solid value. Having a partner with broader expertise and experience can complement your business, to grow and prosper.