If you’re trying to scale your ecommerce brand by hiring an agency, then there are a few things you should know. First, there’s a saying in the agency world, “Clients get the work they deserve.” It means that the quality of the work you receive from a marketing agency depends on how good you are as a client. So, let’s look at what you can do as a client to get the absolute best work from your agency.
You see, many marketers on what us agency folk call the “client-side” make the mistake of expecting that their agency will scale marketing performance with little to no help. This is an enormous oversight. It can even result in a client-side brand manager losing their job when things don’t work out. We’ve seen it happen many times.
If you’re a client managing an agency relationship, you must realize that you are ultimately responsible for your marketing success, not your agency. Sometimes that means pushing the agency to do better; sometimes, that means getting out of the agency’s way.
The point is, when you hire an agency, the last thing you should do is kick your feet up and punt your responsibilities. Instead, roll up your sleeves and get involved. You’ve just hired teammates, not outsourced what you can’t or won’t do. And a side note, if your agency isn’t comfortable working as one team, then that’s a whole other red flag.
Here are 23 things that every marketing agency wishes you would do as a client to help them scale your ecommerce business:
1. Know your target audiences.
Provide killer target audience research to your agency, especially at the start of the relationship. The better you are as a client, the better this research will be. Outstanding clients invest tremendous time and money to thoroughly analyze their different audience segments and consolidate the findings into audience personas that the agency can use. Sure, you could have the agency do this work for you, but no one’s going to know your customers as well as you. If you need help here, you should at least work closely with the agency on it.
There are dozens of tools to help with this process. Here’s an ebook with over 300 ecommerce tools. We also recommend following DigitalMarketer’s approach to audience avatars. The goal is to arm your agency partner with the insights to target high-performing audiences with paid media and create super-relevant experiences for your potential customers.
2. Know your KPIs and target numbers required for scale.
Being clear about your numbers is critical to helping your agency scale your brand. You should have a thorough definition of what “good” performance looks like for your brand before even getting on a call with an agency. Bust out the spreadsheet and answer a few questions to share with your agency partner:
- What’s your average order value (AOV)?
- What’s your 12-month customer lifetime value (CLTV)?
- What is your acceptable cost per customer acquisition (CPA or CAC)? You’ll have to figure this out by doing some math using your AOV or CLTV.
3. Don’t obsess over maximum ROAS or ROI.
If you’re looking to scale, maximizing your return on ad spend (ROAS) or return on investment (ROI) is not the move. Instead, figure out the lowest ROAS you can have and still break even. Be sure to meticulously account for all your cost of goods sold (COGS); don’t miss all those shipping costs, marketplace fees, and credit card charges. The breakeven ROAS number becomes an anchor point. Work with your agency to figure out what the ROAS goal should be, starting from the anchor point. Many brands deliberately run campaigns at less than breakeven because they know they’ll make up the profit in other ways, like via email, with a subscription, or over time due to CLTV. Remember, the brands that can acquire customers for the highest cost win. Think about that for a sec.
4. Optimize the bottom of your funnel.
Most agencies that help you scale will focus the most attention on your marketing funnel’s top and middle. While they do that, you should be relentlessly optimizing the bottom of your funnel. This means regularly studying your website’s conversion rates and making changes to improve them.
- Constantly A/B test to optimize things like page layouts, messaging, and UX.
- Create distinct landing pages for different target audiences.
- Test new upsells, cross-sells, and offers to increase AOV and conversion rates.
Remember, a fraction of a 1% increase in conversion rate could be the difference between scale or not.
5. Read reports, pay attention, and be engaged.
The most successful agency clients take every meeting with their agency very seriously. When you do this, the agency team will too. And that means you’ll get better service. If you find meetings with your agency boring or not useful, then tell them! Work with the team to change the format. Trust us; your agency doesn’t want to prepare presentations or come to meetings where no one listens or cares. You have a huge say about how meetings go—make the meetings count.
6. Have a promotional calendar.
Create a calendar of the sales and promotions your brand will run looking at least six months into the future; 12 months is better. Don’t phone this in. This calendar will allow your agency to get ahead when it comes to planning and creating great work.
Google Sheets or another digital tool might work a bit better than a printed calendar, but you get the point.
The truth is, the quality and creativity of the work your agency produces are most often limited by time, not budget. Have you ever been in a pinch and had to whip a holiday sale in just a few days? Was it as effective, creative, or polished as it could’ve been if you started working on it weeks before? Definitely not. It’s a good idea to work with your agency to create this calendar; it’ll unlock more innovative ideas. Once you complete the calendar, your job as a client is to take it seriously. Do your part and check in with your agency well in advance of upcoming promotions. Ensure your agency has everything they need to do great things and that they’re never scrambling at the 11th hour.
7. Use promotions, not discounts.
Smart clients know that you can’t always rely on discounts. Discounting too often will train customers only to buy when things are on sale, causing off-sale performance to become problematic. Plus, discounts reduce the perceived value of your products. So instead, create some promotions that add value. This could be a gift-with-purchase or a collaboration with another brand. The common mistake clients make is that they don’t get started creating these promotions earlier enough, so they default to an easy-to-do discount. This is where a promotional calendar is critical. See above.
8. Invest in enough creative to scale.
Ask any performance agency, “could you use more creative?” The answer will be something like, “oh, praise the Lord, we’ve been saved.” Here’s a little secret, every media team on the planet is complaining behind their clients’ backs that they don’t have enough ads, landing pages, or offers. As a client, you can unlock scale for your brand by creating a war chest of creative. This allows for more testing, more often, with less ad fatigue. The results? More scale, more quickly. Plus, by having an abundance of creative, you’ll take away many of your agency’s excuses for poor performance.
9. Invest in content marketing.
Content marketing is possibly the most overlooked piece of the puzzle when it comes to scaling a brand. Successful clients recognize that you must have meaningful reasons to put your brand in front of prospective buyers other than a sale. Repetitively asking people to buy your stuff is, well, lame. And customers will think so too. So, to scale, you should be investing in creative campaigns designed to achieve things other than sales. Maybe it’s engagement. Perhaps it’s email subscribers. The effects will be filling the top of your funnel, more word of mouth, deeper connections with existing customers, and much better performance when it’s time to sell.
Below is a powerful example from Dove. This piece evokes so much emotion that millions of people couldn’t resist commenting, liking, and sharing it—thus, supercharging Dove’s digital marketing funnel.
The takeaway is, your marketing doesn’t always have to focus on selling your product. You can generate results with creative content that has nothing to do with a promotion or discount. To scale, work with your agency to create remarkable content—we know, easier said than done—and focus on distributing it in ways that get a lot of attention.
10. Invest in lead generation and nurture.
The best ecommerce brands aim to have up to 45% of their digital revenue come from email. To do that, you need to grow your list with qualified prospects, keep the list warm, and regularly optimize all your email flows. Clients who understand how to scale get this. If you’re trying to scale your brand and you’re not ruthlessly working on your email channel, then you’re wasting a lot of money. Dial in your email flows to capture otherwise lost revenue from paid media. Then, work with your agency to grow your list using campaigns that attract and capture qualified subscribers. A few more reasons your agency will thank you:
- High-quality email lists enable better paid media targeting.
- Good follow-up email flows will convert many people from paid media campaigns, thus increasing your attributed media performance.
- Email can be used to jumpstart engagement on social ads to fast-track performance. E.g., drive people to an engaging Facebook ad via email to comment.
To get started, read our article on how to generate ecommerce leads for less than $0.10 each.
11. Don’t be afraid to use unpolished ads.
Try creating some ads yourself with your phone. Or hire an affordable freelancer to make some organic-style ads for you. A lot of clients want all their ads to look like the ones they see from huge brands. Psst, here’s a secret: those ads don’t perform as well as most of the “ugly” ads. And by ugly, we mean the ads that look native to the marketing channel. Arm your agency with some ads that look truly native and see what happens.
12. Don’t be camera shy.
If you’re trying to scale a brand, don’t be afraid to get on camera or get your team on camera. It’s by far one of the most cost-effective ways to create super high-performing ads. Customers love to see behind the scenes and hear from the people behind the brand. Dang, you can shoot it on an iPhone. Not good with a camera or need an extra hand? Hire an affordable freelancer to shoot it. You owe it to your brand to try these types of ads if you haven’t yet. Trust us; most media teams would kill to run these ads, because they perform.
13. Use a formal briefing process.
Oh, the brief. Spending time to write a detailed and insightful brief will solve so many problems for your relationship with your agency. Create a brief document (yes, you have homework here) before kicking off any initiative with your agency partner. Going through the process will force you to think through how your idea will work, or better, how it won’t work. Plus, having all the info in an organized doc provides a resource that your agency can work from, resulting in fewer questions pointed towards you.
Even if your agency doesn’t have its own briefing process—another red flag, by the way—take it upon yourself to find a brief template and start using it. You can Google “how to write a creative brief,” or here are a couple of how-tos we like from Hubspot and Content Marketing Institute. And before you share a brief with your agency, get all the key stakeholders on your team to review, contribute, and approve it. 90% of your strategy and approach can/should be worked out in your brief before an agency even sees it.
”Strategy happens in the brief, not in the execution.
It’ll feel slower at first, but ultimately, having a briefing process will make your team smarter, more efficient, and way more strategic when scaling. We could write a whole book on how to write a brief, but for now, you owe it to yourself to Google it and become good at it.
14. Consolidate your feedback.
When working with a marketing agency, there will be rounds of reviews and revisions of the work, of course. But many clients dramatically throttle the efficiency of their agency relationship by not consolidating feedback among their internal team. So, let’s say you’re the point of contact for your agency. The agency sends you an ad for review, and you request a bunch of changes. The agency makes them. Now, you show the ad to your manager. Your manager has a bunch of changes. The agency makes them. Now the ad goes to your CEO. She says, “this is completely off-strategy; we’re not doing this.” The entire process starts over.
To speed everything up, consolidate the feedback from your whole team in each round. You could pass the ad to your manager with your notes. She could give it to the CEO with both your notes. The CEO might still kill the ad, but you haven’t burned nearly as much time, and your agency will be thankful that they didn’t have to do any unnecessary work. True black-belt clients collect their entire team’s feedback and work out all the kinks in the briefing stage, resulting in ultimate efficiency.
15. Scale with a steady flow of authoritative content.
To break through and achieve scale, customers must see your brand as an authority. The best way to do this is to create, well, authoritative content. Try creating content that teaches. Arm your audience to achieve some quick wins —wins that are relevant to your brand and the products you sell. If you sell coffee, teach people how to make the best cup of coffee. If you sell dog food, teach people the proper way to feed their dogs. This type of content will help your brand scale in many different ways. Think of this strategy as your brand creating the world’s best FAQ section for your category. Useful and authoritative content will:
- Grow the top of your digital marketing funnel with more than just buy-our-stuff ads
- Make prospects trust your brand
- Deepen the relationship with existing customers
- Provide share-worthy moments that get free impressions
- Bolster your social and email strategy
- Be fun and rewarding for your team to work on
- Become a reference you can send customers to when they have questions
Top-of-funnel, authoritative content is critical to scaling an eCommerce brand. We can’t decide; this tip might be the most common thing that holds brands back.
16. Question, but don’t micromanage.
Clients who understand how to scale ask a lot of questions. That’s because they’re very engaged. They read the reports their agency sends. They pay attention in meetings. But here’s the thing, they typically don’t prescribe the solutions. Instead, they ask questions about specific topics until solutions present themselves. This is a nuanced approach that might not sound like a big deal, but coming to solutions collaboratively with your agency will yield big results for your company. The truth is, most agencies hate to be told what to do. Heck, a lot of people, in general, feel this way. But if your agency feels like they had a part in coming up with the solution, they’ll be much more excited to execute their idea—often even when it’s out of scope. This is a powerful Jedi mind trick. Don’t tell your agency we told you.
17. Don’t be afraid to approve work with no changes.
Many clients, for some reason, feel that they must provide feedback on everything. Maybe it’s to justify their job? Who knows. But we know that the most successful clients understand how moving fast can help them scale. These clients will often confidently approve work with no changes so they can move to another tactic or focus on more strategic things. Approving work with no changes will also strengthen your relationship with your agency. It shows you trust and respect their recommendations.
Now, if the work is wrong or sucks, we’re not telling you to approve things. If that’s the case, bring up the creative brief that you so carefully crafted and explain how the work doesn’t satisfy the brief. Ahem, see why the brief is so important? If your brief is solid and the agency still can’t produce work that doesn’t require significant feedback, it might be time to find a new agency.
18. Commit a budget to scale.
Sometimes the key to unlocking scale is committing to making your marketing work. Many brands that are stuck run their marketing based on the performance they see at the time. If performance is bad, they turn down spend. If performance is good, they turn up spend. That can be ok, but it causes whiplash for everyone working on your marketing with too many starts and stops. What’s worse, it takes your eye off the goal, which is scale. A better approach for scaling is:
- Commit to a marketing budget for six months. The longer, the better.
- Take the option of reducing the budget off the table.
- Focus all your energy on perfecting tactics to get your fixed budget to work—which might be achieving profitability, breakeven, or an acceptable CPA.
19. Get on video calls.
Small thing. Big deal. Seeing your agency team face-to-face deepens the relationship, prevents animosity, and forces honesty among everyone. It’s difficult for anyone to pretend they know what they’re talking about when people can see their face. You should require video calls with your agency from the start. Happy side effect: there’s a good chance the agency won’t be able to put inexperienced people on your account because video calls immediately expose inexperience. Thus, you’ll get better people on your team. But the point is, if you’re not already, get on video calls. Watch how much better the service from your agency gets.
20. Give gifts.
This might sound insignificant, but gift your products and any branded gear you can to your agency team. Even a t-shirt will go a long way. This will make them raving fans of your brand, which in turn, will make them work harder for you.
For instance, people on our team used to work for an agency that had a prominent bourbon brand as a client. The brand would regularly send cases of bourbon to the office. Do you know what happened? Besides a few employees flirting with a bourbon problem, the agency team became diehard brand advocates. They’d order the brand at every happy hour and agency outing. They’d brag to their friends about the brand. And they’d routinely pull all-nighters because they were loyal and proud to work on the brand. Make your agency your biggest fan by treating them like absolute royalty. We promise this will get you better service.
21. Ask for innovation regularly.
To scale your digital marketing, you and your agency should always be trying new tactics to unlock better performance. Work with your agency to create a backlog of tests, tactics, and strategies that you’ll try. Always ask, “what should we do next?” and get it documented. If you don’t ask, your agency will likely get complacent.
22. Improve your agency meetings.
Too often, agency meetings become tedious chores that are not helpful to you as a client. If your regularly scheduled agency reporting calls make you want to fall asleep and don’t feel quite strategic, you might have a problem. Ask your agency to simplify and summarize their reporting by providing answers to these three questions during each meeting:
By adopting this format, you and your agency will begin to generate a ton of ideas for new tactics. Add these ideas to a backlog and continually prioritize what’s next.
23. Be nice.
It’s sad to say, but some clients need a reminder of the Golden Rule. Plain and simple, people hate working for jerks. When you’re too abrasive, don’t listen, and are rude, then your agency team will dread working for you. The quality of service you get will suffer, a lot. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ll get better performance by being a tyrant. You won’t. We promise.
Final Advice for Scaling a Brand with an Agency
You have to remember that agencies make more profit by giving you the least amount of work for the most amount of money. In other words, your agency is financially incentivized to become complacent.
Bad agencies will quickly slip into a noticeable routine of not caring about your business. Good agencies will be better at hiding it, and it’ll take some time before you see it. Excellent agencies will have a culture and processes in place to prevent complacency from ever occurring.
But no matter which level of agency you’re working with, you can counteract complacency and help your agency scale your brand by using the tips above.
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