If your eCommerce brand is scaling quickly, or if you’re an established brand making the step into DTC, there will come a point when you’ll have to decide whether to outsource your marketing efforts or commit to building up an in-house department.
Many companies are reluctant to hand over the reins to a third party for fear of losing control over direction. Yet doing so can lead to stronger growth in a shorter time frame — often at a lower cost of investment.
Understanding when it’s the right time to make this leap can also ensure a smooth transition and boost results. We’re here to help you jump into this new relationship with confidence. Here’s how you can tell when it’s time to outsource your eCommerce marketing efforts, plus what to look for in that new marketing partner.
When You Have Big Goals to Achieve
Are you expanding your product offering into new markets or moving to a DTC setup for the first time in the company’s history? When you have significant goals that require marketing expertise, it’s almost always pertinent to outsource part or all of your marketing efforts.
The question of whether to outsource often depends on your goals, says WisePrime’s Andrew Miller. If your marketing goals are small, enlisting third-party help might not be the right move, according to Miller. That’s not the case if you’re looking to make transformational changes, such as tackling cross-border sales.
While it may seem more sensible to hire a full-time marketing team when your company is ready for new markets, there are several reasons not to do so, says Springrise’s Sander Gansen. Attracting the very best professionals will be important if goals are to be met, but this might prove difficult. Even if you can hire one or two specialists, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to put together a strong team in any kind of realistic time frame.
When entering new markets or moving to DTC, specialist technology needs are likely to rise. “Many businesses are deprived of crucial marketing technology like a CRM, marketing automation, and campaign management software,” Calendar Founder John Rampton notes. Not only that, but businesses can be intimidated at the thought of sourcing such technology and learning how to use it. If this is the case for your eCommerce brand, working with an agency could solve all of these problems.
Experienced and specialist agencies will already have an effective system in place that has been fine-tuned over dozens of agency-client relationships. This allows businesses without the necessary infrastructure to seamlessly and instantly leverage a setup that has proved successful to similar businesses in the past.
When You Don’t Have the Required Expertise On-Hand
eCommerce directors reading this post are almost certainly working for businesses of a certain size that already have some form of marketing team or point person. Those marketing people are probably great at their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they are great at the job you need them to do.
This is particularly true of brands moving into DTC. Consumer eCommerce marketing looks a lot different from traditional product marketing.
When you work with an agency that has experience growing eCommerce brands in new markets or building a company’s DTC channel, you have access to all of that agency’s expertise.
As Newfound Marketing’s Sheldon Payne notes, “By outsourcing your marketing, you are putting it in the hands of people who know where your greatest audience is, and how to tap into and grow that base.” This is even more powerful when the agency has worked with similar companies and has a proven track record of delivering the kind of results you want.
You may think that because marketing is critical to the success of an eCommerce company, it’s important to build an in-house team. But that’s not necessarily the case, writes MWI’s Josh Steimle. “In many cases you’re better off focusing on your core competency for the same reason I don’t do my own oil changes on my car, even though I can–I can make more money with that time than I can save by doing the work myself.”
What is important is to focus on what made you successful in the first place. Firebrand Group’s Jeremy Goldman calls this “leaning into who you are.”
“Why would you take time away from making your talent more of a priority? Rather than focus on the things you’re bad at [or even just okay at], you should focus on the things you’re good at.”
Hawke Media’s Erik Huberman and Ilya Pozin, Co-founders of Pluto TV, also believe that it’s crucial to stick to what you’re best at. If that means you’re great at building a product, then focus on that and let other experts take care of other areas of the business, says Huberman.
Even if you want to hire the best talent rather than outsource a part of your business, it may not be possible. Pozin notes that it’s not just expensive to attract the best talent. It’s also incredibly difficult to attract the best talent, even if you’re already an established brand.
When You Aren’t Happy With Your Current Efforts
Even if you do have the necessary expertise in-house, it’s no guarantee that your own efforts are going to be effective. If you’ve tried and failed to move the needle, it’s probably time to pivot and seek outside advice.
“If you know there is a market for your product and service, and you’re confident that your customer service, sales team and pricing are stellar, the problem with lagging sales could well be ineffective marketing,” says Alisa Meredith, Content Marketing Manager at Tailwind.
A marketing agency will be able to take a look at your current approach and develop a strategy to overcome the challenges you’re facing. At the very least, they’ll be able to identify what’s going wrong.
When you’re disappointed with your own efforts, there’s very little downside to outsourcing marketing operations, writes marketer Bryan Caplan. That’s not to say you’ll see the results you want immediately, however. “Set your expectations to working with your marketing expert for at least six months to allow them to start getting traction and building momentum with your marketing machine.”
If you don’t know what to think of your current efforts, that’s even more reason to outsource your marketing, writes ReachLocal’s Tiffany Monhollon Wilson. It’s not enough to have reports on analytics and sales data. You need to be able to show that your marketing efforts are paying off. If you can’t, then turn to outside help.
What to Look for in an Outsource Partner
Knowing when to turn to outside help is only one part of the solution. The other is knowing what to look for in a suitable eCommerce marketing partner.
Sosemo LLC’s Larry Gurreri believes that finding a partner with relevant expertise is essential. It’s not enough to ask, however. Gurreri recommends asking for case studies and researching the company’s history. A lack of relevant press coverage could be an issue.
Credibility is another important factor, writes eMaximize’s T. Maxwell. Read through testimonials on their own website and on third-party platforms. Ask for references, and make sure to call them. Spend time analyzing the company’s web presence, too. Do they have a good website? How well are their SEO and social media strategies working for them? Any agency that doesn’t seem credible should be forgotten.
When you’ve shortlisted a few potential partners, DigitalLux’s Dan Scalo recommends asking the following five important questions:
- “What KPIs will you measure?” If a company has any kind of experience with marketing in your industry, they’ll be able to tell you the important metrics to track.
- “How long have you been around?” The longer an agency has been in business, the more experience they have and the more likely they are to know what they are doing. That’s not to say young companies can’t have experts working for them, of course.
- “Who will be handling our account?” Most agencies will have a team of industry experts in-house who handle all client work. On the other hand, some agencies outsource work to third-party companies.
- “How do you report results?” You can’t track the success of your partner if you can’t see the results. Every agency should be willing to give you a clear and honest report every month.
- “What results can we expect in six months?” No one is able to guarantee results. You should run a mile from anyone who tries to do so.
Having reached the end of this article, you could be questioning the value of having an in-house team at all. That shouldn’t be the case. Striking a balance between in-house and agency teams is the key to success, writes Tech Wire Asia’s Soumik Roy. Agencies are the specialists, but great in-house teams can amplify their impact.