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11 Questions for Choosing an eCommerce Digital Marketing Agency

It can be really tiring to manage a business in this digital age. Great products don't sell themselves unless you have a platform from which to make them available to consumers who demand they get everything they want it when and where want it. This means not only developing an omnichannel strategy, it means executing one and that takes people who have the right skills and technology tools to do it for you. This is where it gets tough. With the rapid changes and consumer demands how to do you staff for success? To find out what will work best for you, take a breath, take an hour and have a conversation with a couple of outside resources to figure out your options. Let them serve you. That's what good outside agencies do.

Simply put, you know you have to modernize what you’re doing today: introduce automation and efficiency across your business and manage the people-related change that it brings. Secondly, you need to innovate in a competitive market where customer expectations and behavior continue to change with  unprecedented rapidity. As a recent report by McKinsey and Company summarizes, you need to incorporate agile ways of working at scale

You need to do this without upsetting your customers, supporting their preferred buying experience, while providing for the new ways they want to shop, all while competing with everyone from Amazon to foreign manufacturers who are dumping low-cost knock offs in the marketplace. 

Outdoor brands don't have a choice today. They exist in a digital business world. Digital marketing was barely making an impression a little over 15 years ago. With the creation of nascent automated digital marketing platforms like HubSpot, the business of digital marketing has exploded from a few limited skill sets and tools to an environment where skills and cutting-edge digital tools are growing faster than most businesses have the time and talent to either master or effectively employ in a manner that provides ROI. 

"Many of the traditional ways in which marketers manage teams, technologies, and processes are no longer in sync with today’s hyperconnected customers and the swelling numbers of channels they use." (Track Maven) 

As overwhelming as it may feel to those responsible for an outdoor brand's growth, it is an exciting time to create and compete. Without a doubt, a small to medium sized outdoor brand has more opportunity today to compete against established larger brands through the consumer's incessant desire to search and learn anytime, anywhere from multiple platforms.

Many companies responded by hiring talent to work in-house and execute a digital marketing program. However, with the combination of increasing platforms to communicate with customers, ever-changing search algorithms, the growth of voice and visual search, increased demand by consumers to be able to purchase directly from brands, new enhancements to automated marketing and sales tools, and the explosion of AI-based software providing solutions in very specific marketing skill niches, has created a challenge in having the right staff in place from one day to the next.

The changes are happening so fast that I often tell those in the industry at the conclusion of a discussion of some new technology, that its likely changed since we began the discussion!

Regardless of your size, it is a struggle to figure out what is the best solution to your outdoor industry marketing challenge. Should you hire talented people to oversee the various aspects of a digital marketing program in-house? If so, to what breadth and depth across the growing specialized disciplines in the digital marketing world should you hire? Should the solution be to primarily hire outside expertise? Should the solution be a mix of inside and outside talent.


Go Ahead, It's Just a Conversation. Get Empowered.

As I talk to those in the industry, the discussion usually pivots to identifying what are their goals, the timeline for achieving them, the budget available, what happens if they don't achieve the goals, what is their ego around "owning" versus "leasing" expertise, and what is their understanding of the rate of change now and estimated in the next five years in digital marketing technologies. The most important service we provide in these exchanges is information from which to empower them in choosing a path. Just as brands have the ability to provide consumers with the information they need in their buyer's journey, brands need information in a digestible manner for their journey in deciding on how best to achieve their digital marketing goals. 




The Most Important Single Consideration is Hire to Deliver the Data-Driven Results You Need to Succeed

Establishing your goals is great. However, it is far more challenging to identify the day-to-day behaviors that yield measurable data to reach those goals week-in and week out. Brands must not be afraid to engage in conversations within the company and outside of it to identify the desired results and the measurable data points that will be needed to plot the marketing plan to deliver them.

In today's rapidly changing toolset, no internal outdoor brand staff person should ever feel threatened by their leaders seeking information to help them in deciding what their options are for achieving the results identified. There are number of options for how to consider structuring a kick-ass marketing team for a small to medium sized company


"A digital transformation isn’t something you can spend a bunch of money on and check off a list. It’s about the future of your core business, your employees, the future of your customers, and how to serve them as they want."  Jim Bowes, Computer Business Review


You Always Want to Hire to Achieve the Results You Want

Digital marketing agencies take very different approaches to how they provide their services. If you are considering an outside agency to supplement your skilled in-house staff, you want to engage in a discussion with an agency that wants to empower you to make the best decision. This means you want to find an agency that will help you take a strategic approach to reaching a decision if your needs and wants are best solved by hiring an agency or hiring more in-house staff. It's about what is best for you. Although this can be a difficult decision, we have found if those who are really interested in finding out what will work best for them will have a couple of open and honest conversations, we can help them discover solutions that will fit them. Once we do that, we can collectively discuss if we have the tools and if there is a fit. 

In the course of working with outdoor brands, I have found that they are generally looking to augment their existing digital staff with one to three new people. To effectively begin the process of evaluating what best serves you, there are several questions that should be addressed.



Staffing Challenge-SimpleSource: Simple



Eleven Questions to Guide the Discussion With an Outside Agency

Before we can help answer which option is best, there are a number of preliminary questions that need to be answered.

  1. What are the quantifiable goals you need to hit (revenue, customers, ROI)?
  2. What will happen if you fail to meet these goals?
  3. When do you need to achieve these goals?
  4. What is your plan to achieve the goals and how are you executing it?
  5. Do you have internal resources that can be leveraged with outside assistance?
  6. What are you already doing that appears successful and where do you think you may be lacking?
  7. Do you think you can overcome the challenges that are holding you back?
  8. What is your perception of how fast and how often the types of technology tools you use or want to use are changing?
  9. Do you have the internal expertise to address the challenges?
  10. What does current capabilities (in term of skill sets) your organization currently have?
  11. What do you have available in the budget to create the solution you identify?

What Are Your Goals?

Whether your conversation leads you in the direction of hiring more in-house people or having an agency work alongside your existing staff, you are doing so to achieve the goals you are accountable for in the company. The solution you decide on must be one you can see through measurable metrics can be executed to reach them. If your goals need to scale over the time period in question, then your solution must also be able to scale in the same time period.

Use us as a sounding board to assess if the measures you want to use to quantify meeting the goals are specific enough and that the key performance indicators will give you the lead measures you need to stay on track week-to-week, month-to-month, and quarter-by-quarter. Given what you have laid out as goals, probe us on what we see that really works as appropriate lead measures.

What are the Resources Needed?

As you get comfortable with the goals and a plan needed to execute for achieving them, you want to move into a discussion of the obstacles you face and the resources needed to achieve them in the time period identified. Besides the human resources, you may need, today’s solutions for the challenges you face will also more than likely include technology components. We live in a digital ecosystem that is producing amazing software tools that improve and enhance the human talent we possess. There are so many technologies available now that have very discreet capabilities to increase ROI, it is important to get a good overview for matching your goals to the tools available to help reach them.

Outdoor brands can draw on a host of new robust digital marketing platforms such as HubSpot and Marketo. Both of these platforms have expanded their capabilities and native integrations to go back 10 years to their original designs it would leave you shaking your head how rudimentary they were. Even with these dramatic improvements, experienced digital marketers using them are finding to fully amplify their inherent power, they need to supplement them with additional technologies.


Obstacles to Achieving Success

Once you have established your definition of marketing success, you will need to understand what has prevented you from achieving those goals. To accomplish this, you need to conduct an in-depth marketing assessment that will identify what is missing from your program or what has prevented you from achieving success. Where has the break in the buyer’s journey occurred? To find these answers, start from what you have defined as success and work backward.

Determine if these missing pieces will require skill sets that you currently do not have in your in-house staff and whether or not potential new hires will satisfy these requirements. Additionally, does your current staff have the skills and bandwidth needed to implement and keep current with the changes in skills and tools used to execute your plan? A robust digital marketing plan linked to driving sales and revenue growth usually includes between 12 and 18 disciplines today. 

Where Does the Path Lead You?

The answers to the questions posed and the information you gain from having a couple of in-depth conversations with a digital marketing agency should begin to lead you in a direction of the best solution option. If the solution is one best carried out with hiring more in-house staff then ask us how we are successfully hiring that type of talent for our needs. Over time, there may be situations that you need some outside assistance and by helping you find the best solution possible now, we better understand your needs and may have the opportunity to serve you later.

If it looks like finding a full-service agency like ours is the best direction, there are additional items you will want to consider in developing a final proposal to present to your team.  


Is There a Case for Hiring an Outside Agency to Partner?

The fact is there may be and there may not be, however, until you understand what's possible you can't make a decision. Given the pace of change, ongoing availability of new tools and the need for individuals to constantly be improving their knowledge of how to effectively use the tools you have in place, there is a lot your team is not likely aware of that can benefit you brand. There are a lot of good agencies who have digital expertise and experience for you to visit. But first you have to talk to them, get an education and decide if they bring value or not. 

What Fits Your Needs is the Right Solution

It sounds trite, but every outdoor brand is unique at any given moment in time. The solution you decide to execute has to be right for you and your outdoor brand in the time period identified it needs to happen. What will deliver the measurable results to meet your goals? Having a conversation with a qualified digital marketing agency is an opportunity. It will take a couple of hours, but it the agency truly cares about your business, you will walk away with information and ideas to benefit you regardless of whether you move forward in a partnership with them.

Do What is Right For You

Every company is different, so the decision about hiring an in-house staff or an outside agency should be based on strategic, specific decision-making. The right answer is what will be the most likely course to bring marketing success for your company. At the end of the day, senior management wants and expects results.

Whether it is with us or others, explore your space with the talented folks who make-up the quality full-service digital agencies servicing the outdoor industry . Take a look at the Fundamentals of Digital Marketing for the Outdoor Industry.