Three fresh perspectives when hiring an ecommerce marketing agency

Breaking the Cycle

Over the past ten years, I’ve had thousands of calls with businesses and eCommerce brands. During that time, I’ve developed a spidey-like sense of intuition to help recognize when the inquiring party has come unprepared or has made some unfortunate choices in previous agency selection. Sadly, these bad experiences have shaped or jaded their thinking. In some cases, it perpetuates the same bad decision making in their next agency hire, and the cycle continues. How do we break that cycle? 

Before we dive into solutions to stopping the cycle, we need to deal with the elephant in the room. In full transparency, articles like this can come across as self-serving. Let’s face it. There’s not a vast amount of Google search volume for “mistakes to avoid when hiring an agency.” However, a quick Google search for “mistakes to avoid when hiring a marketing agency” brings page after page of articles with titles that range from 5 mistakes to” 20 boneheaded marketing mistakes” (thank you Neil Patel). 


With all of those articles on this topic, why are agency owners and thought leaders writing articles addressing this issue? As your humble blog servant, I thought a further investigation was warranted, so I dutifully read most of those articles and blogs. Many of them rehashed the same content or tactfully wrote the suggestions to shine a positive light on why you should hire their agency. No harm, no foul. 

With that as a backdrop, here are my three fresh perspectives on what to avoid when hiring a new eCommerce marketing agency:

Eager vs. Guarded

When you reach out to an agency, what is the initial response you received? How fast did they respond? Was it a template response or a personal response? There is zero wrong with an agency that is eager to do business with you. There is also nothing wrong with an agency that takes a guarded approach. Brands who leaped too fast into an agency that was eager to get right to work realized later that there wasn’t enough front-end work done from a strategic perspective for their unique situation. It’s not surprising then that the feedback I hear is, “They seemed great and eager to work with us, but once we got started, I seemed to be driving all the strategy,” or “I felt like they put my business into a cookie-cutter process.”

When seeking a new marketing agency, please pay attention to the agencies asking more questions and listening more than they’re speaking. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with slide deck presentations on initial calls, but if the deck is more about them than about you, I suggest asking for 2-3 current client references. It’s also great to ask this question. Tell me about the last client that ended the relationship with you.

Not Asking About Company Culture

As a Co-Founder of OMG Commerce (this is the part where it might sound self-serving, so forgive me in advance), I’m most proud of our distinctive company culture. It didn’t happen overnight, and there are moments I can recall from the early years in our business when we did not focus on company culture values. One of the best questions you can ask a prospective agency is this, “Tell me about your company culture and how your culture will fit into our business relationship.” If you get silence on the other side after asking this question, it should speak volumes. 

We talk about our culture with prospective clients because we feel it is one reason we have longer-term engagements and almost zero team attrition than similar agencies in our space. It would be fantastic if more prospects would ask the culture question when seeking a new agency relationship! 

Falling prey to a single customer experience opinion 

One of the wonderful things about the digital world we live in today is the speed of access to opinions and reviews. It can be super helpful when checking out that new restaurant you’d like to go to or investigating product options on Amazon. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a product with less than a 4-star rating. I’ve also avoided any restaurant with a slew of bad reviews. No thank-you food poisoning!

These days, a challenging area for agencies and brands is the number of private mastermind groups and private Facebook groups for eCommerce brands. Recently, I found a review of our agency in a trusted industry forum. It wasn’t flattering. I had to search through my discovery notes on prospects I had spoken to refresh my memory as none of it sounded familiar. After finding the history of the discussion, I was astounded at the way this prospect framed his experience with our agency when in the email communication, I received nothing but “no worries,” “all good,” and “appreciate the help.”  

We were doing our job in vetting this prospect to make sure they were a good fit for our agency. In the end, we determined that they weren’t a good fit and referred them to another agency. The prospect felt we wasted their time. From my perspective, I was relieved we never engaged as the things that were written in the review highlighted some of the reservations we had about working together. The sad part of the review is that I know others will read it and potentially draw a negative conclusion about our agency and never reach out. 

Just as you won’t write off that world-class restaurant because of one lousy diner experience, be sure to look for multiple negative reviews and similar narratives when researching an agency. Besides, suppose others have had positive experiences with that agency in the group. In that case, it’s a good idea to interview the agency and be transparent about your concerns. The right agency will be more than happy to share their side of the story for perspective.

In conclusion

If you haven’t seen similar articles like this blog, I’ve listed the following additional “mistakes to avoid” currently covered in multiple postings in the digital space.

  • Agency is not up-to-date on current ad trends (FB, Google, Amazon etc.)
  • Hiring Specialists vs. Generalists
  • Expecting a similar speed to scale across different advertising channels (FB vs. Google ramp-up)
  • Collaboration vs. Mistrust/Adversarial Relationship
  • Failing to verbalize any discomfort when interviewing an agency

If you’re seeking a world-class eCommerce agency, I’d love to speak with you and find out if we’re a mutual fit. I’d be happy to schedule a free strategy session here. 


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