– James Byrne, Agency Account Director – Ecom Nation
Welcome to 2023! A new year filled with possibilities – but also a year that is shaping up to be a difficult one for many online businesses with consumer spending predicted to be significantly impacted by a range of cost of living pressures. Under these conditions, it will be more important than ever to make sure every expense and every relationship is driving growth in your business.
Having a productive and profitable agency relationship is vital for many eCommerce businesses so we have compiled some tips on how to get more from your agency and keep everyone focused on the results that matter.
1. Understand why you have engaged an agency
Onboarding an agency to help with different aspects of your business has its pros and cons, so it is important you really understand the value you are trying to get out of an agency relationship. Compared to internalised teams, agencies are more expensive per hour and we are never going to be able to understand your product in the same way you do as we do not spend all our time focussed on you alone, on the other hand, we bring a wealth of information and expertise to the table including tested strategies and broader industry knowledge that can’t be accessed any other way.
Typically, agencies invest in a broad team of implementation and strategic experts who together can investigate and solve complex problems that internal teams often struggle to address. Our fresh eyes and experience help us understand and resolve the issues your internal team are often too busy to see.
It is important to stop and ask, can we resolve this internally and if not, then why not? If you need more staff in the short term or a creative problem-solving approach it is likely an agency is your best bet to moving forward but – and this is very important – the answer to this question will become your brief to the agency so if you can’t answer it then you need to do more work before reaching out. Bad briefs cost you time and money and frustrate agencies that can’t hit on the solution you need.
2. Define success
You should embrace the responsibility for defining and measuring success as this is ultimately how you assess the work of your agency. Many businesses hand over this responsibility to the agency to set their own parameters for success – and this is a recipe for disaster. If the agency sets its targets too low, on a different timeline or worse, never understood the brief properly in the first place, you may quickly find you are out of sync.
Contrary to what you might expect, most agencies thrive on set objectives and constraints. We try to collaborate with all clients early in the relationship to establish fundamental parameters such as budgets, timelines, growth targets and systems of work to make sure everyone understands the direction we are headed in.
In my experience, people who like working in agencies are incredibly competitive so if you set them a target (I’d recommend using the SMART framework), it will be pursued doggedly.
3. Value the expertise you are paying for
If you have gone to the trouble of identifying an issue, determining you need an agency, onboarding an agency and preparing a brief for the work then you have already invested a lot into this relationship while we have barely started. If you then tell us how to solve the issue many agencies will wonder why you didn’t invest all this energy into just solving the issue yourself. Unless you specifically state in your brief to an agency that you are only looking for someone to implement your plan then your best approach is to work collaboratively with your agency partner. Brief us on the problem and then let’s work together on the strategy and execution plans so that you can bring your product knowledge and we can bring our broader experience into play.
Remember, you engaged your agency for a reason and if you dictate the path to take then you are actually taking away a lot of what makes an agency useful.
4. Invest in the relationship
As with any relationship, the best ones take time and energy.
If you expect your relationship with an agency partner to be ‘set and forget’ then you will quickly see the relationship fail. Similarly, if you provide poor briefs, skip meetings, dodge phone calls or miss payment deadlines for invoices you are showing the agency how little you respect and value them.
Agencies rely on business relationships to get paid so you should expect them to continue to invest in your relationship but, without your mutual investment, an agency can only do so much. A bad connection between business and agency is almost always reflected in the delivered work. However, the opposite is also true.
Businesses that commit resources to managing the agency relationship will get SO MUCH MORE out of their agency. Make it easy and enjoyable to work together and this will be reflected in what we can provide back to you.
It is also worth remembering that a formal relationship between business and agency might be what brings you together but at the core of this formal relationship are people. Be a good person and invest time to build a relationship with the individuals working on your account and very quickly those people will find helping you and your business a pleasure, rather than a job.
Having worked in account management for a while I have developed a number of client relationships that have resulted in them following me from agency to agency, which is obviously great for me, but I have also acted as a referee for job applications, provided recommendations to other agencies if a request falls outside of my scope and even assisted on side-projects for clients in an informal capacity if we have been able to develop a strong personal relationship together.
5. Communicate early and often
Saving the best to last. The absolute best tip I can give any business in 2023 (or any year) is to find ways to communicate better with your agency partner. As soon as communication breaks down then you can be sure the relationship is soon to follow.
If you only spoke to your internal teams once a month, how well do you think they would be doing? Would they be likely to be delivering robust performance and results? Do you think they would have a strong grasp on what is happening in the business? Of course not, why would your agency be any different?
At Ecom Nation we prioritise communications and create a number of avenues to keep this as seamless as possible. The first task when a new client signs on is the creation of a Kick-Off Meeting, recurring work-in-progress meetings and a new shared Slack channel where all staff working on the account are added. The meetings act as formal times put aside for discussion, consideration and review as a collaborative team while the Slack channel offers a place for everybody to reach out for anything they need as they need it. The goal is to use these channels to create a flow of information back and forth that results in simple, fast and effective communication – which leads to better outcomes.
Working with an agency can be a fantastic experience for your business as we are able to draw on our expertise to unlock solutions that you may have been unlikely to access yourself, but it takes effort and rewards for those that are willing to invest in the relationships, and people, on both sides.