The 8 Guiding Principles to Hiring an Email Marketing Agency
In part one of this two-part series we discussed when and why it might be a good idea to contract with experts who possess, dedicated, email marketing experience. Now we’ll outline the guiding principles to consider before hiring an email marketing agency, email marketing consultant or in-house email marketing manager. Why? All too often companies make their selection based on the wrong criteria, which causes heartache, inefficiency, and a significant amount of lost productivity and dollars.
Things You Shouldn’t Do
1. Don’t limit your search geographically. Yes, the most expedient way to build trust is in face-to-face relationships, but that doesn’t mean trust can’t also be built on separate coasts or continents for that matter. Keep in mind that what you’re looking for is the correct fit. Restricting your search from the outset to a defined geographic area is unnecessarily limiting. With your marketing budget and ROI at risk, the stakes are just as high. In this day of the email and WebEx, communication is easy and instantaneous. In fact, when we do meet in person with our clients (whether they required ad hoc or fully managed services), meetings are usually focused and efficient because we’ve planned them in advance and time is limited.
2. Don’t screen out professionals based on size. If you’re a small company, you shouldn’t rule out working with a gun-for-hire simply because they offer more services and have more experience than you need; sure, you may not be a huge profit center for them but perhaps they have the precise expertise you need.
Similarly, larger clients shouldn’t exclude small agencies or independent professionals from their consideration. Talented people at the helm of small shops may have more experience than a localized email marketing professional or the mid-level staffers that would be assigned to you at a big full-service agency. It’s the attention, expertise, and ideas that matter.
3. Don’t make industry experience a must-have. Marketing pros with a lot of category experience might be subject to industry group-think. No one group or individual will ever know as much as you do about your industry, so you should hire them for what they do know: the art and science of email marketing.
One of the things I love about being in email marketing is the cross-pollination of ideas gained from working across a variety of industries. Every industry is unique, but they all share common characteristics. Often what we learn serving a client in one industry triggers a fresh idea for a client in another.
4. Don’t ask for (or entertain) speculative work. Speculative campaigns or tests are the bane of the agency business, the same holds true for email-centric ones. Spec campaigns are like steroids, they often over-inflate the presenters’ capabilities. But the biggest reason not to ask for spec work is that the best prospects–the ones you really want–won’t do it. They don’t have to. The more they are willing to jump through speculative hoops for you, the more you should be suspicious. If they’re ready to give away their work there must not be a very good market for it.
5. Don’t avoid questions about your budget. Don’t let anyone tell you that money (or budget) doesn’t talk. Each agency or outsourcer has certain client budget minimums, arrived at through experience and predicated in part by the economy and their current client load. That’s why it’s important, for the sake of conducting an informed review, that you have some idea of what your budget is or should be. Maybe you’ve had an unpleasant experience by declaring your budget early on or what you thought was too openly (remember the first website you had developed?) It happens. But as a general rule, when you speak with the interested prospects, engage in open dialogue when it comes to your budget. In the end it will save you time, energy, and money.
So how should you select an email marketing partner?
1. Do determine what you need. The worst thing you can do is hire for a job and then not let them do it. Do you need someone to lead or someone to follow? A firm that can develop strategy or an expert at execution? A consultant that likes to have fun or one that’s all business? An employee to take orders or someone who will challenge your thinking?
2. Do initiate a conversation. Send the prospects an e-mail, or give them a call. Spend a few minutes on the phone together and you’ll get an immediate sense of chemistry and interest. Ask them about their history, who their current clients are, what their core capabilities are.
3. Do invite them to review a handful of case studies. Keep in mind that you’re not looking to see if they have good outcomes to report (all of them will) but to understand the thinking behind how they arrived at their solutions. You’ll learn about their process, what it is, how it works, and how it might fit your company and culture. Is it methodical? Inspiration-based? Data-driven?
When you find a good fit, discuss with them the best way to ensure a long and successful relationship. Come to clear agreement on your expectations for compensation and services. Then fire the starter’s gun and let them work.