Hiring an email marketing agency is a serious business decision. Whether you should hire an agency ultimately depends on your organization’s needs, budget, and timeline.
For some companies, hiring an email marketing agency is an easy way to save time and money while increasing revenue. For others, it might not make sense.
In this article, we’ll shed some light on what an email marketing agency does, what it’s like to work with an agency, and how to find the right agency for you.
What Does an Email Marketing Agency Do?
Every agency offers a different suite of services, but in general, an email marketing agency manages the strategy and execution of all email marketing initiatives.
Strategy boils down to the planning of email marketing campaigns on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis and is usually based on a predefined set of objectives and key results (OKRs).
Execution is the implementation and sending of messages based on the strategy. Most email marketing agencies handle both strategy and execution, while other agencies only handle strategy and hand-off execution to an in-house team.
Here is a brief list of duties that email marketing agencies, including Quantum Lifecycle Marketing, often handle.
- Goal Setting – If you start sending emails without a clear set of goals, it’s impossible to know if your strategy is working. A good agency will work with a client to define measurable short-term and long-term goals.
- Content Creation – Writing email copy is at the core of email marketing. Successful businesses and agencies spend endless hours refining copy to find the exact messages that resonate with their target audiences.
- Template Design – You can have the best email copy in the world, but if your designs aren’t up to par, your emails won’t perform as well as you’d like. Agencies often create a set of templates for each journey and optimize them over time.
- Newsletters & Promotions – Most email marketing strategies include some sort of newsletter. Agencies work alongside businesses to plan a newsletter calendar that keeps subscribers up-to-date with the organization.
- Journeys (aka Automations or Flows) – Journeys are essential to email and lifecycle marketing. Agencies plan and create client journeys, which includes setting up triggers, piecing together flows, and building the actual emails.
- Segmentation – Segmentation is the process of splitting subscriber lists for more targeted messages. A good email marketing agency will use a data-driven approach to segmentation that is constantly refined with split testing.
- A/B Testing – Speaking of testing, every competent email marketing agency will insist on continuous testing. If your agency isn’t testing almost everything, it’s time to seek better help. Testing is necessary to improve everything from subject lines and template designs to segmentation and automations.
- CTR Optimization – A huge part of A/B testing is CTR optimization. CTR optimization is the process of tweaking template designs, email copy, and CTAs to improve the click through rate.
- Deliverability Optimization – Deliverability issues are a huge reason why companies choose to hire an outside agency. Deliverability is very technical and requires unique expertise, which in-house teams often don’t have. At Quantum, we have an entire team dedicated to deliverability.
- Data Management – Data management revolves around subscriber data and includes cleaning and scrubbing email lists, adding tags for organization, segmentation, managing suppression lists, and more.
- Reporting – Reporting is the act of sharing how well (or poorly) something is working. Most agencies share reports on a monthly basis, which should all link back to your original goals.
- ESP Setup – If your business is 100% new to email marketing, an agency can help you choose and set up your email service provider (ESP). Some agencies work exclusively with a single ESP while others, like Quantum, are platform agnostic and suggest the best tool for your unique needs.
- ESP Migration – If your current ESP doesn’t meet your needs, an email marketing agency can help migrate your data and journeys to a new ESP. Migrations are usually suggested to take advantage of more robust features.
In-House vs. Agency
The decision to hire an agency or handle your email marketing in-house is very personal. We’ve talked to marketers who feel like failures because they can’t handle everything in-house. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Let me repeat: You are not a failure for hiring outside help!
In fact, recognizing a gap in your marketing efforts means you’re paying attention to your organization’s needs.
Generally, when a company is looking to hire an outside agency, it is to fill a gap in their workforce. A gap in a company’s workforce could be anything from a lack of time, expertise, tool, or ideas. Ideally, by hiring an agency, a company can fill those gaps without hiring a new employee or team.
If your in-house team has the skills and bandwidth to execute a full email marketing strategy at scale, then congratulations! You probably don’t need to hire an agency.
But if your in-house team is already overwhelmed, doesn’t know where to start, can’t scale, etc. Then it’s time to consider outside help.
We often talk to companies with a solid email marketing foundation. They have a regular newsletter, they have basic automations, and they even perform a random test every once in a while. The reason they come to us is because they know they can squeeze even more out of their marketing. We come in and completely redesign their email templates, double or triple their number of automations, and conduct weekly tests to make sure everything is performing as well as it can.
If you’re on the fence, book a complimentary email marketing audit with us, no pressure.
In-House vs. Agency Pricing
One of the biggest concerns about hiring an agency is cost. People sometimes think it will be too expensive. From our experience, we help businesses save money compared to hiring the equivalent team.
When you hire an agency, you’re often hiring several people to work on your account. On top of that, you also gain access to the agency’s tech stack, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per month.
In the end, you’ll have to do the math. Is it worth hiring one, two, or three new employees? Or should you just hire a pre-built team that doesn’t require any training?
Partnering With an Email Marketing Agency
If you’re unsure of how an agency/client partnership works, let’s walk through what it’s like to work with Quantum Lifecycle Marketing.
The first step is always a series of discovery meetings. The first set of meetings take place before a contract is signed. This allows the two parties to learn more about each other and ensure the relationship is a good fit.
During your first meeting, it is a great idea to ask your potential email marketing agency a lot of questions. Here are some ideas to get the conversation started:
- Do you have examples of past success with a similar business?
- Can we see some templates that your team has designed?
- How can we ensure that your agency can work with our brand voice and style guidelines?
- What does your tech stack look like?
At Quantum, we often start by conducting a lifecycle marketing audit that lets us better understand your current email marketing efforts. The audit takes a deep dive into your systems and provides a detailed look at what you’re doing right and what could be improved. The audits often contain a proposal on working together if you choose to proceed.
If, during discovery, you decide to move forward with a relationship, then Quantum will move on to strategizing. To effectively strategize, Quantum will host a few more meetings to define your goals for email marketing.
For some companies, the goal is as simple as “improve revenue from email by 20%.” For others, the goals could be more specific, like “achieve 99.5% deliverability, increase website traffic by 40%, and increase subscription sales by 50%.”
Once you have a clearly defined goal, your agency should come back with a detailed strategy on how to achieve those goals. Keep in mind, strategies are fluid and should be constantly reevaluated. So the strategy you start off with might be completely different from the strategy six months from now.
After the client and agency agree on a starting strategy, the agency will move on with execution. Quantum usually sets a timeline for basic initiatives. For example:
- Week 1: Scrub existing data
- Week 2: Create four new newsletter templates
- Week 3: Set up a new browse abandonment journey
- Week 4: Split-test welcome series messages
- And so on…
Just because the relationship has moved out of the discovery and strategy phases, doesn’t mean the client needs to be kept in the dark. Depending on the agreement, you can be as involved or uninvolved as you’d like. Most of our clients prefer regular email check-ins with one or two monthly meetings.
Once the initial execution is complete, your email marketing agency will probably want to let things run for a few weeks to gather data and set a baseline. After that, it’s time to analyze the initial performance.
The goal of reporting and analysis is twofold:
- Show the client what the agency has been working on and how it’s performing.
- Identify areas of continued improvement.
The optimization stage is usually when clients start to see real results. This is when the agency can show their true skills and expertise. Every agency is different, but many will use a system to prioritize optimizations based on (1) the potential impact to performance and (2) the amount of effort it takes to implement. The general rule of thumb is to tackle optimizations in this order:
- High impact, low effort (Easy Wins)
- High impact, high effort (Major Projects)
- Low impact, low effort (Fill In Jobs)
- Low impact, high effort (Thankless Tasks)
As you can probably imagine, this is an ongoing cycle. A good agency never rests on their laurels, instead, they are constantly finding things to improve and ideas to test.
What to Look For in an Email Marketing Agency
Email marketing agencies might seem like a dime a dozen, but the good ones are actually more rare than you’d think. Here are a few things to look for before hiring an email marketing agency.
They’ve Worked in Your Vertical
From our experience, the best agencies specialize in certain areas. For example, if I were a SaaS company, I wouldn’t hire a design agency that has never worked with a SaaS company before.
At Quantum, we work almost exclusively with affiliates and online businesses (like ecommerce stores and online service providers). We stick to these verticals because we’re good at it.
When talking to a potential agency, ask them what their book of business looks like and if they’ve worked with other companies like yours.
Your Long-Term Goals Align
We’ve seen relationships end in disaster because the agency’s goals don’t properly align with the client’s goals. For email marketing, in particular, this can have devastating consequences.
The biggest example is when agencies recommended sleazy email tactics (like spam) to provide a quick uptick in sales. While this looks great for the first month or two, it can lead to disaster when your account gets flagged and deliverability tanks.
To avoid this, make sure you and your agency both think about the long-term health of your business.
Your Budget Matches Their Prices
There is no reason to be shy about pricing. While it is understandable that an agency won’t be able to give an exact price quote during the first discovery call, you should be able to get a feel for their overall price range.
If you are unsure if you can afford an agency, be up front about it. Tell them your monthly budget and see if that’s in the ballpark. Some agencies might be able to be flexible with their pricing or work on a revenue share basis.
It should be said, like with all agencies, you get what you pay for. We’ve heard too many stories of companies choosing the cheapest possible agency only to regret it later on.
They Take Accountability
If your agency refuses to admit when they make a mistake (it happens!), then run for the hills. A professional agency will hold itself to a higher standard and take accountability when a strategy or campaign fails to meet expectations.
They Are Transparent
Finally, an email marketing agency should be transparent. Everything they do should be above board and viewable by the client.
Some agencies might want to hide their secret sauce, which is ok, but it is never ok for an email marketing agency to be secretive about how they grew your email list or what tactics they are using within an email campaign.
If you think an agency is doing something shady, let us know and we can investigate for you.
If you’ve made it this far, then you’re probably curious about working with an email marketing agency. Don’t be shy! Reach out and let us know your situation and one of our friendly team members will be in contact to schedule a pressure-free discovery meeting.