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October 2, 2023

10 Must-Ask Questions Before Choosing an Email Marketing Agency

‎‏‏‎Choosing the right email marketing agency can elevate your business to new heights. But, make the wrong pick, and it can be a financial drain with huge opportunity costs. Stick around, and we’ll guide you through essential questions that will help you avoid the worst pitfalls and traps.

What Exactly is an Email Marketing Agency?

For those in the e-commerce world, an email marketing agency is your best ally in increasing your customer lifetime value (CLV) and driving your cost per acquisition down through cost-efficient remarketing.

Unlike a Full-Service Agency, which might offer general digital marketing strategy, social media marketing, content marketing, SEO, and more, an email marketing agency is highly specialized in email marketing. However, the elite ones, like YOCTO, don’t just stop at emails; they’re weaving magic with SMS, Push, and In-App services, covering the whole spectrum of mobile marketing.

And while some agencies may swear by one technology, say Klaviyo, the more advanced ones are tech agnostic, embracing diverse technologies. For example, at YOCTO, Iterable is one of our go-to technologies for bigger brands.

The Real Benefits of Hiring an Email Marketing Agency

From a resource allocation standpoint, when you divert resources to master a new marketing channel, you’re sidelining your team from what they are already great at. Consider this: If you want good shoes, you buy them; you don’t become a shoemaker. It’s a simple principle, but it applies to hiring an agency, too.

The average agency operator will simply get exposed to significantly more problems than the average in-house operator. In YOCTO, we take this a step further. We’ve established a knowledge-sharing practice we call the ‘cross-account audit’ where one Strategist audits another Strategist’s work. This always results in net new ideas and learnings with 0 disruptions for our clients. 

Cost-wise, agencies are generally more economical than building an in-house marketing team. Compare the average CRM manager’s salary of $114,108 per year in the USA to an agency’s monthly retainer fee which usually lies between $4000 to $7500. Plus, with an agency, you don’t just get a CRM expert. You’re also gaining a copywriter, a designer, a project manager, and sometimes even more specialized roles, like an implementor, dedicated QA support, and more.

Key Questions to Guide Your Agency Hunt

1. How Many and What Types of Clients Does The Agency Serve Currently?

Knowing who the agency has worked with is about getting tangible proof. A strong online presence helps, but what you really want to see is evidence that they’ve successfully tackled projects similar to what they promise they can do for you. You’re not just looking for broad success stories, or know-how for a specific technology, but deep, vertical industry experience and a grasp of your target audience. 

For example, at YOCTO, our specialization in health and wellness, especially women’s health, has equipped us to address unique challenges, such as mastering HIPAA compliance and crafting sensitive, resonant copy on delicate subjects.

It might sound like an obvious question but don’t be afraid to ask for references or any other tangible record of success. Case studies are good, but they’re not the same as talking to existing or past clients directly. 

2. How Is the Agency Team Structured & Who Will Manage Your Account?

This one is about the people behind the scenes. It’s common to see an experienced marketer, sometimes the founder, pitch the services but then pass the actual work to junior team members.

Ensure you know exactly who you’ll be working with, who’ll be involved, and how competent they are. This is the only way to make an informed decision. You don’t want to be promised a maestro and then handed over to an apprentice who has no clue about industry trends. 

YOCTO’s standard team of experts includes a Strategist, a Campaign Manager, a Copywriter, a Designer, and an Operations Manager to help coordinate everything.

3. How Many Other Clients Will They Be Managing?

This question gives you a peek into the depth of service you can expect. Many proficient and creative agencies spread themselves thin by handling too many clients, diluting the impact of their service, and making the relationship feel transactional. 

In many digital marketing agencies, it’s common for email marketers to work with 7, 10, or even 15 brands at a time. To combat this, at YOCTO, we enforce a strict rule where one Strategist works with a maximum of 3 clients, maintaining the quality and personal touch of our services.

Generally speaking, the fewer other clients your agency team will work with, the better it is for you. 

4. How Does The Onboarding Process Work?

If there’s any hesitation or vagueness in answering this, consider it a red flag. A professional agency should detail its onboarding process, leaving no room for uncertainty.

At YOCTO, we kick off with a comprehensive questionnaire to grasp a 360° view of the brand, followed by two weeks dedicated to strategy development, involving meticulous research, audits, customer journey mapping, and finally charting out a clear, robust roadmap for the ensuing months.

If the agency you’re speaking to has no clear plan for what happens after you sign your contract, it’s fair to say they’re winging it. If they don’t sign a contract at all, then you can be absolutely sure that they’re winging it. 

5. How Does The Communication & Day To Day Look Like?

This question will offer a glance into the agency’s level of professionalism and maturity. A response like ‘anything goes’ or ‘constant communication is cool’ might seem appealing but actually indicates a lack of structured processes. Conversely, a rigid communication policy shows inflexibility and sluggishness.

Ideally, you want a balanced approach: structured communication cadences and channels coupled with the flexibility for urgent interactions.

For instance, a structured bi-weekly reporting call, task-related discussions in a project management tool like ClickUp, and a direct, responsive communication channel like a shared Slack channel strike the perfect balance.

6. How Well Do They Utilize Project Management Tools?

When choosing an agency, familiarity with their project management tools can offer a glimpse into their transparency and organizational approach. It’s less about the tool they use, be it ClickUp or Asana, and more about clarity in task allocation, progress, and adherence to initial goals set.

An indicator of a well-functioning agency is the use of time tracking. That’s because time tracking allows an agency to track their billable hours and project costs, which implies they do take efficiency seriously. 

7. Are They Familiar With Your Technology Stack?

It’s not just about mastering the email service provider; it’s about understanding your entire tech ecosystem. From how your subscriptions and post-purchase upsells work to familiarity with personalization apps, quizzes, and, of course, your e-commerce solutions like Shopify, Prestashop, and Magento.

Beware of those who are limited to sending emails; optimal results are achieved with a partner having extensive e-commerce knowledge. At YOCTO, a thorough technology audit is conducted for every client, ensuring maximum utilization of current tech and identifying any gaps that need addressing.

8. How Much Does The Service Cost & What’s Included?

Email marketing agencies usually charge between $250 to $700 per email, covering strategy, copywriting, design, and implementation. The pricing structures vary, with per-hour, per-project, revenue share, and retainer service being the most popular.

For retainer services, expect to pay between $4000 to $7500, influenced by the agency’s location and size. Generally speaking, a more experienced, larger team means a greater price. A digital agency that also offers other services, like social media strategy, search engine optimization, and CRO, will likely use email marketing as an upsell to its core service, totaling a five-figure monthly retainer.  

Avoid revenue share agreements unless you have a clear attribution of revenue to email, as they can easily get out of control, causing you to overpay unnecessarily. A somewhat less risky agreement might include an initial fee, with a non-scalable upside when a certain KPI or target goal is achieved.

9. How Do They Develop Strategy?

When we talk about strategy, it’s not just about campaign calendars, or having fancy ideas like gamification within the emails. A genuine strategy encompasses what you say (marketing), what you do (customer experience), and what you sell (product assortment).

Look for agencies with strong skills in qualitative and quantitative research, indicating a holistic, less siloed approach to business. The right partner should help you refine your message, enhance your customer experience, and optimize your product assortment, relying on a combination of data, customer feedback loops, and industry insights.

In our perspective, another good indicator of an agency having strategic capability is having team members with brand-side experience.  

10. What Kind of Return on Investment Can You Expect?

This is somewhat of a trap question. Be cautious with anyone guaranteeing specific ROI; every business and audience is unique, and promises of certain returns are usually unfounded.

A more reliable agency will refer to past successes and similar cases to provide expectations, leaning on experience to make more accurate projections, but it remains an educated guess. A slightly more realistic approach involves financial modeling, presenting potential outcomes through example scenarios.

Remember, many variables are outside the agency’s control, and claims of absolute control over results (we will achieve X in Y days) should be met with skepticism.

Your Email Marketing Agency Partner Matters

The essence of finding the right partner lies not just in their technical expertise or impressive portfolios but in their approach, their understanding of your specific needs, and their ability to harmonize their strategies with your business goals.

Whether it’s YOCTO’s specialization in health and wellness, our robust onboarding process, our balanced communication approach, or our thorough understanding of e-commerce technologies, the right agency will not only be a vendor but a partner, a co-creator in your journey to marketing success.

They will help you craft resonant messages, refine customer experiences, and optimize your product assortment, ushering your business to new heights while ensuring you’re informed, involved, and in control every step of the way. 

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