By Jared Shaner, CRO & Partner of Trellis

In light of everything going on in the world today, e-commerce has come to the forefront as many companies fundamentally adjust how they conduct business. In my work running a top e-commerce agency, I’ve seen a flood of new requests from business leaders trying to bolster their e-commerce channels or build an e-commerce channel from scratch as quickly as humanly possible. The issue is that the majority are approaching their e-commerce channels without having their stuff together first.

Let’s say a company is contemplating hiring an e-commerce software development agency to design and build a suite of online commerce tools. The company is interested in what precisely is incumbent on it in order to help ensure successful engagement. In other words, what can a prospective client do to “have its stuff together” ahead of hiring a digital agency?

For the purposes of this article, we will assume it’s a totally “greenfield” project, where there are no existing e-commerce assets to be rewritten, transferred, reimagined and so on.

1. Allocate your resources.

This cannot be overstated. Custom software development projects are an art as well as a science, and there will be challenges unique to your project that will require creativity on the part of the technologists to solve. Some challenges may require more time and money to overcome. Prospective clients should be aware of this and plan accordingly.

Engaging with a digital agency is a dialectic process, where initial concepts can pivot on a dime, and an extra week of work can result in a product that generates millions more in revenue. The prospective client should have already made the decision that this work is extremely important -- critical to the long-term success of the enterprise -- and should, therefore, have allocated funds commensurate with the amount of revenue it expects to generate from online sales. 

2. Show; don’t tell.

Don’t tell the agency about your ideas and your grand vision; show them the data. This is when you have to give the agency the concept as briefly as possible and then demonstrate the market opportunity, competitive landscape, customer demographics and geography, competitive advantage, uniqueness of your offering, potential channel partners and more -- with data. All decisions should be data driven. It’s a cliché at this point, but it’s especially true for software design and development. 

3. Define your hierarchy. 

You should have your own internal “hierarchy,” or assigned roles for your engagement with the agency. This framework, along with processes for decision-making and communication, should be made clear to the agency from the outset. The agency may have its own preferred communication tools, but you must have your own “rules” for your staff to ensure you are speaking with one voice.

4. Remember, you are hiring a creative agency, not a CRM or ERP systems administrator.

To the extent, in this example, that your project requires e-commerce back-office integrations, you should be prepared to take ownership of the integration on your internal system’s end. If you lack the internal resources to do so, I would refer you to step one in this guide before seeking an agency’s services.

5. There is no such thing as too much information.

Do you have to watch Judge Wapner at 4:00? Does your company not work on odd-numbered Wednesdays? Are you left-handed? Pray tell. We all have our own styles, and no two businesses are alike. What are your standards? What are your opinions? What means the most to you? What is unique about your culture and work environment? What can your counterparts expect from you?

Your agency partners need to know about all the quirks of your industry, your offering and your daily operations. All of these elements inform your brand and its messaging. An e-commerce platform should be a unique expression of your brand and the people behind it. Ask yourself who you are as a group of people, a company and a brand -- and then share your answers with your prospective agency partners. Your project will be in a much better place because you did.

I spoke some months ago about finding your cultural match when choosing an agency, but I cannot overstate the importance of finding an agency that fully understands the breadth of your project and your organization’s goals, as well as the way you like to do business. Before you can commit, you have to “date” a bit and make sure there is a deeper fundamental alignment.

Jared Shaner is CRO & Partner of forward-thinking ecommerce agency Trellis, overseeing the agency's client success, marketing and growth.