How to Choose an Email-Marketing Consultant: 10 Questions Everyone Should Ask

If you’re looking to increase the return on investment from your email-marketing efforts, an email-marketing consultant may be the answer. But how do you find a consultant who has the expertise needed to identify and implement the improvements you strive for?

Having a general knowledge of what’s involved in email marketing is the first step to selecting the right consultant. As outlined in last month’s NewsLever feature, “Email Marketing Overview: What You Need to Know,” there are many strategies and tactics for building a successful email program. It involves more than simply using a mass-marketing distribution tool, such as Constant Contact, to send out weekly “blasts” selling your latest product or service.

An email-marketing consultant must have a deep understanding of the many marketing components involved in getting email out the door. This understanding is what separates consultants who simply crank out creative copy and designs from those who have an understanding of the strategies, tactics, and idiosyncrasies of email marketing. Email marketing is a discipline that’s complicated, changes frequently, and requires a lot of testing and continuing education. If your prospective consultant isn’t focused on email, driving email-marketing results efficiently and cost effectively will be next to impossible

Evaluating an Email-Marketing Consultant’s Skills and Tactics

The following highlights 10 questions to ask about the key skills and tactics you’ll want to consider as you choose an email-marketing consultant or firm to help you get your email-marketing efforts to the next level.

  1. Does the email-marketing consultant have the ability and experience to develop the underlying strategies for your campaign?
    As you choose an email-marketing consultant, his or her strategic skills and insight are among the most important areas to evaluate. You’ll want to look for strategic expertise across several levels, including:

    • demonstrated experience in building businesses.
    • a deep understanding of branding.
    • a working knowledge of the strategic use of the multitude of interactive tools, including email, Web sites, social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), and search engine optimization.
    • the ability to conceptualize, design, and architect a campaign strategy to support the overarching marketing objectives.
  2. Does the email-marketing consultant understand how to build and manage a list?
    It all starts with your list—a high-quality, well-managed list. Your consultant must know how to build a list, manage its growth, and work through any challenges of unsubscribes, spam complaints, and inactive user issues. The consultant must do more than assume you have a list—it’s his or her business to help you build that list.

    Then, once you have the list, your consultant must know how to use it. If consultants talk about “blasts,” beware. Blasts are emails that go out in bulk without great consideration for the segmented needs of your audience. Knowing how to develop segments, capture the demographic information that assigns subscribers to those segments, and then create unique and resonating offers and content is the key to success. Without the experience of segmentation, your consultant will be missing the opportunity to maximize your conversion and ultimate returns.

  3. When it comes to creating and designing promotional emails and email newsletters, does the email-marketing consultant do more than simply provide you with a template?
    Design is one thing, but creating an effective email that works is another. An email expert brings solid design capabilities so that your email not only looks aesthetically appropriate, but also incorporates the components you need to drive the desired call to action, such as getting people to visit your Web site. This goes hand in hand with the next topic, copywriting. If your consultant speaks primarily about branding, he or she may be great designer but may lack other skills that can cost a lot in the email world of opens, click-throughs, and conversions.

    Be sure your consultant can explain the logic behind not only the design, but also the structure and location of the actual components of an email. Does he or she know how to create the eye path necessary to move people to the call to action?

  4. Does the email-marketing consultant understand how to write effective copy for email and landing pages?
    Copywriting involves much more than knowing how to express your offer. It also requires knowing how much copy to use. Plus, understanding the role of the email relative to the landing page—what copy should go where—is also essential. Does your email-marketing consultant know how to write and test subject lines? Finally, can your consultant guide you in terms of what copy should be tested and how to effectively test it? Marketing involves continual testing. That’s why an email consultant with a strong combination of email copywriting and design skills will help ensure you make the right decisions for improving your campaigns.
  5. Does the email-marketing consultant have strong technical skills and understand the numerous differences between coding an email and a Web page?
    Someone you hire to help create and improve email campaigns should understand how the underlying code in an email affects its rendering and deliverability. Dreamweaver alone does not equate to a great email.

    If you have a peek at some emails coded by your prospective vendor, look for things such as internal style sheets at the top—a no-no in email, yet I see them all the time. Also, can your consultant speak to the variations in rendering across a multitude of email clients? An email-marketing consultant should be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills to ensure consistent, or at least appropriate, rendering across all email clients.

  6. Does the email-marketing consultant understand and use email and Web analytics to test and continuously improve email-marketing programs?
    Producing successful email campaigns takes more than experience and skills in email alone. In fact, metrics are the key to ongoing improvement. If your consultant focuses on email marketing, then he or she should be able to explain the metrics tracked, why, and how. You should also inquire about how such metrics are used in test plans and how they impact a progression of ongoing improvement.

    The metrics should include much more than opens, click-throughs, and unsubscribes. If you’re trying to increase the send frequency of your email, for example, you’ll want to be looking at changes in the unsubscribe rate, spam complaints, initial conversions, revenue, long-term list growth, and more. Consider asking for a sample report or example of how your consultant has used metrics to improve results for clients.

  7. Do the certifications and training of the email-marketing consultant and staff indicate that they are current on the latest technologies?
    This is a big one in my book. Passion breeds learning. Someone who is focused on doing the best for his or her clients with email should be constantly learning. Does the consultant—and his or her team—regularly attend webinars and conferences, speak at meetings, write articles and blogs, and so on? What education and certifications do they have? You need to count on your email-marketing consultant or team to bring you the ideas. Some can be truly unique, while other ideas can simply be the modification of proven best practices that are already well tested.

    Be sure to ask your prospective consultant about his or her thoughts on some of the most important, recent developments for driving the best email-marketing results. There are always new best practices to be aware of.

  8. In what ways does the email-marketing consultant incorporate search engine optimization (SEO), which is essential for improving overall online success today?
    Over the years, it has become increasingly clear how SEO can and should be used to drive list growth, guide newsletter article writing (i.e., know what people are searching for and write about that), and more. Suffice it to say that a strong knowledge of SEO can help a lot with your email-marketing efforts.

    For example, can your consultant suggest new insights and trends uncovered through keyword analysis? Ask your consultant how he or she has used keyword research for other clients to drive content development and develop offers that resonate. And does your consultant understand how to optimize newsletter articles on your site? If not, you’re losing a big opportunity to take even greater advantage of your investment in an email newsletter.

  9. Does the email-marketing consultant have a good understanding of the important interaction between email marketing and the use of social media?
    Today, email must be integrated with social media. At FulcrumTech, we’ve seen firsthand how Twitter can drive list growth. In addition, understanding how Facebook can be integrated in a way that extends the reach of a campaign and, hence, the results is important. As you consider prospective consultants, find out whether they have a presence on such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Also, ask for examples of how they currently use social media for their clients’ email-marketing programs.
  10. What level of experience and knowledge does the consultant have with the email marketing tools on the market?
    There are myriad tools for distributing email, managing lists, testing emails, improving deliverability, monitoring success, integrating with social media, and even analyzing the competition. The list goes on. Your consultant needs to knows about—and have at least some experience with—a number of these tools. That way, when a challenge arises for you, he or she can recommend solutions that are readily available without recreating the wheel.

    You might ask about your prospective consultant’s experience with multiple email service providers. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The more your consultant knows, the better he or she can guide you towards the right one. Also, when it comes to testing emails and ensuring high deliverability (or solving big deliverability problems), your vendor should be able to speak about some of the tools he or she uses to address such challenges.

The Bottom Line—Results!

Everything noted in this article is important, but only to the extent that the consultant can actually generate the results you want. So, be sure to ask about the results that the consultant has achieved for others. Do keep in mind that no two projects are the same, so you’re ultimately looking for the individual or team you’re confident can deliver for you.

If you need email-marketing advice, be sure to give the experts at FulcrumTech a call at 215-489-9336. We have the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to deliver the results you’re looking for.

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