How To Choose An Ecommerce Consultant

Hiring An Ecommerce Business Consultant (aka ecommerce business advisor)

Finding and hiring a qualified and experienced consultant is an investment an ecommerce owner can make to improve their business and up their ecommerce game.

To be clear, we’re talking about hiring someone who’s skilled in ecommerce, has a wealth of ecommerce online selling experience, and has actually built an online business selling physical products from the ground up. We’re talking about an ecommerce business advisor essentially.

You can quickly weed through ecommerce consultants by asking them if they have actually built a highly successful ecommerce business. I personally hired a few ecommerce consultants over the years when I was making my bones in Ecommerce. One of the “ecommerce consultants” was helpful to some extent, but clearly hadn’t built a company before and was missing the key elements I needed to grow.

An ecommerce consultant offers ecommerce advisory services in the form of training and coaching for ecommerce owners and managers.

There are digital marketing peeps out there masquerading as consultants, they can offer some value but don’t have a holistic, ground-up approach to fixing and helping you learn how to grow your business. Building a successful ecommerce business selling online typically doesn’t just happen by slapping some items for sale on a website.

There are many systems that need to be in place in order for your online store to thrive.  Finding a consultant who is knowledgeable in all aspects of ecommerce is important.

Ecommerce ChecklistEcommerce business checklist:

  • Audience
  • Infrastructure
  • Offer
  • Market Position
  • Company Culture
  • Branding
  • Reputation
  • Authority
  • Digital Marketing
  • Retention
  • Supply Chain
  • Fulfillment
  • Website Health
  • Customer Experience

These are the pillars you’ll need to recognize, build, and improve while scaling up your brand and online store traffic. Website development, product management, online merchandising, and digital marketing strategy are common topical elements but without all the foundational pillars, scaling up your ecommerce business will be an uphill battle.

When working with an online retail consultant, here are some key factors to consider:

Business problem elephantSolving Ecommerce Business Problems

If you are experiencing a problem in a specific area of your business, make sure that your ecommerce consultant is experienced with how to solve the issues important to you. Most likely, you won’t be aware of some of the important levers to move the needle; that’s why you’re hiring a consultant. However, if you have some specific areas of your business that you’d like to improve, make sure your candidate is up to the task.

It’s a good thing to remember to stay as flexible as possible with the solution they provide.  You’ve hired them for their knowledge, so it’s best to keep an open mind. Remember, you’re looking for a consultant because you want to change and improve in some area or all areas of your ecommerce business.

If you are looking to grow your company, make sure that you and your consultant are on the same page as far as what the expected growth will be and that you have the bandwidth to accommodate new growth.

Ecommerce business websiteA Consultant To Match Your Business Type

Meet with the consultant and make sure that they have relevant experience for your type of business, whether you sell B2B or B2C.  If you are selling an unbranded product, check to see if the consultant has branding experience and make sure it’s in their wheelhouse.

For example: if you have a new product that customers aren’t looking for yet, it takes a very different set of marketing skills to develop a new brand and be effective. Creating “market demand” for a new invention or private-label product with no organic searches online is a different beast entirely.

Manufacturers selling direct can get a huge leg up on competitors by getting some ecommerce help and training from a consultant.  Setting up a website to sell direct as a manufacturer is one thing but the ecommerce sales and marketing world is very different from Manufacturing.

Make sure to consider an experienced account-based B2B marketing consultant if your company is primarily B2B as well. B2C will deal more with giving your product lines visibility, expanding channels, engagement, retention, and conversions. B2B will have additional elements that include vendor portal UI, EDI Inventory sharing, AOV improvement, upsells, general brand positioning, and retail partner management.

If you don’t have customers looking for the products you’re trying to market, it’s a much different customer journey than in-demand branded products. Make sure to choose your consultant accordingly.

Ecommerce Consultant business advisorWhat are Ecommerce Consulting Services?

Every ecommerce consultant is different unfortunately and has their own style. Since I started doing ecommerce business advisory in 2014 I’ve come across marketers and web developers calling themselves ecommerce consultants. Unfortunately most of them are just marketers that broke away from an agency without the business background to offer proper ecommerce advisory services.

While they certainly have their place, they haven’t personally built a multi-million dollar ecommerce business from the ground up. There are only a handful of ecommerce consultants that have actually built a successful ecommerce business and have chosen to consult and help others instead of retiring or starting another company.

Typical ecommerce consulting services will generally consist of an assessment of some type to see where your business is currently, and find short-term and long-term ways to optimize and increase overall business performance.

This includes everything from social media audience building, customer profiling, digital marketing, and conversion optimization. An ecommerce consultant will review more than just marketing. I’ve seen businesses wonder why their marketing wasn’t working, they had decent traffic but shoppers weren’t buying. Why?

The answer for why a site doesn’t convert is complex and multi-faceted.

An online business consultant will have the experience and toolset to perform an ecommerce consultation, assessing the business, not just the website. It’s important to hire a consultant who’s literally done “this” personally, so they have the experience to draw on with inventory management, branding, catalog management, online merchandising, customer journey and retention strategies.

Ecommerce strategy isn’t limited to marketing. Positioning and developing an online brand is a complex process to navigate. Experienced ecommerce business consultants will know what actions to take and in the most beneficial order. A good ecommerce coach can help define the next perfect steps to take to increase the health of your business as well as sales.

For example; don’t worry about driving traffic to your website…if your website is not enticing and doesn’t provide an “irresistible” offer of some kind. You also don’t want to focus on email marketing if your website has errors or slow speed issues. A good ecommerce consultant will know if your ecommerce platform is right for you or if you need to migrate to another ecommerce cart that’s a better fit for your products and business.

The best ecommerce consultants will have expert knowledge of Google Analytics and be able to not only use that data to help your business but educate you on which KPI’s are important to your business. Google Analytics ecommerce data can offer a great 30,000-foot view digital profile baseline for online business owners once they know how to interpret the data.

Once an ecommerce consultant has done a proper ecommerce assessment, they’ll be able to offer tangible next steps to improve sales and overall ecommerce performance. Some consultants are hired to solve a specific problem for a limited time, when the problem is solved and the scope of work is complete the consultant moves on. Other ecommerce consultants will work as an extended part of the client’s team, constantly assisting in guiding the business over time and coaching the client through challenges and opportunities with their business.

ecommerce cart elementsEcommerce Experience – solving ecommerce problems you didn’t know you had

You may have a specific problem that you need help with, and finding an ecommerce consultant with that specialty is key to getting great results.

However; when you engage an ecommerce consultant for help you can rely on them to find opportunities that you simply didn’t see before. Be careful not to have preset opinions about the biggest issues with your business. Let the consultant find the lowest-hanging fruit initiatives that will generate money and solve the problems your business has. Micromanaging your consultant can stifle progress and actively slow down the timeline for business solutions.

Finding an ecommerce consultant who is knowledgeable in ecommerce but also in business can help identify other issues that you may have not thought about.

Make sure the ecommerce consultant you select has experience with the ecommerce shopping cart solution you’re using. For example, if you’re using an incredibly complex cart like Magento or even Shopify Plus you’ll want to have a specialist that knows those carts well. For more entry-level carts like Shopify Standard, Big Commerce or Volusion (legacy solution) it’s less important at the initial launch but is still helpful and a strong consideration if you’re serious about growing online sales.

Make sure your consultant also has some experience with eCommerce PIM tools and ERPs if that’s something you are currently using or want to use.

The few consultants I’ve met that were worth their salt were previous Directors of Ecommerce that switched over to consulting. They will have at least cursory knowledge of relevant system types and their workflow and benefits. Have they built a company from the ground up, maybe, be at least a director of ecommerce will have had some experience actually running a company and is not just a marketer. If you can find a consultant who’s held the role of DOE with successful ecommerce stores you’re on the right track.

What is it like to work with an ecommerce consultant?

Be prepared to be engaged in the project alongside your consultant.  Even the best consultants can fail if the client is not engaged and active in the process.

The consultant is there to assess and conquer problems and unearths opportunities for your business, but they aren’t there to do the work. They are your guide through the ecommerce maze. They can define the next steps, answer questions and help with solutions on many levels.

Ecommerce consultants aren’t just for business growth. Top ecommerce consultants are frequently pulled in when a business is having a slow year and current staff can’t figure out why there’s been a slow down. This is a perfect storm that a highly qualified consultant can help solve.

When you get started, be ready to answer tons of questions about your business, niche, and customer profile. If you’re not actively working with the consultant, assign a highly accountable team member to be a liaison between the consulting firm or consultant and your team. Having one voice from your team makes communication efficient, clear, and accountable. Learn everything that you can from your consultant while you have them.

Any business consultant can become a long-term part of your team, especially when they’ve made you millions of dollars. However, if you are using them short-term, once they are gone, it will be on you to continue with the procedures and marketing that have been put in place, so take notes and ownership of the information shared.

Make sure that you provide your consultant with all of the information they need quickly.  Give prompt feedback so timelines can be met.  Giving the proper support to your consultant is well worth the effort to make sure you get the results you want from your business.

Ecommerce Budget
Ecommerce Budget

How much does an ecommerce consultant cost?

Consultants have the ability to make your business literally boatloads (10s of millions) of money, but when you’re a new or struggling business, it can be tempting to try to skimp on consulting fees. If you hire a cheap consultant, you’ll get just that 99% of the time. There are only a few really amazing consultants out there that are qualified and do it because they want to help people. Most experienced consultants have made a lot of money in ecommerce already and have made the choice to help others.

Resist the urge to go for the cheapest consultant you can find.  Would you hire the cheapest brain surgeon?

It will end badly if you take business advice from the wrong consultant that doesn’t have the experience to actually help you.

Make sure you don’t hire a digital marketing pro instead of a consultant. Ask them if they’ve ever build an ecommerce business from the ground up. If they haven’t they won’t be able to provide the foundation for business growth you’ll need.

I have personally had to come in and clean up messes from hiring an inexperienced consultant or digital marketer that got things off track.  I’ll leave you with a Judge Judy quote “the cheap comes out expensive.”


Researching an ecommerce consultant

Do your due diligence and make sure your agency or ecommerce consultant has the appropriate experience to be working with you. There are a handful of ecommerce consulting firms out there.

Research, what are their past clients saying about them. Search their online reviews and see if other ecommerce business owners liked working with them and got results.

There are many false profit-type consultants that promise the world and just don’t have the experience to get you the results you’re looking for. They mean well but can’t deliver.

Check references and what others are saying about the consultant and their company online with reviews and general google searches before you decide on before you spend a dime with them.

Make sure you hire someone that’s been where you want to go and has achieved the goals you’re looking to achieve success. Also, remember that person has likely made tens of millions of dollars online and isn’t going to be cheap.

We Optimize your business to perform at levels you’ve only dreamed of to increase the profitability of your store through proven strategy recommendations.
New to eCommerce… we got you covered. We’ve helped online stores increase sales using many different ecommerce cart solutions including Shopify, Magento, Volusion, Storefront, MIVA Merchant and more.

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What is Ecommerce Consulting?

How is a consultant going to make you more money? Is there a secret knob somewhere…that’s actually not far off the mark. Find out what to expect generally when you hire an e-commerce consultant who knows what types of moves to make to increase market share, traffic and sales for your business. Read more here

Ecommerce Consulting

Conversion Rate Optimization

Order Management

Engagement and Retention

Shopify Help

Magento Help

Platform-Specific Consulting

Get your ecommerce sales growing again!

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