Are You Making This Mistake When Choosing an Ecommerce Agency? The Two Things That Drive Growth, But Few Ask About

by Taylor Holiday

Feb. 16 2021

An agency is valuable on the basis of two things. One, the quality of its people. Two, the shared knowledge of its organization.

Unfortunately, those two factors rarely make an appearance when most businesses evaluate partnerships.

Instead, ecommerce owners make the mistake of pitting performance against price: “How do we get the biggest return … for the smallest investment?”

That’s not a bad question.

In fact, benefits versus costs have to be part of your process. They just can’t be the only part.

Whether you’re interested in hiring Common Thread Collective or not, I want to help you think about these two things — (1) qualified talent and (2) shared knowledge. But first, let me get something out of the way ...

The video version of this article is titled, “Why Common Thread Collective?”

That means, I’m going to outline our unique value proposition. So, yes, this is a pitch. My hope is that it’s simultaneously a resource to guide you through agency evaluation or the choice to hire internally.

Can I deliver on both? Why don’t you be the judge.

Culture Is Everything: Valuing People & Shared Knowledge

At the end of the day, an agency is a human service business. The people are the product. That’s obvious enough.

What’s not obvious is that breadth, depth, and access to insights are equally crucial.

Operationalizing knowledge and deploying it across people is the primary mechanism by which agencies drive growth.

Put another way: If an agency can’t display their ability to produce better talent than what’s available in the market along with a system for distributing shared knowledge among its talent …

Then you will be better served hiring directly from the open market.

How are we set up to maximize both?

At the center of our ecosystem stands Common Thread Collective with about a hundred employees and ~250 clients across all services.

In addition to the agency, we also have 4x400, ADmission, and the Growth Data Tool.

You can think of them as hands, heart, and head.

First, the hands. 4x400 is our ecommerce holding company where we acquire, operate, and scale multiple DTC brands in-house. That’s another 25 people or so.

It also means we practice what we preach.

Second, the heart. ADmission is our paid-membership community with over 250 early-stage entrepreneurs. This community provides training, content, and an unmatched talent pipeline for CTC.

Third, the head — the brain of it all — our Growth Data Tool.

In this ecosystem, every piece informs the others to create a network effect — maximizing the value of the people and their knowledge.

Choose an Agency: Common Thread Collective’s Ecosystem

The Head: All Your Data + All Our Data in One Actionable Place

In building the Growth Data Tool, we’ve created a central repository to connect every bit of data from every end node throughout the ecosystem.

For individual clients, this means an all-in-one view of your business:

  1. Ecommerce platform
  2. Google Analytics
  3. Advertising platforms
  4. Email and SMS marketing
  5. Finances (like, QuickBooks)

Get an all-in-one view of your business: ecommerce platform, google analytics, fcaebook & ad platforms, email & SMS marketing, and finances (quickbooks).

Bringing those together allows us to take a holistic view of each business through the lens of our ecommerce growth formula.

Common Thread Collective's Ecommerce Growth Formula: visitors times conversion rates times lifetime value minus variable costs equals profit. The key to success in both facebook and google advertising

Dashboard mockups of Common Thread Collective's growth data tool, utilizing our growth formula to get a holistic view of business' data.
Interested in partnering with us to grow your ecommerce brand? Start a conversation here
At the ecosystem level …

It lets us create performance benchmarks, aggregated views — like comparing different brand’s 60-90 day LTV — plus, other difficult to access metrics across hundreds of ecommerce businesses.

That data informs what we call insights: (1) commonalities of high-performing brands, (2) anomalies of brands that are struggling, (3) and real answers to questions that dog DTC owners who operate in isolation:

  • Are costs — CPMs, CPCs, CPAs — rising or falling?
  • What’s a good click-through or conversion rate right now?
  • How does MER (blended ROAS) relate to different brands by vertical or by revenue size?

More data into the head equals better insights back out to the hands and heart.

The Head: all your data plus all of our data inside Common Thread Collective's growth data tool/ ADmission, Common Thread Collective, and 4x400 all share data through our growth data tool, and get unique insights from that aggregate information.

The Hands: Skin in the Game from Building Our Own Brands

Because we own five DTC brands, the strategies developed off the back of our data and insights are thoroughly operational.

Inside 4x400, every decision has an obligation to produce net profitability. We deploy our own cash against the ideas we put forward.

Skin in the game links tactics with accountability.

4x400 Brands revenue numbers from 2016 (one brand, Slick Products, totaling $100K) through 2020 (six brands: Slick Products, Fielder's Choice Goods, Bambu Earth, Modern Fuel, Thirty One Bits, and Genuine Canine; totaling $11.9M)

That operational reality informs decisions for our clients on the basis of what we are experiencing ourselves.

Traditional marketers look at the transaction, the sale, or the ROAS. Hit their numbers. And, move on.

As operators, we understand that all outcomes are not created equal.

Customers have different LTVs. Products have different margins. The same ROAS can generate dramatically different profits. The lessons from 4x400 have given birth to numerous strategies, which we pour back into our clients.

Things like …

  • Cash-flow management
  • Inventory forecasting
  • Supply-chain guidance
  • SKU-specific ROAS
  • Cohort-based LTV

Vice versa, we get growth strategies from and between our clients — where we’re working across different industries, sizes, budgets, scales, and creative angles.

All of that informs what we do on our own business side.

The Hands: we have skin in the game, sharing operational and growth strategy between Common Thread Collective and 4x400

Additionally, those strategies get produced in the form of content, which all our clients get free access to.

And that brings us to …

The Heart: Training & Talent through ADmission

Within ADmission, content consists of everything from webinars to coaching to courses. We bring in fractional CFOs and legal consultants. We also address the human side: things like culture, hiring, and employee development.

Essentially, everything that goes into building and growing a business. What happens inside of ADmission goes far beyond Facebook advertising.

A better definition than mere content would be growth-content training. By interlocking ADmission with the head (data) and hands (our brands), the ecosystem gets real-time feedback from hundreds of additional ecommerce businesses.

It’s not just access to exclusive training, it’s testing that training within a community to course-correct mistakes, identify blind spots, and double down on what works.

ADmission doesn’t just receive. It gives.

A lot of members graduate from the size of ADmission and become CTC clients. One of the goals is to progress them to the state where it makes sense to hire CTC.

We designed ADmission as the place to go before you should be spending money on an agency; where you become equipped to both understand and deploy your own campaigns, as well as evaluate future partners.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it provides an unrivaled talent pipeline.

You’ve probably heard about our Scholarship Program, where three times a year we invest in a cohort of 30 people who want to get into media buying and ecommerce.

The most-recent pool had almost 400 applicants. We train and develop with the explicit hope of recruiting. When someone moves into CTC from ADmission, they come in with a massive head start because they’ve spent an intense period of time learning and being trained in the CTC methodology.

The Heart: training and talent. ADmission serves as a training ground for talent, gaining users through their Scholarship program to learn the ins-and-outs of media-buying. That community gets trained in Common Thread Collective methodology, and learns from oprational content created by 4x400. Talent moves into full-time positions at CTC, and many employees at 4x400 started after 2-5 years working at CTC.

I’d put our development process against any training or onboarding program in the market. It ensures that our people come into accounts ready to manage and make an impact.

Network Effects of an Ecosystem & Bringing It All Back to the Two Things You Need Most

Common Thread Collective benefits from network effects in ways that most agencies don’t.

This network effect is the key differentiator. Any time there’s an entrance into the end node of the system, all of this aggregated knowledge ensures that we can deploy it rapidly.

The result? An ecosystem that moves between each part: amplifying and uniting our head, heart, and hands.

As you evaluate partners, consider what role an agency should play in your life, or contemplate hiring in-house … don’t make the mistake of ignoring the cumulative effect of people and shared knowledge.

If an agency doesn’t produce better talent than what’s available in the open market along with a system for operationalizing insight …

Don’t hire them.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about how our network can help your ecommerce business grow profitably: Then start a conversation here.

Want to find out if we’re the right growth partner for you?

We’d love to learn more about you, your ecommerce business, and your goals. Whether you’re looking for paid social, paid search, creative, or full-service … it all starts right here:

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    Taylor Holiday is the CEO of Common Thread Collective. A former professional baseball player who lucked into entrepreneurship over a decade ago, Taylor lives in Southern California with his amazing wife and three kids — “who are my world.” He’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.