When designing and building websites and applications for a living (like we do), a digital firm is creating an extension of a client’s business model that touches practically every aspect of that business: Operations, technology, marketing, customer acquisition, etc. Getting to know a business on such an intimate level can create a lot of pressure for both the client and the agency. That is why fit is so important — If you don’t have a sound digital strategy, the consequences to your business can be costly. A lot of time and energy can be spent going down the wrong path due to a lack of clear communication or not understanding the capabilities of the team. The honeymoon period of working with a new team, along with any competitive advantage that you may have once enjoyed, can go away quickly. How do you ensure that your digital partner is the right one to meet the challenges ahead?
For Valentines Day, we’re donning our matchmaker’s hat and have assembled a few tips that will hopefully help you land the ideal long-term interactive partner.
Get to know them.
It may sound obvious, but often many client-agency relationships aren’t given the time to blossom. Spend some time getting to know the people that you’re trusting to build your interactive future. Who are the owners? What is their experience working with companies or organizations like yours? Who are the people that would be working on your project (and what is their experience, roles, dependability)?
A reputable partner wants to be just that, your partner, so they should be willing to meet you on more than one occasion, in multiple settings even, to get to know your business and understand your goals. If they aren’t inclined to make time for you beyond the first meeting, or seem urgent to sign and jump into work, then they likely aren’t thinking about the big picture or the partnership. If it feels like things are being rushed, it may be a signal that the agency is more concerned about signing work than successful deliveries. Ask them what percentage of their business is repeat businesses versus new business, or how many clients they have on retainer. Getting referrals from their existing customers is always a good idea.
Don’t try to change them.
Hire a team that is well established and structured to accomplish what you need them to do. Understand their core competencies, strengths and weaknesses. There’s no point thinking you can change an agency once you start dating. Agencies that are hungry for work may be less than sincere about their capabilities or capacity to deliver. Go beyond words and look at their work. Do they have experience working within a particular technology? Can they demonstrate success with a similar product or service to your own?
Your potential agency should also be forthright about their business objectives. Do their goals align with yours? Have a meaningful discussion with a potential partner about where their strengths lie and look for considered, honest answers about their weaknesses. A partnership is a two way street and a reputable company should be able to express misgivings about doing work outside their comfort zone. If you go with a team that doesn’t get it, don’t be surprised when expectations are not met.
Don’t go dark.
The key to any good relationship is communication. Expect clear communication protocols, meeting times, and set schedules of deliveries and milestones. If they are reluctant to provide them, that can be a bad sign.
A deep understanding of what you’re building, how you’re building it, time to completion, and risks or impacts to delivery are required and depend on good communication along the way. Expect weekly or regular meetings to discuss status of ongoing work and always get it on the calendar – It might just be too convenient for an agency to prioritize other work and not make the time for yours if regularly scheduled meetings are not kept. If they tell you that they have all that they need and will contact you when the work is done in three months, run in the opposite direction at full speed!
We take great lengths to stay in contact with clients during the course of the relationship, using multiple tools and channels of communication: phone, email, chat, web conferencing, forums, wikis, project and collaboration tools. No matter what methods of communication a potential agency uses, they should be comfortable adapting to communication methods that suits your business.
Evaluate the relationship periodically.
Sometimes, when working with agencies over the long term, familiarity can breed complacency. Ask yourself, does something feel amiss? Are you still made to feel special? Maybe you’re not getting results that you expected. Discuss and set clear expectations with your potential partner to determine what will be the measurements of success. Does your potential partner have the tools to measure that success? Whether success be measured by increased traffic, conversion rates, SEO or performance, get on the same page with a potential partner so both parties know what they’re working towards.
Know when to fold ’em…
Let’s be honest, some client-agency relationships don’t have a fairytale ending. Make sure that they have outlined what happens in the unfortunate circumstance that you need to terminate a contract. Who owns the work that will be produced? How easy will it be to retrieve your data should you decide to move on? A prenuptial agreement in the shape of a professional services agreement is the place to determine these answers. A respectable agency should have no problem discussing these terms.
Ending relationships is never easy, but if your agency isn’t meeting your expectations, you can’t afford to let the relationship wither on the vine. Directness and honesty is the best approach. Don’t be too hasty though – Make sure that you have a contingency plan and understand the impacts to your business should a change be necessary.
Take a moment to examine what did and didn’t work in your previous relationship so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes with the next agency you hire. Sometimes, sharing that information with a new potential partner can help both parties understand the pitfalls to avoid.
We at Spry Digital always encourage honest feedback from our partners and are always looking for ways to improve our client interactions to make our relationships more fruitful. Have any dating tips that you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below!