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What does a successful web engagement look like from a client’s perspective? How about from the perspective of an agency? How can these two perspectives be aligned to maximize the experience for both parties?
That is the topic for discussion and I’ve been on both sides of the fence before. It is my hope that I can smooth the process for all parties concerned with several handy tips.
The Ground Rules
First, let me explain what I mean by a ‘Web Engagement’. This term refers to an engagement between a client and a service provider for the purpose of completing an internet based project. These engagements may include website builds, online marketing work, website integration projects and much more. A ‘Web Engagement’ is a broad term that simply refers to any occasion where a person or business seeks outside consultation, including swot analysis, assistance or collaboration in achieving online goals.
1. Make Sure You Don’t Irritate Each Other
This may sound like a no-brainer, but, the digital world is full of larger than life personalities and sometimes these personalities clash. This helps no one and createsa relationship fraught with pain and sleepless nights – not to mention the economic costs.
First and foremost, any engagement is about the relationship between agency and client and the success (or failure) of this relationship sometimes hinges simply on the personalities involved and how they mesh. If they don’t, it will always be a struggle, no matter how well-intentioned both parties are.
From the first time you meet, try to get a sense of whether you speak the same language. Do you have similar levels of knowledge and experience or are the parties at least willing to learn from each other? Can both parties be honest with each other without it turning into a mudslinging match? Is each party prepared to be accountable to each other and able to admit mistakes and take steps to rectify them in a good faith manner?
You may not be able to answer all of these questions from day one, but you will soon work out whether the ‘fit’ is right for you. The client should feel welcomed, appreciated and respected. The agency should feel the client will be able to appreciate and respect their expertise and advice, whilst being able to communicate their online goals clearly and succinctly. If you can achieve these then you are already on your way to web nirvana.
2. Make Sure the Budget Fits
It is a complete waste of time if agency and client are always light years apart in terms of budgeting for projects or retainer/ongoing work. Clients can feel taken advantage of if proposals are always more than they expected them to be and agencies struggle to work with unrealistic budgets despite their best efforts to accommodate.
Agencies target different tiers of the market based on many factors which may include:
- Competition level in various market tiers. Most agencies want to target tiers not already crowded with vendors for the obvious commercial reasons.
- Their own abilities and resources. There is no point in an agency biting off more than they can chew – it only leads to client disappointment. Conversely, larger agencies need larger project work to keep all their resources deployed efficiently.
- Business and lifestyle goals of the owner(s). Some agencies want to remain small and personal and target clients based on these goals. Some agencies are out to conquer the world and they craft their business strategy, resources and client acquisition accordingly.
To ensure a happy engagement, make sure that your budgeting is in reasonable harmony with each other.
3. Communicate Specific and Clear Goals
As a client it is important that you communicate your goals succinctly to the agency you engage with.
This is not a business 101 article but many may not know that business methodology and terminology owe their origins to the military. That is why terms like ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ are used. In the military, an operation is completely planned around a central mission or objective. This is often illustrated by the acronym MOST: Mission, Objectives (aka: Goals), Strategy and Tactics, in that order.
Many clients want to discuss tactics at the outset, skipping crucial planning steps in the process. Here are some examples:
- A client wants to build a ‘pretty’ eCommerce website. ‘Pretty’ is a very subjective word. The client will need to articulate what is pretty to them by showing examples of sites they would describe as pretty. A pretty website is generally not a noble goal in and of itself, it should be a tactic that is guided by an online strategy and over-arching goals.
- An agency proposes that they manage your PPC ads. They can’t do this effectively unless they know your strategy and goals. If they don’t open this type of discussion with you then they are not doing their job completely.
Our advice for client is, if you don’t have a business strategy which is goal focused – get one, and fast. All measurements of success need to be weighed against a strategy and the goals that underpin it. Our advice for agencies is, make sure that at the outset of any engagement your clients have a strategy or are prepared to pay you to develop one for them. Otherwise you run the risk of aiming for goals that you think are important but mean nothing to your clients.
4. Hold an Expectation Setting Session
This really comes down to expectation setting from both parties. If a client expects a project to be completed in two weeks and a more realistic time frame iseight weeks, there is going to constant friction from about the three- week mark .
The truth is, the simpler a digital project sounds, the more complex it is likely to be. We are continually reminded of this in our work. If we made a dollar for every time a client said, ‘this should be fairly easy for you to do for us’, we could have closed up shop rich a long time ago.
Expectations need to be revisited constantly to ensure both parties are on the same page. It is imperative that any agency consistently and routinely articulate their processes, procedures and systems to a client so the client knows what to expect and is rarely surprised. No one likes a rude shock, so the more transparent the relationship can be, the better.
Of course this assumes that the chosen agency has consistently used systems in the first place. If they are continually making it up as they go along then maybe clients need to look elsewhere so that the relationship will be more predictable.
5. Engage all Required Parties at the Outset
Get everyone around the table to talk about your project, at least for an initial meeting. Not all agencies can be all things to all clients.
Some agencies, however, are one-stop shops and can take you from assisting in articulating your goals right through to online success. Others can help with specific tactics only (such as Pay-Per-Click Management) or offer almost everything except consultation on or implementation of your website with external enterprise systems such as ERP or CRM. Yes others build or market websites only.
It is always in the clients’ best interest to ask what their agency’s core competencies are and then plan accordingly. Ask them whether they will manage any additional external resources required (and what their fees for doing so are) or if you will need to engage with each resource independently. If you already have relationships with other agencies for specific work, always advise your new agency of these historic relationships so that there is no confusion or friction down the track.
6. Make Sure all Parties Understand the Project Resource Commitment Required
This is a biggie and can lead to frayed nerves if not made clear right from the start. Many first time web clients think that after a couple of initial scoping meetings, an agency will go away and beaver in isolation, not requiring much input until final project User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and sign-off.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The client will need to be available for several reasons, such as:
- ‘Work in Progress’ calls or meetings
- Emails asking for scope clarifications
- Emails or calls asking for increased budget/time approvals
- Meetings about project timeline changes
- Meeting, calls or emails about client requested scope changes
- Meetings or calls about marketing opportunity consultation
- Functionality testing to ensure it does what the client wants
Truly the list of potential ongoing client time commitment is almost endless. The person acting as point person from the client side needs to assume that their time will be largely consumed liaising with their chosen agency(s) form the duration of any project.
The time commitment required from marketing clients can be even larger. This is due to the typically ongoing nature of marketing/retainer based work vs.a more fixed timeline for project-based build work which have fairly concrete timelines and deliverables.
7. Don’t Forget Management Time
It is also worth noting the typically massive investment required in ‘management’ hours. This includes ‘Project Management’ time for fixed term/scope projects and ‘Account Management’ time for ongoing/retainer based work. We always advise clients that agency management time typically adds 20percent to the project cost as a starting point. Depending on the demands of the client, this can run as high as 50percent or more.
Some clients are dumbfounded by this figure and believe that management of the work should be free since the agency profits off of the work itself. This is unrealistic because managers’ coral the resources required for a project, schedule them and typically manage all client facing communication (which can be considerable).
Clients must pay for a dedicated resource so they get the attention they deserve throughout the duration of the engagement.
8. Manage Post Project Expectations
This is another pain point that arises often in the agency world. What generally causes this is an ongoing expectation after a new website goes live. The reason for this is that clients get intense attention during a build from their project manager. Once a site goes live and is signed off, the project manager is assigned to manage new projects and is often no longer available to historic clients.
As a result of this, clients go from feeling loved to feeling unloved in a matter of weeks – a rude shock to the system for any client. Clients forget that they paid for that priority treatment in the form of project management hours. After going live retaining that same level of treatment is hard unless they commit to an ongoing spend with the agency to justify that kind of resource availability.
This commitment can take the form of an ongoing service/support contract or an ongoing marketing contract. In each case, the client is often assigned an ‘Account Manager’ to approximate the love they got from their project manager at build time.
So there you have it, eight tips that will hopefully assist agencies and clients to get the most out of their relationship with each other!
Rosaria Elias graduated from the philological faculty with honors, professionally engaged in journalism, writing articles on various topics. Study business on specialized courses and successfully implement knowledge in projects.