How not to get stung when choosing your agency/consulting partner
The digital world is changing and growing at a rate that most cannot keep up with. More and more companies accept that external skills and support will increase the speed and efficiency to achieve the desired customer experience. According to the MCA, consulting leaders expect the industry to grow by 9% in the next 12 months. Extending your team through a consultancy can hold incredible ROI but choosing the right consultancy is vital in maximising your returns.
When looking for a new partner to deliver a vital project or work progressively with you, it is beneficial to do your homework. It’s just like buying a house; everything may look ok at face value, but you get buyers to report anyway to understand the whole situation before buying. We believe picking a partner is much the same. We have stepped in to pick up the pieces plenty of times when things have gone wrong, so our experience has given us significant insights into a few key areas that, if not checked, can cause catastrophic results and rapidly depleted budgets.
Here’s some insight into key areas we feel are vital to any decision-making process when considering a new partner:
Experience should be one of the highest priorities for any business looking to work with a digital consultancy/agency partner. While everyone needs to learn, your partner shouldn’t be taking your project to charge you for learning new skills. DMPG is committed to enhancing the skills of all employees, especially the less experienced ones shadowing, but this would never be billable time or something that could negatively impact project delivery.
Experience brings speed and efficiency. Experience lowers the amount of time to deliver the project and significantly reduces the chances of mistakes that cost time and money to fix. Case studies (ideally published, not just self-created) help validate experience but make sure you speak to a selection of their clients too. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific client references or existing client contact details rather than letting the partner cherry-pick their best relationships.
What is the value when analysing consulting/agency services? It could be considered the number of clients on a consultancies books that could translate into superior knowledge. It could be the technical experience of the delivery team vs the price. Value could be the speed that a project would take to deliver with the limited resources being made available to it by the client. While value may differ based on a client’s needs, when partners are equal on paper, what is the deciding factor?
Realistically, as the client, you set what value means, but if you do not feel like a primary and vital client to the partner, where is the value? In our opinion, we consider our value to be the efficiency and quality of work we deliver, our ability to problem-solve creatively, the transparency of our communication and projects and our relentless ability to deliver above expectations.
We also believe we provide significant value with our consulting billing rules – we do not bill for reading, critical thinking or research, only physical work. Asking a prospective partner to define their value and billing rules could open your eyes, and it may catch quite a few out! Additionally, ensure you have complete clarity around the contractual procedure. As a starting point, DMPG does not try to lock clients into long-term contracts. We are confident we deliver significant results and exceptional work not to fear a client moving away at short notice. We feel any consultancy or agency partner should adopt a similar approach. While we have a month notice period to ensure we can resource plan effectively, we do not feel the need to lock clients into contracts.
It is not uncommon for a partner to outsource part of the project to a different consultancy or an independent contractor due to a lack of a very niche skill-set or simply due to clients’ often unpredictable and sudden demand. The critical requirement here is disclosure. If both parties are fully aware of what is happening, why it is happening, and the impact of this decision, then there is no issue. In many cases, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors around this area. This lack of transparency may cause expectations to be misaligned, or the project could be delivered with massive delays and errors because the external resource was not integrated into the project delivery correctly. This, in turn, will increase the budget required to deliver the same project.
As experience pertains to certifications and accreditations, they do not always equate to real hands-on experience. However, they do give you a good understanding of how invested in the technology a partner is. It’s the same as having a driver’s license; some people are still not great drivers, but they have passed the basic understanding of the road before driving the car. Certifications and accreditations should be a prerequisite, but if you’re considering a partner without them, do make sure there is a high level of confirmed skill-set and competency in the technology and requirements you have before deciding on a partner.
Trust at DMPG is critical. Having that open communication between ourselves and our clients is the highest priority. When selecting a partner, trust starts with having transparent conversations, a documented history, and a customer track record of positive outcomes and results. Of course, partners can be trustworthy without five pages of reviews and case studies, but it’s always good to have other clients you can reach out to, to cross-reference information.
When reviewing partners, make sure you also speak to the wider delivery team, not just the pitch team. Understand how they operate, your partner team structure, who your primary project contact will be, understand what happens if things don’t go right, and understand what happens if mistakes are made during the project. The consultants and delivery team members will be your primary contacts throughout the project or projects. Getting to know them is key to understanding what an engagement would be like post signature.
While this is not an exhaustive list, they are key areas we feel can help understand how the potential partner operates as a whole. There is no shortage of possible partners, but digging just a little deeper before you make a decision can save a significant amount of pain and frustration long term. Asking the right questions will help make your decisions easier, give you peace of mind, and give you confidence that your trust and investment in a partner will be paid back to you with interest.