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Choosing a Partner Not a Platform

Brian Eirich
#Industry Insights
Published on December 31, 2013

Selecting a digital agency to work with your business can be decided in many ways, here I will cover a "partner first" approach.

In my role as the Director of Client Partnerships, I interact with potential client partners on a daily basis. Over the years, I have seen a number of different strategies that organizations use to select a digital agency to work on key assets such as their website, mobile, or Ecommerce presence. The strategy that I’m going to discuss in this blog is “Choosing a partner not a platform” or a “partner first” strategy in looking for outside digital expertise that some of our clients have used in selecting partners. But before I get into why this is important and how it benefits the client, I want to discuss the environment of the modern day marketer.

All channels at all times working together seamlessly

Omnichannel is the reality of today’s digital marketing world in which all channels (social, mobile, web, etc.) are important in the journey to conversion or purchase. We need to reach customers where they live with information that is relevant to them. Okay, check. A good number of marketing people get that. However, just having a presence on all the channels is only one part of the solution in today’s environment. CEM (Customer Engagement Management) is now the new imperative to provide excellent customer experiences that allow you to change quickly and adapt to their needs. Some of the software platforms which are used to support omnichannel and CEM typically include: ERP, CMS, e-commerce, analytics, social media management, CRM, marketing automation, email management, search, ad management, translation, and product information management (PIM), to name a few. The tricky thing about CEM is that just buying the software will not get you to Customer Engagement Management nirvana – in other words, these are not “fire and forget” software solutions. The implementation of the software, the strategy behind that implementation, the internal business processes, the overall digital strategy, and the commitment of the upper management to the goal of CEM are critical for success. In short, digital marketing is dramatically different than it was even 5 years ago, and the technology that supports our digital marketing efforts is moving mind bogglingly quickly.

It is about the relationship

We have all heard about having a “good partnership” with a service provider or the idea of a “trusted advisor.” At worst, these are terms that are used flippantly by digital agencies and system integrators. However, in some cases, they are great descriptors of a beneficial relationship between a digital agency and their client.

Given the amount of complexity in the number of technology solutions and the speed in which these solutions change, mature, and disappear, having access to a group that is knowledgeable about the solution landscape is very valuable to an organization. If you can actually trust that organization to give you advice that is in your best interest and know about your business goals, that would be quite something. Now, if that trusted entity could give timely, valuable advice and be able to execute on the plan that is mutually agreed upon, that sounds like a really great business relationship. These types of relationships can help the client organization move forward on strategic initiatives in an orderly way, and together, you might be able to tackle something really difficult such as CEM or a commerce and content integrated site on an enterprise content management system (CMS).

While technology platforms are important, and many of the goals marketing professionals want to accomplish can’t be reached without software solutions, these solutions are just the beginning. Many of the major analyst firms have also commented that software platforms (especially in the area of CEM) are almost mislabeled as solutions since so many other elements are needed for success.

How to get a good relationship?

It may be difficult to find a good relationship through a classic RFP process or by requesting a number of firms to provide spec work to demonstrate their skill, as many very qualified firms don’t often respond to RFPs or don’t do spec or free sample work as a matter of policy or ethics. Below are some suggestions to consider when investigating a partner relationship:

  • Does the prospective partner regularly blog valuable content that resonates with your business goals and challenges? Is the blog only about themselves?
  • Is the prospective partner involved in the digital marketing and marketing technology community? Do they present at industry conferences (with both technological and non-technological focuses)?
  • Are you able to talk with their current clients without a representative from the firm on the phone?
  • Are you willing and able to visit the firm’s office? Are they willing to visit you at your office? Are you able to have discussions about possible solutions in a consultative fashion in an open dialogue (read: not a PPT pitch)?
  • Are you able to start with small projects (technical or strategic in nature) and grow the relationship, or is the larger project the only focus?
  • Is the firm willing to offer a warranty on technical work performed?
  • Does the firm have a model for ongoing support of any solutions that are developed or implemented? Is this something that they do for other clients, or are you or this project a special exception?
  • Can the agency give an example of a time when they suggested a less expensive option for a client that was in the client’s best interest? Is the agency willing to state whether certain skills are not in their wheelhouse? Are they willing to help find other partners that can help with that work?

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a partner, but making the right choice will ultimately be a great benefit, allowing you to focus your efforts on your own business goals and rely on a trusted expert to handle the technology that keeps your business running. Do you have any thoughts about the importance of establishing partnerships? Please let us know in the comments below, or contact us for more information.