3 Ways To Evaluate An Agency Partner

Technology is rapidly changing business as we know it,bringing opportunity, but also tremendous challenge, to brands — innovate or risk fading away
. And the pains many of these brands are feeling are fundamental. They know they need to make big changes to their business, but don’t know where to turn.

Many turn the focus outward, knowing they need to bring in fresh perspective
–a partner who will help them overhaul their current offerings. But who is the right partner?

Adding to the complexity, there is another interconnected trend changing the business world. In fact, technological fit is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now more than ever, companies have to adopt a people-first approach to business, building their innovation right alongside the customer experience. In today’s highly competitive climate, customer experience cannot be decoupled from the brand, innovation, or organizational and business design. It has become a mission-critical play, with direct connections to the bottom line.

When it comes to business transformation, brands not only have to build research and development alliances (and more) on shared data to contend with increasingly more complex technology, they also have to partner with those who understand the customer experience. With that in mind, on the path to innovation, do you turn to a large consulting firm, digital agency, or a design firm?

Unfortunately, consulting firms can be over processed and most often don’t have digital as part of their heritage. When companies turn to a design and development firm they often run into teams that focus on selling a product – not a business outcome.

Agency strategies are great but are mostly limited to marketing or brand, not the overall business. All of which have led to the birth of the innovation company — a hybrid of the best of all options with the most important focus on the success of the overall business.

Blurred lines

Seeing the need for more nuanced support for business design and development, agencies large and small are adapting by investing in media, consulting, and tech capabilities. These aren’t silos — they’re modules — enabling the delivery of exactly what the client needs to succeed.

Seeing the need for more nuanced support for business design and development, agencies large and small are adapting by investing in media, consulting, and tech capabilities. These aren’t silos — they’re modules — enabling the delivery of exactly what the client needs to succeed.

We’re seeing this play out across the market. Large consultancies like Deloitte and McKinsey & Company are acquiring digital marketing and analytics agencies and design firms , while digital agencies are adding business strategy to their service offerings.

While this is for the benefit of their clients –they conceivably no longer have to go to multiple firms to achieve one goal –it has also presented a lot of confusion. Who do you turn to when the consultancies offer media and tech and digital shops offer consulting and tech?

This isn’t a move toward more generalization. It’s the acquisition of deep, niche knowledge. And at the end of the day, it’s about aligning with a partner who deeply understands your industry, and more importantly, your customer, and is willing to help you challenge what you thought you knew about your customer in an effort to better meet their needs.

There are a few ways to assess whether a potential partner is the right fit. And it doesn’t stop at technical savvy.

Three dimensions of collaborative evaluation

MIT’s Global Scale Network
identified three key dimensions to consider when evaluating potential partners: technical, learning and organizational/cultural. These are strong tools for evaluating any partnership.

The technical dimension revolves around IT and technical compatibility between organizations. This is often the first, and in many cases only, evaluation performed.

Does the partner have the technical chops to help you bring true innovation to the market? Beyond hardware and software, do they understand what it takes for a brand to be digitally savvy and do they know how to get you there?

The learning dimension is essentially a two-way street — can you learn from one another? Do they already have deep industry knowledge or market insights that will bring value to the partnership and the transformation your brand is trying to achieve? Conversely, are they willing to learn from you –your vision, values and audience?

The organizational/cultural dimension addresses organizational and cultural alignment between partners. The best partners are headed the same direction, will be fully bought-in to your vision and mission, and value the culture you’ve established. Don’t let technical fit blur the lines, here.

Moving towards a customer-centered model

We’ve already seen how important a people-first approach to business is. Big brands have faltered because they failed to innovate around the customer experience. Meanwhile, brands that have demonstrated nimbleness in their ability to proactively pivot to respond to their customers wants, needs and desires are grabbing up market share.

Designing around the customer experience will continue to prove imperative to business success. So back to the big question –who’s the right partner?

It’s the one that understands the importance of the customer journey and experience, and demonstrates a propensity for designing around it. It’s the one that is also empathetic to your journey –the one who understands the endeavor your brand is undertaking, knows what it takes to transform organizationally, and is keen to the potential challenges and friction points ahead and is able to remove as many of them as possible.

Yes, technical fit is important, but a true partner will align with your organization’s learning and cultural needs as well. When deciding on a partner, evaluate for each of these three key areas then learn about their views and approach to customer experience. These will help determine partner fit.

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