Wait! What If Monkee-Boy Gets Hit By A Bus?
Here at Monkee-Boy, I handle most of the new business conversations. This means if you're exploring opportunities and on the search for a new digital partner, you'll most likely chat we me at some point. I love these conversations, honestly, because I get to help businesses uncover how pragmatic solutions can help them reduce costs/pain, build forward-thinking functionality, and improve their day-to-day lives.
The simple truth is that we're pretty picky about who we work with because our approach is not right for everyone. We look for opportunities that are a good fit for both the prospective client and our staff/expertise. It is the proverbial "win/win" we seek.
As part of these conversations, many questions besides "how much does it cost?" and "how fast can we launch?" occur more often than others, so I'd like to dig into the extra special question where a prospective customer looks across the table, smiles and asks...
So, what if Monkee-Boy gets hit by a bus?
When prospective clients ask this question, it's fairly easy to see a slightly uncomfortable feeling during delivery because prospective customers obviously don’t want anyone to literally get hit by a bus. It is an important question to ask, however, as it cuts to a real business concern related to the fear of being stranded, as a business, without help.
Our response is always simple... smile, let them know that it's a good question and that it's a valid concern that we take very seriously.
We normally reframe the question quickly into something like “What if we win the lottery, you mean?”. This seems to take the edge off and most clients giggle and agree that's is a better way to ask it, relieving them of any associated guilt. It keeps the conversation moving while still addressing their concern and associated fear of selecting and then losing a digital partner.
A Better Question and the Four Fears
An even better question for you to be asking is “How can you help us remove the risk and fear from our decision-making process?”.
This is something every organization should be asking their digital partner. At its core, it speaks to the four fears that businesses deal with when engaging a new partner:
#1: The Fear of Wasting Money
Pretty straightforward. Money doesn't grow on (banana) trees, and investing in a digital project also means investing and trusting in a digital partner to help you keep things organized on the journey. The right partner should be guiding you on where to invest your dollars and help you weigh the pros/cons to get the most value out of your investment. When you see the project cost as an investment (vs. an expense), you may know that you've found the right partner.
#2: The Fear of Starting Over
In a word, "time". For some businesses, time is more valuable than both money and the fear of investing time in something that may become orphaned down the road, require you to re-start the process or re-platform, and/or result in lost sales and recruiting opportunities while a new partner is being interviewed and engaged. Starting over means you have to spend even more (risky) time trying to get results which normally can't come fast enough for organizations.
#3: The Fear of Abandonment
Business owners and marketing directors (our two primary audiences) have a ton of responsibilities, decisions to make, and cats to herd. A good digital partner is like a trusted employee on your team and at the table that can be relied on in a pinch to help remedy real business problems. The right digital partner will be a safety net, a trusted sage, and that employee/team that isn't looking for a new job 2 years down the road. When a business gives a digital partner a seat at the table, it is a decision that is as important as hiring a full-time employee, and the fear of losing that partner (or selecting a bad one) can be high.
#4: The Fear of Lost Employment or a Soured Reputation
Selecting the right partner, who is responsible for shepherding the organization through the process and helping guide the organization to a digital higher ground, is a big decision that someone has to make and own. This decision can come with all the glory OR with a lot of consequences, including potential grumpiness from management, a soured reputation with peers and colleagues, and in some cases, even the loss of a job. Selecting the wrong partner may reflect poorly on your decision-making ability, the overall selection process you employ, and your understanding of what is needed for the job at hand. The specific fear related to how you're perceived with the organization can make it very hard to pull a trigger on a project AND can create an unnecessary level of anxiety as you work together with a new team. No fun. We get it.
Whew! Now that we've got those fears on the table, let's take a deep cathartic breath and dig into ways to navigate these fears during your selection process.
How to Throw the Four Fears in Front of the Bus
Let’s look at some more pointed questions you should be asking to feel more comfortable, squash the four fears, and make a regret-free decision on the best digital partner for your organization.
"How long has your agency been around?"
One of the main reasons that companies get stranded is that they have tried to do it "on the cheap" via a local freelancer or contractor. Normally, neither are capable of handling an entire project by themselves. They are also at the mercy of the ebbs/flow of other projects and clients, so they traditionally result in flakiness, departing for a full-time job, or simply disappearing without a trace. For the sake of this article, we'll be assuming that you've moved beyond the single-discipline contractor and are comparing similarly-sized agencies to help your organization better compare apples-to-apples.
With that in mind, the second most common reason that companies get stranded is that, unfortunately, agencies go out of business and disappear too. It sadly happens more often that we’d like to admit to our fellow comrades in the industry. Sometimes they've been relying on one monster account that disappears. Other times they can't quite get along with their partner. In other cases, we've seen principals of agencies being incredible tacticians but poor businessmen/women. Regardless of the reason, the harsh reality is that, according to Forbes, 80% of businesses fail after the first year.
As such, one of the factors in not getting left stranded is knowing your partner's business model is sound and that the business has been around long enough to prove it has sustaining power. How do you know? Make sure you get a sense that a potential partner has real customers, repeat business, is making a profit, and can prove that their model is one that will be here to support your organization in the long run.
This being said, all tenured businesses have to start somewhere, and agencies you are talking to could be great, but are simply in their adolescence. An agency being young doesn’t necessarily equate to them being flaky or poorly run either, so dig deeper and learn more about the owners and the team you'll be working with to see if their young business may be filled with seasoned veterans.
Pro Tip: Meet the principal(s) of the agency, talk to them, understand their story. Learn why they started the company, how they got to where they are, and what their vision for the organization is. These discussions should increase your understanding of how well the company is run and your confidence in if they will be around and accountable after your project is complete. The conversation should build trust and rapport and show you the paths that others have taken. If your "spidey sense" starts to bring you back to the fear zone or make you feel like you're getting "sold to", it might be a good sign that they're not the right fit.
What kind of reputation does the agency have?
As we say here at Monkee-Boy, "our reputation is everything". Every site we launch should help us attract other clients, and every client who comes in should become a raving fan who tells all of his or her friends and colleagues about the experience. If a firm values its reputation, you can guarantee that they are going to go the extra mile to make sure there's a good fit and that the agency will go the extra miles to exceed expectations. Independent feedback, Google reviews, and testimonials will help you know that other people have walked the path before you and come out happy, achieving the goals they strived for.
Pro Tip: Let's be honest. References are a waste of everyone's time, so don't waste yours. Yes, you can ask for references, but agencies are only going to provide you with the "glowing ones", so it's really not that valuable of a tool to get constructive feedback unless you have some really hard-hitting questions (which is a topic for another time). Instead, look at Google Reviews, Yelp!, and GlassDoor reviews. Look at the quality, quantity, and relevance of their current work. Look at the results they have acquired for their clients and the consistency of their process and outcomes. Use impartial data wherever you can.
How big is the agency?
The size of the business shouldn’t necessarily qualify or disqualify an agency on your journey, but it should be seen as one variable, one data point that is in the decision-making process that helps you identify the types of firms that might be the best fit for your organization. Medium-to-large size agencies may reduce your fear if you're looking for a deeper bench, broader service offering, and a sense of certainty that your project will stay in-house. Smaller agencies might be a better fit if you are looking for a potentially lower price point or a more boutique feel where the service offerings are fewer, but potentially more focused. It really is going to depend on your preferences, but explore both to find the right fit.
Pro Tip: We personally feel that middle-sized agencies (15-25 people) are the sweet spot of quality, price, customer service, and expertise. The owners know enough to grow and support a good size team and can normally turn your fear into trust very quickly. All size agencies can go out of business, to be fair, but on average smaller agencies are normally more susceptible to the ups/downs/closures and they'll outsource services that you may need help with in the future. Larger agencies (30+ staff) tend to be more chaotic, filled with more management & account managers, and have an increasing number of junior people and interns to help crank out the mass quantities of work. Regardless of size, ask about who will be on your team, who will be doing the work, and what kind of experience your team will have.
What are the agency’s core competencies?
There is nothing that leads to a stranded customer faster than a revolving door of subcontractors. Think about it... You hire an agency. They outsource something to another agency, contractor(s), or off/nearshore the project. You later need additional help and they have to try and track down someone they have no control over to help you in a timely fashion. This is where most of the horror stories come from and is the genesis of most of the bad experiences and associated fear.
In a lot of cases, these stories are normally accompanied with “...and I tried to save some money”. In most cases using agencies who have partners, subcontractors, or even established service partners, there is no guarantee that the person/company who did the work for your project will be there too support you when you need it. This has become even more of an issue within traditional agencies who have tried to build a digital division within their agency to help them compete. The “fake it until you make it” approach going on behind the scenes where people are learning on the job ultimately puts you, the customer, at the mercy of what they can learn as you pay to train them on the job.
Pro Tip: Find an agency that specializes in the service that you’re looking for, period. This may cost a little bit more money in the short term, but expertise is priceless and you will save you lots of dollars, reduce the headaches, and exponentially increase the likelihood that your project will not only be successful but also be supported in the future. "You get what you pay for" is not necessarily always true as we've seen a lot of expensive crap out there, but a relatively higher price for a larger, more tenured team should not be shunned. The best way to reduce fear very quickly in a digital project is to invest in a thorough digital strategy process, run by a seasoned digital team. This is a great segue into...
What is the agency's approach to finding a solution for your project?
As mentioned in the last question, the success of your project could very well come down to how well the strategic plan and technology stack for your project are planned and executed. In our minds, both should be pragmatic, intuitive, thoughtful and customized to fit the nature of both the business and the long-term goals.
Unfortunately, some agencies out there have only a few tools in their tool belt and if you move forward with them, they will undoubtedly try to convince you that the solution they know will be the best. "When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail," as they say.
Pro Tip: Qualified agencies have a trusted process and can show you how well it works. The process alone should help reduce your fear, help inspire you to think about your long-term goals, and help you see months down the road as to what kind of experience you should expect during the project.
How consistently does the agency get positive/tangible results?
The proof is in the (banana) pudding, right? Agencies who have been around for a long time should very easily be able to show you the results they have achieved for other organizations. These results should be data-driven and show the % improvement that helps their client be successful. Are these results consistent? What projects are they not including in their portfolio and why?
Pro Tip: Unless your only goal is to "make my site prettier", data is an extremely important tool when it comes to accomplishing your goals, so ask for examples and make sure the team has a plan for how they'll measure your site's success as well. After all, great stats on a project that you run can only help your career and internal bragging rights. Am I right?
What is the agency's track record of accountability?
This one is pretty simple. Is the business built in a fashion that ensures you have the support you need after your project goes live? The answer should be easy to assess, and if the agency starts to fumble for answers, they’re most likely looking for a quick “turn and burn” project to pad their numbers (and leave you stranded).
Pro Tip: Dig in deeper to ask the agency for details on the following:
The total number of clients they have
The average length of time their clients remain clients. In other words, how often do they have client turnover?
The organizational makeup of the company. Do they have dedicated staff to help handle ongoing support and enhancements?
How they handle post-project logistics. For example, do they offer full, end-to-end support (hosting, domain, web, etc.), or are there areas where you might be left vulnerable?
What steps does the agency take to educate you and protect your business?
At Monkee-Boy, we are on a mission to help businesses solve the web and evolve their businesses EVEN if it’s not with us. We are not right for every business, and every business isn’t right for us, so finding the right fit is extremely important. As such we refer and help a large number of our prospects find better homes that might be suited for their needs.
Part of this process is educating businesses on what questions they should be asking, who they should be talking to, and how the RFP process is a waste of everyone’s time and doesn’t allow either party to really understand the future relationship that might be lurking down the road.
Pro Tip: The right long-term partner should be one that is helping you understand how they may or may not be a good fit for your project. If they’re not, they should tell you why and help you I find an alternate solution. If they feel they might be a good partner for your project, great! They should strive to understand your desired future state and help you understand what the process and relationship might be like.
They should know enough to help you look around corners, understand where things may go off the rails, and endeavor to call a spade a spade and candidly shoot you straight, even if it’s not what you want to hear. This is what you should expect from your trusted advisor.
Back on the bus for just one more second...
So back to the original question, "What if Monkee-Boy gets hit by a bus"? I'd like to answer this once and for all to help any new prospects avoid the uncomfortable question.
Let me first answer this by saying, as suggested in the previous paragraphs, we may not be right for your business. Our role in helping you navigate the waters of selecting a partner for your project is not to “convince” you with a heavy hand or icky sales pitch. That would suck for both you and me.
What I would pose to you for consideration is that those businesses that trust us to be their digital partners have selected us for these reasons:
We’ve been in business for over 20 years and grown year-on-year.
We have a great reputation for doing amazing work, getting positive results, and showing people that we care. About 90% of our business comes from repeat customers or referrals, and we're almost always on a waiting list.
Our company is built to handle projects and then to support, enhance, and grow them to ensure your investment is safe and sound. We have a dedicated maintenance and marketing team and everyone in our organization, including me, is responsive and responsible to support tickets when clients request help. We have built our business intentionally this way to ensure your project will never be abandoned.
Our clients redesign their sites, on average, every 4-6 years, and most of our them have been a valued client for over 8 years. ABC Home & Commercial Services (the nation's largest private services organization) is one of our oldest active clients and we’ve had the privilege of being their digital partner since 2006.
As of this blog post, we have ~100 active clients. We lose on average 5-8 clients per year, normally due to them getting acquired, going public, growing to the point where they bring the services we provide in-house or going out of business, unfortunately. Very rarely do clients leave because they are unhappy with our work or because we did not produce positive results.
In most cases, our team will outlast your team. This may sound crazy, but in the world of employees jumping jobs every 1-3 years, the likelihood is VERY high that our team and the tribal knowledge we acquire as your partner will outlast both your current and future staff. It happens all of the time, and we’re happy to help bridge the gaps and retrain new staff on what we know when you bring them on board.
Most importantly...this is what we do. We help your business solve the web and evolve online - this can only be fulfilled when we engage with clients in a fashion that will support them for years and years and years to come.
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