Sector Sync: Investing In Relationships for Success

Following on from Creative Kitchen’s first Sector Sync panel in May, the event returned last week to continue the discussion and look at how our two sectors can continue to build better client/supplier relationships.

On the panel was Daniel Riley from Ruler Analytics, a Software as a Service (SaaS) business, Chris Stewart from top 45 law firm, Weightmans and Steve Todd, Technical Director from Mashbo.

The conversation kicked off with panel host Mashbo MD Gavin Sherratt challenging the catch-all label of ‘digital’ work, as the term becomes more and more diluted and causes misinterpretation and confusion for professional service clients procuring the services of so-called ‘digital’ businesses.

What is digital?

The panel unanimously agreed that the term ‘digital’ was too broad a term for the current climate. With all elements of business having migrated online, from marketing and advertising, to the automation of business processes and software to manage online marketing campaigns, the word alone no longer defines the many forms of digital expertise, or the application of the many skills that find themselves under this umbrella term.

Comments from around the room highlighted that the ambiguity of the word and the pace of change in technology made it increasingly difficult for businesses to source the right agency or consultant for the jobs they had at hand So how do those in professional services responsible for commissioning ‘digital’ projects, such as Chris Stewart of Weightmans, navigate this grey area?

Picking the Right Digital Supplier for Success

Working as part of a marketing team, but with a background in web development, Chris admitted being better positioned to commission work from digital agencies, given his personal knowledge of the subject.

“It’s rare nowadays to run a project that doesn’t have a digital element,” he said. “And the success of the project often hinges on how you select the right agency and your interaction with your chosen supplier, before, during and after the tender process.”

His advice for creating the brief was much in line with the outcome of our first event, Creating the Perfect Pitch, championing the idea of researching what you think you need and targeting agencies that have a track record of delivering this kind of work, rather than taking the scattergun approach. However, interestingly, Chris suggested that those agencies invited should bring key stakeholders, such as the lead developer and project managers, along to pitch - not just send in the sales squad.

Blinded by the sales pitch

Countless professional service organisations don’t have a tech person in house, so identifying the right agency for the job is difficult, particularly when applying the scattergun approach. Some at our event highlighted their experience of creative agencies receiving their brief, identifying the small segment they can deliver on focusing their response only on that - not giving the full solution that is required to address the business issue at hand.

For the less tech-savvy client, what happens here is they can be blinded by an all-singing, all-dancing sales pitch for whatever it is that the agency wants to sell. A few of our delegates even shared stories of digital agency sales people creating issues that didn’t exist in pursuit of a sale.

Honesty, Training and Incentivisation

So what could the creative industry do better here? For one we can be more honest with ourselves, instead of focusing on that tiny proportion of the brief we know we can deliver, we can look at the bigger picture. Can we tell the client that we’d need to collaborate with another agency to deliver the brief and submit a joint tender? Or should we just pass it onto an agency that we know is a better fit?

Deciding not to pitch can be a positive option, as Mashbo discovered recently when we decided not to pitch for a project whose scope was far too broad for the agency’s skill set and capacity at the time.

Did we find ourselves tossed aside never to be considered again by this client? To the contrary - a little over a week later we were appointed directly to undertake a project that perfectly matched what we do as a company. Knowing we weren’t the right agency for the initial job and being honest about it paid off.

Another suggestion at this month’s Sector Sync was better training and incentivisation of sales staff.

Given the feedback from the panel and audience, we need to get better at ensuring that our people out in the field are adequately trained and know when to call in technical expertise.

With sales roles often being commission-based, we also need to think harder about how we incentivise sales teams and at what point in the process the financial reward kicks in, because it’s clear the way we’re doing it now is a win for no-one. Developers end up delivering the project sold, often one that doesn’t resolve the real business issue, causing disappointment for the client and then distrust of the industry.

Early Involvement & transparency over budgets

Businesses in the professional services sector can help to ease the tension as well. An internal process to educate stakeholders that the business only needs to understand and share what the business issue that needs to be resolved is before it goes out to pitch - not the solution that you want - will help enormously.

This way expectations aren’t set in advance and by speaking to technical people from the creative sector early on, you can benefit from an external view on the issue and a more creative and informed take on the potential solutions.

“Quite often meet with clients who are trying to outline or explain a solution that they don’t really understand,” said Steve Todd from Mashbo. “They don’t know what the actually want the system to do. That’s where we can help. If we’re involved at that early stage, we can help to deliver a far better end product.”

Sharing budget is important to. If you have a set pot of money to resolve a business-critical problem, use it! In technology there are multiple ways to deliver solutions and the sophistication and functionality correlates to budget. If you don’t share your budget, the development and digital teams have no parameters to work within, nor can they provide honest feedback if a budget isn’t appropriate for the work required.

“It’s good to know the budget upfront,” continued Steve. “That way we can work out what we can do and how we can do it within that budget. Without that our minds go wild and we set unachievable expectations by shooting for the stars and recommending the very top-of-the-range solution.”

The future: open doors to maverick thinkers

Another shift in the client agency relationship in the sector also appears to be length of a relationship. Clients are moving away from long-term contracts in favour of projects, but there are other ways that professional service clients could leverage the expertise of trusted digital and technology agencies - investment into research and development being just one.

The Sector Sync discussion highlighted the fact that large law companies in London and increasingly in Leeds are investing in in-house innovation, looking at ways to develop LawTech to streamline their businesses and the sector as whole, with some generating a five-fold return on their investment.

It’s an opportunity that many firms in the North are missing out on. But putting live business problems in front of maverick thinkers from the creative industries could be the most beneficial and profitable way for businesses in the professional services sector to work with agencies long term.

One final point

One final point of discussion after the event was our all-male speaker panel. It’s not the way we wanted it, but unfortunately our two female panelists - Kirstie Buchanan, Strategic Development Director at The Reading Room and Lisa Robinson-Behnejad, Director of Marketing & Business Development for Brabners - had to pull out at short notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

We’re working with both Kirstie and Lisa to arrange their involvement in future events, but we are also always looking for other senior level, experienced people from both the professional services and the digital and technology sector to join our panels and maintain Creative Kitchen’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusivity, so please do contact us at hello@creativekitchen.co if you’d like to get involved!

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