In the course of my career, I have worked for a technology company, a digital marketing agency, and a product team within a global marketing agency. What I have learned from all of these experiences is that both technology teams and the agencies who use them can be poor at communicating. What I mean by this is that the agency simply wants the technology to work, because they have a client who expects a deliverable. The technology team wants to build great software and needs the time to ensure it is tested and works properly. The need for that time is generally where the friction begins between the technology vendor and the agency.
With the experiences I have had professionally, I have often wondered what can be done to de-escalate these situations to ensure a much smoother and happier partnership between agencies and their technology partners. I have come to the following conclusions.
- Choose your technology partner wisely. I outline some keys specific to picking a social media data partner here that are transferrable to other industries. The gist is that the partnership cannot work if the partner is generally not a good fit.
- Trust your chosen partner. Once you have done the research and are confident in the partner, you have to trust them to execute. If you constantly undermine your partner or second guess them, you will cause delays and friction that could have been avoided.
- Educate Yourself. It’s amazing to me that so many agencies spend thousands and even millions of dollars on technology tools, yet have no understanding of the technology. Every single agency needs to know enough about the product to ensure it is providing intelligence that is valuable to their clients. For instance, if you are receiving data from a partner, you should know how accurate the data is according to the vendor’s testing as well as independent sources.
- Plan Ahead When Possible. A last-minute project is often a developer’s worst nightmare because it will most likely be fraught with numerous pitfalls. Planning out what your agency may need six months, twelve months, or even longer periods will do wonders for the vendor and their ability to prioritize their backlog. For last-minute projects, I recommend collecting as much information as possible and collating it for the vendor. This ensures the development team with your technology vendor can hit the ground running on the last minute project.
Technology Vendors should…
The best partnerships aren’t dependent on a mere common goal but on a shared path of equality, desire, and no small amount of passion.~ Sarah MacLean
- Communicate. As a tech person, it is often normal to hunker down behind some code and not communicate what is happening. This can drive an agency insane! Communicate often and in non-tech speak. This helps to allay fears on the agency side of things and inspire a greater level of trust.
- Set reasonable expectations. One of the developers on my team once likened development work to be a “G-d,” which might be true after solving a truly complex issue. However, at the outset of a project, it is better to under-promise and then over-deliver. Too often tech vendors promise the moon and can barely get a project off the ground. This is absolutely the worst type of partner. Don’t be that guy!
- Keep your deadlines. This will get some push back! But if you agree to a deadline, you have to hit it. One way I have accomplished this is by breaking down projects into smaller more digestible pieces so that while the overall project is not completed at least a portion will be done by the deadline. Also, if you absolutely cannot complete any portion of the project, communicate early and often.
- Less is more. There’s this constant theme in any company to do “all the things” at once, like enhancing old features, adding new ones, and developing new projects. Most times undertaking all of those projects at once results in a poor product. It is more important to focus on a few areas that will truly drive forward business and provide value to partners.
If while reading through this you began to wonder if this was general relationship advice, you are not that far off. Agency and technology vendor relationships are exceptionally complex and fragile and it takes a great deal of care and communication to make them work effectively. Putting in the hard work to make them work though is where a basic business relationship can turn into a strategic partnership that ensures both parties prosper for the long term.