For the past twenty years I’ve worked closely with a wide range of business partners, including many pharmaceutical and medical device agency partners, but from either the non-profit or client side.
Now, I’m a member of the Mediacurrent team serving as a Project Manager working for my former self.
The roles are reversed and the past ten months have been interesting as I’ve taken what I’ve learned in the past, and am applying it to my daily work in order to provide the best client experience possible.
A couple of years ago I presented at Digital Pharma East on the topic of Vendor Selection and Management. I think a lot of the main points I raised then, remain critical today for those in the enterprise, media, non-profit, government, or university sectors that want to get the most out of their partners, while launching successful projects.
1. Clearly define the project from the perspective of the problem you are solving for.
- This doesn’t mean you need to have the solution. Take advantage of the really smart people you have hired, talk to them, and find the right solution based on the problem you’ve identified.
- It also helps to validate the problem you are solving for is the actual problem. This should come out during the discovery phase. I’ve had many instances where what individuals thought was the problem, wasn’t the case when you applied metrics and an out of office perspective.
- At Mediacurrent we prefer, and often begin with a Discovery Phase. Our teams have an incredibly wide breadth of experience and often we find this leads to identifying issues the client was not formerly considering or didn’t know how to solve for. It is an effective way for us to learn your business and understand how to help you solve the right problem.
2. Define your partner selection process.
- Who is going to have final say, how are you going to make the decision, and will you use a scorecard (if so, who creates it and will you share it - both internally and externally)? This may sound simple, but it becomes complicated. You will have a ‘business lead’, but there will also be considerations from legal, purchasing, design, and IT. Plus, the business lead will need support from multiple in-house marketing and sales teams.
- I highly recommend a brief, concise document outlining the process and literally having it signed off on at the appropriate level of authority within the company, prior to contacting vendors. This will reduce the potential for internal politics.
- Typically, this is handled in advance of hiring an agency, but as a potential partner, Mediacurrent can offer suggestions to help you position your project for success from an internal perspective based on our experience across a wide range of clients.
3. What are your key considerations to differentiate potential partners?
- In going through this process I have found that different partners had areas in which they excelled, as well as those that they were not quite as strong in. When vetting for a Drupal project, ask “how do you contribute to the Drupal community?” This is important, because you want your partner to not only be well versed in the platform but supporting and evolving it moving forward.
- Consider the difference between a partner that will build what you ask for versus one that can help you better understand what you need strategically and then work with you to implement a solution for the long-term.
- Since sites are no longer hire, build, leave, but instead on-going, evolving solutions, you want to know if your partner can support you post launch. The changes online are coming so rapid that as soon (or before) you launch, you will be wanting additional functionality and features, so be sure to select a vendor that can help you plan for the future and make it happen as you build.
- At Mediacurrent we are fortunate to have a culture that encourages our team to contribute, maintain modules, and serve on Drupal Association committees. The benefits to this are exponential. We have expertise in specific aspects of core and modules, we are directionally aware of how development is evolving within Drupal overall, and maybe, most important, with individuals on the security team, we are at the forefront of alerting our clients to potential concerns.
- Our goal is to be an on-going partner through support agreements post-launch. It is who we want to be to our clients. We do not want to build and run, we want to be the partner that helps you hit all your goals from the initial ones early on to the ones you create as you evolve online and do so while mitigating risk.
4. How can you structure your agreement to best safeguard yourself and create a win-win for you and your partner?
- I’ve seen individuals who want to get the best deal possible (i.e. lowest cost) and vendors who want the business bad enough that they are willing to low-ball the bid, but then have to either cut work or deliver less than is expected. Neither option is a good one. I believe in a fair deal. If you want quality work, you need to have a sense of what a fair price is, evaluate the bids you receive, and make the offer to the best (not necessarily cheapest) offer.
- Often, I believe this comes down to people. Consider the teams you met, were they passionate? Did they try to understand your business and the problems you were trying to solve? Were they people you’d want, like, love to work with for the next six, twelve, eighteen months?
- Further, the agreement you sign is paramount to a successful partnership. I always broke my contracts into at a minimum of two sections - discovery and build. I’d only guarantee the discovery and after working with the partner I’d make the decision to move forward with the build or to re-bid to other vendors. I’ve worked with vendors that did an excellent job with the discovery, but I found in working with them that they probably weren’t the right partner for the build.
- Mediacurrent offers a range of services. Often overlooked is partnering to develop the overall strategy. Typically, this is an internal activity, and as such could be limited to “in-house” thinking. Having a strategic partner early on opens up new avenues and explores paths that may not have been considered. This is a pre-step to Discovery which takes the strategic view and ‘operationalizes’ it into what is feasible and at what cost of time, resource, and money.
5. Don’t underestimate on-boarding.
- This could be the most critical step. Ensure all parties are aligned. Communicate on a regular basis with one another. You know your business, but your partner may not. Help them in every way to know the challenges you are facing. They can be a tremendous help to you. Most partners work across a wide range of industries and they work with many diverse companies, take advantage of their experience. Your partner may have some ideas and solutions that they’ve used in other projects that may apply to your own.
- One of the great things about working at Mediacurrent is the collective knowledge of our team. People have worked on projects that pretty much cover everything imaginable. When we have questions, we ask one another, and that is what we do with our partners, too. We want to understand as much as possible and we do that by asking questions. Some companies are reluctant to share information, but they want help, and this creates a challenge.
- While Mediacurrent is an open-source and open company, we understand that when it comes to our clients their privacy is paramount. We may make recommendations based on our experience, but we would never expose the confidentiality of our clients’ business. I’m a handshake person, if we shake hands, then I trust you and you trust me and we’re ready to move forward and make things happen.
Do take advantage of the expertise of your partner in a good way. I know that some internal groups really struggle with this. I had one situation, where I told an executive that if you hire a partner, and then modify everything they do, how can you hold them accountable? He looked at me like I was nuts. I explained to him that we were hiring this company for their specialized expertise. Yes, we would ensure they met brand standards, legal requirements, etc., but we are hiring them for the expertise and we shouldn’t be pushing that aside by injecting what we have done before. For if that had worked in the past, we wouldn’t have a need to hire them.
Take advantage of your partners in the best way possible, and I think you will gain tremendous value by following the five points noted above.
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