The pandemic changed a lot of things, but more than anything else, it changed how we interact, transact and engage with people and businesses in our daily lives. The other day, we took some of our team to the pub for the first time in nearly two years, and the very idea of queueing at a bar felt arcane and irritating after becoming used to excellent app-powered table service.
Looking back at what we were doing with clients pre-pandemic, it was a much more piecemeal approach than now. We were delivering really exciting projects, but clients were driven more by their desire to innovate than an expectation from their customers for excellent digital experiences. Sure, their customers enjoyed what we did, but they didn’t necessarily expect it. Sometimes, it was a nice-to-have.
The last few years have seen a real step-change in how integral technology is to every business, and it is time to rethink how we engage with our clients and work with them to meet their customer’s needs and expectations in our capacity as an agency.
The shift from technology as a bolt-on to technology being a core part of the inner workings of an organisation (even one that on the surface seems simple, like a pub), means traditional approaches to project delivery don’t really make sense for our clients anymore. We can’t just swoop in, build an app, a website or a piece of software and talk to them once in a while about maintenance; not when the day-to-day running of their business interfaces so closely with, and is powered by, that technology.
Some businesses will thrive in this new world, and some won’t. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the ones who will succeed in their growth ambitions are the ones that embrace some element of in-house technical ability rather than wholesale outsourcing of these business functions.
What does that mean for digital agencies and their customers?
The agency’s role is becoming an advisory one, which augments the abilities an organisation has in-house as opposed to being a wholly outsourced solution provider. One way to describe this change in working is to look at those engagements as a partnership than a traditional client-supplier relationship, one where the focus is less on a strictly defined list of deliverables and more on long-term value.
We’ve seen this reflected in the way we’ve been working with clients such as companiions, Vivify and now KwizzBit where the way we’ve partnered has been more than skin deep, with Parallax taking equity stakes in those businesses.
Having skin in the game is one (but not the only) way to change the way engagement with an agency works in practice and ensures everyone is working towards a common goal; where an emphasis is placed on enabling business growth over executing specific chunks of work.
KwizzBit has been a really interesting journey. In short, they have a great quizzing platform and they’ve got some incredible customers that love and use it all the time. Still, their architecture was designed for pub quizzes, not the huge brand activations with thousands of players in the same quiz that their customers are now asking for.
They didn’t come to us empty-handed; they already had a platform. They already had a team, and they weren’t looking to us to throw it back over the fence when it was finished. Our role has been to work with them and their team as one cohesive unit focussed on delivering improvements and benefits, which is really exciting.
We care about the people on their team personally and share their vision and values. Because everyone is focused on the big picture – wanting to make the best quizzing platform in the world – it brings out the best in all of us and lets us collaborate and do great things together.
Equity isn’t the only way to achieve this level of cooperation and partnership, but an effective approach requires trust, openness and a shared vision. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality doesn’t work when you need to deliver quality digital components of your business at pace, and that deep understanding needs to be on an empathetic level rather than just what’s written in a contract (although you should obviously still have those as a backstop!).
We’ve recently introduced a new role at Parallax, the Client Partner, which is a physical manifestation of this commitment to building long-term mutually-beneficial partnerships with clients. Focussing on collaboration and co-creation, the Client Partner is there to help identify growth opportunities, offer creative solutions, and leverage our people, our technologies, our technical specialists, and our network to move clients toward their strategic goals.
If I were to put myself in the shoes of someone looking to engage a third party to help drive my organisation’s digital capability forwards, I would be putting weight on three things:
- Whether they’re as excited about the journey as us
- Whether they “get it.”
- Whether the outcome leaves my organisation able to stand on its own two feet
- As well as their ability to deliver a specific part of the project to ‘a box-ticking standard’.
However, the dream of tech talent in every organisation allowing open collaboration and understanding does call into question the digital skills shortage that’s currently only getting worse in the UK, and elsewhere across the world. Should you still hire an agency to help with your organisation’s challenges? Sure, but engage with them strategically as a “think with me” rather than a “do for me” resource.