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5 steps for finding and selecting the right agency partner

posted by

Melissa Lohrer
senior business planner

when we started the process of finding a web agency partner last year, I have to admit as an agency new business planner, I was curious and excited for the prospect of being on the other side of the RFP for once.

after going through a six week process to find the right agency partner, we have a newfound respect and empathy for our clients who do this regularly. it is tedious!

through our experience, we learned a few lessons that anyone going through this process would appreciate. to share this with you, we’ve compiled a list of 5 steps for finding and selecting the right agency partner.

1. decide what you are looking for

we quickly learned after our first round of agency reviews, that finding the right agency is not easy.
we understand we live in a crowded landscape that can be hard for clients to navigate, but what we didn’t fully comprehend was the extent of confusion driven by blurred definitions and mixed messages. what was it that these agencies specialize in and what their point of difference?

to make the process a little less overwhelming, we defined a set of criteria (e.g., agency size, location, category expertise, capabilities, ways of working, etc.) specific to our goals and culture, so we could objectively evaluate whether or not an agency was a good fit.

we also discussed our long-term expectations for the relationship – are we looking for a partner that has capabilities beyond this brief? where else could an agency partner potentially add value?

2. gain alignment to a brief

it sounds simple, but even within our team there were slight differences in opinion on the brief / job to be done.

to make the process more efficient and save yourself time re-briefing agencies later on, its worth taking the extra time to ensure everyone’s on the same page before you start your search process, aligned on goals of the project and the specific deliverables. 

3. start with a dialogue

once we found a few agencies that fit our criteria, we set up informal introduction to get a better sense of the agency style and culture. this not only gave us the opportunity to decide if we were a good fit for each other (it is a partnership after all) but also avoided wasting both parties’ time requesting a proposal.

these calls were also essential in helping us craft a better and more pointed RFP as the agencies were asking questions that we hadn’t even thought of or considered.

4. create a detailed RFP

after narrowing down agencies in the introduction stage, we created an RFP.

as someone who is intimately involved in the proposal process, I truly appreciate the value in a detailed and well articulated brief. it gives us the ability to better interpret the challenge and therefore provide more tailored recommendations for the approach.

the RFP should include a summary of the challenge, specific objectives, deliverables, expectations for the relationship, budget and timing.

when well-written, an RFP allows the right agency partner to stand out from the crowd.

5. meet face-to-face

so much of the client / agency relationship is built on team chemistry and trust, and the only way to pressure test that is to meet in person. if you have a chance, going to the agency’s offices are a great way to see how they work and meet other members of their team.

you can also use this opportunity to understand what level of commitment you would be getting and how interested they are in your business.

in summary…

at the end of the day, you want a partner who is energized by your challenge, passionate about your brand, and motivated by your business. the road to get there may not always the fastest but being committed to finding the right partner will provide benefits beyond getting the job done – it will lead to a productive relationship, a positive experience and ultimately better work.

the collaboration for our website redesign has led to really exciting work and opened the door to new opportunities for both our team and our agency partner.

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