Having chosen the ecommerce platform, which is the critical part you’ve got to do first before you even consider looking at the systems integrators you could work with, you now need to find who in the partner landscape is the best fit for your business.
The most important thing before speaking to anybody is to stop and think is what values and services you need from your partner. Cultural fit is a really important part of this. What is your business like? What sort of culture do you like to have in partnerships and therefore, what type of engagement are you expecting from a partner?
That is as important as their technical capability, their project management experience, cost models, etc. So be very succinct about what you’re expecting, because then you can give partners a very clear set of expectations that you would like them to meet.
The next thing is to look at the partner landscape based on the platform. You can use a tool like Built With to check a platform and look at all the sites that have been built from it. Pick sites that are out there, of interest to you, most relevant to your business. Have a look at them, the sites that you actually like and think have done really well from a UX point of view, that perform well, that have grown and scaled revenue well, and then look at the partners who’ve built that.
It’ll give you a picture of the partner landscape and the sites that they have been building, partners who have massive amounts of experience with lots of projects versus those who have only done one or two because maybe they work across four or five platforms, instead of being a platform specialist.
The other thing is to speak to contacts in your network. So use people within your business or external people you know well and trust and ask for them contacts with client teams who are working with some of these partner agencies. Go direct to them instead of getting referrals from agencies, it really does pay sometimes to use your contacts to get a completely objective viewpoint.
Most times when an agency refers to a testimonial, the testimony’s always going to be positive, they’re not going to refer you to somebody who can’t stand them. So, really important to use your professional networks to get really good, useful feedback. Find out not just did they build this site, okay, but what were they like to work with? How well did they engage with the team? How good was the ongoing support and maintenance once a project had delivered from development into support and maintenance, was it a smooth transition and did they feel like that agency really cared on an ongoing basis for the business?
Then you can and also should speak to the agency and ask for testimonials; there’s no reason not to do that.
The shortlisting bit comes after you’ve done this kind of market trawling. Look at the businesses, the partners that have good enough size and capability, have good case studies and good reputation in the market. Look at three to five. Typically, you want to bring three in to run an RFP. And then you can whittle them down through discussions and interviews.
You need to get to the point where you’re doing weighted scorecard, just like I advise to do with the vendor platform piece, across all the capabilities that are important, so it comes back to that starting bit of what do you want from an agency?
And set them a very specific brief for a demo and presentation, you don’t want the vanilla sales pitch, you want them to come in with questions that you need answered and specific to your business needs and get them to focus their efforts on how they would deliver against what you need. So run interviews, then get them in to present. Get more than one person in from them. Not just a sales person but a person who’s going to lead their development, their project manager, so you get an idea of the skillset they have and the type of people and how they would work with you.
It’s really misleading to get an incredibly effusive sales team in to pitch to you and then find out that the delivery team behind are not culturally in line with the business. Also get them to explain their project management methodology and framework. The resources they bring, the extent of experience within the different skills that they’ve got, their typical costs. Say, what is a day cost for development versus project management versus solution architects?
And then, also ask them very succinctly what their expectations are. What do they need from a client? What would motivate them about working with you? Why is your project relevant to them? Build up all this information and provide weighted scorecard across the agencies you’ve invited in for a detailed discussion. Same way that you’ve done for the platform, and that’ll help give you more balanced perspective.
And then the last bit is to talk to them about contract lengths, how long do they insist on minimum contract terms? What are the exit routes? You have to understand what your commercial exposure will be and also how difficult/easy it will be to exit the partnership if there is a problem in the future.
Obviously, you don’t want there to be, but this is a reality. There are risks in all partnerships and therefore you have to have an ability to understand, contextualise the risk and provide a mitigation against it.
Hopefully, you found this useful. If you haven’t seen the other videos in the series, then please do go back, I’m giving you lots of practical insights and tips on how to run an ecommerce re-platform. And if you have any more questions, then please get in contact with me. You’ll find my contact details on the website.
Thanks very much.