Site Strategics (SSI) realized it had a problem. From its inception 13 years ago, SSI steadily built a reputation for great quality SEO, web development, and marketing services. It grew from one employee to nine and the number of services offered was expanding. The ever growing problem was how to scale the company while maintaining the quality customers had come to expect.
Over the last year, the staff has continued to grow, now to 18 employees. However, that doesn’t help make things clearer from an expectations and deliverables standpoint – trust me.
This blog is the first in a series detailing the difficulties, triumphs, learning opportunities, and utter failures we’ve experienced on our journey from “ok marketing company with unclear expectations” to “semi-buttoned down, mostly transparent” marketing and web development agency.
Unfortunately we haven’t figured out every single problem, but we’re getting there.
Whether you’re a potential client curious about our process and the benefits for you or a fellow marketer trying to do better work for your clients, you can expect plenty of education and a wholesome reality check. We share this information because we care. It’s a travesty that there are still so many marketing and web development shops out there taking client money with no clear deliverables or accountability for their contribution to success.
The point of this exercise is to learn from the mistakes we’ve already made. You’ll learn about the issues we dealt with, including delivering clear results for our clients, communication issues (both internally and externally), difficulties in building a quality team, and why Agile is the solution to all of these problems.
Clear results and tracking
One of the perennial problems that traditional and digital marketing agencies face is finding a good way to report success to clients in a cohesive and accurate way. The more people you have working on a marketing campaign, the more opportunity for confusion and unclear expectations. Keeping everyone on the same page requires organization and clarity around what the real goals are.
As Site Strategics grew, the expectations developed organically instead of intentionally. Everyone developed their own processes which may or may not have been communicated to the rest of the team: we had silos. All members of the team communicated directly to the client, with no Account Manager ensuring consistency and oversight. This created an environment where everyone assumed that everything was getting done, which wasn’t always the case. As a result, a client receiving (or not receiving) reporting for a month was up to each individual producer to manage.
Each department presented their reporting in their own way. Some might have forwarded screenshots in an email with qualitative analysis in the email body. Others created a Powerpoint presentation with a clear overview of what was completed. The result was the opposite of our intention. The original strategy was to have direct contact with each individual producer so clients would receive the most accurate, updated information and be able to ask technical questions and receive a quick response. The result siloed each department and imposed unclear communication (both internally and externally).
Success is built on clear expectations and frequent communication.
Trusting that individuals will innately do their work and ask the necessary questions to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction is not good enough. You have to create an environment where there are process-driven checks to ensure the overall success of your clients.
Communicating is harder than it seems. Many people talk a lot. Even more think they are great communicators.
You can be the best speaker in the world, but if you don’t promote action, then none of it matters.
Communication is an overlooked piece of most businesses. Communication is also the most important piece of a successful business. You could do the best work in the world, but you are failing if your client doesn’t know about it. Similarly, if a client has expectations of an agency and doesn’t communicate those expectations, then both are bound to fail.
Software contributes heavily to preventing good communication. In the past, the Site Strategics team dealt with many different pieces of software which obfuscated what was happening with each client. We still use more pieces of software than we should, but we’ve taken steps towards centralization and clarification. While tools are great and should be utilized, you have to ensure they don’t get in the way of communication.
Another point to consider: When you take a number of experts with no central project manager and ask them to work on a campaign, the result is different types and frequencies of client communication. Tone and timbre changes naturally occur when disparate people engage a client.
Communication is a two-way street. Not only does the outgoing communication suffer with no clear project lead, but the information coming in gets diffused. If a client tells one producer about a new event they have coming up and doesn’t clearly communicate it to the rest of the team, the client and the agency both suffer.
Building the right team
Things change frequently in digital marketing. Sometimes people can adjust to change and sometimes they can’t. One thing we went through as a result of the shift to Agile was a cultural change towards embracing this new philosophy and work ethic. This translated to a decent amount of turnover. If you are thinking of making the change to Agile, you need to be aware of this possibility.
Don’t let this scare you. Agile cleaned up our team to get us the best performers- workers willing to put in the effort to be more organized, communicate better, and ultimately deliver more success for our clients. The switch towards more process may lead to turnover, but when the end result is better quality work and more transparency, everyone wins.
I’ll go into this in more detail later in this series, but part of building the right team involves solving the aforementioned issues, including clear expectations and communication. If you’re going to have a team of all “A” players, then you need to set clear expectations and keep them honest with their performance and communicate frequently and clearly.
Why Agile? Why now?
In order to solve a problem, you have to admit you have a problem. We documented what we were seeing and what the problems were. We made a plan to fix those problems systematically.
We hired an Account Manager. We created collated reporting that allows individual producers to contribute their data and qualitative assessments while giving the Account Manager oversight to ensure the whole narrative makes sense and that the team is aware of holes. Without a firm backbone of software and process, we would still be tripping over the same obstacles.
We stumbled on Agile marketing because I used to work for PERQ and I knew that Muhammad Yasin (VP of Marketing) was using the Agile method. I reached out and asked if we could come and see what they were doing and how they were using it. Based on the issues we’d been having, it seemed like the perfect way to consolidate our communication and also add in reporting and trackability for our team’s tasks. Thus began our Agile journey.
We’re halfway through our 22nd bi-weekly sprint now so we’ve been doing it for almost a year now. We’ve made a lot of changes and tweaks along the way and I’m confident that we’re the only agency this heavily integrated into the Agile methodology.
In subsequent blogs, I’m going to tackle issues related to the implementation and integration of Agile throughout our organization. I’ll talk about issues that arose in an effort to help you avoid some of the pitfalls we had to climb out of along the way.
About the Author
Jason Fletcher is the Chief Operations Officer for Site Strategics in downtown Indianapolis. He enjoys craft beer, fast cars (preferably Nissans), camping, and playing video games with his two sons. If you’d like to talk about craft beer, cars, or agile marketing, contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.