Why Client-Agency Communications Need Defined Roles

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When a client starts working with us, one of their first questions is how we plan to keep in touch. We don't have to ask why: We already know it's because the last eCommerce agency they worked with didn't communicate with them nearly enough. Before working with us, many of our clients felt in the dark about their project's status and the previous agency's overall output.

One way to ensure communications—and projects—stay on track is to define clear roles on both sides. The most impactful way we do that is by establishing one main point of contact on a client's team from day one. Working without a lead opens up too many opportunities to waylay a project. Teams on both sides can go off-task, and constantly re-righting the ship causes regular delays. Insufficient or conflicting input from multiple points of contact means the final product probably won't meet its requirements.

Missed deadlines, subpar results, and the frustration that goes with them inevitably strains the client-agency relationship—which is exactly what many of our clients go through before coming to us.

Taking the Lead: Our "Aha!" Moment

To keep our work with our clients as collaborative as possible, our process is driven by clear communication. Picking a project lead — what we call a “prioritizer” — at the start of every client relationship helps us do just that.

It’s an efficient process taken from a lesson we learned the hard way in our earlier days. We were working on an eComm site for a company with two co-founders. After enough false starts and lackluster progress, we realized each founder had totally different agendas. They both wanted to prioritize work on parts of the site that were most familiar with, and started projects to that end without knowing what the other had scheduled with us—it was a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right was doing.

A few weeks went by like this, and shifting priorities kept tasks from being completed on time. We worked with the founders to identify which would be our point of contact and work only with them on a regular basis. Each understood the prioritizer would collect, organize, and translate their requirements to us, and would act as the greenlight for each initiative.

With just one person acting as prioritizer between us, there was a huge improvement in communication and we successfully completed the project. This was a major turning point for our own processes. Although most of the clients we had worked with until that point had had a single point of contact, we decided to formalize the rule. We now establish a client prioritizer for every project. It's a far more efficient approach that creates clear expectations and communications from the outset.

Avoiding the Telephone Game: Prioritizers vs. Stakeholders

Identifying the need for one client-side point person did wonders for our overall process. However, any process can—and should—be improved upon over time. And after a few more projects, we began to understand the difference between prioritizers and the other people involved in or affected by the project: the stakeholders.

There isn't any one person at a company who has a clear and cohesive idea of everything that's happening. A good prioritizer understands that they can get most things right about most things. More importantly: They can connect you with those who will fill in the rest of the details—the stakeholders.

Stakeholders are experts at your company whose work is affected by the outcome of the project. A stakeholder could be your Chief Marketing Officer, a customer service department representative, or a warehouse fulfillment manager. The prioritizer connects us with stakeholders so that we can have deep-dive conversations and get accurate information straight from the source. This allows us to fully grasp their needs, expectations, and how the project can best serve both.

A prioritizer is someone who can manage multiple timelines and details, and who gets what's realistic and what isn't about a project and its goals. (Hint: it's usually your Marketing manager). Prioritizers are:

  • Organized
  • Decisive
  • Good at managing timelines
  • Connected to multiple departments
  • Detail-oriented, but can see the bigger picture

That last point is an important one. Your agency-facing lead should be able to zoom out and see a project's larger context. That’s because a crucial part of their role is helping us understand and prioritize the needs of each stakeholder in relation to how they’ll impact the overall business.

Wrapping Up

eCommerce acts like a latticework: It supports and is supported by every other department in your business. For this system will work, all of its touchpoints need to considered. It's a bit of an overwhelming thought, right?

By funneling communications through one person, though, it's easier to collect multiple sources of input from your team's stakeholders without losing focus on your organization's overall priorities. This helps us head off disruptions and delays, which allows us to end up delivering results for more stakeholders in the same time. It also creates an efficient working cadence that reduces stress for all of us.

Want to work with a collaborative, communicative eCommerce agency? Get in touch.

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