How digital agencies can differentiate from their competitors
Many companies struggle to stand out among the competition, but there are some measures you can take to differentiate your offerings.
Standing out among a throng of agencies and system integrators during bids can be tough, especially when many companies are (almost) equally skilled at technical solutions and project management.
However, you can take several measures in order to be differentiated positively. Let us see what you can do and how you should do it.
As an agency or system integrator, you naturally work with certain tools—at least one or more digital platforms to serve the digital requirements of your clients. A flexible platform should obviously be your chosen tool—not only for your client’s sake, but also for your own. Remember that this is a tool you and your team will be working with excessively, so it better be good.
In our experience, both partners and clients alike appreciate a digital platform that is easy to customise, with no lock-ins or legacy debts. A truly flexible platform is able to solve different customer needs in the one and same solution, thus erasing your need to spend resources and train developers in a new system for each new client. This, in turn, saves you time to focus on delivering better quality services, which again maximises your chances of standing out.
To sum up the choice of a flexible platform, it should be easy to train developers, it should be fast to get started building solutions for your clients, and it should fit modern projects—with rich web front-ends, headless capabilities, and being capable of building websites as well.
Few, if any, agencies and system integrators have made their own digital platform and digital tools. This does not only mean that you must choose a digital platform made by another company, but also that you should enter a strategic alliance or cooperation with the platform vendor.
The advantages of getting the vendor on your side are immense. The vendor can contribute with technical expertise and best practices during bidding processes, can provide support in projects, can deliver the platform as a service, and can be a shortcut for delivering feature requests and continuous improvements in close collaboration with your clients.
Being a solution partner, or maybe even a premium solution partner, makes you stand out among the crowd. It signals that you are a trusted actor and have the necessary skills on your side to solve the potential client’s needs.
Division of labour and trade specialisation are some of the hallmarks of modern civilisation. And there’s a good reason for that. Just like no person can excel at everything in life, a company can’t either. In other words: find what you’re good at—don’t be a jack of all trades.
In practice, this means finding your niche, building up skills and experience, excelling at your work, and sticking to the plan. It could also mean to focus on a single industry. For instance, if your company is perceived as the leading experts on delivering solutions to the health care sector, chances are that you are on the top of mind for health care organisations ready to improve their digital presence.
Specialising does not mean that you shouldn’t evolve with technological development and other trends, something digital transformation has shown us. But it does mean that you should hone your expertise and be the absolute best at what you do for your clients.
Consistently delivering great digital solutions and collaborations will make you stand out, it will be a secure sign of quality. This principle also pertains to your chosen digital platform: find the one you like and stick with that, too.
Nobody likes to be treated as a budget post or dead weight. The moment you start to treat your potential and actual clients as just another number to fill in a table, you have lost the confidence you should have instilled.
Instead, you should always act as a trusted advisor to your clients and leads. Be helpful, provide thoughtful answers to their questions, and be proactive and suggest best practice methods of handling specific problems you have identified.
Also: be a sparring partner for your clients. Initiate thought-provoking discussions, brainstorms, and pitch meetings, thus kickstarting creative processes. Follow up your clients regularly, ask them questions, be interested in them and their challenges.
A trusted advisor is much more attractive than a grey and bland consultant—only interested in ticking off checkboxes and showcasing the bottom line to his stakeholders. If you want to appear different to potential clients, you should act differently—as a trusted advisor.
As part of being a trusted advisor and a differentiating factor on the agency and system integrator market, you should always emphasise honesty in your company’s experience and abilities. Don’t oversell yourself, instead be frank and tell your leads how it really is. Nobody knows everything anyway, so highlighting both strengths and potentials is a sure way to getting off with a good start.
Part of being transparent also involves showing your clients your approach to the technical solution and project management, as well as keeping them constantly (but tactfully) updated on what you’re doing—i.e. all the essential actions and developments.
Furthermore, make sure you present all the relevant data in complete detail, even the uncomfortable ones. Again, selling a falsely positive image where everything is glitter and gold does not invoke confidence. Provide your client with the total picture, thus enabling them to take appropriate measures to e.g. improve a situation.
Finally, maintaining and showcasing detailed analytics can act as proof from other clients on your helpful and confident nature as a trusted advisor for your potential new customer.
Companies announcing bid processes for new digital solutions can be compared to companies announcing vacant positions. Just like the latter will not be impressed by generic, mass-produced applications from prospective employees, the former will certainly not appreciate generic, mass-produced pitches from would-be partners.
From this follows that you should deliver a unique pitch, a unique point of view for each potential client. Each client has their own offering, mindset, story, people, and context, and a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to fail. Teach yourself the most important facts about the potential client and their industry, and have a running dialogue where you ask questions to get to know them better. This will make it easier for you to craft a thoughtful, unique pitch to solve their specific problems in the most efficient and logical way possible.
While crafting your pitch, back up your claims with relevant quality data, which you of course have sourced from extensive market research and your own company’s experience. With a combination of uniqueness and quality, you can be sure to stand out from the crowd during a bid process.
As a bonus note in this context, approach your prospective client with a long-term mindset. Make it explicit for both yourself and your client that you strive for generating value over time and that your collaboration is expected to last for years—if suitable, of course. This further invokes confidence, showing you as a stable actor in it for the long game instead of reaping quick bucks.
Another way to differentiate your agency or system integrator from your competitors is to be top of mind by grace of authority. Now, we’re not saying that you should enlist celebrities on your roster, but at least strive for making your colleagues and your company as a whole to be perceived as a thought leader in your industry. Influencers are not simply making pastime—they are million dollar enterprises that have a real and lasting impact on people and brands. Why shouldn’t your company try something similar?
Becoming a thought leader is easier said than done, of course, but through hard work and dedication over time it is possible to—not necessarily reach stardom, but at least be on top of mind more and more often with prospective clients.
How do you achieve this? By working consistently over time with in-depth blog posts about your preferred industry and topics, by offering quality studies and reports about trends and challenges your clients have struggles with, by creating stunning visuals to make yourselves instantly recognisable, and by creating helpful tools that generate demand—for instance a SEO assessment tool or a privacy compliance tool.
A side note to being a thought leader is for your company to have an attitude. Don’t be anonymous, grey, and bland—identify your core values and channel these into a “personality” for your organisation. This way your company becomes someone interesting, rather than someone forgettable.
Clients usually don’t like hidden costs or overtly complex pricing schemes. Instead of keeping your price cards close to your chest, you can once again leverage transparency and thus separate yourself from the competition by offering a different pricing model.
First off, be clear and transparent from the get-go. Present your pricing model, whatever that is, in an orderly fashion, with no hidden caveats or conditions. Be frank, and argue for how your pricing justifies the value generated for the prospective client.
But how should your given pricing model be? This is of course up to you. You can opt in for a standard rate, or you can try to stand out with unique models, like pay as you go or a performance-based model. Arrange a brainstorm with your financial stakeholders to get ideas and inspiration for how you can differentiate yourself with your pricing model—it might be the factor tipping the bid in your favour.
Differentiating your company can require a lot of hard work. However, it will pay off in not only making you stand out on the market, but also in enhancing or improving your existing processes and technologies.