Why partners do better work

by Michael Perrone

Relationships are vital to the business we are in. The more clients let us into their worlds, the better we can understand what keeps them up at night and set them up to be successful. This partnership model is how we do our best work and it is key to the most productive client relationships.

We love when our clients refer to us as “partners” right out of the gate. It’s how we think about our relationships with our own service providers. While some may think of us as vendors in the beginning, we work hard to create relationships that last beyond one engagement. Sometimes there is skepticism working with an outside firm or we need to develop a deeper level of trust to make them think of us as a partner rather than a vendor. The word “partner” represents an openness, a commitment, and subsequently a style of working together that benefits both sides. For some, these words–vendor and partner–are interchangeable, but for us it’s more than semantic and it’s worth digging a little deeper to make sure everyone is on the same page and expects the same level of interaction and collaboration.

Recently, a client brought us on board to help them design a new service platform for them from the ground up. From our earliest conversations together, it was clear that they were seeking more than just a design firm. They wanted a team that could bring additional expertise and perspective to the table and would challenge their assumptions. To challenge them and guide them, however, required a deeper level of understanding of their business than just a list of feature requirements. It required a commitment to transparency, time, and communication and, frankly, a level of faith in our abilities and trust in the genuineness of our motives that can be nerve-wracking in a brand new relationship. We understood how vulnerable they felt, and we took our obligation to that client very seriously.

This client allowed us to become deeply ingrained in their day-to-day routine. We came to understand not only their users, but their business. We knew their long-range plan for hiring, so we could understand the staffing and skill sets that would be available to not only build but also support the platform we were designing. We understood the marketing challenges they were facing, so we could address details that might either engage or turn off customers. We met with early customers to talk through real-world scenarios, gain deeper understanding of their industry, and test the product interface with real users. In the end, our commitment to what we were creating went far beyond a simple design project. We had become passionate about our client’s business vision and their customers’ success, and this passion was evident in the work we produced and the way we supported our client.

Our client saw their relationship with us as a partnership and the working dynamic reflected that. We became an extension of their team. So how does that difference translate day-to-day?

In the vendor relationship many clients may initially expect, the client has a problem and approaches a design firm with a solution already in mind. There is an existing list of feature requirements and technical constraints, the client team makes itself available for regular reviews and status updates, assets are approved and delivered to the client’s implementation team, and the relationship comes to a close. The process is neat and tidy, and the client gets the solution they requested meeting the requirements they set forth.

In a partnership, we work side-by-side with a client at every step. Their product team collaborates with us to refine the business problem, define possible solutions, and vet those solutions with users. Both teams work together to set milestones, sync processes and tools, and define success metrics. A client’s implementation team is part of every design review to vet functionality, begin to think about how to build each feature, and recommend alternatives that may be easier to build or support. There are more touch points with more voices at the table, but the end result is a more informed, more considered product.

This partnership model requires a much higher time commitment from our clients, more frequent communication from everyone involved, and an openness on both sides to expose the inner workings of our processes. The payout, though, is exponential.

When we partner with clients, both sides become more closely aligned in their visions. The clarity into our client’s business goals and processes allows us to adapt quickly to new information, be it a new business requirement, an unexpected-yet-critical piece of user feedback, or a just-uncovered technical constraint.

Partnerships can also have longer lasting impacts, such as learning. We gain industry knowledge, while our clients absorb our user experience and design knowledge. Our clients bring elements of our process into other parts of their organization, and we add more user insights to our own arsenal.

Finally, when a client sees Fresh Tilled Soil as a partner, they give us the opportunity and the knowledge to internalize and invest in their vision. They can then rely on us for strategic advice, design counsel, and planning, with the comfort of knowing that we already understand what they’re trying to achieve and the best way to get there.

I challenge you to look at your own business relationships through this lens. Is anything standing in the way of your collaborating more closely? Are there relationships where a little more trust on both sides could pay dividends? I’m confident you’ll see greater impact the closer you work together.

About Michael Perrone

Michael has spent more than a decade building his career in marketing communications, excelling in roles ranging from strategist to production management. He believes that an...