"If I'd asked them what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse" – Henry Ford
Before we became the organisation we are today we were a regular digital agency and we operated the agency model for almost two decades. But the agency sales model is flawed for a number of reasons. The agency model works as follows:
- Client identifies need – The client identifies its need and in doing so often identifies the expected solution before approaching agencies to realise the dream.
- Client approaches agencies – The client approaches a number of agencies and explains the need. In doing so there is an implicit (and often explicit) explanation of the expected solution.
- Agencies responds – The agency responds to the brief. In doing so the agency is investing cost of sale in preparing the response so a successful response is crucial. The response must therefore align with the brief.
- Client selects agency – The client selects the agency, usually selecting the agency which most closely aligns with the brief.
This seems entirely appropriate except there is a key risk here; the brief. The brief is almost never an explanation of the client’s need ‐ it’s an explanation of the client’s assumed solution.
In order to win the business the agency is incentivised to respond to the solution, not the need. They lose points for interrogating the brief, identifying the real need and responding to that need if they identify a solution that doesn’t align with the client’s assumed solution.
The question then is who is the organisation best equipped to arrive at the correct technical solution for the client’s need? The agency or the client?
The outcome in these circumstances is one that fits the brief but doesn’t solve the need. The client’s expectations are based on their need, not their implied solution and as the project progresses the greater the gulf between the expectations (ie. solving the underlying need) and the implemented solution.
This leaves no‐one happy. The client feels expectations have been missed and the agency feels that they’ve provided exactly the solution they were asked for. We’ve seen it time and again, in our own careers and in the public domain ‐ remember public sector projects that go through strict points‐based procurement processes are the worst example of this model.