You’re going shopping for a new website: Some helpful tips for selecting a vendor

December 2, 2014

The good news is that there are countless ad agencies, developers, and consultancies out there to choose from. The bad news, of course, is that all those options can be overwhelming. It’s the same paradox of choice that we experience staring at the giant wall of electronics—we know we need a television, but have no clue where our price range and list of priorities overlap with the array of choices in front of us.

The first piece of advice we offer is to avoid the assumption that your brand or advertising agency is the right fit for all of your interactive projects. While a General Practitioner is sure to refer you to a specialist for your nose job, we’ve repaired enough botched website implementations to know that when it comes to interactive, some agencies have a strong tendency to overstate their expertise. A marketing or direct-response site requires a wholly different set of skills than a transactional portal—it is highly unlikely that any one company would employ a staff capable of successfully completing all types of projects.

Next: Do some research—reach out to your network, ask who they’ve worked with on similar projects and what their experience was like. It’s fair game to ask for references as part of the research process. Take a look at the client list the firms tout and compare it to the list of references they provide. Is there overlap between the two lists? If not, ask why and ask to talk to some of those “key clients.”

Once, you’ve narrowed your list to 3-4 contenders, reach out to each and request a meeting—it’s very helpful to have options to compare and you’d be surprised how much insight can be gained by reading how others interpret your objectives. Indeed, each firm should start by gathering inputs on your project—they will need to know what you’re trying to accomplish before they can tell what approach to recommend or how much it’s going to cost. Pay attention to the team they send to learn about the work, and ask if it’s the team you’ll be working with.

After meeting with you, each firm you select should be able to provide you with a proposal that outlines the process, deliverables, associated cost, and their vision for your project.  There are a few things to consider when you’re evaluating these documents:

  • Is one firm’s approach to meeting your objectives substantively different than another?  If so, examine the possibility that you have ill-defined objectives or did a poor job of communicating them.
  • Have they given any indication how long they expect the overall project to take? What about each of the phases? If they are saying a deliverable is going to take one week to create, ask why it costs ten bazillion dollars.
  • Do you know what you’re getting? Literally, do you know what they are talking about? Some agencies have branded names for their deliverables—there is no way of knowing if an “Idea Model” or “Composition Blueprint” is going to be necessary if you don’t know what it is—please don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, ask to see examples of each deliverable that they are suggesting. This exercise gives you an opportunity both to evaluate the quality of their work and insight into what to expect throughout the course of the potential project.
  • Do they address your nagging questions? Worry and doubt are part of the ambient background noise on all projects. Do not expect that these issues will be magically resolved. If the proposal fails to instill confidence in the firm’s ability to manage your project’s risks, consider regrouping with them to communicate your concerns before moving forward.
  • For crying out loud, read the assumptions! Though it can be somewhat daunting, that long list on the last page of the document contains insight into everything the agency is afraid might go wrong on the project. It likely also defines how outside costs are handled, how many rounds of review you get on each deliverable, and the payment terms. While not the sexiest aspect of the document, the assumptions are both meaningful and compelling— think them as the Philip Seymour Hoffman of your proposal.

Talk to the Crux Collaborative team—we’re happy to evaluate your project and let you know if we’re a good fit. If we’re not a fit, we have 115 years of experience between us and it’s likely that we can recommend someone who is. We love working on complex, transactional user experiences, and we love making connections between companies and great branding and advertising agencies for the types of projects that don’t fall into our expertise.

By Gregg Harrison
Vice President

Gregg’s passion for all things digital started two decades ago as a project manager and has expanded over the years to include a focus on user experience consulting, client management, and operations.

View Gregg's Bio


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