Trading Places: 5 Things We Learned on the Client Side of the Table


by Corina Ludwig

When you’re happily immersed in the design and marketing world it’s easy to forget what life looks like on the client side of the equation.


Image from Shutterstock

We’re so used to pitching or responding to RFPs, or putting our best foot forward to win work or make things amazing for our clients (or in the case of FunctionFox, for our users) that it’s a rare occurrence to cross over and actually remember what being a client feels like.

We didn’t wake up one morning with this insight. At FunctionFox, our team gradually realized it was time to refresh and evolve the great but outdated look and online interface of the software. In doing so we sought an outside firm to help us.

First a bit of background. Fifteen years ago, when a group of frustrated graphic designers at Suburbia Studios (led by visionary Mary-Lynn Bellamy-Willms), couldn’t find an alternative to tracking time using a tangle of Excel spreadsheets or expensive software with a huge learning curve, we created FunctionFox. The friendly green fox logo has served the company well since launching.

While regular software updates have kept FunctionFox at the top of its game, we began to receive feedback from clients and our sales team that our visual presentation and user interface were falling behind expectations. We even had some clients tell us they had initially chosen a competitor based on appearance, and switched to FunctionFox later for its features and services.

With our agency roots we could appreciate how much value creatives put on visual design, but with our focus on performance and customer service, we hadn’t given it proper attention over the years — and now it was time for a fresh look.

An internal review suggested we had become too close to the product, that we were shorting ourselves like the shoe makers children, with not enough time dedicated to our own product. We decided finding an outside agency to help find fresh perspective would be the best approach.

Here are five things we learned through the process:

1. Start with a Plan.

We sent the RFP to 8 agencies and received interest back from 5. We were able to narrow that down to 3, which we met with each for a few hours. We created a criteria sheet to ensure we considered a range of factors such as quality of work, services, and price, but also do they get us, who we are, what we believe in, etc. This allowed us to compare and grade respondents, and find a tactical balance in our decision making.

2. Let the plan be flexible.

We intentionally included US agencies thinking their understanding of the market could help create a better bridge to US clients. Through the selection process we shifted to put more value on the fit that came from the connection built on complementary company cultures. Our agency choice (BrandFX of Vancouver, Canada) shared similarities that allowed them to “get” us, yet were different enough to excite and inspire our thinking in new ways.

3. Dialogue.

Surprisingly, there was only one company that asked us questions throughout the RFP process. That engagement and effort were the first seeds of the client relationship. Normally we’re not on the client side, but it was great to see this level of client service.

4. Those extra touches make a lasting impression.

One company we met with did an amazing pitch, everything from arranging transportation for us, having our name on the door when we arrived, to taking us through a client presentation to show us what the end pitch would look and feel like, introduced us to everyone in their company and ended the meeting with personalized and branded take-home bags after our meeting. While they were not our final choice, the extra effort put into accommodating us and attention to detail moved them to the top of the list for many factors—and made them stand apart to some of the other companies that made us feel like we were just another meeting. While we didn’t award them the business, we will think of them positively and recommend them to other companies that might be more suitable.

5. Take the time to do it right.

We first started thinking about change in early June 2015. We created our plan and sent out the RFP later that month, and began receiving pitches in August. Once the agency was selected, we worked together back and forth through the end of December, then fine tuning and preparation for a launch in March 2016. It probably could have been completed in a shorter period but we wanted to be sure to do it right and not just push it through.

We’ve heard from public relations people that the hardest PR to do is your own PR. We’ve also heard people describe this phenomenon as: it’s hard to see the label on your own jar from inside the jar. Whether these analogies fit your situation or not, we believe some elements of the same thinking apply to design firms when considering how to achieve a successful re-brand, a new identity, or an interface update. We learned a lot from working with an outside agency who in the end, helped us create a fresh perspective for our brand. The process itself delivered some neat reminders around how things look from the client side of things too.

Corina Ludwig is the President of FunctionFox. She has been active in graphic design and marketing for 20 years working with Adobe, Ogilvy & Mather, and for the last 16 years with FunctionFox. FunctionFox isthe leading timesheet and project management software choice for creative teams worldwide.

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