If you’ve decided to hire an agency to build a product, the next step is finding the right one. You can always use Google to browse websites, but there are a few other ways to determine agency credibility.
Check agency lists like Clutch and scour testimonials
Clutch is a platform that connects companies with agencies through verified reviews. These reviews include a star rating out of five, the approximate cost of the engagement, the timeframe of the engagement, and a breakdown of the client’s feedback for the agency. In addition, agencies maintain their profiles on the site to be up-to-date with their employee count and price range.
Testimonials are also a good way to gauge client satisfaction at a high level, and they can typically be found on an agency’s website or social media channels. Testimonials that credit the person giving the review and include a job title are the most valuable when determining how the agency works with with clients.
Source referrals from your network
It seems obvious, but recommendations from your network are often safe bets. Plus, agency advocates love matching organizations with a team that can help them accomplish their goals. A simple post on LinkedIn asking for agency recommendations can go a long way. If a connection comments with a recommended agency, ask for specifics about what sets them apart.
Reaching out in Slack channels, via Twitter, or through a direct email can yield wonderful results if you need a springboard for further research.
Identify who’s creating thought leadership content
One of the best ways to gauge the expertise of an agency is through their content. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, spend some time browsing their videos, social media posts, blog posts, etc. If you don’t already have specific agencies in mind, LinkedIn’s ‘Content’ feature lets you sort by author’s industry’ so you can browse content specific to computer software.
If you aren’t as product-savvy, ask product people in your company if there are any agencies they admire. If the agency is published on other sites, that’s further validation that they know their stuff. A great way to get a feel for the content an agency puts out is to sign up for their newsletter and download their offers.
These steps will hopefully weed out the spammy agencies and bring the talented, transparent options to the forefront.
Identify the type of agency you’re interested in working with
Agencies come in a variety of different flavors, each having their own distinct focus and culture. Depending on your budget, the specific outcomes you're driving for, and the way your team wants to work, you could opt for any of the following routes.
Marketing or advertising agency with product experience:
Over the years, many creative full service digital agencies with experience in website design or e-commerce have started to make in-roads into custom software development. Be sure that your needs align with their experience.
Off-shore outsourcing and project management:
Off-shore (Europe, Asia, Middle East) and near-shore (Mexico, Middle & South America) options are rapidly becoming a popular solution to invest in global talent. Consider your needs to collaborate closely with your team. This might include potential language or cultural barriers as well as time differences.
Strong project or product management with experience working with these teams can make this work, but the cost savings does not always translate to value.
Software implementation teams:
Many legacy development studios invested highly into the advantages of a partner networking such as Microsoft, SalesForce, Oracle, or Netsuite. These solutions can bring a lot of advantages to enterprise IT teams and their familiarity with the tech stack and architecture model, but can be limiting on creativity and customization.
These studios can often be coupled with a boutique product agency to check experience and infrastructure needs of the organization.
Large scale design and development firms:
As software continues to take over the business world, firms have hired, merged, scaled, and deployed offices around the world. Large scale design and development firms offer a large set of service options, many resources, and loads of experience. They tend to price higher in order to cover the cost of their organizational size and overhead demands.
Boutique product consultancy with small collaborative teams:
Boutique or smaller product consultancies offer an intimate relationship with your product team. Usually, they keep the people on their team close or extremely accessible.
They invest heavily in culture and collaboration. They often have a forte in one aspect of the product experience over others, but they partner well to find the complete solution. They price high because they invest in people, process, and professional development.