What to expect working with a provider: A Roadmap (100 Days and Beyond)
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What to expect working with a provider: A Roadmap (100 Days and Beyond)

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Navigating the relationship with your new provider can be a complex journey, filled with opportunities for growth and potential pitfalls. This comprehensive guide, “What to Expect – An Provider-Client Roadmap (100 Days and Beyond)”, is designed to help you, as a business, to understand and manage this crucial relationship effectively. 

Drawing on research and industry insights, we’ll explore the initial 100 days of the relationship, a period that sets the tone for future collaboration, diving deep into the different stages, from onboarding and discovery to strategy development and evaluation. 

Every client-provider relationship is different, with its own specificities and timelines. But taking into account the strategies and insights shared in this guide, you’ll be better equipped to foster a productive, long-term partnership with your provider, beginning the journey to success, together.

The Importance of the First 100 Days

Congratulations, you found your provider! Time to get to work – and these first 100 days are key. They set the tone for the entire partnership and can significantly influence its success or failure.

The first hundred days is considered the ‘Transition’ stage – and this period is a critical time for setting clear expectations, aligning on goals, and establishing communication protocols.

This is a new journey with a new travel companion. So these early days are when you learn about each other’s preferences, and set the travel itinerary. This is when you, as a client, communicate your business goals, expectations, and preferred communication.

The first 100 days is a critical period for setting clear expectations, aligning on goals, and establishing communication. It can make or break the success of your partnership.

Example checklist for the first 100 days

The shape of the first 100 days can vary depending on the scope of the project – and its length. If the project centres on a project launch in 3 months time, things will need to move fast. 

However the IPA (institute of practitioners in advertising) have developed a useful framework in their ADAPT alliances report (PDF here), that can be used as a basis: it contains many of the important elements you should consider implementing in your own onboarding, although your timeline might vary.

So here’s an example checklist you can base your own on:

By Day 10 

  • Confirm appointment of the transition team 
  • Identify key stakeholders and reporting lines 
  • Clarify scope of work for the first 3 months 
  • Set expectations of relationship management styles.
  • Agree remuneration method 

By Day 30 

  • Mutual introduction of core team to the wider stakeholder groups 
  • Mutual induction and immersion programme/events 
  • Agree method and frequency of core team communications/meetings and how to overcome the inevitable relationship glitches 
  • Confirm briefing, approval and sign-off process and responsibilities 

By Day 60 

  • Complete handover of all responsibilities and assets from any outgoing incumbent provider 
  • Begin to develop an agreed approach to setting KPIs and evaluation process 
  • Take time out to review how the relationship is progressing.

By Day 90 

  • Review briefing, approval and sign-off process to ensure it is fit for future purpose 
  • Evaluate professional and personal behaviours and bring in new skillsets and people as necessary 
  • Agree scope of work for the next 6-12 months and required resources, and remuneration 
  • Agree KPIs and performance incentives
  • Set expectations for regular relationship audit and review

Day 1-30: Onboarding and Discovery

The onboarding and discovery phase is like the ‘getting to know each other’ stage in a new relationship. This is when the new partner learns about your business, your industry, and your specific needs. And it’s crucial for building mutual understanding and trust.

We’ll tackle each part separately:

The Onboarding Phase

During onboarding, you’ll need to have a kick-off meeting where you introduce your team to the provider, discuss your business goals, and set expectations. These expectations should be set on both sides, and should set the foundations and context for your communication and work going forwards.

Being concrete, specific and quantitative can help avoid misunderstandings.

So in this stage, when you articulate your business goals, instead of saying “we want more brand awareness,” you can say, “we want increase our social media following by 30% within the next 3 months.”

Then expectations should be set regarding communication – something like “We expect regular updates and proactive communication from your end – please update us every two weeks” gives the provider clarity. 

Setting a philosophy for your relationship

This could take the form of a “working philosophy” – written down and committed to from the outset

Legendary Madison Avenue ad agency DDB did exactly that with their client Avis in the 1960s – putting together this working philosophy as their framework. It contains so many of the essential elements of a strong working relationship (trust, respecting the expertise of each party, concrete targets, clear boundaries for communication…) that it may come as no surprise that their relationship was as long as it has been successful.

You may know their ads – the famous “We’re second so we try harder” Avis advertisments.

what to expect working with an agency: Avis, an example of a strong relationship with their agenct
Avis: the result of a strong working relationship with an agency

The Avis Working Philosophy

Think: “where do our relative competencies lie? Where should we be directly involved, and where should we cede control to the expertise of our partner?” Then write it down and stick to it.

  • Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB, and DDB will never know as much about the rent a car business as Avis.
  • The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter (whether on a business trip, a vacation trip or renting an extra car at home) to try Avis.
  • A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with five times the effectiveness (see #2 above) of the competition’s advertising.
  • To this end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted.  Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).
  • To this end, DDB will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend.  They will not “see what Avis thinks of that one.”
  • Media selection should be the primary responsibility of DDB.  However, DDB is expected to take the initiative to get guidance from Avis in weighting of markets or special situations, particularly in those areas where cold numbers do not indicate the real picture.  Media judgements are open to discussion.  The conviction should prevail.  Compromises should be avoided.

Take this working philosophy as inspiration, and think: where do our relative competencies lie? Where should we be directly involved, and where should we cede control to the expertise of our provider?

Write it down, then stick to it – it can help form the foundation of an equally long and successful relationship.

The Discovery Phase

he discovery phase is when your provider dives deeper into understanding your business. They might conduct market research, analyze your competitors, or interview key stakeholders. As a client, you can facilitate this process by providing your partner with all the necessary information and resources.

But what should you prepare? Here are some of the things they’ll be looking to get done:

what to expect working with an agency: 5 elements of the discovery phase.
  • Setting Goals: Of course you’ll both want to set goals for the project. This should be a two-sided and guided process, where you tell your partner what you want to achieve and they use their experience helps to refine those goals. A common format are the SMART parameters (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timebound). They’ll help you to uncover your problems, and align these to what their team can accomplish.
  • Competitive Analysis: They’ll work on an analysis of your industry and competitors, looking at the tactics they use, how your pricing differs, and what objections your prospects have, comparing those to your competitors. This analysis will help shape the strategy for your campaigns going forwards.
  • Data Deep-Dive: An audit your business from a data perspective to understand its strengths and weaknesses. This could involve auditing your content and website structure and design, email marketing, analytics data, and social media profiles. They’ll also likely look at your digital performance: things like traffic, MQLs, PQLs, subscribers, conversion rates… you get the idea.
  • Interviewing Stakeholders: This is in order to better understand their perspectives on your company’s core challenges and get a 360 degree view that accurately aligns the projects goals with those of the company.
  • Experiencing the Brand: From there they’ll try to see your company as your clients see it. That means “buying” your product or service, following its typical buying process. Then they’ll and bring this qualitative information back to you to discuss their experience, and feed it back into your eventual strategy

So you’re probably already thinking of some of the things you can prepare to make sure this discovery phase goes smoothly for them. 

But this isn’t a one way street. Take this opportunity learn about your new partner, their processes, and how they plan to help you achieve your goals. This way you make sure that their idea aligns with your business objectives – and this can save you time in the long run.

Day 31-60: Strategy Development and Implementation

At this point, your partner has a good feel for your business and its challenges. So the next step is to come together and develop the strategy that’s going to have the desired impact.

This is where the provider really gets to work: creating a plan that moves the needle on your business goals based on the knowledge discovered in the early days of the collaboration.

As a client, can make sure this goes smoothly by being transparent about your business goals, challenges, and expectations, and by providing all the information they need to understand your business and industry in the first phase.

Be open to their expertise and recommendations, but don’t shy away from providing your own insights and ideas. Remember, you know your business best, but you’ve hired them for a reason.

This could be when you turn back to your working philosophy defined earlier, to outline the limits of your responsibilities.

A tip: here you have to make sure that you maintain open communication with your partner. Ask ask ask. Questions like, “How does this strategy align with our business goals?” or “How have similar strategies performed in the past?“.

By doing this, you make sure you’re both singing from the same hymn sheet. But you also make sure they have the knowledge needed, while giving you a deeper understanding of the plan.

Resource allocation

It’s easy to get carried away by a big, bold plan, but allocating the right resources ahead of time, especially human ones, will help make sure there are no bottlenecks further down the line.

One often overlooked element in this phase is resource allocation. It’s easy to get carried away by a big, bold plan, but allocating the right resources is a critical part of the strategy development and implementation process.

Budget is rarely forgotten (money talks, after all) but don’t neglect to take into account your human resources – a project that takes your team away from their core task may be counter-productive.

Start by clearly communicating your budget constraints and expectations. Ask for a detailed breakdown of costs for each proposed activity, and the man-hours needed.

This will help you to understand where your resources are going, plan ahead, and identify areas to for resource re-allocation: ahead of time.

Day 61-100: Evaluation and Adjustment

Your project is now up and running – this is the evaluation and adjustment phase – when you review the initial results together and make necessary adjustments. This phase is crucial for ensuring that the strategy is working and moving you towards your business goals.

Make sure you have regular check-ins. Good questions include “What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) showing?” or “What aspects of the strategy are working, and what needs adjustment?” This will help you understand the progress and identify any areas of improvement.

Adapting the Strategy

Even the smoothest road has the odd bump, and there will always be a need for adjustments to your strategy. Markets change, new competitors are champing at the bit, and customer preferences evolve. So be flexible and willing to adapt your strategy as needed.

As a client, you must remain actively involved in strategy implementation. Your partner isn’t set-and-forget.

Regularly review performance metrics and provide feedback. If something isn’t working as expected, don’t hesitate to bring it up. A good partner will appreciate your feedback and work with you to adjust the strategy for better results. Remember, the goal is to achieve your business objectives, and sometimes, that requires a bit of course correction.

Neglecting the evaluation and adjustment phase can lead to continued implementation of ineffective strategies. However, regular evaluations and timely adjustments can optimize the strategy, ensuring that it delivers the desired results.

We have a whole article on evaluating a service provider with practical tips – so I won’t go into too much detail here. If you’re already at this stage, that’s a must-read. Find it here.

Beyond Day 100: Long-Term Relationship Management

After the initial 100 days, the focus shifts to maintaining and strengthening yourrelationship. This involves regular communication, performance reviews, and strategy adjustments.

You’re looking to build a partnership based on mutual respect and trust for one another’s expertise. Ask yourself, “Are we treating them as a partner or a vendor?”

Trusting them as a key partner can be the key to a more collaborative and productive relationship.

For a breakdown of some tips for long-term success, look no further than our guide 👇

And there you have it

The first hundred days have gone by in a flash!

It’s an essential period for the long-term success of your relationship, and the key is the setting of boundaries. They key is mutual respect and mutual appreciation for the expertise of all parties. But above all, the key is regular, structured and open communication.

If you bear that in mind, and treat your provider as a partner, not a supplier – you’re well set for a long and fruitful relationship, long past 100 days.


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