Vision for “Web Pro 2”

The Open Source Marketing Client Service system aims to provide a new model for the commercial relationship between marketing professionals and their clients.

If you have read “Web Design is Dead” (available free on Ben’s website), you’ll be familiar with the Old Model of web design and marketing.

In this post, I’m going to reiterate just why that Old Model is bad, outline what we would need to have everything work better, and describe the “Web Pro 2” model (as far as it is developed right now).

1. What’s Wrong With the Old Model

The most glaring problem with the old model for delivering professional marketing services is simply that the Client takes all risk.

Client Takes All the Risk

The Provider says, “This is what I think you need, and this is what it will cost.” The Client must either accept or decline that offer. If they accept, they pay the fees as agreed.

Thereafter, if the campaign (website, etc.) is a success, the Client may see a benefit (usually profit). However if the campaign fails, the Client may lose more money, on top of the money they wasted by paying the Provider to carry out the work.

I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Several years ago, I was approached by a client who had an idea for a web app, which was like a new Web2.0 knowledge marketplace for professionals.

I quoted £55,000 for the work (US$83k today), and my developer and I created a complete working solution called “Kathink”, which duly went live. (There is no record of the project online now, except for a patent spec.)

The problem was, I had only delivered a product as agreed. We had made no provision in the budget to market the new concept, so it was only ever seen by a few people. Today I look back on that project with profound regret.

However you look at it, most clients have not gotten a good deal from most marketing professionals over the years. Whichever side we’re on, I’m sure we can all list multiple occasions where clients have paid significant sums for websites that bombed.

Who picks up the bill when that happens? It’s the Client. Sure, the Provider (often a web designer) would love to know their work had helped make the client successful, but they’re usually long gone by that time, because they’ve had to move on to the next sale and the next project.

Big Bang / First Best Guess

That brings us onto the second reason why the Old Model was so flawed. Most Providers have a commercially promiscuous relationship with their market. In other words, they are locked into a series of intense, short-term relationships.

The typical web design project can best be described as “Big Bang”… an intense flurry of “creative” work, after which the Provider usually moves on, and the Client is left to discover whether the result is worth the money they’ve paid.

The reality is that any design or redesign is really someone’s “first best guess” (FBG). And experience tells us that anyone’s FBG is almost guaranteed to be less than optimal. In fact, much of the time, a FBG redesign turns out to perform worse than the previous design.

Why is this? Simply because nobody really knows what’s going to work, how people are going to respond to a campaign.

You don’t know until you find out. And the worst way to find out is to bet all your budget on the first best guess.

Of course, this was all really risk-free from the Provider’s perspective. They would get paid whether their guesses were right or wrong. It was the Client who would be left counts the cost.

Cost to Providers

In reality, the promiscuous pattern did not really work out great for Providers either. It meant we were locked in to a “feast or famine” scenario.

When you closed a project, you had money in the bank and a lot of work to do. While you were delivering a project, it was challenging to maintain sales activities, which quite often meant that, when the project was complete, the money would be running out fast, and you had to go out hunting for a new client.

Speaking for myself, that was a stressful way to run a business, particularly for a sole trader or small agency.

We Didn’t Learn

A further downside of the short-termism of the Old Model is that nobody was concerned with really tracking what worked. Not focusing (or caring) about real results meant that our knowledge didn’t really increase very fast.

For marketing professionals, it seemed wasn’t our problem. Hey — clients kept signing our proposals and paying our invoices, even if we could provide no evidence that our services would make them money!

And if a smart client did happen to ask for evidence, we could just mumble something about it being very hard to track and prove results, knowing that they would get the same message from every web designer. I can’t remember it ever being a deal-breaker. Usually, having a sexy portfolio and being able to talk a good sales pitch won the day.

So, because of the short-term involvement, clients couldn’t even check if their designer had a track record of delivering profit, because the designers didn’t even know themselves!

Things did start to change gradually, as more forward-thinking professionals in the web design sector realised that web design was inseparable from marketing. The growth of SEO, and particularly pay-per-click, helped people wake up to the idea that the output of online marketing is in fact measurable.

Too Many Chefs

As the sector matured, clients gradually found themselves having to understand and manage a huge range of marketing channels, roles, and disciplines.

They might read an article saying that they absolutely MUST be doing (take your pick: SEO, PPC, conversion optimization, social media, content marketing, webinars, e-books, email automation etc.). Then they would be compelled to go out and find a consultant to help them do that particular thing.

But that produces a situation of “too many chefs”. Who’s in charge? Who decides what communications go out when? Who decides what content goes on what particular page?

The Client surely is not qualified to make these judgement calls about marketing strategy, and why should they? That creates more stress for the client sector, which only got worse over time as new channels popped up every week.

Of course, we professionals didn’t have to count the cost of the situation. We did our best, usually in good faith, and could always fall back behind the same old excuses…

  • “It’s just the way it is.”
  • “If you don’t invest $$$ up-front, you don’t have skin in the game.”
  • “You have to speculate to accumulate.”
  • All of which add up to,”Buyer beware!”

But, honestly, this situation is not OK. The web is over twenty years old now. It’s time for a better way.

2. What Do We Need?

Let’s consider what an ideal situation might look like. Then, we’ll look at the proposed open-source model for a new Client/Professional model.

Clearly, the Client should not take all risk. They should only pay full fees if and when campaign works, i.e. generates real business results (usually financial profits).

After all, you wouldn’t pay a motor dealer full price if they took your car and sold you a different one that didn’t work!

In order to do that, the marketing professional needs to be involved in the project until it breaks even and becomes profitable. That means we need much longer-term relationships.

There are a few key principles here

  1. Neither party should be over-exposed to risk. Every party’s investment should create a balanced situation, whether they’re investing time and skills, money, or other business assets (e.g. customer list).
  2. If a campaign is worth doing, it must naturally realize previously unrealized profits. (If it won’t be profitable, within a reasonable timeframe, it shouldn’t be done, and the client certainly shouldn’t pay for it.)
  3. If the campaign should be done, it is reasonable that the Provider should be paid in part out of those future profits, thereby sharing some of the risk with the Client, as well as the potential reward.

In order to do this, we need a different type of agreement, in which the Provider is compensated when certain targets are reached, meaning that the Client is not over-exposed to risk.

At the same time, it is worth noting that the Provider should not be expected work for free, either. If they were to invest their time and skills without any compensation, they would be over-exposed, which would also unbalance the situation.

The ideal solution would help avoid the feast/famine for Providers, delivering a slow release of revenues, and ideally generating more revenues for both Providers and Clients, because more is done to realize the potential unrealized future profits.

Instead of having the undesirable scenarios of multiple discipline specialists involved and fighting over a project, or expecting the Client to judge what should be done, there should be one expert in charge of the overall strategy — both creating it and ensuring it is executed efficiently over time.

3. The Proposed Solution: The “Web Pro 2” Model

In this scenario, it might be argued that we are no longer in a Client/Provider relationship. Rather, all parties are mutual investors. Everyone is investing (time, skill, money, intellectual property, etc.) and, as investors, we get to share in dividends from future profits.

Symbiosis

I am a big fan of biomimicry: looking to nature for healthy models. In this, we can look to the biological model of symbiosis, which is where two organisms cooperate in such a way that they both profit.

The key principle is: No one should be risking more than they can afford to lose.

As it is the Client who invests money in the first instance, they should only pay for what they actually receiveThis may relate to specific deliverables (like an SEO plan or strategy document), but should then be represented by agreed specific results.

The Provider is also investing (time and skills), and they should have their costs covered so they are not over-exposed, but the fundamental principle is that their profits should come when the Client profits.

Long-Term Campaigns

Marketing strategies should be planned over time, because it takes time to test how a market will actually respond. Of course, every campaign will have an element of “first best guess” but it also needs to…

  • Assess what assumptions are being made in the FBG.
  • Plan for how those assumptions will be tested and proven, as rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible.
  • Be responsive, incorporating frequent iterations to test, learn, measure results, and optimize performance over time (particularly in traffic acquisition and conversion).

A single role of Marketing Strategist will be responsible for designing and executing the marketing campaign, and for delivering results over time.

That means they have to make intelligent and well-informed decisions on what is likely to get results, and over what timeframe.

Open, Transparent Agreements

This model is built on the principle of win-win scenarios. If either party is not profiting, the relationship is unbalanced, and should not continue — at least in the same form.

For this reason, either party should be able to walk away from the deal at any time. This relationship should work without the need for a contract.

Additionally, either party should be able to renegotiate the deal at any time. The relationship should be in balance.

There are four scenarios that might cause either party not to profit from the relationship in its current form.

Scenario 1: Bad Campaign

If the campaign fails to realize the anticipated unrealized profits sufficiently to compensate the Provider and Client. This may be nobody’s fault.

If we discover that the profits are not accessible, the campaign (and possibly the relationship) should be wound up as promptly as is feasible.

Scenario 2: Provider is Over-Extended

If the Provider finds they are doing too much work for too little compensation, they should seek to renegotiate the deal.

If no agreement can be reached, it may be that we are in a “Bad Campaign” scenario, i.e. there is not enough profit to support both parties.

We should never be in the situation where either the Client or Provider is being greedy, expecting too great a share of compensation.

Scenario 3: Client is Over-Extended

It is possible to imagine the situation where the Client feels they are paying too much in profit-share fees to the Provider.

One scenario might be where a relatively high profit-share is used in the initial stages, in order to provide enough revenue to compensate the Provider for their time while a campaign gets off the ground. As the campaign grows and matures, it may be that the Provider does not have to do so much work, yet they may actually enjoy more revenues.

In this type of scenario, it would seem logical to reduce the Provider’s revenue share by some degree. Ideally, with forces in balance there should be enough incentive for the Provider to invest their skills and time in continually expanding the campaign.

This short video explains the principle of win-win in a continuously growing campaign.

It is reasonable to anticipate multiple renegotations in the lifetime of any campaign.

Scenario 4: Provider No Longer Required

A fourth scenario could simply represent the situation when a campaign is fully matured and running along nicely. In this case, if there is nothing more that the Provider can profitably add, it is right that they should walk away from the project.

Another similar scenario could be where the Provider has transferred sufficient knowledge and skills to the Client such that the Client can do what is required to continue to develop the project, which I think is something we should always try to achieve.

In this situation, the Provider would probably not find the work very interesting anyway, because it is not using their best skills. However, it may make sense for the Client to keep the Provider engaged in order to have access to their experience and skills at a higher level, for on-going strategic guidance.

The key is to note that, in each of these scenarios, renegotiating or ending the working relationship is the right thing to do. (If you’re very interested, I explore the balance of forces a bit further in this post.)

What’s Next?

I cannot justify presenting this as a better solution than the Old Model, until it is proven that win-wins are achievable.

That’s why I am currently working out the details of this model with a handful of real client projects. Please watch this space for updates.

These current campaigns are bound to be time-consuming, and it would be great to work this out on a few more projects in parallel.

However, I also don’t want to roll this out as a paid course or coaching program, for two reasons…

  • The first is, a course would not be appropriate, because of the Open Source Marketing position that states that, if something can be recorded, it should be made available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
  • A coached program would not come into that category, however because this model still isn’t proven, it would be unethical to charge for training.

Then I realized that I had the answer all along. In fact, you’ve just been reading about it!

Extending the Investor Model

If there are any marketing professionals who would like to investigate using this open-source model with your own clients, please feel free to reach out to me direct.

Here’s how it might work.

  • If you have a client who you think has a great long-term opportunity, which you think would make a good case study, let’s discuss it.
  • I could help coach you through the process of:
    • Assessing the opportunity.
    • Drafting and negotiating a balanced agreement that engages everyone.
    • Designing the campaign, and executing it.
  • In return for this, we would agree an initial percentage share for me, to cover my time, which would come out of the share you get from the Client.
  • Of course, that can be renegotiated or cancelled at any time in the future, as things change, which they inevitably will.

Please email me (ben@benhunt.com) if you would like to parter on a project in this way. Note that I do not have a lot of time available to do actual delivery work (design, site build, writing, etc.), so will need to keep my involvement to high-level guidance.

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Ben Hunt

About the Author

Ben Hunt

Ben Hunt has over 20 years' experience in web design and marketing, and has written numerous books, courses, and presented at seminars round the world. In 2010 Ben created the world's most complete web design course, and in 2015 founded Open Source Marketing.

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Rob

Sound very logical and something that I think would see an upside for all parties assuming everyone works in good faith. Running through a list of projects I have at the moment to see how it might work. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes.

    Ben Hunt

    Interestingly, Rob, good faith may not even be so important. If there’s a true win-win scenario (i.e. the more the client pays you, the richer they get.. because you’re growing their top-line turnover every month), they’d be mad to screw you over! I’m sure it’ll happen, but choose your partners carefully, and put in the work to develop a solid relationship, and you reduce the odds greatly.

Timothy

Great article, Ben!

I think you bring up a very good point – I see major problems with the way that most web design / development agreements are structured as well, and I think the investor model is a great idea that more agencies should adapt.

When pricing out agreements, it’s also important for the service provider to factor in the amount of upfront time that it’s going to take to do the necessary market research to become familiar with the client’s industry, so that they can write to the client’s target audience intelligently. Maybe a hybrid of a base monthly fee and a commission for every lead that the agency brings in for the client. Similar to how a commissioned salesperson operates – they make a certain amount of money for every sale that they bring in. Also, when implementing performance agreements, the agency also needs to consider the average sales cycle. Some businesses have very short sales cycles, while others (like manufacturers and businesses involved in complex sales) may have sales cycles that take 3-6 months (and even longer).

I’ve also noticed that there are a lot more web design companies offering SEO and PPC services to their clients. It’s now getting to the point where a lot of small businesses now know that they need help, but they’re not quite sure who to turn, because many providers are now saying that they can help them with their PPC, SEO, Adwords, copy, etc. But many web design agencies are mediocre at it.

I really think the industry needs a set of professional standards by which web design / Internet marketing companies should operate and be held accountable to.

Third point – I think it makes sense for a lot of marketing agencies to specialize in working with certain industries that they have been most successful in and are very familiar with. This way, the results that the agency generates can be very predictable and revenues are easier to scale.

    Ben Hunt

    Hi Timothy. Thanks for your input. I definitely agree that the whole web design/marketing sector needs to grow up and start delivering. I guess that’s one of my main goals with this.

    It also makes a lot of sense for us to focus on our particular niches. I’ve written about the various advantages of that before, not least that it will minimize the up-front familiarization phase you mention.

Luke

Loving this concept Ben,

I can see the right clients jumping at it, I can also see the complexity involved in actually incorporating it in a client relationship. The demonstration spreadsheet and graph provide a very clear indication of the benefit to both parties moving forward.

I see a potential issue in identifying the part of the increased profit we might be able to lay clear claim to have effected in some cases?

There could be many factors that impact a client’s profitability over time, from staff movements to overheads such as rent or insurance costs. Both positive and negative effects could potentially cloud the overall view.

There are obviously situations where the impact of marketing would be crystal clear. Such as an online store that increased sales due to direct traffic from a social media campaign. Other’s could be much more challenging to prove – I guess that is where the option of continual renegotiation comes into play?

Finding a client that is willing to open their books to analysis would be another challenge, but a great pre-qualifier all the same. Once they were open to the benefits, they’d need to be open about the real profits in the business for the relationship to work.

Look forward to watching this unfold.

Cheers
Luke

    Ben Hunt

    Thanks Luke. I’ve actually had to address the specific issue you mention with my current client.

    Under our agreement, I’ll get paid an up-front fee, to cover my time and effort in re-developing the website. After that, I’ll get paid more when the website reaches certain specific milestones, measured in terms of total leads generated.

    The question arose, “What if we get a big client, perhaps via a trade show, who’ll put dozens of applications through the website?”

    My response was simple. “Just tell me and we’ll discount it.” Why should I want to get compensated for something I didn’t do, anyway? I don’t want the client to resent our agreement in any way. I want them to be in love with it!

    The way I see it, if I hire a client who decides it’s a good idea to screw me out of my share of profits, I’ve either chosen really badly or I’ve failed to demonstrate the on-going value I’m delivering. Either way, it’s my own fault.

      Luke Hallam

      Hi Ben,

      Yeah, perfect explanation there. It is all about the client and transparency, and you nail it regarding identifying the right clients to work with. Agreeing to what the website should “do” and then being compensated when that action takes place, is a pretty straightforward conversation to have with any prospect and one they aren’t used to having in this industry right now.

      Cheers
      Luke

        Ben Hunt

        Thanks Luke. I’m working this way now, and I’m amazed at how much of the essential work goes on AFTER a website is launched. Really, the publishing part is just getting out of the blocks, it’s not the whole race.

Carla geenen

This is good stuff Ben. You’re really on to something here! Keep us posted on your experiences.

    Ben Hunt

    Thank you Carla.

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