Be a Partner, not a Vendor
In B2B sales, and especially in my field of creative B2B services, the role of the outside contractor is to be a partner and not a vendor. In fact, my design company can't effectively do it's job if we're not acting (and being treated) like partners. Let's take a look at two hypothetical branding processes, one from a vendor and the other from my company as a partner. Brand Identity from a Vendor
First, in the creative services industry, many design firms or agencies decide to offer their services as productized packages. This isn't a horrible idea, aside from the fact that you are immediately placing a label on the exact work that you can do for a given client, allowing less movement for customizing the service. These productized branding packages usually include some variation of website + logo + ephemera, at 3 different price points that differ in the amount of deliverables, or worse, the amount of revisions.
Limiting the amount of revisions is smart for the design team short term. Revisions can seemingly go on forever, but the need to limit revisions to 2 or 3 rounds is often because the designer cannot handle the ongoing conversation with enough skill to keep the client happy, explain design rationale, and guide them in the right direction. It is silly to think that every single branding project can get done on an exact schedule of 3 revisions, and that it will be the best possible product every single time. Yet, this is what design vendors love to do.
Past the sales process, now begins the design process. The vendor already has your project moving down the pipe by spending very little time on strategy and sometimes even using templates to create your "fresh" letterhead, business cards, and sometimes even a logo. Especially on far cheaper sites where you can find design work such as Upwork, you'll see design vendors trying to sell you logos that have already been created, and are simply waiting for a home.
How is it that a logo made 6 months ago can possibly be right for your business? The short answer: it isn't.
Delivery of design services from a mere vendor is also a bit different. Instead of the solution being a gradual process to the end, this design vendor will simply show up on the due date, leave you a package of all the deliverables that they designed for you, drop off the invoice, and leave. Net 15, baby!
Brand Identity from a Partner
On the other hand, what if you decided to work with a partner?
The sales process is an entirely different sight. For one, you won't find me, or any other Win Without Pitching design firms throwing you long, boring proposals. Rather, we replace our proposals with conversations that are essentially pre-project strategy sessions. In this way, not only do you, the client, get to figure out whether or not my company is the choice for you, but we get to do the same. If we feel like there is not enough of a partnership, and that we are treated more like a vendor, then we will save you the time and allow you to find another vendor.
Once the contract is signed and the terms, timeline, and tasks have been thoroughly and clearly laid out, then the real work begins. As partners, we include your company and your decision makers in each and every decision along the way. Why should we disappear for 2 weeks to strategize, only to come back and realize that we wasted 2 weeks on the wrong path?
As with anything, communication is key. Constant conversations with the client save us time, money, and energy, and gets you the best work while you have us. No limited rounds of revisions. No fake strategy. Partnership.
Even down to the delivery of the work, there is no big fancy presentation at the end. There seems to be a fascination with big releases and launch dates, and even design firms like to stay in the shadows for 5 weeks, only to dramatically remove the veil on work that has been misguided and sheltered for far too long. It may be unexciting, but there is no extraordinary presentation for great brand identity (at least not internally between the design team and the decision makers). Rather, we have been working with your marketing team the entire time and simply begin to hand off our resources that we have created, and make sure that someone inside of your organization can maintain the work that we've done for the future, whether that be social media posts or brand identity guidelines.
Of course, there are still deliverables, but these deliverables have already been delivered many times over by the end of the project. The only thing that marks the end of the project at this point is that this time, they won't be returned for more revision!
As design partners, we want to be as in-house as we can be, without being in-house (Unless that's your cup of tea). If I had been hired to be a full time designer at the company, I would be constantly talking to decision makers, continually iterating in the design process, and not pitching but having conversations about the work that needs to be done. Why wouldn't I do the same as an outside contractor?