In providing Internet marketing consulting services, one of the things I have learned well is that there is a large divide between web developers and the folks for whom they are developing web sites.
This is not a shortcoming on the part of web developers nor for the companies who have hired them – it’s more a distinction in areas of expertise. Good web developers are experienced in design, technology, and integration; companies are good at running and understanding their businesses (at least we hope). In the best of circumstances, there is a meshing and understanding between the two parties; more often than not, there is a substantial lack of adequate communication and comprehension between the two, simply because neither really understands the other. That is where what I’ll call the “digital liaison” comes in.
Bridging the Gap
Digital liaisons help bridge the gap between web developers and their “clients” (who could be internal company people or firms who contract their services). Typically, on the client side, web development projects fall under the jurisdiction of the sales and marketing departments; less and less so, they might also get plopped in the lap of the IT department, much to their chagrin. In either case, frequently the company department is already over-extended and its staff don’t need just one more project handed down to them by upper management.
Here’s the scenario:
- Upper management decides that it needs to create/overhaul/add to its web presence
- The project is assigned to a department, either sales & marketing or IT, usually with a tight deadline and a sense of urgency attached
- Sales & marketing or IT have limited resources to work on the project and are already stressed to the max
- Either because they don’t know how or don’t have the time, little proper planning and forethought go into web concept
- A web development firm is hired and the ill-conceived plans are communicated to the developer
- The developer builds a web site according to the client’s specs and the web site is launched
- The web site performs unsuccessfully, according to the client, and the web developer is often blamed
- Client feels frustrated and as if they have wasted a significant amount of money and time; the web developer feels unjustly accused
- It’s back to the drawing board again.
Does it sound like one of your “Been there, done that”? I’ve born witness to many a similar situation, which is why I’m writing this today. Companies and web developers alike can assist themselves in this situation by securing a better understanding of one another and the intended goals of the web site. It’s oftentimes helpful to connect with or assign someone to the impartial role not of project manager, but of digital liaison.
Attributes of a Good Digital Liaison
A good digital liaison should have a solid understanding of web development and design issues. Likewise, this individual should have a firm grasp on the company’s business, its purpose in producing/revising its web site, its timeline and how realistic this timeline may be to achieve given the scope of the project, and how the company plans on measuring its return on investment. Obviously, the intent in using a digital liaison is to “get it right” this time around.
Some other important attributes to look for in a digital liaison include:
- Sales & marketing background – web sites are usually either sales tools or marketing tools or both, so having a background in this field is a plus.
- Strong communication skills – it’s not easy to be able to communicate with both techies and corporate figureheads alike. A good digital liaison needs to be able to not only understand and speak the lingo of each, both also to be able to translate between the two parties.
- Objectivity – though not always possible, it’s a good idea to have an “outsider” assigned to the role of digital liaison. This allows for a greater sense of fairness for both parties and tends to reduce bias within development process.
- Ability to express oneself freely – while both parties are relying on the digital liaison’s expertise, oftentimes expressing doubt about a concept or criticizing an element can be difficult. A good digital liaison cannot be intimidated to speak their mind, and should also be permitted and encouraged to do so freely by both parties.
- Follow-trough and diligence – Although usually not managing an entire web project, the digital liaison is still responsible for a large part of the project moving forward. The individual assigned to the role of digital liaison needs to be able to adhere to deadlines, and even nudge others who might be holding up a project.
The more complex a web development project, usually the more expensive as well. The average e-business now costs in excess of $1 million to build (front and back end)<1>, equal amounts to maintain once built, and even greater amounts to market once it is built (it is estimated that up to 60% of an e-business’s total funding is spent on advertising and marketing)<2>. For those companies looking to save on waste and get the most out of these dollar figures, investing in a dedicated, well-versed person to help navigate the waters is a prudent decision.
1 The Garter Group, 1999
2 Legg Mason Precursor Group, 1999
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