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How I made a huge mistake in vendor selection by doing exactly the opposite of what I tell others

The storied road to revamping the LeadMD website

I haven’t written a blog in a few weeks. I’ve been too busy patching up a really bad decision. If you do a quick google search for quotes about advice you’ll be overloaded with great insights. Here’s my favorite so far:

“What makes a fool is an inability to take even his own good advice.” – William Faulkner

By that adage, I’m a fool.

Like most agencies we find ourselves torn between what we can do and the time available to do it in. The amount of marketing and sales talent we have in house is truly staggering, but the priority to apply it to our own business is a tireless tug of war. The cobbler’s children and their lack of shoes often applies to us.

At the end of the day, you’re going to protect your revenue lines. Customer initiatives are naturally going to win out over “pet projects” and nice-to-haves. That said, a world-class website is not a “nice-to-have” – it’s critical to the success of a business, especially when you’ve spent seven years creating an owned media hub. For this reason, when my Creative Director approached me in March with plans to finally mobilize the leadmd.com site, we started to evaluate vendors to help drive this critical initiative home.

First, there is a reason the site was not yet mobile responsive (many of you can stop sending me LinkedIn inMail about this now). Our site is incredibly heavy. Not only was it built over the course of seven years, but it has a ton of enterprise class integrations including a shopping cart, salesforce.com and many, many more. The site, quite frankly, has been my playground – a space to try out new things and experiment. It was time to whip it into line and bring it into the mobile world.

Another aside: it’s important to touch upon what is happening in the world of web design these days. Similar to many service based industries, the way we think about one-time web development is changing. A decade ago every agency and its brother did web design and development. With the rise of SaaS, this one-time model has been largely abandoned in favor of recurring revenue models. Many of the agencies we spoke with wanted to manage our demand gen or content in addition to the site over time, but we have those handled in house. Others wanted to focus on more of the startup studio model, which we also don’t need. Others wanted our ongoing SEO or PPC work. Again, not a fit.

After wading through these troubled waters we finally narrowed our search down to three firms who we felt could perform the work. All three were Arizona firms. When waiting for a proposal, one of them simply chose to go dark. Have I mentioned how frustrating the Arizona business climate can be at some times?

As I studied the two bids I had actually received, it was obvious I was looking at two distinctly different proposals. One was a time and materials bid and the estimate was high. Very high. LeadMD is a time and materials agency as I’ve always advocated for charging a fair rate for the time spent. The other was a fixed bid proposal and although not cheap, it was much lower than the other bid. This bid was submitted by a young organization, hungry to make a name for themselves.

What to do?

I’ve written time and time again in regards to the cost of quality, how one should never make decisions on price, how you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

So, what did I do? I completely ignored my own advice.

Did I think I was getting away with something? Maybe. Did I think the firm could do the job? I hoped so. Was price the determining factor? Yes.

Here we sit, seven months later, the day the site goes live. The firm has since been fired (to be fair we fired each other), the site has been pulled back in house, and the cost is insurmountable.

You might be wondering, how does a fixed bid project spiral out of control in terms of cost? Beyond the immense amounts of everyone’s time at LeadMD’s which has been pulled in adhoc to save this failing project, there’s also the cost of missed opportunities. We’ve held off on content campaigns, we’ve spent time on this project when it would have been better used elsewhere. I’ve even had my development team, the team in charge of building what we are confident will be the future of education, pulled in to fix this project. This site has become far costlier than I could have ever imagined. Far more than that original bid we turned down to go with the young and hungry provider.

As I reflect on the project, there’s no grand lesson to be learned, no earth shattering revelation to behold. There’s no mind blowing epiphany simply because I’ve known it all along. We all know it. There are no shortcuts, especially not these days where quality is once again becoming the measure of worth. From marketing automation and content marketing to account based everything to websites – the quick and easy way is the wrong way. The few pennies saved become only seedling reminders of the windfall costs to come in the way of fixes, repairs, lost revenues and missed opportunities.

Next time I should simply take my own advice, and pay for the nice clean oats.

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