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  • June 12, 2014

Taking the Local

A prospective client recently raised the (periodic) concern that our team wasn’t in close proximity to their headquarters. My reply was Decorative Illustration thorough: “We have two locations ourselves; successfully working remotely is in our DNA.” “We have a track record of working with clients all over North America and abroad, and a laundry list of client testimonials and references.” “Even when we work with a client in Philadelphia or Austin (where we’re based), those projects behave the same way as when we work with a client in South Dakota. Our process is location-agnostic.” Etc. etc. etc.

The client seemed to appreciate my response, but in the end, they chose a local firm instead. I missed my opportunity to win that particular project, but the next time our proximity to clients comes into question, I’ll have a different response. My answer should have been simple, concise.

Client: “How can we be sure your location isn’t an issue?”
Me: “It’s not.”

It just isn’t. It has never been an issue. Our clients partners need to trust our expertise, especially in the sales process. Happy Cog has worked with hundreds of clients from right here at home to overseas. So when it comes to working across different cities, the sum total of our experience dwarfs that of our partners. It’s not an issue; they need to trust our experience. Here’s why…

For some of our most beloved projects, we collaborated with partners in Rapid City, Cambridge, Kansas City, Burlington, Kauai, Louisville, and Las Vegas. Historically, fewer than 10% of our projects are based in Philadelphia or Austin. When engaging with potential partners, we’re transparent about our client list, and we provide an extensive number of references who can speak on our behalf, and to our approach. This is as bulletproof a guarantee as you can hope for.

Happy Cog fundamentally believes some meetings require on-location interaction. Reviewing a design or conducting an important content strategy exercise face-to-face is best. These activities bring incredibly complicated conversations that require as many participants under one roof as possible. We carefully consider and organize every meeting and interaction we schedule. Every attendee is selected for a reason. Video conference or phone call? Agendas are distributed. Goals are outlined.

We’re judicious in the amount of time we spend on-site with clients locally too. Time on the subway is time not spent getting our shared hard work done.

I suspect that clients’ concerns about proximity stem from one of two scenarios:

1. They’ve never worked with non-local partners before. Especially up here in the Northeast, we’ve run into parochial-minded clients accustomed to strictly working with local partners. This is a big red flag. We seek partners with some fluency in partnering with outside firms like ours. Clients with (good or bad) experience working with remote partners is an important secondary consideration. Certainly, we can help a client if its team lacks this experience. We have before. But, that means committing to an uphill battle, educating stakeholders about process at every turn. Some clients are worth the hard work. Others are not.

2. They’ve had a bad experience working with remote partners. If a remote partnership has burned a client before, I’d be willing to bet tens of dollars that that bad experience was the result of a partner that simply collaborated poorly—not their location. Maybe that partner didn’t map out requirements thoroughly enough. Maybe they unsuccessfully anticipated stakeholders’ feedback. Or they tracked down feedback too late. Or they fell asleep in a meeting. Or cried. Location is rarely the real issue, but it’s often the scapegoat.

Regardless of which scenario a potential client has experienced, the underlying issue is that for them, a lack of proximity feels like a lack of control. An acquaintance on the client-side underwent a harrowingly unsuccessful partnership with a shiny digital agency this past year. Poor requirements documentation? Check. Promises made in the sales process ignored in the actual work? Check. Inflexible, ineffective communication? Yup. His initial instinct while the wounds were still fresh was that even though the partner was in the same city as his team, they needed to be in the building even more. They needed to be embedded. But really, wanting them to be closer just reflected a desire for the illusion of more control. A bad partner is a bad partner, whether they’re across the country or sitting on your couch.

Clients weigh many criteria in the partner-selection process, and for good reason. Projects are opportunities, and when they’re wasted, the fallout lingers. Your project deserves the best partner, whether they’re down the street… or conveniently located near Northeast regional rail lines and major airports with readily available direct flights to most cities. ;)

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