5 Must-Ask Questions to Properly Vet a Potential Web Development Partner

May 02 2024

Authored by: Bjorn ThomsonDave Bezuidenhout and C.J. Pagtakhan.

When it’s time to rebuild or revamp your website, hiring a design and development partner is one of the most critical decisions you can make. Get it right, and you'll have a powerful digital asset working for your brand 24/7. Get it wrong, and you could be in for frustration, delays, and — worst-case — a total project failure.  

Even if the project itself goes smoothly, choosing the wrong partner can limit your ability to grow and evolve your digital strategy. Why? In a perfect world, the agency you select won’t just build a moment-in-time solution. They’ll become a trusted resource that can provide ongoing support, guidance, and expertise to help you stay at the forefront of your industry.

Given the high stakes, it’s essential to engage in a thorough vetting process that looks beyond surface-level sales pitches to the real substance of what an agency can deliver for you.

Consider these questions to make an educated, informed choice.

1. What’s the Agency Like Operationally and Culturally? 

Talking to a prospective web development partner shouldn’t feel like an encounter with smoke and mirrors. In your conversations, you should be able to get a true sense of how the agency operates, what their culture is like, how they’ll allocate resources to your project, and what systems and processes they follow. 

To make sure what you’re seeing is what you’ll get, ask questions like: 

  • Who will be assigned to this project? What are their roles and responsibilities?
  • Will there be anyone on the team (e.g., a business analyst) responsible for getting developers, designers, and clients on the same page? 
  • What process will you take to learn about our organization’s business goals and objectives?
  • How do you price projects, and what’s your process of determining project scope?  
  • When do you share status updates about the project and what do those updates look like?
  • What’s your process for making pivotal decisions about the project’s direction?

Don’t stop probing until you understand exactly how the agency manages website projects from start to finish. If agencies give vague or boilerplate answers — or dodge your questions altogether — that’s a red flag.

Assessing Agency Culture

It’s also important to evaluate whether the agency is in a healthy place, both culturally and financially. Take a look at:

  • How long the agency has been in business. Generally speaking, the longer the firm has been in operation, the better — especially if your project is complex and you need to ensure the agency has adequate resources to invest in developing right-fit solutions.
  • Annual revenue and the size of the team. Very small agencies with modest revenue may be operating on a shoestring budget. As a result, they may not be able to weather economic ups and downs, making their long-term viability a concern. 
  • Employee retention and attrition. Check out Glassdoor and Indeed reviews to get a sense of how employees feel about the agency culture. In general, the happier employees are, the better the work they’ll do for you. 

Consider the vibe you get from the sales team and any other employees you interact with. The feelings you get in the interview process — whether positive or negative — will only grow and become more pronounced once you’re in the trenches together. So trust your gut. If you’re sensing misalignment or seeing signs of bad fit, walk away.

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2. Do They Have a Track Record of Reliability and Results? 

It’s common to look at case studies and work samples to evaluate an agency’s ability to drive results. And without a doubt, that’s an important part of measuring an agency’s effectiveness. 

But let’s be honest: Every agency has at least a few success stories to share. To verify a winning track record and uncover potential shortcomings, look more closely at the following areas.

Ability to Meet Deadlines and Stay Within Scope 

No agency is perfect — it’s impossible to meet every single deadline in a months- or years-long engagement. But reliability and trustworthiness are extremely important characteristics that directly impact the success of your project. And you should definitely expect the agency you work with to stay on track the majority of the time. 

So don’t be shy about asking prospective agencies to describe their process for setting realistic project timelines and expectations. Ask how often they hit or miss deadlines and how they scope work. Explore the steps they take to course correct when obstacles arise. And look for evidence that the agency has systems in place to recover from potential delays.

Of course, few agencies would admit they’re notorious for missing project milestones or blowing scope. So look for proof points like client testimonials and third-party reviews (Clutch is a great resource) that praise the agency for getting things done on schedule and within budget.

Client Satisfaction and Measurable Results

As you review case studies and testimonials, look for measurable results that demonstrate tangible impact. Ask the agency questions about the projects to learn more about the problems they faced and their approach to solving them. 

Ask pointed questions about client attrition rates, too — especially if you’re looking for a long-term strategic partner. High churn rates can be a sign that the agency has a tendency of over-promising and under-delivering. 

Again, look at Clutch and other review sites to get a fuller picture beyond what the agency has to say about themselves. 

External Accolades and Awards 

Although awards and recognitions don’t mean everything, they do mean something. Industry accolades, awards, and positive reviews from third-parties can be a signal of an agency's reputation, experience, and high-quality work.

When an agency’s work is validated by a third party and you see positive signs of reliability in other areas as well, you can enter the engagement with a stronger sense of confidence in the outcomes they’re likely to achieve. 

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3. Does the Team Have Relevant Industry Experience?

While many agencies can deliver solid work for clients no matter the sector, hiring a partner with direct knowledge of and experience in your specific industry can be a huge advantage. After all, the marketing needs of a college or university are vastly different from those of a SaaS startup. And the business goals of a nonprofit organization vary greatly from those of a Fortune 500 company.

An agency with expertise in your industry may be able to better anticipate potential issues and tailor their approach and solutions to your unique needs. This can make your discovery and strategy work go a lot faster. 

On the other hand, don’t pigeonhole yourself if you find a potential partner that feels like the right fit but whose work is primarily focused in a vertical other than yours. Sometimes hiring outside the box is a great way to create a solution that sets your organization apart from the competition. 

To get a sense of where your prospective agency particularly shines, check out their case studies and ask for samples of work they’ve done for similar-to-you clients.

4. Will There Be a "One Team" Mentality With You and Your Other Vendors?

The best agency relationships are true partnerships, not just a series of vendor-client transactions. And especially if you need to work with multiple vendors to bring your website project to life, it’s essential for your web dev partner to look at the engagement with a “one team” mindset.

To that end, look for an agency with a culture of collaboration. In particular:

  • Ask about their experience working with their clients’ various internal teams and with other vendors.
  • Review processes and workflows to make sure the agency is aligned with how your team and other vendors operate. For example, if you have stringent security review and approval processes, but the agency is very agile and decentralized, that could create friction. Discuss real examples of how your processes would or wouldn’t mesh.
  • Pose scenarios about how they might handle conflict or disagreements when working with other agencies on complex problems, especially where boundaries are not clear. 

Pay close attention to any signs that indicate the agency could be territorial or difficult to work with.

5. Will the Agency Challenge Your Assumptions and Up-Skill Your Capabilities?    

A good agency partner doesn't just take orders and check boxes. They act as a strategic advisor — analyzing your business goals requirements, helping you look at your challenges and opportunities from a different perspective, and making recommendations based on what they believe is the best course of action. 

It’s also important that anyone you hire extends and elevates your internal team’s capabilities rather than simply replicating or augmenting them.

When you’re interviewing agencies, consider:

  • Are they quickly agreeing with you, nodding along to everything you say, or otherwise patronizing you?
  • Or are they offering thoughtful insights and perspectives that make you stop and think?
  • Does their team basically do what you can already do yourself?
  • Or do they offer unique expertise and bring a deep bench of cross-disciplinary experience to the table? 

Don’t settle for the status quo — look for an agency that will dig deep into your business needs and help your team and organization level up. 

Treat Hiring a Web Dev Agency Like the Business-Critical Decision It Is 

There's no one-size-fits-all checklist for vetting potential web design and development partners. Every business's needs, priorities, and challenges are different.

To find the right partner for your organization, plan to invest time and energy into asking the right questions, diving deep into an agency’s operations, capabilities, track record, and culture, and assessing fit. Only then can you be sure the agency you hire will drive your business forward in all the ways that matter most. 

Want to learn more about working with ImageX? Let’s start an open, transparent conversation.

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