The truth is, I started this digital customer experience agency completely by accident.
After over a decade with agencies, I decided to give independent consulting a try. A couple of months in, a customer offered me an opportunity to build my own guerrilla team to pick up some business-critical projects after an unexpected and rapid split with their previous digital agency. I didn’t hesitate — I called all of the smartest people I knew and asked them to join me.
They all said yes.
They also all had secure jobs with 8+ years with their then employers, so started off by moonlighting. Almost immediately, other clients caught wind that I had started something and called me to engage. The team joined full-time without hesitation, and clients trusted us to operate their enterprise digital marketing, even before we had a website of our own.
Fast forward two and a half years, Qualified Digital is a 25+ person-strong organization comprised of even more of the smartest people I know who are committed to providing great customer experiences that drive business outcomes for our clients.
It’s been a remarkable journey to date.
I was recently asked what beliefs guide us every day. As the founder and CEO, I take our values and our culture very seriously; they are the guardrails to building the kind of place we all love to come to every day.
After some noodling, I determined three rather uncommon principles that guide us:
1. Digital matters, but people matter more.
From a practical perspective, we are a digital agency through and through.
We live and breathe technology, analytics and design. Our in-house experts are strategic technologists of the cutting-edge variety, and we have delivered for The Enterprise since inception. We build on all of the leading Web Content Management (WCM) systems like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM); we manage and build data practices by leveraging tools like Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics (GA); and we integrate into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems like Marketo and Salesforce. We not only deliver design-forward, pixel-perfect execution, but we stay on to optimize using tools like Optimizely and Adobe Target.
We are mighty for our age and size, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished.
Yet, despite all of that, the most gratifying customer feedback I received had very little to do with our technology acumen:
We hire human beings first – people who are comfortable making mistakes and who treat each other well. People who are willing to work on a team that helps one another. People who, yes, are exceptional practitioners but first and foremost are honest, kind, resilient human beings.
Digital is what we do, but human beings are who we are at our core and who we serve with the experiences we create.
2. Off-model is on-brand.
Throughout my career, I would inevitably get to a familiar moment of friction with agency leadership.
They wanted to scale a predictable model that they understood, and I wanted to scale the successes that I had achieved, albeit atypically. The answer was always, “well, it is just too off-model.”
The way I wanted to serve customers was frequently at odds with my management, who rightfully were focused on project profitability and project execution. Often, I would step well outside of a defined scope and ask questions about business strategies across the broader digital ecosystem. I would work out of the customers’ offices to witness firsthand their day-to-day challenges and what operations truly looked like.
I would dig into all of the data they let us and gain visibility into their product roadmap, all to better align with their business growth agenda. I would champion the individuals on the client team and help craft their internal communications, put together QBR slides and help them deliver a presentation of their vision.
I would get in the weeds. Then I would get caught.
“Why are you doing that, talking about this, writing that? You’re supposed to be delivering XYZ,” was a recurring refrain.
For me, this is what I needed to deliver confidently on current initiatives and to make recommendations on broader digital projects, programs and maturity road maps.
The reality is that the model for brands has changed and agencies need to adapt.
Marketing teams today are tasked with delivering on the promises of a modern customer experience. This requires analytics, personalization and optimization that can only happen with cross-functional, strategic digital excellence. Their silos are being broken down, and ours have to as well.
Qualified Digital was a chance to put these ideas into action, to encourage curiosity and passion in my team, all with the handcuffs off.
What I found is that being less transactional leads to more meaningful transactions, and that strategy delivered through earned trust begets greater acceptance and adoption of proposed initiatives. When you can directly align and correlate the value you deliver to the customers’ business outcomes, you are truly offering a service that your team loves to be part of, and one that customers find worth investing in.
Being off-model is very on-brand for us.
3. We’re proud to be new.
“New” is relative. Two and a half years in business may not seem like a lot.
For us, it’s a strength.
Many traditional agencies who now offer the same services – re-platform, manage analytics, or design digital experiences – have a long history of building and designing websites that solved a much smaller list of problems.
For them, digital customer experience has been something they’ve had to pivot to.
For us, it’s been our core competency since day 0.
Just consider how companies approach marketing today – full of different channels (inbound, outbound, email marketing, landing pages, events, ALL the various parts of the marketing ecosystem). The task today is to figure out how to make the sum of all these channels work together in a custom, thoughtful, and strategic experience for the ONE single person going through the marketing world you’re delivering.
From a business POV, the better the content and experience of a customer, the more likely they are to understand and purchase your product.
We are thinking about every individual piece in that broader context. From the very beginning, we anticipate a data-driven operating model (DDOM). Each time we build, we’re going to build something optimized for scale. Each project brings together experts from every discipline (CMS, analytics, design) all operating together.
The best clients for us are those who are looking to drive scale with their experiences. We are a young company, boutique in size, with a focus on enterprise customers coming in with a mandate to break down the silos in their ecosystem, get more from their platforms, and manage ever-increasing complexity.
For us, being new is an advantage.
And, if we can use these unconventional principles to drive meaningful results for you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org