Darren helps break down growth-driven design, the data-driven re-imagining of web design. Learn how his team transitioned from traditional web design to GDD, how he updated his processes for delivery, and what GDD has achieved for his customers.
In today's episode of Agency Unfiltered, we have Darren Ratcliffe, Digital Director of Six and Flow. Six and Flow is a growth and inbound marketing agency based in Manchester, England, and Darren joins us to break down growth-driven design, a data-driven reimagining of web design. In short, turn website design into a recurring service for your agency that will also yield better results for your clients. Darren starts at the beginning to walk us through how his team moved away from traditional web design, how he developed his internal processes for delivery, and what GDD has achieved for Six and Flow's customers. Let's hit it.
KD: Darren, thanks for joining us. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered.
DR: Thank you.
KD: I'm excited to have you on, and I think you're gonna be a really great person to bring some perspective for web design for agencies, right? So, obviously there's a shift. A lot of agencies are adopting growth-driven design. That's kind of a newer approach, a more, just a better approach, maybe, for web development for their clients. So, I know Six and Flow leans on growth-driven design pretty heavily.
DR: We do.
KD: I’m interested to hear how you landed on that decision and what it's been able to do for the team.
DR: Yeah, I guess from that point of view, we were looking at Agile methodologies and how we adopt them in development, and the thing that became clear with growth-driven design is it's got simple structure. It's got some boundaries to it that can guide you more than just having a typical agile process that doesn't have the same sort of definitions with your customer personas in the same way, and the parameters of what you're trying to achieve. So, for us, it sped up some areas of design and development, just because we've got a structure that we can rely on with it. Does that make sense?
KD: Yeah, 100%. I mean, if I visualize a website project, I can see that thing dragging and dragging, and it's like pulling teeth, all the different steps, the client reviews, and now you're focusing on the things that might not be driving a ton of impact. So, how have clients kind of adopted this kind of growth-driven design mindset as well?
DR: Yeah, I guess one of the drawbacks is you sometimes need to educate your clients as to why you want to work in that way, because every agency will have clients where they are the expert, and they will tell you how to design a site and how to build a site, and then you're taking a step back where you're sort of admitting the, "Well, you're not the expert." What really counts is the actual end results. So, once you get them educated in terms of how going through growth-driven design lets you make incremental changes for success. That's when you get the buy-in.
KD: Yeah, and then I think, I mean, internally, there's a whole bunch of benefits as well, right? Because if you're doing these incremental changes over time, like this website project is looming one time, big fee project at the start of this whole engagement, you've actually kind of formed it into a retainer model. Is that beneficial for the agency, right?
DR: Yeah, from an agency's point of view, we've got recurring revenue. If there's no peaks and troughs with it, because once you've got the project's been running, it builds its momentum, but also from the client's perspective, you're getting return on investment as you're investing more in the website. So, it makes financial sense to work in that way, too.
KD: Yeah, so if I'm an agency just starting out, maybe I'm a web dev shop, and I kinda follow this traditional model, so how would you recommend getting started? If you had to go all the way back to year one of your agency, how do you get started with growth-driven design the right way?
DR: The certification is really simple. In my approach there, I wondered how much I'd be learning, and it was more, "You know this stuff already. "You're doing it anyway." It's just telling you how to structure it in a growth-driven design way. So, I'd go through that. It'll take you maybe a week, two weeks, depending on how much time you've got to spend going through it. And then it's the bravery of taking that first step where you go, "This is how we deliver our projects." We don't do the, "Well, let's follow," cycle anymore. We're doing it through growth-driven design, and then convincing new customers to come with them.
KD: Now, we're talking about incremental changes to a website. Right? So, there's obviously this layer our element of experimentation, right? We're gonna test out some different things. How does the Six and Flow team prioritize or determine this is what we want to experiment, A/B test, and work on?
DR: It comes down to having really clear objectives that we'll set off when we develop the launch pad site. We know what our key metrics gonna be for the site, what performance that we're trying to monitor. And then, it's a case of as we're going through the sprints, looking at what's working, what isn't working, And then on a monthly basis, those can change what you're focusing on. And it all depends on, I'd say what area the site concentrating on, and if there's anything that it might be seasonal or it might just be continual that you want to improve.
KD: Sure, it's like, "But, eliminate the guesswork. "Let the data speak for itself it sounds like, right?
DR: Yeah, that's it, yeah. It's like new analytics. You can view site usage. You've got things like Hotjar, so you can see where people are struggling. The data's there to tell you what you need to concentrate on. You don't need to decide on day one what you're gonna be doing every month.
KD: You name-dropped Hotjar there. I think a lot of agencies lean on that tool. Do you install it? Is that part of the process for all your clients?
DR: Yeah, we've got a couple of tools that just that part and parcel of a build, and Hotjar is one that we put on. Historically, there were other tools that we were using, but just through going through the certification and everything else, it works, it's a smart tool.
KD: Yeah, right, the heat maps. Yeah, and it helps.
DR: Yeah, and the session recording as well. It's a good way to show new clients the things that you pick up with previous clients, because there's some really interesting and surprising results just on how people use websites in a way that I wouldn't expect and the customer wouldn't expect. So, yeah, it's a good tool for that.
KD: I think it, yeah, it perfectly maps out, like, "Okay, I have the ideal flow through my website, "how I think it works," but then the session recording, like, "No, this is how people are engaging with it," and they can be starkly and vastly different.
DR: Yeah, it's a great tool, and from a price point of view, because what our customers are always worried about is it's not actually that expensive, especially when you get the results coming back as well.
KD: True, makes sense. In a more general sense, I'm trying to think of all these different pain points and friction points, because web dev projects, they can be tough and burdensome for agencies. Have you had a client come in with just the most ridiculous request, or something that you just didn't agree with or validate, or how do you kind of approach that conversation? Because you have your strategy, and oftentimes they might have these glamor pieces of the website or elements that you might not prioritize.
DR: Yeah, prioritizing is a good thing. Clients will come with their priorities, which come from their own pressures and their own background and as the agency, you come with your experience, and you've got that negotiation of, "Well, yeah, you're the expert of your business undoubtedly, "but we're the expert at what we do." And it's trying to find that common middle ground, and the thing with GDD that you can get is if you don't get a complete agreement, well, you can do some trial and error. It doesn't hurt to get it wrong the first time. You don't want to, but you can keep continually improving things, and that's a good way to go to get around those problems.
KD: Yeah, I think another thing, too, how do you field clients with slow turnarounds? Obviously all these different assets, elements, they're gonna require feedback, notes, revisions potentially. Have you ever had a client just really drag their feet in returning that back? Is that something you can operationalize? How do you overcome something like that?
DR: If you know your clients well enough, then you can start to make some of those decisions for them. Content from a client is always, it's written content and photography are the two things that will hold up any project for weeks and months. If you can get that stuff up front, out of the way and sorted, and you've got a copywriting team anyway, you can sort of mitigate for some of those and avoid them, but you do need clients that bought into it, because it's a two way process and you've got to work together on it.
KD: Yeah. Is there anything that you would put in? I know, often times, when we talk about SLAs or service level agreements, we always talk about marketing to sales. Does Six and Flow have anything like that, like SLAs outlined or written for you and your clients?
DR: Yeah, all our clients have SLAs. They're slightly different with eCommerce than they are with traditional websites projects.
KD: Sure, makes sense, yeah.
DR: But, yeah, with the SLAs, we're really clear with our clients that growth-driven design isn't a support contract. It's there to grow your business. It's not just there to give technical assistance. It's a marketing exercise. So, yeah, we're just clear with clients what we expect from them and how long they're gonna have to wait, willing to stay if asked for something from us.
KD: That's awesome. And then, just to circle back on the benefits of this kind of growth-driven model for an agency. Obviously, web projects can be expensive and that can be a pretty hefty source of revenue for an agency, GDD, right? It's a retainer-based model. Again, we don't need your secret sauce necessarily, but how much of an impact from a revenue perspective have you seen for the agency moving to this new model?
DR: Our agencies grow. So, we've better resources to resort, and that's because we've got an increase in revenue. And I'd say that that once we've started to get up to speed with GDD, we're getting 20% growth a year as an agency, but then, from the client's point of view, they're getting around 15%, 20% growth, sometimes higher, as a result of that continual investment. And this is about spreading the cost over longer and improving it as you're getting your returns, so it makes sense both ways around.
KD: Right, it's all about positioning. I mean, I thought you just explained it incredibly well. You mentioned there for a minute, I think the SLAs are different for eCommerce versus maybe a B2B customer or something like that. How does the GDD process or web build process, experimentation, incremental improvements, how does that change for eCommerce versus B2B from your perspective?
DR: The benefit with eCommerce is you can make your decisions quicker. It's because we've got a transaction website and if it's at high volume, there's a lot more data to analyze and go through. When it comes to A/B testing, you've got more opportunities to do it, so we try and work quicker with the eCommerce clients, but because it's more sensitive, if your sales drop, then you've got an issue. We're more cautious at the same time, so just getting that balance right between moving quickly because you can do, but also just not doing the wrong thing, and then creating a loss in revenue for somebody.
KD: Makes sense. From a team perspective, I don't know if I've asked yet, but I don't know how big the team is at large, but what does the team structure look like around a web development project?
DR: We've got a head of client services for the project and a project lead that manage it, and they work together in terms of working through requirement analysis and working out what's gonna happen in each of the sprints. And then, we have quite a fluid design and development team that will work together on things. Everything's allocated. We try and keep developers in pools on the same projects, and it's just a case of as the requirements come up, making sure that they're quickly booked in and serviced. But we try not to have the team jump between lots of different projects. We try and keep them with the same pool of clients, because they're then making the same learnings as we're going through the process, and the development can add value back with suggestions on how to do things as well.
KD: Sure, that's great. From a contract sign to the initial launch pad launch, what do you usually see as a timeframe there?
DR: It can be anything between, I'd say six to 12 weeks. Yeah, I'd say that's fair enough. It depends on the scale of the website. And again, it's that thing about saying to your clients, "You don't need to have everything ready today. "Here's the core of what you need "to have to get up and running, "but the rest can come, as we're doing our work, "you can do some more." So, it does speed up that initial launch of the site, because we can start with something small and keep adding to it then.
KD: And then, have you ever sold a GDD retainer that doesn't have inbound services aligned with it or an inbound retainer? Are those separate, are always attached? How does that look like from a contractual standpoint?
DR: Because historically we've lead as being a HubSpot partner, most of our clients do have an inbound marketing agreement with us, but with the changes we've had in the business, we do have people that are just down the GDD route, and they work with the other agencies for doing, let's say PPC, but we've also got clients that have come to us, they've seen GDD, they like it, but they don't want to start again. And we're sort of retro-fitting in GDD after to help with the growth of that business, and so whilst there is a good framework, it is flexible.
KD: Only one or two questions left for you. So, this will be, if there's any particular example, but as you've built a number of different client websites, A/B tests, a number of other things, did a number of experiments, did one experiment stand out as being like, "Oh, that's really unique or really cool," maybe results that you didn't anticipate, spiked in a way that you found really fascinating?
DR: Yeah, so this isn't interesting at all, but it's the first one that always comes to mind, and we had a website for a client and for whatever reason, we would find that the users would circle the mouse over a white space, and we're like, "Why? There's nothing there." And that's a good example of where nobody at Six and Flow or with the client had any idea why that was happening, but then you can start to make changes. And then, when you start to look at the area on the website where that is, you can see that there was just something missing. So, we can change the design very, very slightly and get rid of that issue. So, that one that's a little bit random. And that's something that happened very early on with our journey in GDD. But the other part is eCommerce and the conversion rates is that between different verticals, things can be so different in the mind of the customer. That's where if you have a customer that ever wanted to be convinced that GDD was right, eCommerce is perfect for it because very quick in a couple of weeks, you can get so much evidence back as to whether what you're doing is right or not.
KD: Right, yeah. How quickly results come back in make you really strategic and allow you to move very quickly. Final question. I ask this to all of our guests. I don't really prep you for it, so it might be a curveball. But in a general sense, so not GDD necessarily, what would you say has been the weirdest part of agency life?
DR: The weirdest part of agency life? There's nothing more important than the customers of your customers, I guess. Every project that you work on, you sort of inherit this family of customers that sit below your customer, and you learn a lot about people's habits and behaviors with what you do, especially with things like Hotjar and things. You can do some sort of psychological reviews of what people are doing. So, I guess, yeah, customers.
KD: Customers of our customers.
KD: And there's a psychological element there that you wouldn't have anticipated.
DR: Well, there is, especially with, we do a lot of work with eCommerce, and when we're doing our stuff in the UK and we're talking to our clients who do some workshops and webinars, we explain to people that if you're buying online, you have a psychological aversion to spend money. And that's what you're battling against, and it's not just about design. It's about what's happening up there. So, yeah. So, that's for me, I'm a bit of a geek, and eCommerce is an interesting industry.
KD: It's a great answer.
DR: There we go, thank you.
KD: Well, that's it. Thanks so much for joining us. This has been Agency Unfiltered.
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