How to select the best mobile app company for your digital product

Reed Hansen
  • Reed Hansen
  • August 3, 2016
How to select the best mobile app company for your digital product

Today’s modern marketers are constantly given the all-important yet near-impossible task to find the best agency to build a new digital product or redesign a flailing website or mobile app. Finding a mobile app developer or digital agency is not a problem—inboxes flood with offers for “introductory conversations” and quick Google searches reveal agencies fighting for those highly competitive keywords. Sound all too familiar? What brand marketers need to do is find the perfect agency partner that completely meets the expectations of the brand’s next digital project, something that is becoming increasingly hard to do.

By giving the best advice on how to find the right mobile app or web developers, am I trying to make my job harder? No. There should be no “secrets” of the digital agency world—this can and should be a simple process. An agency that delivers great work will reveal a lot about themselves in early conversations. A good partner will work with brands to meet the end goal of a successful product launch.

Marketers should first decide the type of partner for the job—one that will add value and work with the brand’s internal team to build something great, or a more simple, low-cost option that checks the boxes? If it’s the latter—and there are many projects that should fall in that category—decide if a full-service agency is the answer, rather than a contractor that could be found on Fiverr.

Second, it’s important to know that flexible points of negotiations from a top digital agency’s perspective are the time to deliver, effort required, and feature set. Be suspicious of an agency that would quickly concede to discount something like an hourly rate. Sometimes great volume of agency work justifies a discount on hourly rates, but be curious why their services aren’t in higher demand and they are willing to take the hit to win business. Good agencies manage supply and demand of strong consulting resources well.

How do Time-and-Materials versus Fixed-Cost approaches affect a project?

“Time and materials” is a common approach to budgeting a project. The agency provides an estimate to the client, with the caveat that the client will only pay for actual hours used. Clients are sold the idea that, with tight project management, the project will come in under budget and they will save money. In reality, however, time and materials shifts the majority of the cost risk to the client. The price pressure of negotiations effectively ensures that the final number is the lowball estimate. For this reason, time and materials projects are notorious for running over budget.

Some agencies are willing to commit to a fixed fee proposal to guarantee scope and timeline, assuming that scope is fixed. This is the way that Punchkick approaches enterprise projects. It’s a win-win to ensure that our clients get the scope they want on time and on budget, and we have a success story we can brag about.

Transparency is key to getting the best proposal from an agency

When clients are upfront about the project’s budget, their decision-making process, and the timeline, agencies can truly be evaluated on an even playing field. Signing a new agency can often take multiple months, as multiple stakeholders at the company will need to weigh in, and adjustments to requirements will likely need be made throughout the process based upon pushback from legal or feedback from procurement.

The smartest brand marketers get multiple proposals—and are careful to exert pressure to reduce price during negotiations without understanding exactly where the agency is cutting back. Are they taking thinner margins, or are they swapping in junior developers, or cutting corners on certain features? These are essential questions to ask when negotiating price.

Brands should expect a detailed proposal from each agency that outlines where major effort is anticipated—and should be prepared to ask follow-up questions about anything that doesn’t make sense. Wide variances on any point between various proposals is cause for further questions, so brands shouldn’t dismiss anything—follow-up conversations can help uncover the reasons why. It’s always beneficial to have multiple perspectives.

It’s imperative to have a plan for what happens after the product release. Brands should know beforehand if this is a product whose development will be taken in-house to maintain, or if the agency relationship is intended to continue to build the next version of the mobile product. The agency should certainly adapt working cadence, paired programming, documentation, and training to fit the brand’s desired outcome post-launch.

Finally, brands should always seek out references and review prior work. And perhaps most critically of all, brand marketers need to be asking their prospective agencies good questions.

The following answers should be clear:


Marketers need to be as forthcoming with their organization’s own limitations as they expect agencies to be during the initial discussion. If at any point in the sales process a brand marketing team feels their agency is not being transparent with them, they should expect that same behavior during the course of the project. If there is no pushback from the agency in the initial conversations, brands can expect them to withhold bad news beyond the point of no return during the engagement. Lack of communication and dishonesty during early conversations inevitably leads to major budget overruns, missed deliverables, excuses, and a bad relationship between client and agency project teams.

On the other hand, with a good agency partnership, brands can expect a relationship like that of a trusted advisor. Brands can be confident that the shared experience and knowledge of two teams working together as one can yield great digital products that mutually benefit the company and the agency.

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