Chris Johnson was busy. In the week since he was put in charge of developing the corporate Web site for Shelbus Enterprises, he had been in a mad scramble to find a good developer to work with. On the one hand, he wanted to do things by the book - issue an RFP (Request For Proposal) to a number of developers, interview at least three of them, check references, choose one and then have a formal contract written and signed by both parties. But from experience, he knew that that process took time - the one commodity that he didn't have a lot of. With just over three months to develop the site, Chris knew that the developer selection process was going to have to be abbreviated so that work could begin quickly. It was just out of his comfort zone to work this way.
"Chris, they're here," Erica poked her head into his office, and Chris looked up from his paperwork. Although others around the office were being helpful (except Gary, who seemed to be just waiting for an opportunity to sabotage the project), Erica was by far his biggest ally, and had helped him gather information that they would need to get the site started. It was, in fact, a friend of hers that they were about to meet nowa friend who worked for a Web development company.
Chris and Erica stepped into the conference room where Vinny, the head of IT for Shelbus Industries, was already waiting. Chris had asked him to be part of the meeting so that he could ask the developers any technical questions that Chris wouldn't know to ask. Chris and Erica got themselves settled as the receptionist brought the guests into the conference room.
A strikingly pretty woman entered the room. She had a quality in her expression that Chris felt attracted to immediately. Behind her was a slightly older man who wore a suit that he seemed uncomfortable in.
"Hi, Erica, good to see you again," the blonde woman took Erica's hand and reached in to kiss her on the cheek.
"Hi, Jackie, thanks for coming. Jackie, this is Chris. Chris, this is JackieOwner and President of Pufus Media and Marketing."
Chris took Jackie's hand and thanked her for coming as well, as Jackie introduced them to her partner, Dennis. They all four exchanged business cards and sat down.
"I didn't know that you owned the agency, Jackie," Chris commented. "How long have you had it?"
Jackie explained that she and Dennis had been college friends that started the firm two years ago after each had worked for a number of years at other, larger companies. She went on to describe how the agency had evolved from doing strictly static-based Web sites (simple HTML sites without any back-end databases) to more complex sites that involved e-commerce, online catalogs, and intuitive marketing through complex databases. Intuitive marketing? Jackie explained that for e-commerce sites, intuitive marketing on a site was a means of generating additional revenue from an already interested audience. "For example," she explained, "suppose that a consumer comes onto a site and adds a lamp to their shopping cart. Well, if they're buying a lamp, it's a good guess they'll need light bulbs. An intuitive database will know to offer light bulbs to that customer. Now, let's say that that same customer buys lighting-oriented products on three successive visits. With an intuitive database, the site will know to offer lighting products to that customer on the home page the next time they come back."
Chris considered this. "Can something like that be integrated later on? I'm not sure that we're going to have the time to implement that sort of thing and still hit our deadline."
"Of course. But like anything else, adding it later may add to the cost and the time for development. A lot of people think that you can put a Web site together piece by piece, and they're right; you can. But you have to know which pieces to put in first so that you don't have problems later. Kind of like building a houseyou can always put on an addition, but only if you have a strong foundation to start with."
"That makes sense. Please go on."
Jackie continued her overview, and started to discuss some of their marketing efforts for clients, when Chris interrupted her again. "I'm sorry," he said, "I know I should allow you to continue, but I'm not sure that we're ready at this point to really look into the marketing of the site. If we could, I'd like to concentrate on the development."
"I agree with you," she said, "I think that the external marketing to drive people to the site, such as advertising and public relations, can definitely be kept for a conversation down the road. But one of the reasons why we excel at building sites is that we understand that a site is a lot more about marketing than it is about programming. Anyone can drive a person to a Web site. If you have the budget, it's not terribly difficult. The hard part is keeping them there, and giving them a reason to come back. When I say that do marketing for a Web site, that means creating the navigation in a certain way, and making sure that there is an area of the home page that always offers specials or discounts on certain products. Even later efforts need to be considered early on. Take public relations, for example. If you know you want to do any kind of PR campaign for the company, then you'll need a cyber newsroom. It will be easier and cheaper to consider these things now rather than later, after the site is already built."
Chris knew she was rightin fact, it was along the same lines as his initial argument to roll the site out in phases, rather than in one large shot. "Okay, he said, "that makes sense."
Jackie felt a bit of relief. "As for the way that we develop a Web site, we have a PowerPoint presentation that we'd like to show you, if that's okay. We use a sample Web site that we created for a legal client to demonstrate our capabilities in terms of how the site is designed, and some of the back-end aspects that allow you to easily update the site on your own." Chris, Erica, and Vinny all agreed that they would like to see it, and Jackie opened her laptop and went through the brief presentation.
Chris had to admit that he was impressed. They seemed like they knew what they were doing. A few questions later, he found out that they had 12 full-time employees; both Jackie and Dennis would act as points of contact if they won the account; and that although they liked to work on retainer, they were okay with providing a set project price for their work. His questions were interrupted, however, when Vinny spoke up for the first time. "We have an in-house server that we want to use to host the site. I'm assuming you have developers that can program in ASP?"
Jackie and Dennis looked at each other. Dennis finally said, "Yes, most of the sites that we develop are programmed in ASP. We can work with you and your IT staff to make sure that all of the programming that we do will work on the host server, and we run tests regularly for confirmation."
Chris sat up. "Okay, I think I understand that you guys know what you're doing. Let me give you some background into what's going on on our end. Shelbus Enterprises is a 20-year-old, privately held company that markets primarily in the U.S., with a small customer base in Canada. Basically, we make pet supplieseverything from collars and leashes to fish food, dog food, and cat toys. The bottom line is that we have more than 400 hundred individual products that we market, organized into about 12 distinct categories, and not really a great central database system to work off of. Now, in terms of this particular project, I need to get a Web site that is e-commerce-capable, with at least two product categories available. And I need it done by the end of the next quarter, which is just over three months away."
Jackie and Dennis looked at each other, each with their eyes raised. "That doesn't leave us very much time," Jackie said with hesitation in her voice, "do you have a budget for this project?"
"No, not yet," Chris lied. They had, in fact, set a budget of $100,000 for the site, but he didn't see that it would be helpful to tell the agency that. He'd rather see what number they come up with on their own. "We don't have a set budget right now. What we're doing is interviewing a number of production shops, and collecting proposals."
Jackie responded, "What I'd like to do it is go back to my office, sit down with some of our developers, and e-mail you a list of questions that we'll need. As soon as you get us the answers, we'll be able to write up a proposal."
"Okay, that makes sense," Chris began to get up. The stress of this project was beginning to make him fidgety, and he looked forward to getting to a point where the project was underway.
Before she and Dennis left, Jackie turned and asked, "Oh...do you happen to have any brochures or catalogs that we could take a look at? It would help us to get a feel for your overall brand design and how you guys market yourself."
Erica said she would put a quick packet together for them and went off to the supply room to gather various printed material. "So, Chris asked Jackie, "How do you and Erica know each other?"
"Didn't she tell you? She's my sister-in-law. Her husband is my brother."