“A major reason that prospects do not buy is because they do not fully understand what you are selling and how they can use and benefit from it.”
– Brian Tracy, “Be a Sales Superstar”
Last night I closed a deal on a proposal that I originally submitted back in February. It took a full 6-months for a client to finally decide to not only move forward with the project, but to go with our firm. There are many reasons why clients drag their feet on projects: budgets, staff changes, shopping other vendors, fear of getting ripped off or all of the above.
In this case, it turns out that the client simply did not see the value in our proposal, at least not initially. Like anyone else would, they decided to shop their website project to other firms and when they lined them up side by side, they were simply looking at the top line (the deliverables) and the bottom line (the price). The mumbo jumbo in the middle, the technical specs, the details and the benefits of what they were actually getting were quickly scanned over.
Since we had a prior relationship with this client, (we had completely rebranded their firm about a year ago) they were more inclined to stick with us, but couldn’t get their heads around why some of the other firms were promising the moon and the stars and still coming in at a lower price point than our bid.
My first reaction was to see what I could do for them on the price, and truth be told, I was already extending a generous discount, and since I do my best to not price myself out of the market, there really wasn’t much margin to work with.
I needed to see what in fact was being promised by the other firms. What ‘value’ wasn’t I delivering in what was actually a very competitive Scope of Work? Looking at what other firms are promising, and what tactics they employ and learning what gets buried in the mouse-print can be very enlightening.
“Take a low-pressure/no-pressure approach and position yourself as a teacher and helper instead of a salesman.”
– Brian Tracy, “Be a Sales Superstar”
Our client was looking to redesign their website and frustrated with their previous developer, a one-man shop that took forever to make updates, they specifically wanted a website that they could take ownership of and maintain in-house if necessary. They needed a CMS, a Content Management System and it didn’t sound to us like they needed a proprietary one. Because of the industry that they were in, compliance was an issue and for that reason alone, I think they were steered towards some industry specific template website firms that promised to be compliant out the box. We’re big fans of WordPress, not just because it’s a very user-friendly platform, but more importantly its open source, thus thousands of developers are constantly creating new plugins for it. For example, if you wanted to start accepting BitCoin on your website, there is already a plugin for that for WordPress. We priced out a custom, responsive WordPress build-out that included user-training for the client. We requested the documentation required to be fully compliant and found out that it came down to securing the proper web hosting company which wasn’t a big deal. It actually made our job easier in that regard because this was something the client could handle.
But why was the client reluctant to sign? Unbeknownst to us, they had been comparing our proposals with several others that included lots of “extras” social media updates, monthly maintenance and even an fully functioning app! All for less than what we were quoting for JUST the website. There was no way this could be done at break-even, much less a profit, but I remember emailing the client. At this point, I turned off the sales pitch. I simply said that if all this were true, and that they are actually getting a website built on an open-source platform that they OWN, then they should absolutely go for it, because this was the deal of the century. A smartphone app alone can cost you upwards of $20k, never mind that they threw in a full website build and the kitchen sink. The more I thought about everything these other firms were including in their proposals, the more I began to suspect that something was fishy. The only way to pull this off was if their entire website was going to be built off a template, on a proprietary platform, and that the app was actually also a pre-built template with a logo-swap. The catch with proprietary content management systems, is while they are cheap (and often have a high monthly ‘subscription’ attached to them) is that you don’t OWN it. If you decide to try and ‘move’ your site to another hosting company or another web development company, you can’t take your site with you. Your held hostage by the firm that owns the ‘secret sauce’ behind the platform. No one else can ever work on it, and if you want to part ways, you’ll have to start over from scratch.
Sure enough, it turns out that every other bid that the client was comparing ours to was in fact a firm trying to sell their proprietary CMS. Sure, they’ll re-skin it for you with your brand colors, etc. but its still their website. It lives on their servers, and only their plugins will work with it. My client had absolutely no clue about any of this. Her exact words were, “You need to spell this out earlier in the process, because THIS is your value.” She felt duped by the other firms that didn’t really explain the fine print either. They were too busy selling. In many ways, so was I. You can’t assume that clients know everything about what you’re selling unless you explain it to them. As soon as I stopped selling, and started teaching, consulting and advising the guard came down and I further earned their trust. At that point, I didn’t care whether I won the job or not, I wanted to make sure they were doing what was right for them. Truth be told, I’m not slamming companies who use this business model. If creating a template for a particular industry and then re-skinning it for different clients and packaging it for a very low price is your thing, go for it. Totally legit. The subscription model can be a very lucrative business model and can be just the low-barrier to entry website solution that an emerging startup or small business needs. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you should EXPLAIN it. Make sure the client knows what the pros and cons are before they sign on the dotted line. Both clients and service providers tend to focus on the bottom line, instead, we should focus on whether or not what you are selling is the right fit for the client’s needs.
What happens when you assume? We all know and this was a classic case of it. I assumed they completely understood what my firm was offering because it made sense to ME. The client assumed that all the website proposals were equal. They were not. A responsive, custom-CMS built on a WordPress platform that the client OWNS and can build upon, take with them to another firm, or switch hosting plans down the line, which has hundreds of plug & play bells and whistles, is one thing. A closed, proprietary, monthly subscription-based, branded website template that only plays nicely with that firm’s own proprietary limited selection of bells and whistles that each require ‘activation fees’ and additional monthly costs is another. It wasn’t fair to line them up side by side and choose the least expensive option. It wasn’t apples to apples.
When you take off the salesman hat, and take the approach of teacher or helper, you can explain exactly what it is you are offering. You now have the opportunity to really listen to the client and educate them. Help them understand why what you’re selling really is the best solution for them. If it really is, you won’t have to sell too hard, it will sell itself.
Ramon has over 20 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s logo and identity work was selected to be published in “Typography and Enclosures” the fourth book in the Master Library series by LogoLounge.
Need help with your brand identity or want to overhaul your existing brand? Need a responsive cutting edge web development project completed? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Ramon on Twitter @Peralta_Design