I read a post recently that I thought did a nice job arguing the idea of selling solutions over selling services. I liked the post but I had a few points of my own to make regarding the topic. Just to point out in advance, I don’t take issue with anything in John’s article and these are just thoughts I’ve had for a while regarding this idea (his article reminded me to put them in a post).
I agree that clients typically don’t care about the technology used to create their website, although I have had overbearing individuals contact me about doing something with technology they heard was “all the rage” despite not knowing anything about it. If you’re a knowledgeable developer and not a hack charging the client for building a website with something you don’t understand, the technology really shouldn’t matter all too much as long as it gets the job done.
That said, selling solutions over services as a web pro is not a black and white concept. Selling attainable solutions? Absolutely. However, broadcasting that you sell a “solution to meet the client’s goals” (or some similarly generic claim) opens up a gaping hole full of potential headache, mainly because that type of language can very easily be construed as a guarantee of results across the board and, when coupled with unrealistic expectations, will often backfire. This is why I usually favor language that lends itself toward selling a professional service over a solution…to avoid appearing disingenuous for promising certain results and those results not being realized.
While a doctor can pretty much guarantee you will get over an illness with a certain medication and a lawyer can keep you out of jail, web professionals deal with different types of clients with different expectations and goals. Like most developers, I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve had potential (and actual) clients looking for a money-making website that does what they want it to do…make money with little to no effort. I don’t care how good a developer one is, that’s just not how things work. Succeeding like that takes a lot of time and effort (and money if you don’t have the desire to put the other two in yourself). Even then the results are not guaranteed. At the time I’m writing this post, Google revealed that there are over 644 million websites on the internet. That number grows every day and many of them belong to companies and individuals looking to make money. If making money was as simple as setting up a website, I wouldn’t provide development services because I’d have a bunch of my own sites making money for me. Therefore, to make a general, overly-broad statement that you can deliver a solution to achieve the client’s goals is not realistic and either naïve or disingenuous. It all depends on the expectations and what the client considers to be a “need.”
This is just my take on stuff to consider when selling “solutions” rather than “services.” I think using the language that you are selling solutions is perfectly fine but it’s very important to put expectations in check by distinguishing what you can guarantee from what you cannot.
Your and Mr. Locke’s thoughts are very important these days across the software industry. many software consultants across the discipline have this service business issue. I would like to point out though that we should still be able to provide language that customers want to hear, that software will solve their problem. But we must RESTATE the problem they articulate. that’s what doctors do. they don’t say they are curing your health forever. saying a website will make money for forever into the future would be wrong. doctors say they will give you medicine or a procedure that has a scientific likelihood of succeeding in fixing this particular problem, that comes with the caveats of not succeeding because of other unknown health variables. We in the software industry can say for instance we can build you a website that will allow a customer to definitively search, select, buy/purchase and checkout. that should be something we can emphatically state. we don’t have to say we can ‘make the client money’ which entails they attract enough customers to pay the expenses of the business, that the product received will work, that the operating costs of the business do not exceed its revenues, and so on. that’s what defines ‘making money’. So don’t be so hard on yourself!
John Locke says
Thanks for reading my article and publishing your own take on it. I think there’s a lot of good discussion to be had around this subject.
I completely agree that being able to guarantee that the work you are doing will bring certain results is difficult. In fact, it’s impossible to ever say with certainty that you will hit a certain goal. There are just too many factors out of your control.
But there’s an important difference between digging deeper to find what goals to aim at, and focusing all your efforts in that direction—and simply performing the services that a client requests without wondering why.
Before any professional can be hired, the client must be assured that they can perform the services they need performed. But the services are not the true goal. The results are the true goal. This usually happens when there is discovery, research, and strategy combined with those services.
It’s a subtle shift in positioning, but an important one.
I also 100% agree that “solutions” can’t be another code word for services, just with a fancier sound. That’s not what anyone should be aiming for either. Every client is different, so finding out what they really need is important. They don’t always articulate this when coming to us. Sometimes they don’t even realize what it is they are truly seeking to have happen.
Being able to perform the tasks gets you in the door. But I believe it’s better to aim towards being a partner who proactively seeks what is beneficial for clients, as opposed to just a person they hire to get a job done. Even if a client believes they have their problem diagnosed correctly, it’s good to not take it at face value. Asking more questions always reveals information that would not have been uncovered otherwise.
Again, totally agree with what you’re saying. Don’t over-promise something you can’t control, and don’t sell generic goods as something bespoke.
Hey, John. Thanks for the awesome comment and for your article. The concept is one I’d heard before and thought was interesting. Reading your article reminded me that I once thought about writing up my own thoughts.
From one WordPress-related-service-provider to another, I’m curious how you handle potential clients who contact you to provide a specific WordPress service rather than the client who is looking for results or solutions. As someone who’s had both, I admit that, in general, I’d prefer to work with someone who wants help with a business “solution” rather than someone who wants a specific website. I find that many people (though certainly not all) who have even minimal experience with WordPress are tougher to work with because they have picked up on things that they feel are “normal” and hold a developer to providing the same types of features that are found in highly-developed plugins and themes. On top of that, they feel that the prices should be low as well because those plugins and themes are “cheap.” However, with the clients who maybe run a business completely unrelated to WordPress (accountants or hair salons, for example), I notice them to just want help with improving their business’s presence and aren’t very concerned with what’s behind the scenes.
I ask because I think this is a big part of the whole “different clients, different expectations” thing.