Talk business not technology

Nothing is ever new. Here I was thinking I was the only one talking about return on investment and that “good practice doesn’t always make good business”. In actual factor both Vincent Flanders and Jared Spool are saying it as well.

In a recent post Vincent Flanders wrote this:

There seems to be a cargo cult belief that if we use Web Standards, Usability, and tableless CSS, our web sites will make money, we’ll be famous (or at least cool), and 0ur sites will look great. If only it were that easy.

He then went on to quote Jared Spool:

I learned quickly that business executives didn’t care about usability testing or information design. Explaining the importance of these areas didn’t get us any more work. Instead, when we’re in front of executives, we quickly learned to talk about only five things:

  • How do we increase revenue?
  • How do we reduce expenses?
  • How do we bring in more customers?
  • How do we get more business out of each existing customer?
  • How do we increase shareholder value?

Notice that the words ‘design’, ‘usability’, or ‘navigation’ never appear in these questions. We found, early on, that the less we talked about usability or design, the bigger our projects got.

This has certainly been born out in our experiences too. We need to change the way we speak to clients.

  • Whilst I mostly agree with this I think designers / sales managers have, in the past, relied upon talking jargon to potential clients as it allows them to remain within their comfort zone.
    The article that you refer to covers the topics that are almost always at the top of the agenda for private sector directors but they may be secondary to persons of responsibility within the public sector.
    It is essential that prior to every sales meeting that you put on your reporters cap and try to obtain as much information as possible about the person(s) you are presenting to and try to establish what makes them tick.
    We need to be careful not to presume that everyone we meet is the Alan Sugar style of director and act accordingly.

  • Tim

    Hi Paul,
    This follows on neatly from our conversation in early October about the business of web design.
    In an offline message to you, I said:
    “I was once having a coffee with a mentor of mine and he asked me to describe what I do – i.e. a bit of a roleplay, pretend he’s the client, etc.
    I started blathering on about quality framework this and compelling experience that. After about 1 minute he stopped me and said “Mate, you only do two things. You either make me money, or you save me money. Nothing more. It’s as simple as that.”
    Ever since that conversation I’ve tried to think of myself in terms of the contribution I make to the customer’s business. I’m doing the same thing – i.e. online instructional design – but the reasons for what I’m doing – where I fit into the overall picture – are now alot clearer.
    Another good trick that he passed on – which really keeps me thinking – is that when a potential customer asks what you do, counter their question by saying “Well, before I answer that let’s talk a bit about what you do, so I can understand better how I might be able to help you.”
    So in summary Paul, I think you’re on the right track. It’s not about us, it’s about the customer and their bottom line. In reality we work for the customer, not ourselves – in fact if I only worked for myself, I wouldn’t be in business for very long!!”
    I thought that would be worth resurrecting for the benefit of everyone else!

  • Okay, this is going to be a bit weird. I think I am the only one here that isn’t a web designer by trade. Yes I do my companies site, but that is it. I do use web designers for various projects though. Why is it going to be weird…because I think you are wrong!
    Clients of a certain type will want to here about ROI, and how much money you can make or save them, but guess what, your not in a position to really be able to tell them that, unless they give you more information than they should!
    When I look at a project I look at it in terms of its potential both right now, and into the future. I can tell you for example that our sites enquiry system is dodgy, and doesn’t give client the opportunities to buy accessories etc. From testing I know that we could triple our enquiry rate by data driving the site and having easier to get hold of info. However, I also know that our sales team are to put it bluntly… following up web enquiries. This is not always there fault as they don’t have access to the net when they are on the road, but even when they do they follow up too late or sometimes not at all if there is limited info on the forms. I think the general stat is that only 10% of leads generated by marketing are actually followed up on, and my experience agrees with that in most areas.
    So on to my point. I know that at the moment the ROI of data driving our site will be poor. Will I do it…yes, because we will be able to see the potential and change our approach to deal with it. Therefore over time the ROI will be good. There are also other benefits of data driving our catalogues etc etc.
    What I want to here from a designer is that they concentrate on what they know, usability (so our customers have a pleasant experience and will return to us), standards based design (with an explanation of how this will helps Google rankings) etc.
    What I don’t want to hear is how something will make us money, win friends and influence people, because quite frankly if it was that easy wouldn’t you be doing this yourself? Maybe it’s because I am a sceptical pom, but if someone promises me that I will probably run a mile.

  • Business men and computers do not often mix. They also only ever care about the eyecandy of the frontend without a care how much coding into the backend of the site.
    It’s all very good being good at something but if they do not care or understand how it works then it is only yourself that is desperate for the attention you think it should demand. Personally i like the idea of low profile self respect. Feel good about the achievement and keep it to yourself. :)
    As long as the business men get what they want do you really need to deal with that mental powerstuggle of worrying about how people and companies perceive you.
    Down with self promotion. Up with being human again. as my old friend used to say respect is something you earn. there goes that money thing again. :)
    Mindless rant over. I know what i want to say but it requires lots of whisky and people going “ahuh” under their breath a lot. :)
    Oh and paul, posting “i’m going offline” or words to that effect on twitter blog really do confuse me as to the usage of twitter and why i’m subscribed to you. hehe. Then again if it was’nt for you i would probably only get one text a day. :)

  • I think you’re spot on with this post. The five things you mention – increasing revenue, reducing expenses, bringing in more customers, getting more business out of each existing customer, and increasing shareholder value – are the strategic aims that executives are there to set and make sure their company sticks to.
    The tactics you use to implement these strategies (web standards, CSS etc) may be of passing interest to the executives, but only if framed within the context of the pursuing the strategic aims they’re concerned with.

  • I would again make the comment that as a designer, and presumably not working directly for the company you cannot hope to know their strategic aims.
    My advice is to stear clear of telling them that you are going to satisfy their requirements if you are not clear what they are. Explain to them what you know, and how that might help them, but explain it in your terms, so you are confident of what you are saying. This will come over to them.
    Only the most terminally dumb exec will give you an order based on a sales pitch of something you can’t possibly know. Not that these people don’t exist…but do you really want them as a client?

  • Couldn’t disagree with you more Simon, but there you go. It would be boring if we all agreed :)