These are words I've heard many times over the years. Prospective clients often balk at entering a discovery process. They assure me they just want a price, so a decision can be made. “Why would you want to waste all this time, when all you have to do is give me your price and I can give you a quick yes or no?”
The problem here is that the new website is viewed as a commodity. People evaluate website proposals the same way they do hamburgers, based upon the list of ‘ingredients' vs price. In an RFQ showdown, the Hardee's burger (in the illustration) would lose, because it doesn't have lettuce, tomato or pickles… a shorter list, even though there is far more burger for the money.
A client-centric design process assumes that the customer is always right, they know what's best for their business, and the designer/developer/marketer's role is nothing more than that of a vendor or ‘work for hire'. That perception, and the way customers shop for internet marketing services, is the reason most websites are listed as a non-recoverable “expense” on the balance sheet.
I'll be the first to admit that many so-called ‘web designers' and online marketers are no more than mouse-pushing fulfillment contractors; the unfortunate product of the way most people shop for internet marketing services. It's very important to differentiate ‘laborer' from ‘trusted adviser'.
My question is: How is it possible to propose the perfect solution before knowing much about the client, their business, its history, their competition, who their customers are, their goals, or even attempting to discover the problems the solution is supposed to solve?
As an online marketing consultant of more than 17 years, I of course favor an ROI-centric approach with a discovery process, where client profit is priority #1.
Here's something else few buyers of websites think about. Without proper discovery, a proposal is based on very sketchy information. If that proposal is accepted, the vendor now fears losing the contract by scrapping or revising some of the initial components of the project. So they'll just stick with the original recommendations, or RFQ bullet points, even though further evaluation exposes a strategy and tactics that are not the right approach at all. Oops!
Commodity vendor vs trusted professional adviser
I see web design, development, SEO and content marketing as being just like any other professional service, such as legal counsel or medical diagnosis. I believe it is a seasoned professional's duty to carefully research each unique project, assemble the very best solution options for consideration, and help the customer make quality choices based upon the unique aspects of their business, their marketing goals and budget. In the case of online marketing, the right decisions should always result in increased sales, and a healthy return on investment.
When determining the best treatment for complex symptoms, where misdiagnosis could be costly, or even life threatening, the competent physician asks plenty of questions, accompanied by a thorough examination. Additional tests are taken and evaluated. Often more tests are then scheduled to confirm the diagnosis. Physician and patient meet several times to discuss treatment options. And only then is the appropriate treatment prescribed.
With the conventional RFQ or interview process, the owner, or a few members of the management team, look at websites they like and create a shopping list. Without much internet marketing experience, if any, design aesthetics and features become the primary considerations. Requests for quotation are sent out to anywhere from ten to several hundred competing vendors. And the longest list of items on the proposal, for the best price, generally wins the bid.
Experienced estimators quickly learn how to game the RFQ system. For example, one company may list the inclusion of a ‘Blog', with a paragraph describing it. A competitor breaks that item down into 8 components. They then do the same thing for each item. The resulting twenty page proposal looks a lot more substantial than most of the “thin” ones, almost assuring the project will be won based on perception of “bang for the buck”. For recommendations made completely off the cuff, it does look impressive.
When the buyer puts together a request for proposal, it's like a patient doing a bit of Google research, providing a self diagnosis for their illness, and requesting physicians to tender bids for the delivery of the chosen drugs or surgical procedure. The approach would be ridiculous, of course, and a misdiagnosis could prove fatal.
Nobody takes quotes from a long list of dentists and chooses the lowest bidder to perform a root canal on the tooth pointed out. It may not even be the right one. Rather, we select an established professional, who takes x-rays, evaluates the bone structure, and then goes through the advantages and disadvantages of several solutions, that may include a root canal, an extraction and bridge, or dental implant.
For the legal profession, it would be the same as preparing your own defense for a serious crime, then selecting the attorney to present your defense in court, as your ‘courtroom puppet', based upon his/her attire and the price on the quotation. While it's highly unlikely any self-respecting lawyer would take on the case under those terms, the outcome would almost certainly include a long prison sentence.
Why do we automatically go to established, trusted professionals in these situations, instead of using a bid process? Because the stakes are so high. Yet, businesses live and die based upon the success of their websites and online marketing.
Your company's future, or your career, deserve the benefit of the advice of an experienced internet marketing professional. To determine the very best solution, there is a discovery process that needs to take place before the adviser has enough information to design a solution that will deliver a solid return on your investment.
You're buying a successful strategy, and the professional behind it, more than a collection of pixels that make up your website on the screen. Building a lead-generating site, and implementing the content marketing strategy, will probably involve working closely together for months or years. The pre-discovery and discovery processes provide an opportunity for the prospective client and adviser to work together to see if they might be a good fit.