Aaargh….shut up and ask a question already!

So I’m talking to one of 5 potential developers by phone today. This guy keeps on talking at me: “Here’s why we are the best. Here’s why our developers are the best. We aim to please. We will give you what you want. Our pricing is great because we outsource here. We develop in PHP, which is much better than .Net…”

But he never took the time to ask me any questions about what I was trying to achieve — other than reading some high level specs I provided him. Well, he did ask some questions, about budget and my long-term commitment to him. But his questions were all about him and his needs, and nothing about what I wanted to achieve as a potential client.

Then, when I asked him some questions — like how he went about estimating time for the project, what kinds of open source modules he might know about, how to handle change requests — he got defensive, as if I was annoying him. (And he is the president of the company).

Do your prospects a favor. Don’t preach to them. Ask them more than basic qualifying questions. How do they define success? What are their concerns? How comfortable are they with technology? What are their goals? What help do they need developing specifications or choosing a technology platform? Have they thought through all of the elements required for a successful project?

You all know this, but I’m amazed at how common it is to get an IT professional on the phone who forgets.

This kind of thing is sooooo frustrating for me as a prospect, and a great opportunity for you. But you know this.

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  • mx2k

    this is actually a good post and very true, designers are often too narisistic for the their own good. consumers want to feel important, someone to help them obtain their dreams and goals and make sure that all their worries are covered, that someone is actually listening to their needs.

    and if someone askes if you know something be honest, if you don’t know, say you don’t know, don’t get defensive or be like, is he really telling me how to do my job, when the person might actually have a good suggestion that could save you time in the long run

  • http://www.logicalmedia.tv rkosmic1

    president of the company? sorry to hear that.

    that guy was a bad listener, he probably doesnt listen to his employees or existing customers either =p

  • ron@smashlightmedia.com

    Andrew, you are by far the best resource SitePoint has. I stopped checking in, only to realize “your demise had been greatly exaggerated.” If there is any one post that strikes a cord, it is this one. I’ll spare you the details, but I can tell you the instance I stopped concentrating on me, and put the focus on what problem the client needed solved, my world changed. Why do ads for “A” list clients seem different from those used by a mom and pop? It’s because one tells how they can satisfy your hunger, the other lists their menu. And you won’t know what your client wants to eat, until you ask them–or, better yet, do the research before you meet them.

  • MarkB

    Thanks, Andrew – great post. It obviously is all about serving your *clients* – find out what they want, what they need, and what they expect. And you do this by asking as many questions as possible :)

  • ozni

    The president did everything to loose the sale. It happens a lot, and although we know the rule “I Ask questions, and I talk about client’s needs and not about my needs” , many times we forget and we start talking about ourselfs, it’s human nature (we love to talk about ourselfs).

    next time before taking the phone prepare what you have to say, write it down, remove all the “I” and “WE”. Rewrite it again, put all kind of questions. and then you can make the call. Do it 2 or 3 times, and it will be second nature for you.

  • patrikG

    Business relationships are built on trust, if you can’t engender trust, you’ll be out of business sooner rather than later.

  • superfoo

    Are you still looking for developers? :-)

  • John

    Check your email Andrew, you’d be surprised at the questions another designer has posed … need I add that the designer is a VERY concerned designer? :)
    It was nice to read your comments here and they are extremely pertinent. I definitely think that we are on the same page here. Some of your concerns should ultimately be part of the information architecture documentation, which is a must-have before any site design or development initiative commences.

  • http://www.jamesinteractive.com ecaptus

    I can’t figure out this guy’s problem except he just isn’t a good salesperson. You have one shot to win the trust of a potential client. While the worst thing you can do when talking to a potential client is to lie, the second worst, imho, is to talk down to them. Why would a client select you if they are not comfortable with you?

  • http://www.primacognos.com bigduke

    The only reason I am still in business, even though the work is sub-contracted is because I strive to know what the client expects. Makes things a lot more simple for me to deliver. Show them you care and you will do good wherever you go. And yes if you do want to tell them about yourself give them something to read rather than wasting their time over phone.

    The way I have started doing things after reading Andrew’s past blogs is starting by serving a “project plan”, since my work is across the web, which addresses what I have to offer (no preaching) along with recommendations. Along with the plan go my queries, if any. Then follow up with queries regarding the plan itself.

    Sad to say though the first time I tried this, I was turned down. So I wonder whats the point in spending time on the project when you’re not even contracted?

    Andrew why don’t you try some pro’s on sitepoint itself?

  • http://www.manisharma.s4u.org phpsharma