By Andrew Neitlich

A client tells me about why he has rejected a bunch of web designers/developers

By Andrew Neitlich

An enterpreneur contacted me by phone today. He has a terrific, proprietary and exclusive product with lots of market potential that he wants to sell via the Internet.

He explained that he had talked to a bunch of web designers — at all price ranges — and refused to work with any of them. None of them could provide a cogent point of view about how to design sites that converted visitors to customers — besides the usual talk about professional-looking designs.

Listen closely, as I’ve repeated this message too many times: You have a wonderful opportunity to dominate your market by providing a full, complete online ecommerce solution to your clients. This includes having a solution, and being able to describe it, in plain English that includes:

– How to attract people to the site in honest, proven ways (SEO that isn’t the usual rip off service at over $900 per month)
– Tested navigation flows that convert visitors to customers
– Proven marketing copy and materials that are compelling
– Tracking tools to test, refine, and expand what works
– Partnerships with top ecommerce companies
– Documented methodology for generating sales on the web — backed up with actual case studies and results.

Not all of you design/develop this kind of site. But for those of you who do, the opportunity remains…even after a decade of online sales for single products.

  • There is a good reason why he couldn’t find any designers that could tell him about conversions. The reason is because they are busy building sites that are making money for themselves.

    Many designers are obsessed with having a site that looks cool or pretty, but they ignore the points you listed. Neither cool or pretty sites make money. When you own sites that put money in your bank account 24 hours a day, 365 days a year you understand this. When you are grinding away building sites for other people making a measly few thousand dollars a month conversions are the last thing on your mind.

    Here is my suggestion for your enterpreneur friend. He needs to find someone with a successful website and ask the owner what he did. Do this 5 or 10 times and what he needs to do will be obvious.

  • Anonymous

    I use to work for a company that does all of what you described. The cost for their services starts in the mid-five figures (and no, I’m not including to the right of the decimal point).

  • ibroom

    I have found most clients are focussed on the technology, not what their website should have or be doing. This makes is hard when you are encouraging them to make the site easy to use and content-rich. Many customers want their site built to look good and do what they want not what SEO or site point articles typically recommend.

    Most business don’t compare the results their website bring to what they expect or hold the web site professionals accountable. I think many small business just want a web presence not results.

  • kar1181

    Your contact is asking the right questions, but for the services he wants he’s going to have to pay for them. If they things he wants to learn were easy everyone would have a successful, profitable website. Consultants that have such a broad development, design and usability skills combined with marketing nous, well that package aint cheap.

    Sounds like your contact, like a lot of enterpreneurs who have a good idea for an online service think the actual implementation side of it all should be cheap and easy.

    It can be one or the other, but rarely both.

  • webnology

    I ‘m a little bit amazed by the responses here. Sure, the first thing the client wants is that his site looks good. Reason is simple, because he does not know about the rest. It is up to us, developers and designers, to explain them and show them what a website can do more than just being pretty. Making a site pretty enough is easy, making it deliver results is another issue. But it is an issue a lot of serious business people would want to pay for. At least, that is my experience. So, yes there is an opportunity for a lot of webdesigners to think different about their job. I meet a lot of people who can’t even get contact with their current webmaster. All easy clients for me. And then off course I don’t make the mistakes their previous webmaster made. I still have that same client, now 4 years later.

    A good tip: Create systems and documentation and presentatins, make those really nice, and once a client asks you to convince him, go through with him. You have a sale. Definitely. The hard part is taking the time to create those nice things, but once you have them, it’s as easy as sending an email with the attached files.

    Cheers guys,

    And rememeber, early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.

  • Swift

    I meet a lot of people who can’t even get contact with their current webmaster. All easy clients for me. And then off course I don’t make the mistakes their previous webmaster made. I still have that same client, now 4 years later.

    A lot of people […] all easy clients […] webmasters […] the same [b]client[/b].

    Anyway, these kind of blogs don’t really mean much to anyone. One cannot be everything, it’s best to do what you’re great at. Hire a consultant to create the presentations and documents that describe your way of making great websites. Then, hire a salesman (“Account Manager”) to do your commercial stuff…

  • I have to agree with kar1181 – it’s great when you come across a person with a real vision for his / her website and wants to look into the marketing side of it but rarely do they have the money to back this up, especially when concerning startups. So we’re faced with two options – wait for the perfect client with vision and the according budget or continue to do a scaled down version of we’d like to do for less money…

    Or start up your own online business! Tempting, tempting…!

  • krdr

    I have just one client that I work all the time continuosly. Month by month, we improving web site, add new services etc. Just only one.
    Here , in Serbia, people expects to get site for less than 1k EUR and have profit boost in one month, without any campaigns, SEO and all other stuff’s. In first contact, every one agrees with my proposal, but, as time pass by, they making web site worse and worse.
    I also had a pitch for big big money, but clients wanted from me to grant sale boost of 20%. They already put some 2*10^6 on marketing camapign, but he wanted me to boost his sale, without e-commerce, web marketing, promotion…

    So, there’s lot of things that sucks. Now I making two or three scenarios and making a pressure on clients.

  • Chris Auman

    One thing that we try to do is plan for continuous improvements. The client needs to agree to this up front. We don’t sign them on to do a marketing plan at first but we start the SEO research as part of their site design. Once the site is done we have the data to then go back to them and get them to sign on for marketing. The same goes for all other aspects of the site. As they see more and more value returned, the more money they’ll put into their site. It might not be the ideal way to do it but you end up getting the money out of them if you do your job right. I agree with the others, you can’t just sit around waiting for the ideal client and still pay the bills. You have to work within client budgets and put food on the table.

  • I think that just because a client has money and wants to hire someone it doesn’t automatically make him an attractive client.

    E-commerce is hard, and complex. If that client requires such a cogent, plain english description of how to make a successful e-commerce site, he’s going to be waiting for a long time. If there was a 10 step system to online success, everyone would be successful. Clients like this need to be told that it’s a long, iterative process and that they should start learning various aspects of online marketing and usability (etc) so that they can constantly improve the site. Sure, there are lots of things that can help, but it’s not going to be clear after one or two marketing pitches.

    I agree with the above post which says that anyone who has these skills is probably running their own store. It’s not easy to find someone who can do end-to-end e-commerce and is available – it’s kind of unreasonable to expect that without having a $50,000 budget. Even then, it’s questionable.

    Clients need to educate themselves all the time. They can’t expect to just ‘hire out’ the whole thing, write a check, and have a successful e-commerce site. If they try, they’ll probably wind up being a nightmare client to someone.

    I don’t really understand the message of this blog. Is it ‘be everything to everyone’? It’s hard enough to be a master of tech, marketing, or design. Are you saying that everyone should strive to be all 3? Bad plan, imo.

  • WebmasterX

    Hmm… tell your friend to contact Steve Krug (his book: “Don’t Make Me Think”). Or if he’s kind enough, buy some web usability books for the designers.

    Simply most designers are not well educated of web usability, usability testing, etc. They don’t even know what the line below clickable link is for, and why links must be underlined.

  • codescribbler

    My take…when a customer wants “a website,” s/he really wants to make money with the internet. The website is just the tangible piece of that which they can see and sort of understand.

    Maybe we can’t be everything to everyone, but if we can come up with a way to actually sell them what they want to buy–why not team up with a partner or two who to fill in your missing skills?–we’ll make more money.

    People think websites are just code and graphics because that’s what they see. They don’t know to ask for anything else because they don’t know that it is there. It’s up to us to tell them, to demonstrate why it is worth their investment, and to provide it to them (whether we implement it ourselves or source it to someone who can).

    If enough of us offered comprehensive, effective services, maybe clients would better understand why they need to pay for them. In my experience, the value derived from a site built by a less-expensive developer, and the value derived from hiring a “big guns” firm often does not exhibit much of a difference. Maybe the big firm looks slicker, but that doesn’t make it more effective.

    If customers perceive that they don’t gain anything more by paying more, why would they?

  • dev_cw

    I think that the main difficulty that the client may be having is budget. Most mid/small companies offer most of those services to some level. However the cost and time alone to produce these tools/materials is what will make this all-in-one service costly. I can think of a few expert companies that will provide all this and more.

    Another problem is that he is looking at designers/developers where he should be contracting an e-commerce/marketing consultant to handle the project. Many designer/developers are savy in these skills but they should not be experts, they should be expert designers and developers. Once again I suspect that the budget may be a factor here.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that many clients (and developers) have it backwards. In my opinion, the web site is the final stage of successful online sales. It begins with the product and message, which is brought to customers’ attention via marketing that drives them to the site.

    Many people, especially newbies, have the Field of Dreams “if you build it, they will come” model stuck in their heads. It doesn’t happen that way in the real world. Just like with any business, you have to clearly define a product, create a message so the need for or interest in that product is compelling to your identified customers, then pound that message into people’s heads. It is the product/message that gets them to the web site, not the snazzy web site that interests them in the product.

    In the overall picture, the cost of creating and maintaining a web site is small compared to getting to the point where the client’s site goes live. If more clients saw development in the context of that big picture, there’d be fewer objections.

  • most of the people here seem to talk as if there is sure shot way to a successfull, profitable e-commerce business – startup or otherwise and we, as designers and developers, have to find that way. And then we will be gazillionaires and what not…
    Of course, there is no such thing as a sure shot way. Not in any business, certainly not in e-commerce. You can not guarantee any success. What one can ‘guarantee’ about making a website/e-commerce solution is that it will be somewhere between what the ‘client wants and the best industry practices’. Web designers/firms should look at themselves as ‘Interior Designers/Shop designers’ in the retail business and nothing more than that. Because web designers CAN NOT be more than that, for being more than that would mean different job roles, of Web Business Consultants perhaps. And that, of course, is a different ‘field’. One CAN be both, but lesser and lesser people will buy that, the idea of an expert being all too tempting. I can keep on going on this topic, but it is quite evident. We as web designers need to practically approach our field; we are not doing the next-best thing than whatever, web design is a field just any other with contraints, borders, fusions, interdependence and what have you.
    Evidently, what Mr Andrews is saying in his post is that web designers should offer what the market demands. Period.

  • It’s really not the job of a web designer to design a site that “converts visitors to customers”. That’s what marketing is supposed to do. Web designers are not marketers, they are technology providers. As a web designer, should I have an understanding of sales principles and usability principles? Of course. But is it my job as a designer to provide the *success* of a website? Hell no. My job is to build it and make sure that it functions according to the needs of the client. Are forms working correctly? Is it fast-loading? Can the largest possible audience see it as it was meant to be presented? Is it easy to read and navigate? Those are the concerns a web designer should have.

    From the beginning post:

    – How to attract people to the site in honest, proven ways (SEO that isn’t the usual rip off service at over $900 per month)

    An SEO professional should do this.

    – Tested navigation flows that convert visitors to customers

    A usability expert should provide this testing as the site is being developed. And assuming that the client’s site is providing something new to customers, how can you prove that a particular navigation flow converts visitors to customers? People shop for different things in different ways.

    – Proven marketing copy and materials that are compelling

    Again, “proven marketing copy” is marketing that works for someone else. Will it work for your client? Maybe, maybe not. Materials like what? Email lists? Coupons? Print marketing? All of these are proven, but are they appropriate for your client? As for copy, a web designer is not a copy editor. Hire a copy editor.

    – Tracking tools to test, refine, and expand what works

    This is what business analysts are for.

    – Partnerships with top ecommerce companies

    Top companies like what? National? Local? Who are the top ecommerce companies–you mean like Cisco and Microsoft? I doubt those companies are going to “partner” with every design firm that hangs its shingle, but that doesn’t infer anything about the quality of the design work. What does “partnership” mean in this context?

    – Documented methodology for generating sales on the web—backed up with actual case studies and results.

    Again, this is documented methodology for OTHER people. Is the client just doing what other people are already doing? Will what other people have done work for the client? Maybe, maybe not.

    This whole post seems to say that a web designer should be able to whip up a successful e-commerce site, visitors and all, at the demand of a client. Hey, if we could all do that, we wouldn’t need to work for anyone else, much less the client. The idea is ridiculous. The amount of study and professional expertise required to perform any one of these jobs well is a full-time job. Do you hire a chef to paint your kitchen, because he knows about what a top-quality kitchen should contain? No, you hire a painter. Do you expect that painter to whip up a five-course meal, just because he’s in the kitchen? Of course not. So why would you expect your web designer to be an SEO professional? Why would you expect him to be a usability expert? Or a marketer? Or a business analyst? Those are very different jobs with very different principles and focuses.

    Clients always DO seem to think that they should just be able to plunk down their money, talk to one person, get a site, and watch the money roll in. Any one of us who’s been in the design business, either for ourselves or as part of a company, is well aware that it takes a hell of a lot of effort, trial and error, research into one’s audience, and just plain elbow grease and learning from mistakes in order to attract visitors and convert them into customers.

    What that entrepreneur needs to learn (and so does the original poster, I think) is that it takes more than one person to provide the quality of product being described. Having a great idea and a check is not enough.

  • Thanks Andrew for that reminder.

    I can understand from “web designers” the selling of the design or look & feel, but even some potential clients are still concerned with the “design” which is only a one small portion of a website. The web copy (or text) and marketing of the site are way more important.

    Anyone can design a website, but can they sell it?

  • I spent a lot of years in the telecom agency of a larger federal agency. For years the job was easy, people submitted a request for a phone or feature and we ordered it from the telephone company.

    Then came the ‘Net. People would request the dumbest sounding things and very often their request never got farther than the techno-geeks laughing about it. The agency provided abysmal service in my view because we sat at our desks and waited for customers to submit requirements.

    That’s where I see dozens and dozens of web designers today. If the customer is savvy enough to request a good web functionality … and yes design, standards compliance, etc. are but a part of a good design, then the customer gets something good. But if he or she submits a request for something dumb the designer either complies and produces something dumb in return or turns away the work, laughing.

    More than one response uses a thought about ‘customers becoming more educated’. A successful tactic for a web designer is to become that educator. Find a business with a /crap’ web presence and teach them how to get more business and more profit by improving it … you can wait for the client to get smart, or you can be the one who makes him smart … trust me, education can be profitable. Make your own ‘requirements’ and fill the

  • The client gets what he pays for, period. If he wants something stupid and gives the design firm a check, that’s what he’s going to get. Clients don’t want to be “educated”, they want results. I can’t even put a number to the prospective clients who didn’t understand that it takes more than one person and longer than a week to put together a site like Amazon. Who don’t understand that they can’t get a good logo by handing you a business card and telling you scan it. Or that copying someone else’s site design verbatim is illegal. Or who don’t understand that the person or company designing their site can’t just pull information about their product or business out of their ass, that it has to be provided. Who want their site to be huge, purple and blinking no matter how many times we tell him that it’s obnoxious and will actually turn customers away, not attract them–no, the customer wants huge, purple and blinking and that’s what he’s paying you to make.

    A business person who wants a good quality website will take the time to educate *himself* about what he needs before he goes to the firm to design the final product. It is not the design firm’s job nor responsibility to give a crash course on the finer points of e-commerce to everyone that walks in the door. Should they have this knowledge for themselves? Sure. But the very suggestion that it’s the *designer’s* job to provide this crap is lucridous.
    It’s the businessman’s job to know his business and his market. Period.

    Any designer who has actually spent time with a client can tell you that it’s like pulling teeth to convince them that they can’t get the same quality of site themselves by giving their 13-year-old nephew $50 and a copy of Frontpage. It’s like brain surgery to get them to provide their own content in a timely manner, without resorting to tactics like charging them regardless of the publication status of their site. It’s like the SETI Exploration Project to try to communicate to them that there truly is an entire set of marketing and user interface principles that guide the production of a best-in-class website, and to convince the customer to trust us enough to provide it. “Is there any intelligent life out there?” No.

    The clients who are willing to take the time to *be* educated about web design are the ones who are already aware that it does take time, money and manpower to put together a good quality site. For everyone else who walks in the door, it’s a waste of time.

  • Anonymous

    I am always surprised at clients who expect me to be psychic – like I can read their minds, and that I “automagically” understand their business. I don’t. But I started out in the corporate world as a financial analyst, moved to marketing, moved to business process analysis and then started my own website design company and actually had to make sales. I understand what the “C” level is looking for. Results. And at the end of the day, results is money in their pocket. And the biggest problem I see is that my competitors do go in and talk design, and technology — the bits and bytes. They don’t start with the “what do you want to do?” “what do you want the web site to do?” (different questions), “how will you know it’s successful?: (which usually gets me the “deer in the headlights look), and which sets me up perfectly for “how are we going to measure it?”. From a business owners standpoint, it’s simple. Bookings, backlog and billings. And it all comes down to return on investment. And by the way, it takes at least two hours to have this conversation. (What’s your time worth — because they don’t pay you for this?) And if they think they can get a website with 100 sku’s, with no web ready product images, product descriptions, why you should buy from us, and the answers to how are we going to ship it at what cost for under $3K, run away. But if you can figure out a way to get rid of the wankers, you will end up with a good class of clients who look at you as more than a web designer. You will be a “trusted advisor” (an over used term), who is a key member of their team. If you’re really lucky, you will be with these clients who will grow exponentially, all because you were the one who asked the right questions, and could put in place the systems to measure their answers. But don’t kid yourself. You’re not a web designer. You are a marketing and sales consultant who “trojan horses” in as a web designer.

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