Never Say WordPress When Selling a Web Design Project


Before selling my web agency, HotPress Web, last year and starting uGurus, a new venture to help web professionals become more profitable, I pitched a lot of website projects.

My proposal folder has over 950 bids in it. Of course, I didn’t win all of these, but I did close several million dollars in website deals over my tenure. Our typical project was in the ballpark of $20,000. When I started out, I had a hard time winning $3,000 deals.

Until I learned how to sell and build value, I wasn’t getting paid enough. Sometimes it would take everything I could muster to win a project for $1,200. And I would end up promising $3,000 in services.

I was also spending a lot of time pitching business that never panned out. I had a hard time winning 1 in 10 bids. The time suck was draining away my hours to be productive outside of pitching business–like actually getting project work done.

I was frustrated. I began looking for answers.

The Status Quo

The typical process for me looked something like this:

  1. A prospect calls me asking for website services
  2. I ask what they need–a little info about their business and what kind of features and functionality they are thinking about
  3. I demo what we can do (show the technology of the hour: WordPress,Drupal, Shopify, BigCommerce, LightCMS, Business Catalyst, etc)
  4. I deep dive into the different functionality they need on their project and show them how it can be done
  5. I send a proposal
  6. I start following up

Inevitably I would get into some follow up conversations with the prospective customer about my platform of choice. Every time we would spend countless hours deep diving into the technology.

“Can it do this? What about…?”

Eventually the customer would tell me that the other company bidding on the project is using a different technology, usually something similar to what I was pushing.

Then it would happen: the technology debate.

  • Is WordPress better than Drupal?
  • Is Opensource better than Software as a Service?
  • Who has control over the site?
  • How is it backed up?
  • Where will it be hosted?
  • etc etc etc

The worst part about it was that most of this software we were debating was free and open. There was no cost associated with the platform. We were spending all of this energy discussing something that really had no bearing on my expertise and the value I brought to the table.

Before I knew it, the customer was choosing between software platforms and not which company was going to provide the best solution.

As WordPress became more popular, it got worse. The technology debate softened, but then all of my competition was offering the same technology solution that I was. Instead of debating about the technology, I lost differentiation.

An Epiphany

As I sold more projects, worked with more businesses, visited more offices, I started to see patterns. I began thinking about what I was really doing.

Was web design just that? Designing web pages and loading content? Was it programming and open source and PHP this and .NET that? Or were we doing something much bigger for our customers?

I always assumed that when a customer called me for a website, that the problem they are trying to solve was: getting a new website. But it’s not.

Businesses are looking to solve sales, marketing, logistics, customer service, or public relations problems. Websites just happen to be a great solution to problems in those areas (and many others).

Zap! (Lightning strike.)

When business owners call and ask about getting a website, they are trying to solve an issue that goes beyond their request for some design and HTML. They couldn’t actually care less what platform you use. No matter how great WordPress is.

The #1 Problem

So I changed my approach. At first it was subtle adjustments.

I started listening more intently. I asked a lot of questions to try and get to the root problem that the customer faced in their business.

Let me provide some examples:

Old Approach:

  • Customer: “We need to be able to update the content on our website.”
  • Me: “Content management is what WordPress is all about.”
  • Outcome: Sell a WordPress solution and compete with everyone else doing the same thing.

New Approach:

  • Customer: “We need to be able to update the content on our website.”
  • Me: “What kind of content do you plan on updating?”
  • Customer: “Our products change quarterly. We also want to blog.”
  • Me: “Why do your products change quarterly? And who is responsible for blogging?”
  • Customer: “That is when our catalog gets updated. We haven’t thought about who will blog, we just know we need one.”
  • Me: “Is it necessary for anyone to be aware of your catalog being updated, or do you just need the content changed? And besides knowing you need a blog, what is the problem that needs solving?”
  • Customer: “Yes! We’d love our customers to get an email for a promotion each time our catalog is updated. We’d like to attract more customers through our blog – you know, let people know what we are up to.”
  • Etc.
  • Outcome: Eventually create a compelling solution for a dynamic website project, content management training, ghostwriter with SEO strategy for blog content, email marketing template creation, email marketing training, and some custom content development.

Instead of taking my prospects “stated needs” as absolute, I question all of them. Eventually, they will fess up to the real problem they are most likely trying to solve: getting more customers.

The more I practiced this technique, the higher priced my proposals got (and the more I won).

My clients ate it up. No one else I was competing against talked like this. Everyone sold to the technology.

The Challenge

So I started to give myself challenges. I would see how long I could go with a client without ever mentioning the technology we planned to build on.

At first it was a meeting. Then two. By the time I sold my agency, on most deals, I would go through seven or eight interactions in the sales cycle without ever talking about a lick of technology.

If you are having a hard time building value for your website services, then I have a challenge for you: stop selling the technology.

See how long you can go without mentioning WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Shopify, or whatever your technology poison is.

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