In my decade-and-a-half on the Internet, I’ve learned that technology will always evolve, devices and browsers will always bring new challenges, and that it is impossible to predict how we’ll be solving problems in 3 years – but one thing has been consistent throughout my career: if your clients aren’t happy, your web development business will not succeed.
Satisfying clients seems to rely on 3 factors, which are all attached at the hip:
- Accurate project scoping
- Responsiveness to client needs
- A solid delivery solution
I’ve worked on projects that approached #1 from all directions: thorough scoping process which takes lots of time and can delay closing a sale, minimal scoping to get a signature – where project costs are ballparked and often underestimated – and incremental, Agile-based scoping in which our team and the clients collaborated throughout the development to produce a launchable site that continued to grow as budget allowed.
My most satisfying and successful work has fallen into the last category, but it is definitely the unicorn …. few clients have the budget, patience and long-term vision for this to work, however when the stars align and there is trust in the vendor, the results are excellent and the process exciting for everyone.
Under-scoping a project leads to frustration on all sides: clients feel cheated when the vendor attempts to manage costs by cutting corners or enforcing a change order/ add-on policy. A contentious atmosphere invariably pervades and in the end, the site will launch but the animosity developed through the implementation cycle taints the experience and corresponding faith in the vendor. Bruised projects are completed and then move to day-to-day-operations and support, and the poor client manager can’t un-do the bad blood drawn during the exhausting build … the client may have a great site but has lost trust in the vendor and it’s almost impossible to re-boot the relationship at that stage.
The second point, responsiveness to client needs, relies on a genuine desire to collaborate for the benefit of the project’s success. Canned solutions and a one-size-fits-all approach to delivery is a recipe for disaster, however convenient for the vendor it may seem – a project can’t be accurately scoped if the website design and development firm isn’t responsive to each client’s unique needs. Not all platforms are created equal, and in this day and age, it is rare to see a site built without a CMS system of some sort behind it … understanding the virtues of all the options and matching the client’s real-world needs to the delivery mechanism requires well-honed, empathetic listening skills as well as great technology to deliver the goods.
Delivery is where appropriate technology comes in. If a web development vendor has done their jobs well on the scoping and responsiveness fronts, technology is where the pudding is proofed and the solutions are no longer hypothetical but real. I’ve delighted in seeing my favorite development platform, WordPress, grow from being a respectable blog application to the versatile, robust, ever-evolving ticket to success for clients who need brochure websites, ecommerce sites, community, news, real estate and pretty much any other flavor of website.
I don’t think any client I’ve worked with has been dissatisfied with a well-crafted WordPress solution, and capable teams always seem stimulated with the fresh goodies and supportive community of developers – who are typically evangelists for the framework, and rightfully so.
It’s sad when bad listening skills, weak technology and a disregard for the client-vendor relationship collide. Avoid the vicious cycle by ensuring that business development teams have a commitment to client success, not just a signature on a loosely-defined SOW, and that the technology you’ll rely on for the foreseeable future is elegant, in constant development and expandable to meet your ongoing needs.