I’ve had two very different interactions with two clients who have found themselves in very similar situations. We’ll call them Client A and Client B.
Whenever we start a project, we talk with clients extensively about their role in the process. In our business, everything we do is done in 50/50 partnership with our clients. Obviously, we know things our clients don’t about web design and marketing and we can do things that many of our clients can’t. But by the same token, our clients know their businesses and many of them are true subject matter experts in their given field. It takes both kinds of expertise to launch a successful online marketing strategy. You show me a website and I’ll tell you within five minutes how involved the business owner was in formulating the content.
We can design the site and we can architect it for performance. We can even help write the content, as we often do. But the source material needs to come from an expert, not the web guy. So the quality of the finished website can only be as good as the information that goes in. It’s a crucial ingredient for success.
So whenever we sit down with a prospective client, we walk them through the process and all of their responsibilities. We have an entire section of our estimate devoted to it, and that material goes on their invoices as well. We dedicated a page on our website to it. It’s one of the first things we discuss when we do our kickoff calls and meetings at the start of the project.
But sometimes things still go sideways.
Client A is a consulting firm run by a husband and wife. The wife has been managing the project, but the husband is the subject matter expert, the person who needs to provide the source material for all the content.
The husband, for several weeks, has been distant. Last week he called me and said, paraphrasing, “Listen, we have problems with the site. Actually, I have problems with the site. But I need you to know that you guys have been great and none of this is your fault. It’s my fault because I haven’t been engaged the way I should have been. But I want to fix it and move forward.” And so we spent 20 minutes walking through the site, figuring out where his issues were and how we could improve things. It turned out, by the way, that his issues weren’t even that major. He felt like they were major, but that’s where my expertise comes in… I solve problems on people’s websites all the live long day and I can solve his too even if I had an unwitting hand in creating them. We even adjusted some design things that, even though they had previously approved, we changed in the interest of partnership. I appreciated the honesty and I knew that we could find common ground where we could both be happy and the project could get done.
He called me again this morning to tell me he was excited about wrapping up his revised content and it’s looking like he’ll be live by the end of next week if not sooner. His wife also emailed me today with a laundry list of other marketing requests which we will happily quote for them. That’s not instrumental to the story, I just like happy clients.
Client B is a small information technology business. Like Client A, he’s uncomfortable with where his website is at. But he won’t tell us why. He doesn’t feel terrific about the content, but it all came from him, and he can change it anytime. We gave him a design that makes him look like a cutting-edge tech company, exactly what he wanted. We’ve asked for concrete feedback so we can discuss solutions (as we needed up doing with Client A, but we’re really not getting anything. Client B has told us now that he likes something we built for one of his friends several years ago, a site that is not only dated (in fact, his friend is already talking to us about a new site) but it’s not appropriate for his business. Moreover, his business partner isn’t happy with what we’ve done and he provided no specifics there either.
As a further contrast between our experiences with these two clients, we knew from day one with Client A that we were working with a team, and it was the husband — as the business founder and subject matter expert —that we knew we would ultimately need to please. He was present on the kickoff call, has been copied on most of the emails, and we have developed a relationship with him even though my team and I work more closely with his wife. So when I got that call last week, I knew that even though I was going to be asked to make changes (some of which may be within my right to charge for), I knew that this call would bring us closer to a final product. In the case with Client B, I didn’t even know he HAD a business partner until this mystery person was mentioned offhand in a random email at the end of last week.
How can my team make this mystery person happy? We’ve never spoken to him, he’s never been present at any meeting or phone call, we don’t even know for sure at this point if the business partner is a “he” at all.
Two clients came to a point in their projects where they were unhappy, and for similar reasons. But Client A brought all their stakeholders to every important meeting, communicated openly and honestly about how their need were not being met, and even assumed blame for the areas that they had steered us wrong.
Client A has an excellent chance of getting this website finished quickly and being very successful with it. I don’t know where we’ll end up with Client B or how long it will take.
You may not know about how to build websites. You may not know the ins and outs of Search Engine Optimization, marketing automation, or social media. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be presented communicative during your web project. Your web people need you, they are relying on you to hold up your side of the partnership, to provide insight, guidance and expertise.
Of course, if you’re engaged but your web people are not, that’s a different issue altogether.