One of the first questions I usually bring to a client at the beginning of a project turns out to be one of the toughest I ever ask:
“What are some of the goals you have in mind for this project?”
It’s seemingly benign and straightforward. What’s this project all about? Why have you hired us? What do you want to do?
Yet, when you dive into this question a bit more, it’s no easy feat to answer it. No one hires a professional services firm without a goal in mind, but half the reason for hiring an expert is that the specifics of that goal may be a bit fuzzy. Typically, our clients want to build a web platform that converts a high percentage of qualified prospects into paying clients. This often gets expressed as a variety of business goals:
• Win more full-service engagements
• Sell more handbags this year
• Increase registrations to a conference
• Double the size of a mailing list
Great, we’re more than happy to help you with that. One of the things we’re here to do is help you refine what the web platform’s goals should be in order to assist with the larger business objectives. Usually, this begets quite a few sub-goals for the web project:
• Attract the right prospects, most of whom were formerly unaware of your business
• Provide content that speaks to their stage in the buying cycle
• Develop a profile of your prospects that allows you to intelligently nurture them
These sorts of goals are squarely within Newfangled’s wheelhouse, and what we’re looking to do is match our expertise with the knowledge that you’re bringing to the table. Which means two things: first, we have to learn quite a bit about what you do, and second, we have to teach you just a little bit about what we do (it’ll be fairly painless, I promise).
Which means, we’re going to start by asking questions. A lot of them, in fact. Something I hear from our clients fairly often is surprise at the sheer amount of questions we ask, especially at the beginning of a project. We always begin a project with planning (in the guise of prototyping and possibly consulting). And we always start the planning with a fair amount of discovery.
The Questions We Ask
Here at Newfangled, we’re known for making web platforms (we call them Lead Development Ecosystems), but we don’t just build them — we also make a lot of recommendations about how to use them. The sites we build are custom-tailored places on the web for our clients to display their expertise (and generate qualified sales leads from that expertise), but if they sit dormant, they’re not making a difference in our clients’ businesses. We don’t like to build things that won’t get used to their full potential, so we always make a point of figuring out what’s useful and what’s a good fit before we start.
To do this process justice, you can’t just give a set of surveys, questionnaires, or dittos to someone, ask them to fill them out, and be ready to go. The very nature of the types of businesses with which we work is that they’re all tremendously unique, and to build something that really represents these clients means we dig deeper than that.
So, we often start by asking the “Who” questions:
• Who is this site for?
• Who’s your audience?
• What info do they need from you, and what will capture their attention?
• What info do you need from them?
• Who are your competitors?
We would, for example, then take the answers to these questions and build a customized matrix (usually in the form of a spreadsheet) that recommends how to regularly create new content that speaks to each of a firm’s specific audiences.
Sure, we could just provide a stock matrix to our clients, but a useful form of this tool would be wildly different for a small agency that specializes in healthcare marketing than for an agency that is focused on credit unions, for example. It diverges even more in other industries, as you might imagine.
Then, there’s the “What” and “How” questions:
• What specific problems do you solve? What are your customer’s pain points?
• How do you do solve them?
• How do you know when you’ve solved them?
• What makes you different from your competitors?
• What’s the life cycle of your services/solutions/products? What typically happens when that life cycle is over?
We’ll recommend content to create for each of these answers, but the format is dictated by the unique nature of each client. Even just the terminology can be hugely divergent from one project to the next. Which is why another big question we ask is:
• What words do your customers know that we don’t?
Since a big part of our job is to help our clients demonstrate their unique value proposition through the medium of a website, it’s important that we get a good understanding of what the unique value proposition is, and the way you wish to frame that value.
While we spend a lot of time advising about best practices, it’s never quite as straightforward as the term implies. If recommending best practices were as simple as a list of things to do (or not do), we could publish a blog post on the subject and retire.
Doctors and lawyers (well, good ones, anyway) see the same problems over and over, but they know how to adapt the best approach (based on evidence!) to the specifics at hand. Every good recommendation is a balancing act, adapting known good solutions to unique challenges. There’s always a procedure for determining the right way forward, but it adapts to each situation.
While we won’t be giving medical or legal advice, we follow a similar approach. We take a little history, we ask questions about the problem at hand, and we may even order a (usability) test or two — all before we ever prescribe a way forward.