Clients approach web developers with requests for specific technologies all the time. For example, PHP is a popular request and not everybody works with PHP; some people choose to specialize, i.e. for Python only. Could that minor difference disqualify you in your client’s eyes? Absolutely. Is that a good enough reason to give up immediately and send the client elsewhere? Of course not. Let’s explore a few approaches with word for word examples that should help you decide how to best serve that client and land good projects.
Client Wants a Solution Created in a Specific Technology Which You Do Not Use. What Do You Reply to That Client?
First, decide to work in the client’s best interest. If at the end of your research phase you conclude that the client’s desired technology is really the best solution and you’re not willing to work with it, let that client go. Don’t sell them hard on your tech, you might end up regretting it later.
Second, stick to as fewer technology stacks as possible so that you could develop software profitably. For example, in 2009 our web agency decided that we would become an exclusive Python & Django software shop. No PHP on the back-end. No ASP.NET. No Ruby. Small agencies can rarely afford to zig and zag across very different technology stacks. Not that we didn’t try: we did. It just wasn’t profitable on our scale (an agency of approx. 10-15 employees). As soon as we consolidated all our technologies and picked just one, the quality of our code and our profits started to increase.
Find out why exactly does the client want a certain technology
Most clients do not need any specific technologies and your job is to discover that and address it as soon as possible. You don’t want to get disqualified from their decision-making process just because your tech of choice is different from what the client thinks she needs.
Make a habit of asking your clients about their reasons to require anything. WHY is one of the best words in your communication arsenal. One of your first interview questions should be this:
Mrs. Client, I see that your specification clearly states that you want this done in PHP. Since the choice of technology is usually given to the agency to decide, I presume that you must have a very good reason to go with PHP, is that so?
What you’re doing here is bringing out in the open any misconceptions that clients have about technologies. Don’t be surprised to hear the following answers:
I thought PHP was what you programmers call all your programs. What we need is a program so we could edit our content ourselves.
(the client said ‘PHP’ but what she meant was ‘CMS’)
Our current website is in PHP.
(and they want to get rid of it, so there is no real reason to stick with what they have now)
My friend has a website in PHP and it looks good.
(the client associates good looks with the choice of back-end technologies)
It’s OK, it doesn’t have to be in PHP, it can be in MySQL or FTP too.
(the client doesn’t know what PHP stands for, sometimes people repeat words they don’t understand for no good reason)
As long as it’s open source, it’s OK.
(sometimes when clients say ‘open source’, what they actually mean is ‘cheap’ - unfortunately this is a fact, so be careful about that)
What I mean is that we don’t want ASP. Our website is on a Linux server.
(some clients are aware of the differences between the two platforms, but are unaware that there are more than two choices out there and that it’s easy to switch from one to another)
Those answers are an opportunity to set the stage to your advantage
Now is the time to educate the client about their choices and make your sales skills work for you. Gradually introduce the benefits of your technology stack by asking a question like this:
What are the advantages you expect from the technology that will eventually be chosen for building your website?
With this question you’re making the client say out loud what specific benefits she associates with technologies in general. Most clients will say that they value stability, security, ease of use. The price is almost never mentioned here. Your goal here is to end the discussion about technology as soon as possible and move on to more important questions. Here’s what you should say:
If we made sure that a technology we use on your website was stable, tested, proven, secure and easy to use, would it matter to you at all in which programming language we have built your website?
What you’re doing here is mirroring back the exact words that the client used. She wants to trust you and the best way to establish that trust is if she hears her own words coming from your mouth. This is completely ethical because you’re telling the truth: your tech is stable, secure, easy to use. 99% of all clients will now reply that they don’t actually care about programming languages, as long as they get what they’re buying. Your question just made them reveal to you what is it that they’re really buying. You should repeat those same benefits in the exact linguistic form in your sales proposal for added impact. I guarantee you that these language patterns work like charm every time without people noticing what you just did there. The client will have a feeling that you understand them.
If a client insists on her technology choice, this is when you find out why. Sometimes clients do have good reasons to go with a specific technology (we’re discussing those below).
Next, “close” the deal by saying the following:
Mrs. Client, the technology we use to build websites is called Python and it’s very similar to PHP. In fact, we believe it’s even more stable, secure and easy to use than most PHP systems our competitors offer because of the advanced way we’re working with it. All our apps come with guarantees anyway and we’ve built hundreds of websites using our stable and secure technology. I know our technology will work for you, will you consider our proposal?
See how I’m not boring the client to death with tech jargon? I’m only saying that we have the same and better than she requires. Also, at this early point in the conversation I’m letting the client imagine what is it that I mean by ‘the advanced way we’re working with it’. I’m deliberately vague because now is not the time nor the place to talk about how we use source control, advanced frameworks, reliable libraries and a quality development process. You can mention all of that in your sales proposal later. You need to focus on getting your client’s approval for your flavor of tech.
This is where the client will say her first ‘YES’ to you. Eventually, if you do everything else right, her many yeses will lead to you landing this gig. Meanwhile, your less experienced competitors will either let the client go prematurely or they will agree to struggle with a technology they don’t have experience with.
Now that you have your client’s consent, don’t forget to drum up your specific tech stack in your sales proposal. You’ve just created one of those tiny differences which will make you stand out from the rest: now make it work in your advantage. That’s what sales is all about: a bunch of subtle differences which make a big difference.
Sometimes clients have good reasons for their choice of technology
The best reason is your client’s prior investment in a certain technology. The bigger the client, the bigger their reasons to stick with what they already have.
For example, the client may already have a team of in-house PHP developers and now they must hire outside help for some reason. Their developers will be the ones to maintain your app later. In that case, it’s you who needs to make a decision. If you have no experience with the technology or no desire to manage outsourced developers on this project, don’t accept the project and let the client find another agency. That’s the most profitable decision for you.
Or, the client has invested in certain infrastructure which is pre-configured to work best with certain technologies. They might have their own servers. In this case, ask whether they would be willing to support your technology. Many times they say they would. This, however, is not an easy decision for you to make: would you risk that your code does not work on their machine because someone in their company can’t set up the needed environment well? For that reason, and because of the low price of the servers under our control, we were capable of persuading most clients to let us take care of the servers, or we recommended a good third party web host which works well with our tech. Good clients never make a fuss about an additional expense of $100 annually if what they get is complete reliability.
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