Selling Responsive Websites

How to Sell a $10,000 Responsive Web Design Project

You probably think that there aren’t clients out there that have $10k budgets. It seems as if the only thing every person you talk with about Responsive Web Design is getting it done on the cheap.

That’s exactly what I experienced. It was terrible. Some things I heard:

“We just need a simple site—needs to work kind of like Facebook…we can’t spend more than $3,000.”

“My cousin’s nephew said he could build this for $500.”

“I can’t spend more than $1,500—I was just thinking about doing this myself.”

I almost quit building websites. I never had enough money to pay my bills and do the things I wanted. Lots of competition—anyone can build a website. Cheap labor in India, Philippines, or China can build websites. Each year it just got worse. More competition. Smaller budgets. Less money. I felt like all I was building was a commodity. I couldn’t escape. But I stuck with it. Eventually I figured out how to make web design profitable.

That Status Quo

Turns out that one of the big problems I had was not understanding some key business concepts. No matter how good I got at building or designing websites, I was still faced with the budget woes.

This is what my typical sales process looked like:

I’m not sure I would even call the above “a process.” It was more just what I figured you should do. I want to build great websites. So I figured when people call me asking, “can you build me a website?” that I should 1) figure out what they need and 2) propose a project that does just that.

Sometimes I would add a step to this process: the demo. This was the part where I would open the hood and start to dig into the technology.

Does your process look like this?

Because if it does, let me tell you—this could be the biggest thing holding you back from selling profitable projects where clients truly value your work.


Profitable Breakthrough

In January of 2007 I almost gave up. I hit rock bottom. No money in my bank. Late to pay employees. Behind on rent. Six figure bill with the IRS. It was bad. I did the only thing I could think of: I asked for help. It turns out that the only thing holding me back from selling higher value projects was a better process. Simpler than that—it was actually a few key rules to follow that allowed me to turn an unprofitable business into a profitable cash machine.


5 of My Rules

#1: Have a process, and follow it. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about that process that you came up with. I know the thought, “this deal will be different—they are so hot to move forward they don’t need to go through all of my usual steps.”

But then it happens. You submit your sure-­fire proposal and the client comes back to you a week later with, “we decided to go a different direction.” You ask, “why?” The client explains they had another company that was offering more.When this would happen to me, I would actually ask the prospect to send me the winning proposal. The heartbreak moments were when I realized the winning bid looked the exact same as mine. It all came down to the fact that I forgot about my process. I became captivated by the promise of a quick win. I skipped discovery. I skipped my proposal presentation. Maybe I just failed to qualify the client. Whatever part I rushed, my competitor obviously didn’t.


Here are the reasons you need to have a well defined process:

1. To get rid of tire kickers (Qualification)

2. To find problems worth solving (Discovery)

3. To build value for your services (Solution Presentation)

4. To sell your client (Proposal Presentation)

5. To close the deal (Work Plan)

Feel free to use my process:

Think of a defined process as a checklist for your sanity. Stop being creative. Checklists save lives in medicine and make commercial flight possible.


#2: Never lead with technology when selling.

No matter how great you think responsive web design is, and no matter how great your customer also thinks responsive web design is, avoid talking about responsive web design as much as possible in your sales process. I know this might sound counterintuitive, but let me tell you why

Clients don’t care about technology. What they care about is finding solutions to the problems that they have. Even further than that, they care about finding the root problems in their businesses.

For the first decade that I sold web solutions, I sold technology. I sold the newest and coolest.

I demoed, I trialed, and I shared. I would work so hard to get the client into a screencast or webinar. If I could just show them how great this new platform was, they would buy.

There are several problems with technology:

1. Most technologies are commodities by design.

2. Technologies by themselves rarely (if ever) solve problems.

3. Focusing on technology avoids vision, strategy, and tactics.

4. Clients don’t get most of the technology we use.

5. Technology is not results oriented.

When I moved technology out of my primary conversation with my prospects—as just a sub item in my solution presentation, I was able to triple my prices. My clients no longer viewed me as a commodity and actually valued my services.


#3: Never shortcut Discovery in the sales process.

In my early days, my idea of “discovery” was asking my prospective client, “what do you need?” And they would tell me, and my next step would be to create a proposal for those needs. Price always became a factor and my win rate was terrible.

Turns out that clients rarely know what they need. Imagine for a moment this same method applied to the medical profession. I go into a doctor’s office, he asks, “what do you need?” I answer, “a fist full of Oxycotin.” He then hands me a prescription and tells me the cost of the meds and appointment and I’m on my way. That situation would never happen in real life. Thankfully there are laws that force doctors to dig a little deeper.

Yet, in our profession, this is exactly what we do every single day. Or at least, it’s what I used to do. Now I ask “Why?” a lot. I never take my clients word at face value. You need a new website, “why?” Because you aren’t happy with how it looks, “why?” Because it was designed five years ago, “why hasn’t it been updated since?” Because we haven’t gotten around to it, “why not? Does the website not drive any customers to your business?”

You get the point.

Before I learned how to do Discovery with my prospects, I was missing out on huge opportunity. I never dug for the true problems that were happening in their business. I never figured out that there was a bigger opportunity to change their business for the better. By not just doing discovery, but by focusing a lot of energy on it, my projects went from the low thousands to an average project size between $15,000 and $30,000 for the initial build and healthy ongoing service and marketing retainers. All because I decided that I should think more like a doctor diagnosing a disease than a vending machine spitting out Snickers bars.


#4: Never leave a meeting without a commitment to your next scheduled interaction.

Have you ever said this: “sounds good, I’ll follow up with you next week and we’ll go from there…” or something of the like? That one sentence lost me more deals than I care to admit. I had no idea how dangerous it was to the mechanics of building a relationship with my prospect that would lead to a signed deal.

I call this “follow up hell.” Basically, the technique that leads you to have to call all of your open opportunities once a week until they stop answering (or returning) your calls, they tell you no, or you lose all sense of emotional stability. Either way, it’s completely draining.

There is a simple cure. At the end of any client meeting , close the meeting by asking to schedule your next appointment. Doesn’t even matter what you are going to cover in the next meeting. As long as you want to work with the client, then schedule the meeting. Allow plenty of time in between meetings to get whatever deliverable (discovery research, proposal writing, or presentation prep) done and get a meeting on the calendar. If the prospect pushes back at all on wanting to schedule another meeting with you, then handle the objection, “I can’t stand having to play phone tag or be unsure when we are talking next. Even if we just need to have a 15 minute phone call to checkin, let’s go ahead and put something on the calendar and that way we both know where we stand.”

When a prospective client refuses to schedule a meeting with me (even if it’s 3 months out), then I am done with the opportunity. I no longer keep it on my board or expend energy thinking about it. Serious buyers have no problem scheduling appointments with you.


#5: Never just email a proposal. Present it.

I used to actually try to sell my clients in the proposal. I’m sure you’ve done it. Write a document that will be so persuasive, so glorious, that the client will have no option but to say “YES!” The horrible truth is that clients rarely (if ever) read proposals. They flip right to the price and then email or call you back with, “why is it so expensive?” And then price becomes the focal point of your conversation. Budget, price, and cost—doesn’t matter, as long as it can just get cheaper.

Several years ago I decided to try an experiment. What if instead of doing what I usually did: email a proposal to a client when it was ready;; I decided to schedule a meeting with the prospect to review the proposal together over a screenshare. The results blew me away. My prospects would say things like, “no one else has been nearly as thorough as you,” or “we really feel like we can trust you,” or, “you’ve covered everything we needed!” The only thing I changed was whether they were reading the proposal on their own or I was reading it to them.

Later on I realized it was because clients don’t buy what or how you do something, they buy why you do it. This why element became a key part of my verbal “presentation” with each of my potential projects. I was able to explain to my prospect in terms they understood, why I included each part of the proposal.

I was also able to quickly assess whether or not I had set their budget too high, included things they didn’t really need, or even if I overlooked something. Often my clients would end up asking for more things to added to the proposal, increasing the budget. This was very different from my original tactic of just emailing documents when price always became the #1 concern.


$10,000 Responsive Web Design Projects

You might not have noticed, but none of the above tactics have a whole lot to do with responsive web design. I don’t want to say that responsive web design doesn’t matter, but it matters far less than you might think. Selling more expensive projects is about building value for solutions that solve real problems that clients have.

When I figured this out, it was like a lightning bolt struck me. Talking to leads became fun again. Selling became fun. I loved meeting with new clients and helping them find problems in their businesses worth solving.