Offer what the customer/project needs, instead of generalizing

How may projects have you been in when it didn’t turn out as expected? Or rather, how many projects have indeed delivered what everyone really wanted?

Having worked in the IT business for almost a decade now, there’s seems to be the same problem with almost every project: people choose technology and tools from what they know (and sometimes, want to get to know), instead of focusing on the project’s and the customer’s needs.

Way too many sales conversation go like this:

Customer: We want to have a web site for our company.

Sales guy: Great! Super! Outstanding! We have this amazing Content Management System we work with, and it will be fantastic, dirt cheap, and delivered yesterday!

WRONG! Analyze the customer’s needs!

Customer: We’re not sure what we want, but we heard about your company, and…

Sales guy: Swell! We have this impossible-to-beat package offer which will get you going in no-time!

WRONG! Perhaps, just maybe, talking it through with the customer might be a good start.

Try the customer’s perspective

Of course I’m (slightly) exaggerating with my examples (well, maybe not with the sales guy), but the gist of it is that there are numerous projects where the company doing the delivering part solely think out of what programming languages they like or know, what environments they prefer, partnership they might have with a system provider or any other factor that the customer really doesn’t care about.

How many web sites do you think are out there because someone somewhere had a tad too strong fascination with a certain Content Management System, where the end result is at best moderately sufficient? Why would anyone think, really, that a tool, out of the box, will be optimal for their customer?

Sure, there are cases where the environment is already there, and the programming criteria as well, but that also means that the situation is still wide open to focus on user experience, finding the best product suited to what’s actually needed or coming to the conclusion that in this situation it would be best to completely customize a tool within the development team.

So, please, next time you talk to a customer, try to sincerely find out what they need, as opposed to your or your group’s current offerings.

A little anecdote

This is hearsay, since I myself wasn’t present at the meeting, but I once had a manager doing an important presentation to some customers. It went very well, and feeling (a bit too) relieved, he decides to, in all friendliness, say:

This feels like I’m giving you all a blow-job

Needless to say, the customers went from interested to very reluctant within a very short moment.

Moral to the story: Don’t give them what you’re willing to offer, instead find out what they want.


  • I totally agree. One other side of the situation is the internal conficts in the developer team.

    I've heard of situations where the CMS and markup is optimized for one type of service only, and that poor interface developer which must solve the impossible task of making the service be like a totally different service with CSS only, since the HTML is locked.

    There is no such thing as a general solution. Too bad some system developers and project managers goes with the motto "ignorance is bliss".

  • […] morning I was elated to see a little sanity on the web with a post from Robert Nyman about looking at the client’s needs before moving to the client’s solution. I’m […]

  • Steven Clark says:

    Robert this is one of the strongest issues I try to put out there – its good to see other people coming to the same conclusions. Its about being a consultant first and looking at the web problem. From the web problem you can reach a web solution…

    Start with the business goals and objectives… what is the site meant to achieve? what measurable results will it be held up to? Return on investment has to be in there somehow or otherwise why have a site at all (IMO)?

    Quite often when people phone or walk in the trouble is they don't know what they want. They don't even know what is possible or anything about web technologies – that's our job. So we need to find out what the site will need to achieve first. I get so frustrated seeing business after business get sucked down the you need a CMS path…

    A close friend who has a far larger business than mine ever would be said finally after 5 years of knowing me – only 1 per cent of his CMS customers ever update even a single page or image. It just doesn't happen.

    Excellent post Robert and good business advice. Cheers.

  • Pat says:

    Interesting post Robert.. however I didn't know there was any other way to design website/program without basing it around the input from the customer you're delivering it to. However I've sure seen my fair share of really crappy portfolios and often wonder, why would they hire this company… but if I think about some of the people I talk to re the web, they often look at me with a blank stare.. and it's too bad some designers take complete advantage of that! It's a shameful practice!!

    As usual Robert… excellent post 🙂

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Anders, Steven, Pat,

    Yes, some of this situations also come from territorial pissings within the developer team, which is just a waste of everyone's time and the customer's money.

    There are definitely cases where the customer have no idea what they want or need, but then it's our obligation to wrk out and find their needs together with them, instead of just naively thinking that some technical solution will be all they need.

    Then, of course, some technology can, at the end of the day, be exactly something which will match a certain need, but you have no idea before you've pin-pointed the need itself.

  • Johan says:

    Absolutely, dont mislead yourself or the client. Make the best solution work for the website, taking in account what is possible, and inform the client and listen!

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