Web Development

Sell clients on solutions not your tech skills

Greg Miliates cautions against falling into the trap of thinking that your IT skills are important. Customers care more about the end result than your resume.

During lunch with a fellow techie friend last week, I asked him how work was going, and he launched into a long monologue about PBX trunks, defined hierarchies, and set-based operations. When he was talking, it hit me: No one but you cares about your technical skills.

"But wait!" you protest. "My Ruby skills are killer! And Ruby's far and away the best technology for..." blah, blah, blah. (You can replace Ruby for Python, Java, or heaven forbid FORTRAN.) You've fallen into the trap of believing that skills matter more than solutions. People have been doing this for decades and failing miserably.

Obviously, skills do matter, but we need to view them as tools, not the end product. The biggest reason we wrongly believe that our skills are the end product is because we're taught to think like an employee, where we build our resume around our skills. This is particularly true for tech professionals, because we like to tout our proficiencies in HTML, .NET, Cisco, etc. on our resumes.

It's easy to get drawn in by the fervor of passionate adherents for the hot technology of the day, but those zealots miss the point. If you spend your time trying to convince a potential customer why they've got to have their app written in Lisp or what-have-you, their eyes will glaze over, and they'll suddenly cut your pitch short because of an "emergency" call.

Stop making yourself a commodity

Your potential customers care about solving their problems, making their pain go away, and their "jobs to be done" (to use a phrase from Clayton Christiansen, Harvard business professor and author of The Innovator's Dilemma). Whether you're targeting consumers or businesses, your prospects almost never care about how the solution is implemented -- they just want the end result. If you focus solely on your skills, you'll end up stuck in commoditized markets where you'll compete with hundreds or thousands of other professionals from around the globe, many of whom are eager to work for less than your typical pimply-faced teenage burger flipper.

Care to argue the point? Spend 60 seconds on oDesk trolling for Java jobs, where more than half the people charge less than $20/hour, which will likely get negotiated down a bit. That may not quite be burger-flipping rates, but you certainly won't be able to quit your day job either. For SQL (my specialty), 98% of contractors charge less than $50/hour, and 75% of contractors charge less than $25/hour.

In contrast, my hourly rate is $175. I have plenty of work; I ditched my day job more than four years ago (during the economic meltdown, mind you); and I consistently make over $100,000 working essentially part-time hours. I can charge that much and still have plenty of work by focusing on a very specific market and my customers' biggest problems. And therein lies the key: People will happily pay for their problems to go away.

Try this reliable strategy

I teach this strategy to new and/or struggling consultants, and I've seen it sell services time and again; plus, you don't feel like you're a sleaze ball used-car salesperson in the process. By focusing on a prospect's biggest problems and how you'll make their pain disappear, you can say goodbye to your burger-flipping spatula.

About

Greg Miliates started his consulting business in 2007 and quadrupled his former day-job salary. His blog (www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com) gives specific tips, tricks, techniques, and tools for starting and running a successful consulting business ...

10 comments
Rexxrally
Rexxrally

2 things that I've learned about clients over the years: 1) They don't want to look stupid, so don't make your solution too complicated or they won't use it 2) They don't care about hardware/software/networks. They just want to get their job done. So I sell them a solution that's easy for them to use and helps them get their jobs done. Only if they ask will I tell them that it's using X software and Y database.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

philosophical discussion a-brewing... :) Not that I disagree with the focus being on the solution rather than the mechanism, but you do [i]need[/i] technical skills to evaluate, design and implement that solution.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Clients for the most part aren't even interested in doing it right -- they just want their present pain to go away. Of course, we wtill need to solve their problem in a way that we don't become tomorrow's pain, but we need to focus on their present and potential pain rather than on our orthodox views of how things should be done.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Just not something we want to admit. We've all worked very hard for our skills. We've put blood, sweat and tears into gaining them, improving them and internalizing them. It's hard to admit that the client couldn't care less about them (unless they're techie too -- and then they'll likely get them wrong or they're a middleman (person)). The truth is there are only three things you can sell -- product (i.e. your skills), relationship (e.g.. buy [your country here] or "your neighbourhood drug store") or expertise (i.e. ability to provide a solution). Of those, two are commodities -- anyone can have the same skills as you if they're willing to put in the effort and many people have the same relationships to the client as you do. Selling the solution (or more correctly your ability to provide the solution) allows you to differentiate yourself from everyone else. And it focuses on the client's motivations for purchasing -- which means a sale is more likely. Which is not to say that technical skills aren't necessary for delivery -- just not relevant for sales. And also not to say that the middlemen (e.g. HR) aren't focused on the tech skills. Glen Ford http://www.vproz.ca

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Technology is [b]always[/b] changing thus the neverending battle. All I'm saying is we seem to be tending to be circular in our reasoning wrt product and expertise. You state that product is [i]skill[/i] yet the definiton of expertise is [i]the skill of an expert[/i] [b]not[/b] [i]ability to provide a solution[/i]. now tell me again how this isn't philosophical... :)

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

if a client did care what car I drove or cell-phone I use. Those items are most definitely not relevant to easing a client's pain like skills and experience. So why bring them up? :) I'm with you 100% on being client-centered. Indeed providing a solution my client is satisfied with is paramount to repeat business. But no amount of listening and understanding can supply that solution w/o the prerequisite skill set. As to the assertion that a client doesn't care what skillset that is I would have to disagree. The funny papers I read (aka job ads) are all about what technology is in-house and what the organization is looking for to mesh with that existing infrastructure.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The client doesn't care if your smartphone is the latest model, or that you drive a Mercedes to reach their site. Likewise, they don't care what you know -- they only care that you can solve their problems. So knowledge and skill are only a means to that end.