The phone call came a few weeks ago. The voice on the other end of the line delivered the news.
“We’ve been contacted by another Web site design and hosting company that is less expensive than you are.”
Knowing that there is no shortage of one-man shops, Internet bandits and Web pirates who have nothing to offer but a low price, we weren’t surprised. We’ve gotten these calls from other clients, but they have always been more of a “heads-up” to let us know that someone was trying to steal our clients. In virtually every case, given the quality level and professionalism of the service we provide, there was no way they would ever go with anyone else. And the phone calls were just a courtesy to confirm that (and tell us about the company that felt they deserved their business more than we did).
This call, however, was different.
“We’ve decided to go with them.” the caller said.
Knowing who they were switching to, and knowing what was going to happen to them and their site as a result, we tried to help them do the right thing, but it became apparent that we had no choice but to wish them luck and let them go.
Our biggest challenge as Internet consultants is dealing with decision makers who just don’t know. They don’t know what makes one Internet firm better than another. They don’t know what makes one Web site better than another. They don’t know the difference between an ISP and a URL. In some cases they don’t even know how to turn on computer. We realize the technology is new, and unless someone has really embraced it and really worked to understand it, they won’t know. And we don’t expect them to. We look at that situation as an opportunity to educate and help, to build partnerships and long-term relationships…to give anyone who is willing to learn an incredible opportunity to prosper in the digital economy.
Unfortunately, there is a group of people out there who seize this as an opportunity to emulate the classic W. C. Fields line: “It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money.”
Here are a couple real examples of the kind of “competition” we face (and the companies that the uninformed could potentially fall prey to):
- A local Web development company uses their claim of a huge staff to solicit new contracts. Despite our regular encouragement to our clients (and potential clients) to personally check out our facilities and staff, this developer refuses to allow clients and potential clients to tour his operation. A former employee confided to us that the staff is actually 15% the size they boast.
- A local firm uses a business model that has them doing Web site development work in exchange for a percentage of the sales generated by the Web site. That’s a wonderful model if your site is successful right out of the box – you’ll get the attention your site deserves. However, if your site is slow in gaining momentum, suddenly they get too busy with the “winners” to update your site, process your orders in a timely fashion and adequately market your site. Because the revenue (and thus their percentage) is low, guess what happens to your site. The result is downward critical mass and failure.
- One company took over the hosting of a site we designed for a client. The hosting company saw the quality of our design work, removed our copyright notice, replaced it with his own and lists that site to potential clients as a sample of his own design work. Despite the fact that he had NOTHING to do with the site or its design, has even had the gall to feature the site as his company’s “Featured Site of the Week” for three months. (Our request for him to tell the truth has gone ignored).
- A local “budget” hosting company called one of our clients to offer them a low-priced hosting service. When he asked for their URL so they could check out that company, our client was told they didn’t have a Web site. Truth was, they did have a Web site, but the site (as well as all their hosted client sites) was down that day. We suspect that he was late with his ISP payment, and needed to quickly generate enough new business to get his line back up. We’ve monitored that company for downtime, and have discovered that they are down frequently and for extended periods of time.
- Another “budget” hosting and development firm called one of our clients and offered them a “bargain basement hosting price.” When the client pressed him on “hidden costs” it turned out that between application fees, site transfer fees, the cost to re-tool interactive elements to run on their server, and their high charges for even small updates to the site, he’d end up paying a lot more.
The nature of any business is that you win some and you lose some. We realize there are other reputable firms competing for the same business we seek. When we lose a current or potential client to a company that truly is offering better service or value we are disappointed for us, but happy for the client.
But when a client makes a bad choice, we are saddened because the results are bad: bad for us, bad for the client, bad for a developer whose demise is imminent but an infusion of a little cash forestalls the inevitable, and bad for the Internet, because “we had a Web site and it didn’t do anything, so we took it down… the Internet is really a waste of time.”
Not all phone calls are like the one that begins this article.
A year ago, we lost a couple contracts to a local Internet firm (actually is was just a guy with a P.O. box). The stumbling point was price. The guy was cheaper, the clients didn’t know any better, so they signed with him and gave him a check. We watched from a distance and saw the progress on the projects slow down to a crawl. One day, a phone call came to our office. It was one of those clients, calling to admit having made the wrong choice. Their phone calls and emails had been going unreturned until one day the number and the P.O. box were gone. So was the client’s money. After a year, they had nothing to show for their investment (and the developer registered the domain names to himself before he went out of business, so they can’t even get their domain names back).
There will always be a segment of the population who will still buy based on nothing but price. And they will get what they’ve paid for. The only thing we can do is to strive to win the trust of our clients, the respect of our peers, and continue to educate, educate, and educate.
Zig Zigler, the sales consultant and motivational speaker advises that, as a company, we need to make a choice to either apologize for higher price once, or apologize for poor quality forever. Unfortunately, as fast as the Internet business moves (and as quickly as its shysters and snake-oil salesmen go out of business), there is no apology for poor quality… just two rings and a message: “We’re sorry, the number you’ve reached has been disconnected.”