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Stop selling features

It would be sensationalist of me to say “this is the biggest mistake most people make” but it wouldn’t be far from the truth. It’s also one of the most common things I see when I review quotes by other folks in our industry just starting out. Once you have an amazing portfolio and a reputation, you can basically say whatever you want, but until that point you still have to try to push through quotes and make them seem exciting and appealing in as many ways as possible.

So what is the issue that I’m talking?

Selling features on quotes/proposals instead of selling pain-relief, imagination, and reasons to buy what you’re selling. Let’s dive in to how you can make your quotes and proposals leaps and bounds better.

What is a feature?

The first thing to understand is that we think in features. When someone tells us what they want for a project and we have to price it out. We tend to repeat what the person said with some simple and usually slightly more technical terms. For example someone might ask you for a quote for “some kinect controlling media playback in a permanent installation.” Sounds reasonable enough. What I see all too often are line items in quotes/proposals like these sent back to the clients:

  • Kinect programming – 4 days
  • 4k video playback – 2 days
  • Basic scheduling system – 2 days
  • Installation of system – 3 days

Then somewhere at the bottom it says “Total = $10,000” or something like that.

OH GOD! BORING?! PLZ END IT.

Seriously, even if your client doesn’t say that, that’s how they probably feel on the inside. But the problem is, these are the true features. These are the things we’ll be developing and we instinctively price out what we’re going to develop.

Why is this sub-optimal?

I always tell my Learn TD HQ members about how important it is to make your biography and portfolio simple so that it is easy for your client to sell you, because often times they aren’t the final decision maker. They have to take what you’ve given them, and they have to convince either their managers or the other people on the team that you’re the right fit.

There’s nothing in that quote above that makes we care about this quote. There’s nothing I can hook onto as the client that will help me sell this to anyone else. In most cases, there’s very little that a client will even understand about that quote. They will probably say “what is a media playback engine?” or “what does the scheduling system do?” Their eyes will glaze over and you probably won’t hear back from them. Game over.

That probably sounds familiar, I bet. Having sent tons of quotes like this myself, I know that you rarely hear back on these types of bids.

Solve pain + give reasons

What’s the solution you might ask? Well thankfully there’s a whole field of marketing that has done the heavy lifting of figuring out how to sell things to people. Not that I’m a marketing expert by any means, but I’ve been exposed to a lot of the techniques.

One of the main things marketing folks talk about is selling pain relief. People are far more likely to buy something that relieves their known pains than they are to buy something that just gives them some new benefit. So the first thing you want to do is try to turn your line items on your quote into pain relief.

The second thing you want to do, if for example you can’t find a good way to frame the “pain relief” of a feature, is to use a few extra words to provide a reason or rationale to why they might want your line item over someone else, or in reality why they might want that line item at all.

Let’s try to look at the above example re-jigged as a mix of pain relief points and reasons:

  • Dynamic & interactive content engagement using Kinect camera – 4 days
  • Stutter-free & future-proof ultra high-definition content display engine – 2 days
  • Self-managing system & built-in schedule automations – 2 days
  • Complete system installation & QA testing – 2 days
  • System documentation, handoff, & training – 1 days

Wow, doesn’t that start to feel quite a bit better? Mmmm mmm good! Now we’re cooking up a quote! Notice the total amount of days is the same as before, but I bet you could charge more for this quote than the previous quote. So let’s talk about what I did here.

I started by looking at my feature list and thought to myself, what pain of the client does this solve? Then when if I came up short, I thought about the reason they would want it (which is often related to the pain they want to relieve) and riffed on that. So let’s go through them step by step:

Kinect programming

The two most boring words ever slammed together! Why do people want kinect and interactive to being with? It’s not for their own fun…they probably won’t ever use the system. The first thing they want is content that is dynamic, meaning it changes sometimes and isn’t static. Being static means death in business. Everyone wants dynamic and interesting things. They also want interactive systems so they can engage customers with their brand and gain mind share. So I drilled down on both of those by saying “Dynamic & interactive content engagement using Kinect camera.” ggez

4k video playback

Why do people want 4K video? I mean let’s be honest, most people can’t tell the difference between 4k and 1080p at normal viewing distances. What people want is status and a certain feeling of being cutting-edge or even future-proof. In business, if you’re not leading the way, you’re on the verge of going out of business. So let’s play on that emotion and desire! That’s where the “future-proof ultra high-definition content display” comes in. Now another pain point that clients don’t talk about is playback quality. If they wanted just regular playback on the cheap they’d get the integrator to do it (no offense any integrators reading this…). What they want is something super robust and high-performance and they’re thinking about paying you a lot more than the integrator to do it. This is why I add items about “stutter-free” to touch on the high-performance element and the notion of an “engine”, which feels premium. It’s not a video player, it’s a video engine. Seems silly, but it has an effect.

Basic scheduling system

Even when I wrote this I didn’t know what I meant, but I’ve seen too many people write things like this in quotes. In fairness, it’s coming from a good place. You wanted to include it because you want the client to feel like it’s a set-it-and-forget-it system. Which in most cases is true. But this is too vague and doesn’t really drive close to the pain. The pain point clients have, and on top of that a worry they have with interactive work, is the amount of effort they’ll need to manage this thing after you disappear with a paycheck. So I just elaborate on the basic idea but I use more “containing” language, such as “self-managed” because we don’t want them to think they have to manage it. Same with “built-in.” It’s obviously built-in in some sense, but we want to drive home that this thing runs itself, which also leads to words like “automation.” Clients love “automation” because it means things work automatically and they don’t have to do any extra work.

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Installation of system

So this one is self explanatory, but it doesn’t really get close to the pain the client is having, in that they have no idea what’s going on. “Installation” only covers a small sliver of the pain of getting it up and running, but their pain runs much deeper. You can see I even broke this into two line items, the first covers installation and adds the word “complete.” This drives home to the client that it’s not like a computer drop-off that their IT department gets stuck with. You’re the pro, you’re making the magic happen, and you’re in charge of fully installing and delivering that magic. Not only that, but you’re going to test it! I can’t stress how critical this is to big clients. They always ask if it’s going to work after we leave and what happens after we leave if something goes wrong.

“QA” starts to address this, but then I really aim for this pain by using the second line item, which covers “documentation, handoff, and training.” You were going to make documentation anyways, so you might as well mention it and put the client at ease that they won’t be completely in the dark if they need to know something about the system (or even hire someone else if they hate you!). Handoff is also a big client pain. What happens often is that interactive people show up, install, then disappear and the client is like “Wtf just happened?” It’s a very small but very important step of relieving the pain and concerns a client might have about the project after it’s deployed. Doing a small handoff presentation and walk through of everything before you leave is reassuring for them. The same goes for training. I’m not saying you should teach them TouchDesigner, but you might want to teach them where the power button on the computer is in case they need to reboot (should be covered in your documentation), how to use the remote control to turn displays on and off (should also be in your documentation), and any little things like this that might be required of someone on-site who is in charge of the system. I can almost bet that by reading all these little points I’m writing, you yourself feel more relaxed and reassured! So imagine how much pain relief these provide for a client!

What about imagination?

After I go through all those steps, if I find I need a bit more spice to the quote I start adding imagination. I mention selling imagination because sometimes you won’t have the benefit of maybe sending along a creative pitch or similar, so you might want to try to ingest a little bit of wonder and excitement into the quote to really make the client use their imagination to think about how cool the thing you’re selling them actually is. But you should be in a pretty strong place after honing in on pain relief and trying to push reasons instead of features.

Wrap up

With all of that said, you just read 1800 words and you’re probably thinking to yourself “well, that feels so obvious!” In reality it is, but it’s the most common problem I see in all the quotes I review (aside from not charging enough!) and the first thing I get people to change about their quotes. It may feel arbitrary, it may feel silly, and it may just feel stupid from an intellectual point of view. But I assure you, you will get much better reception and feedback from quotes if you start to sell pain-relief instead of features. I would be willing to bet you’ll get more gigs as well! Happy quoting!