Selling Website Design: How to Overcome the 3 Most Ignorant Objections

December 31st, 2007 in Business & Process

by: Matthew Griffin

Selling web design for the past seven years has given me the opportunity to hear every objection imaginable. Some are practical—"The price is too high". Some are emotional—"We don't want to hurt our other designer's feelings". But they all add up to a big NO. The strategy I've developed through this process, however, is not designed to turn every NO into a YES. When I make it my goal, instead, to turn every ignorant NO into a YES, I win on every level. Some people just don't like my style and letting them go is the best thing I can do. But if I leave a meeting rejected because I was unable to articulate the workings of my industry, there's a problem.

Now I'm going to set aside the practical and superficial objections (get a book about sales for those) and just focus on the three most common ignorance based objections I've encountered. Prepare for these and you'll rarely leave a meeting unsatisfied with your pitch.

1. Our target audience doesn't use the web

Of course, you know this is baloney, but it can be hard to disagree without being patronizing. There are two keys to overcoming this objection. The first is to do your homework. See how many searches have taken place on Google and Yahoo for keywords related to their industry. Print out what you find and whip it out at the meeting. That way you are pointing to a third party as the expert on the subject. Second, make sure you have a short story about an unlikely web user. My current favorite is about my father-in-law jumping on to find out how to change the ballast in a fluorescent light. It makes it personal.

2. Mike's nephew built us a website a few years ago and it's doing fine

Just calm down. He has no idea how insulting this is and it's up to you to help him see that web design is way past the high school phase. My favorite tactic here is to turn the tables on him—gently, of course. For example, if he's in the steel industry, ask him if he would recommend Mike's nephew to supply some steel pipe. Next, you can hit on some important web design issues that Mike's nephew will more than likely overlook. Have these prepared beforehand—don't try to wing it. When you are finished, they should know exactly what makes you different from a pimple-faced high school geek.

3. We have a brochure. Can't you just scan it and put it online.

This isn't so much an objection as a damper on the project. It comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about what the web is and what it can do. If you can't overcome this type of thinking, you will easily fall into a pattern of building websites that don't do anything and don't cost very much. The quickest way to move past this hump is to remind them of why they continue to return to the same sites everyday. Whether it's Yahoo or MSNBC or any other major site, they will quickly see that they enjoy using them because the content is fresh. Next you may want to point to a website that offers helpful downloads and contact forms. How helpful would be if you couldn't download forms and talk with the IRS? This should spark some imaginative embers and get some ideas flying. When that happens, you've won.

These examples are representative so you may run up against a slightly different version of any one of them, but the suggested preparation will remain the same. Also keep in mind that high pressure sales will hurt more than help in the long run. A client who is bitter about getting suckered into buying something they don't want will end up being a bad client. Work on the ignorance-based objections instead of every objection and everyone will be happier.



Posted By: Elite By Design on 12/31/07

I like this article, except it seems more suited to people that are trying to sell their designs in a corporate setting rather than online. perhaps I am wrong?

Posted By: on 12/31/07

You're right, Elite By Design, this article is meant to help with local sales. Selling your design services on the web is a whole different story.

Posted By: Cory Perry on 12/31/07

Interesting article, and I have to agree for the most part. What always makes me laugh though is when a client wants a website, but can't tell you why they want a website. I generally do not deal with clients that do not put any sort of thought process into a project before seeking me to build it.

Posted By: Zac on 01/01/08

I am curious on if you could elaborate a bit on how you approach the "my nephew.." response from a potential client. What are some of the things you mention?

Posted By: on 01/01/08

Sure. It's usually best to throw in a little industry lingo when faced with the "my nephew" objection. Not too much but just enough to let them know you're a pro. Focus search engine optimization and usability. Those issues will hit home with just about anyone.

Posted By: Brad C on 01/01/08

It's an interesting take. I just run the other way if I hear any of these things. If someone can't see the value of my work over an amateur designer or a scanned brochure I don't want to work with them, they will probably never recognize the value of quality work.

Posted By: Steven Snell on 01/01/08

Nice article. All of your points are very true. I just attempted to submit this to DZone, but I see it's already there, so I just voted for it.

Posted By: on 01/01/08

As usual, thanks, Steven.

Posted By: Anthony Baggett on 01/01/08

Very nice guide you've written here. Pitching to local business, there's definitely an attitude that a little Frontpage knowledge is all you need to build a good website. Being prepared for this from the beginning is a must.

Posted By: Jermayn Parker on 01/02/08

I really like this article, these areas are the biggest 'No excuses' I have heard, also they can be fairly disheartening... Were and how would you find some stats on the first point??

Posted By: Jermayn Parker on 01/02/08

btw im a new viewer and was wondering how you got the page views stat to show. Did you use WordPress? Thanks

Posted By: D. Brenner on 01/02/08

Excellent ideas, I admire your gregarious and patient style. These are two personal qualities which I have not cultivated at all. I do some web site related work, but my working style is markedly different from yours. When someone asks me for a business card I honestly tell them I get more business offers than I can handle, and therefore don't carry any. When they courteously offer me theirs and ask me to call them, I politely accept the card and thank them, but I never call them. I never participate in a meeting with more than one person, partly because I am spoiled and can call the shots, and partly because I have decided to graduate from the futile business of educating people. I don't consider it my job. If they don't already know why they need me and what they need me for, then they're hopeless in my opinion, and there's little I can do to save them. Sure, I could use my knowledge to be be persuasive, but the point is, I don't do any selling. It's tacitly upon my customers to sell themselves to me. I never advertise. All of my friends and relatives are instructed to please NOT "help" me by offering my services to their idiot friends. When new acquaintances ask me what I do for a living, unless they're extremely technical, I don't waste time on details. Q: What do you do? A: "Oh, I'm in the computer end of things." Q: Can you be more specific? A: "You wouldn't want me to." Q: Do you know a lot about computers? A: "I know they're heavy!" Q: No, really... I keep hearing that you're a genius. What do you do with computers? A: (smiling dimly) "Well, whatever needs doing. I'm a generalist." Q: What's a 'generalist'? A: (my patience now largely evaporated) "It's technical." Q: Does that mean you can do anything? A: "Uh, generally. But if it's something someone else has done, or can do, then I'm not even interested." Q: Did you have to go to school for that? A: "Never. Not even an hour." (You get the idea... but usually I don't let the conversation last even this long unless maybe I smell an opportunity to set the record straight about lack of the security in Microsoft's products, sound the alarm about data privacy in this world of aggregators and endemic surveillance, or rant about how the so-called "Federal Reserve" is not federal, nor does it contain any reserves.) My phone number? It has been unlisted/unpublished since 1984. I have nearly zero online presence. So then, how do I find new work? I haven't had to seek work for the past 20 of my 24 years in the business. It always finds me, despite my best efforts at keeping opportunities away. Word simply gets out about what I can do, and have done. In fact, I really don't have to work at all since 2003; my investments have survived well enough. But worthwhile projects from appreciative customers still keep me just as busy as I want to be. To those customers and projects that I've accepted, I'll bend over backwards... I'll go to extremes to ensure that I give them results that even I can be proud of. But I won't do that for just anybody. There is way too much computer work to be done in this world for me to waste time on the trifles.

Posted By: Brian Ferritto on 01/03/08

Nice article. I have found over the years that usually clients that make the statements mentioned in your article are not very qualified leads. Translation = the company has NO budget. Usually the company that hired Mike's nephew or who wants to scan their brochure and make it their website is doing so because those are cheap solutions. Do we really want to business with people who have no money? I would be curious to hear your thoughts or tips on how to win bids or sell to companies that actually have budgets to spend on marketing.

Posted By: Cory Perry on 01/03/08

@Brian Brian, you are totally on point. These scenarios usually come from people with no budget, looking for a $300 website. These people often times have no idea what they are looking for, they just want it cheap. They have usually put no thought into why they need a website to begin with, and they rarely understand the actual time and money involved in creating a great site.

Posted By: on 01/03/08

Brian and Cory, in many cases you are right. It's very important to screen your leads. I've found, though, that overcoming ignorant objections can allow a wonderful new client to emerge from what seemed like a dead-end at first.

Posted By: Tom Bonner on 01/06/08

Great points. I especially like the one about asking if the business owner would recommend Mike's nephew to supply steel pipe. Excellent way to defuse this very common objection. Thanks for the post.

Posted By: Craig Kistler on 01/06/08

Nice work. These all ring very true however, I'm hearing them less and less. The biggest objection I've been seeing is about cost. The prospect has a preconceived idea of what the site should cost (usually less then $500) and is then completely shocked when presented an estimate. I'd love to hear if anyone has found a good way to diffuse this situation?

Posted By: Gabriel Rodriguez on 01/07/08

Great overall article. I'm about to go on a local rampage to seek new customers and you just gave me three great points to use. I'm currently about to redesign my site, so I have more time to prepare my pitch. Thanks Matthew, I'll subscribe to your feed.

Posted By: Video Games on 01/07/08

Nice. It's always good to have your answers to their objections ready before you stumble into meetings.

Posted By: Kristine Kastle on 01/08/08

I had a customer tell me that the internet was a passing fad that no one would be using in a few years. He thought spending money on a site was a waste of money. It's hard to think that there are people in the business world that still have such a privative approach to technology. I'm from Southeast Michigan so it's not like we're in the dark about technology.

Posted By: Nicole on 04/21/09

I am trying to come up with a great telephone pitch and i stumbled on this article. Thanks for the advice

Posted By: Small Business Website Design on 07/19/09

It's been touched on above but the most effective way of moving clients away from money is to ask them why they want a website? Any sane business owner will surely say 'To get more business', at which point you can justify almost any price by showing a decent return on their marketing investment. Those who answer 'dunno' are the Clients you just don't want.

Posted By: WebXsposure. Storme Brown on 07/27/09

Nice article. Short and sweet with content to spark thought. The "My Nephew" & "Brochure" points are definitely spot on and current. I think the "my target audience doesn't use the neet" though is slowly but surely dying a deserved death and more and more articles, videos, business magazines, and marketing seminars put it out there in no uncertain terms that if you are a business that is not online, you may just end up out of business. For the "My Nephew" comment, I throw out one quick multi-part comment/question. "Oh, Great,that's awesome. So I assume then that you show up on the search engine when someone searches for your brand or product, that you are able to update your pages on a daily to weekly basis from any computer with an internet connection (or even from your smartphone), and that there is an easy way for your customers to interact with you like forms, polls, forum, etc.?" - That usually puts the conversation in my corner from then on. As for the online brochure response, I take this as an educational opportunity. It is not very difficult to education the customer in the difference between offline (mag, newspaper, flyers) and online marketing. Again - good article. Thanks for the confirmations!

Posted By: Webhurricane on 08/16/09

The comments go straight to the point. I am also past the stage of even talking to people who haven't got a clue about the web. I would also not recommend even to do any work for free, out of sympathy for the organization. Recently, I developed a very good site on an open source CMS for a volunteer sports organization. All for free! Then, they started demanding stupid changes and additional features without any business case (based on one stupid person's opinion). I explained to them about the benefits of planning those changes ahead and having a good reason for them, as not to alienate their current visitors. I had to be away for 6 months and then they found an inexperienced student to do the work, AND kept emailing me for help, while I was on leave. Got really 'fed up' with the 'take for granted' attitude and explained to them all the skills and experience whoever they put to work on their site had to have. Finally, I just decided to let them go, when they said they have found "professional web developer" to help them. When I saw who "their professional web developer" were (a bunch of cowboys!), I decided I had enough. Their "professional web developers". who use frontpage templates on their site and created a few websites for themselves, friends and relatives to use as testimonials, destroyed the work I had done and broke every Usability and Accessibility guidelines. They can't do simple changes to configuration files and keep saying that the reason is because I have "locked" the files and need to "release" them, when I gave them all the administrators passwords. It looks like they don't even know about how to change server settings permissions or perform simple code search on files. To add insult to injury, their chair has sent me a funny email asking me to "cooperate". And these cowboys are being paid! Honestly I think they should be taken to Trades and Standards.

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