Banner: The Fine Line
Amanda Marcotte, High Seas

Amanda Marcotte

January 19, 2019

Project Discovery vs. Free Advice

As a team, we continuously struggle with how much front-loaded discovery work to do for prospective clients.

We often care so much and are so excited about a potential client or project that we end up putting in a great deal of time and effort internally. Not to mention in repeated meetings with our potential customer ideating on strategy and going over and above on scoping and estimates. The end result is that we’ve provided a lot of value, through expertise and preparation, in addition to the estimate or proposal requested.

And while this does help us make sales, there are also many times the client says, in a nutshell, thanks but no thanks and walks away with a strategic foundation and expert advice.

This has us wondering — How do we get better at receiving compensation for the strategic services of our initial discovery?

While we don’t (yet) have a great answer for that, I thought it might be interesting to shed a little light on the types of questions we’re asking ourselves in this process. Perhaps this can help others in the marketing community who are having the same struggle.

How do we communicate the value that our initial assessments can offer?

This is one area where we are weakest. We are doers, not sellers. So while our value shows through in everything we produce, we are not inclined to self-promotion. With startups and early-stage innovation businesses it’s also sometimes difficult to assess (again, without digging in to strategic work), where the prospective client monetizes the outcome of what they’re asking for, and hence what the ROI is. We know and can continue to repeat that they will leave any short or long-term engagement with a better understanding of how to organize and communicate their needs, and often with a clear strategy and picture of the technology required to achieve their goals. But that leads us to the next question…

How can we communicate (gently yet effectively) when clients do not have sufficient or sufficiently organized information for a realistic estimate and we need to dig in for strategic assessment?

It is rare that we find a prospective client who will humbly admit when they aren’t clear or sufficiently organized. And it is even more rare to find a client who is prepared and well-defined. Which is to say, most clients need help sorting through what they need and most of them will, at least initially, insist that they have provided everything we could need to estimate. Of course we decline to take on the most impatient of these examples, but when the first step is educating the client on what they don’t know, it makes the above value-sell even more difficult. (Along these lines, stay tuned for a future blog post on what it means to be a good, well-prepared prospective client.)

Is our perception that clients won’t pay for this accurate or is it a reflection of our own insecurities?

Surely some companies are getting paid handsomely for their strategic insights? Or is this an issue that all agencies face? We tend to go into negotiations always assuming the client is willing to pay as little as possible, but what if that’s not the case? Or what if we simply started changing our mindset to assume that clients value quality over cost? Or to assume that our value is a steal for the work we do and getting compensated for it is non-negotiable? Would we lose clients or would our confidence in the value of our work help us gain more respect?

There will be many more internal discussions to come, and we welcome any comments or advice to help us start to unpack this complex conundrum.

If you’re an agency — what’s your pre-sales strategy? Do you eat hours or simply provide the roughest estimates and reevaluate and negotiate later?

If you’re an agency client — what has been your experience or learning from initial scoping phases with various agencies? How have you become better prepared?

Amanda Marcotte, High Seas
Written By

Amanda Marcotte

Directing Projects < Herding Cats

Hard Truths

By: Amanda Marcotte