Selling usability is no easy feat. Irrespective of whether you are selling usability evaluation as a service on its own or you form part of a web development company that is trying to sell usability- optimized user interface as an additional service, experience has taught me that there exist a number of difficulties that one typically encounters in the process. In this post I am going to recommend 5 steps which I have devised from my personal experience as a usability consultant which will help you overcome these difficulties.
These steps are easy to remember because they can be summed up in 1 sentence: First understand usability, then explain the benefits in a language that the company understands, in terms of ROI and for the sole benefit of the user.
A couple of notes before we begin
Due to the length and detail of this post, I have decided to split it into 2 manageable parts. Part 2 can be found here.
In these steps, the following terms will be used in this context:
- Company: Although, usability can be sold to any organization, I will be using the term company to imply organizations that exist for the sole purpose of making a profit. Very often, you will find that these are the type of clients that you will be facing.
- Audience: The company’s representatives including decision maker(s), stakeholders and any personnel external to the organization that these representatives may bring for your sales meeting (such as external consultants and advertising agency representatives).
- Sales Meeting: The sales meeting that will be referred to in this post is the meeting that will be held between yourself and the audience. The purpose of this meeting is for you to sell web site usability evaluation services for a web site that may not have been designed and/or developed by yourself.
1. First understand Usability
It may seem the most obvious suggestion, yet, you cannot afford even the smallest slip-up in front of your audience. Excitement, misleading questions, distractions, hesitation as a result of thinking while answering and a possible lack of experience especially when dealing with multiple members of the audience can make it easier for you to slip up or contradict yourself during a sales meeting. One mistake and your reputation with that company is at stake. To be convincing you need to be convinced yourself. Therefore, it is essential that you keep abreast with the latest developments in the field of usability and have a clear understanding of its terminology and practical implementation. I also suggest taking that extra step by pondering on specific questions that your audience may ask you, and formulate answers that you will reply to them. In this process you will find that a number of questions may be generic such as the difference between usability and accessibility, or usability and user experience.
I believe that there is no such thing as over-preparation. What I have personally noticed is that clients are becoming more knowledgeable about web site capabilities and web-based services that can be rendered. For instance, whilst I rarely encounter clients who specifically tell me that they need Search Engine Optimisation, in most if not all my sales meetings they tell me that they want their web site to show up in the first page of Google when users search for a specific keyword. And I am not mentioning the technical savvy clients or larger clients who bring their own IT manager or consultant to a meeting. Therefore, be forewarned that your clients may have carried out their homework and if you are not well prepared, no amount of bluffing will save you. The more prepared you are, the more convincing you will sound and the more likely you will achieve your sale objective.
2. Then Explain the Benefits
In an earlier blog post I have written about the importance of usability for any company with a web presence. Although web site usability has been around for a couple of years, I personally think that it is still not mainstream within companies, or at least, it is not as mainstream as we would like it to be. Very often, you will find yourself explaining usability itself and the benefits that it will bring about to that company, and this is not a bad thing. The depth of this explanation will vary based on the knowledge that the audience in your sales meeting have about the usability domain. At the very least, it will serve to iron out any misconceptions and doubts or to positively emphasize mental notes. Such an explanation will thus pave the way for your sales message. Simply put, your audience will not buy usability unless they have a clear understanding of what it is.
Another point to keep in mind is that people have an innate fear of the unknown and naturally object to change. Therefore, it is likely that your pitch will be met with a degree of skepticism. Additionally, remember that the usability of a web site may not seem to be a performance metric in the eyes of some members of your audience, especially those occupying a managerial position. Thus, it is important that you explain in a language that they understand, using metrics they are familiar with, most notably Return On Investment (ROI). This is the subject of the next two steps.
3. In a Language that the Company Understands
I know how passionate and knowledgeable you are about designing and developing a usable user interface. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post. In fact, I totally agree with the view expressed by John Rhodes who states that usability professionals are academics at heart and are too passionate and too involved with their work in a bid to get to the root of a problem. I can totally relate to this view since, although I had been designing and developing user interfaces for a number of years, my specialisation in web site usability emerged when I was reading for a degree with the University of London. Rhodes also describes usability professionals as being typically introverted and lacking in sales techniques.
Before even attempting to sell usability, you need to understand the dynamics of the company you are dealing with. You need to understand what the company’s objectives, especially its online objectives are. You also need to identify who the key personnel and decision makers within your audience are. Whilst with smaller companies it is very likely that you will be dealing with one or two members in your audience throughout all stages, larger companies may have their own IT and marketing departments and may engage external advertising agencies and marketing consultants. This will inevitably create certain dynamics during your meeting(s). It is very important that you observe these dynamics and, more importantly interpret them so as to identify any personal agendas. It is fundamentally important not to take sides during any confrontations that may crop up.
When your audience consists of three or more people, I always suggest, if possible, meeting the individual members face-to-face, especially during the earlier stages of the sales process and subsequent consultation. Such meetings will assist you in understanding the individual character of each member of the audience. Should you manage to sell your services to the company, then it would be easier for you ensure that all key personnel are involved throughout the rendering of your services.
The language that you use also plays an important aspect during the sales process. You need to speak the language of the audience present in the meeting. Company executives are too busy and, quite frankly not interested in hearing about the academic and theoretical aspect of web site usability. This is primarily because their performance is not judged by theories. What they want to hear about is results, be they more customers, increased revenue, less expenditure, customer retainership or preferably, a combination of them. So eliminate the jargon, listen attentively to the language spoken by your audience and adopt it when speaking back to them. This will help you get their attention and can win you crucial attention from their behalf.
A Preview of Part 2
Part 2 of this post will explain the importance of selling usability in terms of the Return On Investment (ROI) that it brings about to a company that invests in it. This sharply contrasts the typical academic explanation of usability in terms its concepts, ideas and values. Part 2 will also highlight how essential it is that you guide your audience to adopt an external view at their web site. Such view will enable them to regard the importance of your usability evaluation service in enabling their users achieve their goals.