Fog Creek Software
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How to appear competent?

OK, so we've got a bunch of people who are quite talented. They're good architects, developers etc. Obviously, given the choice, customers will want to pick that team to write their software for them, if all else is equal.

So how DO you get that across to the customers. Simply telling them isn't enough, because, well... anyone can lie.

References are either unobtainable (people don't like writing them in case they get sued) or bland enough that anyone could get them (because people don't want to get sued.)

Industry connections don't seem sensible - while, for example, contributing to XP discussions on well-known Wiki's or turning up here might make other technical people know how good someone is, purchasing decisions are made by managers who'd firewall their staff off from here if they ever found out about it.

Likewise, word of mouth between purchasers like this seems non-existant - they live in a rarified atmosphere that doesn't seem to involve contact with the ground.[And hence various large, notorious organisations look like a good idea. You get to tell the board that "We have hired X consultancy" and the grunts get to deal with the issues. Basically they seem to make purchasing decisions based on what "Computing" has on its front cover this week.

If your USP is low price, or promising bonkersly short deadlines, that seems easy enough, but how can you sell a team whose USP is excellence? Doing what they say they will? How do you make the pitch of "pay a sensible price, have stuff that works", when all around you charletans are saying the same thing?

Katie Lucas
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

I take along high quality colour screen shots from previous projects.

Works pretty well to convince clients that you can deliver. Even better if you can let the client try a demo on your laptop, or via a projector.

Matthew Lock
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

1) if you have a (really) good relationship to a trustworthy client, hook them up with your prospective. I had some good experience in the past with clients bragging about how great the system is they got.

2) organize a meeting between some techs of your team and some of the prospective techs. Let them chitchat. If your people are good, the clients techs will have fun with them, telling their manager how gorgeous your people are.

3) do little but impressive prototypes

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

1) I have never had any problem obtaining good references.  People know they won't get sued it you really <B>ARE</B> that good.  :-)

2) There is a quote I will try to find that essentially says something like this:

"The lowest bid really isn't.  Because in order to make a bid that low, your partner has to take certain risks - lack of insurance, shoddy workmanship, hope that nothing goes wrong, etc.  So, in order to manage the risk, you have to put extra money aside - or ignore the risk, and deal with it when it comes to light.  Either way, the 'lowest bid' ends up costing you more than the high bids - because they assume and manage the risk for you."

  I'll have to get the correct quote.  It was a REALLY GOOD arguement for the damage done when you take the lowest bidder.


Matt H.

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

"It is unwise to pay too, much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money -- that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot -- it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better."

  - I think that's the right quote ...

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

All those who think FogCreek people are competent raise your hand. Ok, everyone can take them down now.

Follow FogCreek's lead and:
1. Register ""
2. Populate it with interesting stuff that people want to read and which indicates that you have a clue
3. Update it _regularly_, so that people want to come back (12 days and counting, Joel ....)
4. Wait until a clan of worshippers develop

At this point, your problem should be solved. You can objectively assert having completed stage 4 when Adam Fisk posts a message on your board asking others to lose thier worship.

Also, specializing in a niche market may help - small enough niches generally form a clique, and word of mouth gets propogated much faster (for better and for worse).

Ori Berger
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Maybe I'm wrong, but perhaps a "resume" of your past, your jobs, your successes, who you did things for. Make it impressive, make it factual, make it truthful. Show it to past clients, ask them whether they'd mind attesting e.g. to the truthfulness of what you said (or suggesting any ammendment). SFAIK, you (past clients) don't risk any legal trouble just for telling the truth. Possibly mention to future clients that you will like them to do the same or similar for you if they accept your offer to work for them, because your reputation matters to you.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

The business term for what a customer is doing may be called "due diligence". If you have that sort of customer, then you want to know what's on their "due diligence chcklist" ... things like 'quality product' (ie we end up satisfied), 'low risk of failure' (ie you deliver, per schedule, without failing for whatever reason), perhaps even a 'meaningful guarantee' (which may mean no more than other customers being satisfied already). In my industry, for the little that may be worth to you, ISO9000 or similar is on some customers' "due diligence checklist".

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

When you are doing the presentation or proposal, educate the customer.
1. Show how you understand their business and you can apply that knowledge.
2. Be detailed in your time estimates. This gives them a better idea of what they are getting for the money.
3. Provide questions and answers to key points. Obviously, you will have good answers about why you are better, but maybe not cheaper. They will ask the competitors your questions. It makes them look smart, and the competitors work hard.
4. Do a nice demo. Be damn sure it won’t crash.
Now, the hard part is to keep all of this short and sweet. Always remember, they are not technical. The details that are important may make them snore.

Doug Withau
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

One way would be to document how you go about your work, in an interesting and direct way.  Perhaps an entirely different kind of website developed by your technical staff that promotes what you want to promote rather than what the sales or marketing dept want...

If you develop to some ISO or IEEE standard you could use that (even if I wouldn't take the slightest notice of it), as it would be an external referent for what you do.

All in all I think its about creating an  ethos and being recognised for a particularly good and cool one is going to take time.  The greatest recommendation will come from referrals.  Although my practice was a lot smaller (and possibly why it stayed smaller :-)), most of my work came from word of mouth, either from dealers or other clients.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

I forget which astronaut said that nothing scared him as much as the thought, sitting on top of a Saturn V, that every single component in it had been made by the lowest bidder!

David Clayworth
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

If a firm is exceptional, I think the best ways to capitalise on that are to develop and sell products, just as Fog Creek is doing. That way, the superiority is manifested in things like stability, usefulness and time to market, which will generate a proportionate return.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, April 11, 2002

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