Best Practices

Selecting a Website Vendor Beyond Price

07. 10. 2010

When discussing a new website or internet marketing project with a prospect inevitably the discussion will turn to price; typically phrased as "how much is this going to cost me?".  While many of us are price conscious, especially in a down economy, focusing solely on price can be expensive.  Let me explain why.

For many companies, their website is typically the first opportunity to they have to meet their prospective audience.  If that impression is not compelling, or there is a poor experience trying to find relevant information on the website, people simply hit the back button to their search results and select the next company on the list.  The resulting effect is a lost opportunity to engage the prospect and close a sale.

Building a website, in terms of the technical skill to code it, may not be terribly difficult.  Where a lot of expertise is required in that process is the architect's skill to create the blueprints.  The architect listened to the client's needs, and based on design and construction principles, creates the road map for the builders to follow in the form of the blue prints.

Now assume the same example above but remove the architect.  Assume you went directly to the contractor with the same request.  The contractor, while having all of the required knowledge to build the house, does not have the same level of design knowledge and expertise an architect would in terms of creating the best living space.
Let’s translate that example to the web industry.  There are few barriers to enter or exit this industry so anyone can throw a sign over their door and start building websites.  With that being said, how does one pick the right vendor beyond price?

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Websites are tools for business; often time’s clients lose sight of that.  A well thought out website should guide the user through the content relevant to them in a structured manner, resulting in the user taking an action.   Having a strategic plan that aligns with your business goals and objectives is important.
  2. Education.  Many of the prospects we deal with have little experience in managing a website project which is both creative and technical.   This can leave prospects unsure of which questions to ask or worse, they assume the web developer will be able to figure it out themselves.  A reputable web development company will work with the prospect to understand the prospect's business goals, then make strategic recommendations designed to achieve those goals.
  3. Marketing focused approach.  Think again of a website being a tool for business.  If the website is not aligned with the company’s business goals and objectives, it fails.  When working with a vendor, you should ensure they are committed to being a partner in your success.  They should ask the right questions about the prospect’s business in order to make strategic recommendations, rather than simply asking the client what they want on their website.
  4. How large is the team?  Where a small shop might be inexpensive, you are asking that developer to wear many hats such as designer, project manager, quality assurance, marketing, etc.  At some point the quality of their skills is diluted as they may be an expert in some of the areas, but not all.  Conversely, with a large team, we can assign a team of experts to complete specific tasks related to their expertise.  Additionally, working with a large team benefits the entire team due to their combined expertise, making it a far superior experience.
  5. How does one wade through the sales pitches and the quotes to determine if they are selecting the right vendor?

Here are some items a prospect should review with a prospective vendor:

  1. Is the website coding built to an industry accepted standard such as W3C, ecommerce, security standards, etc.?  Failure to build a website to standard can impact how the website displays on some browsers, how the search engines index the website, and most importantly, the visitor’s experience.
  2. Are all the vendors quoting based on the same features and functions? Are there any assumptions being made?
  3. Do you own or have access to the website code when completed or are you paying a licence fee for usage?  This will often be related to if the website is templated or custom built.
  4. Does the vendor outsource any of the projects or work with freelancers?  While outsourcing the effort can seem like a cost savings initially, it brings up a host of potential problems, such as lack of control over the project's direction, quality, standards and ultimate delivery.
  5. Can you visit their offices?.  Check them out, are they what they present themselves to be.
  6. Do they have reliable references?  It is very important to check references to confirm you are dealing with a reputable vendor.
  7. Did the vendor strategically discuss your project with you in terms of understanding and achieving your business goals?
  8. How long has the company been in business for, how large in their team?  Will the company be available after the website is completed?

In closing, it is important to take the appropriate time to carefully evaluate your website design vendor to ensure they are the right partner for you and your business.  You are investing in them to make your business a success.   If you have selected the right partner who can help to grow your business, any cost differential will very soon become secondary.

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