Completed Tasks Aren’t a Measure of Success

Back when I wrote about my initial prospect email I shared with you that one of the questions I required the prospect to answer went something like this.

How are we going to measure the success of the project?

You might think that is an obvious question to ask but most of the people I talk to selling web design/development services aren’t asking it.

Furthermore, even if they are asking it they often don’t loop back to answer the question at the end of the project.

You’re scared to ask

I was listening to The Soul of Enterprise this week and it was all about Best Buy corporate and how they’ve moved from tracking hours to tracking results.

When I say they moved away from tracking hours, I don’t just mean flex time, where a boss has the freedom to give an employee permission to leave early (rather than adhering to a strict policy dictated from higher up the chain), but truly no tracking at all of when employees are working, but rather just measuring that the job gets done and yielded good results.

The interesting thing they found as they transitioned to a results only approach is that most people and managers actually had no idea what the expected results were, let alone how to measure them.

That’s where most web professionals sit — they have no idea how to measure the results they provide. Many don’t even really know where to start.

Sure they can talk about brand awareness or looking professional, but how do those things translate into dollars for a client?

Really, most of us aren’t working with companies who purchase Super Bowl ads, so pushing ‘brand awareness’ is often of little real value to a client.

Value, to them, is in more comments, more engagement, more email addresses, more sales…

I’d say that more traffic to their site isn’t even on the list since traffic doesn’t equal attention. Would they like 10K people that don’t do anything or 500 that pay deep attention to them?

We all know that 500 is what they’d want.

Are you scared to ask the question about what success at the end of a project looks like? If so, is it because you don’t know how to measure it? If that’s the case, I urge you to learn how to answer it because when you do, you’ll be more credible in the eyes of your clients and earn more of their trust.

You’re scared to answer it

The second big issue, once you’ve established how to measure the success of your projects, is what if you didn’t hit it?

What if instead of 10x more leads you actually ended up with 10% fewer leads?

What if comments or sales dropped off?

In that case, you might have to face the possibility that you don’t know what you think you know. Or at least not related to that one specific project.

Now it’s important to recognize that outcomes can’t be guaranteed. So sometimes all you can offer a client (in terms of a guarantee) is that when you’ve done similar work for other clients they saw XX type of result and we’d expect similar results for you.

When you’re walking along in horse country you can be sure that you’re going to see a lot of horses. Every once in a while, though — depending on where you’re walking — you might see a zebra. You may get a client that is that zebra. The work produces exact opposite results from what you expected, for some reason.

So what do you do if the results weren’t what the client expected? Well it’s time to find the problem and fix it.

But why would the client give you a chance to come back and fix the problem? Well you’re probably the only web firm that’s ever come back to them to make sure that the goals were accomplished.

Establish criteria first

If you just take a random guess about results or expected outcomes in any situation, your chances of being wrong are pretty high. That’s why we have the scientific process.

You begin with a hypothesis and then test it to see if your hypothesis is correct.

That’s the same thing we should be doing with our web projects. Decide up front what the expected results are (which really should be how you sell on value) and how you’re going to measure that with the client.

Then actually do it and look at the numbers.

Once you get over your fear, analyzing the real numbers will only make you better at your job since, if something didn’t work, you’re going to figure out why it didn’t work and fix it.

Then the next time you’re working for a similar client, you’ve already solved the previous issues and are unlikely to make the same mistake again.

Making that mistake a second time for a new client is bordering on negligence.

So for your next project, establish the criteria for success.

During the project, frame all discussions around that criteria. Does this extra thing help/hinder our success criteria?

Then when you’re done, go back and check to make sure you achieved the expected results.

Your clients will thank you for it and you’ll be more awesome as you keep learning how to be better at your craft.

photo credit: auuep cc

4 thoughts on “Completed Tasks Aren’t a Measure of Success

    1. Ed, thanks for TSOE I started listening after Kirk Bowman suggested and have been enjoying every episode.

  1. I actually just asked this of a client who mentioned maybe adding some functionality to their site that just launched and I’ll be including it in my questions to ask before and after future projects. Thanks for a great post!

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