Brett Miller is the president of Custom Software by Preston (CSP). For more than 10 years, CSP has impressed clients with highly effective software solutions and teams of multi-talented software engineers.
Remember the old 80/20 rule? The same applies to software development inquiries, as in 20% of sales inquiries result in 80% of new sales volume. The challenge is being able to identify which inquiries will be fruitful, and which will only cost you time and effort.
Potential clients expect accurate estimates — clearly a reasonable request. For any developer, accurate estimates are a time consuming and challenging task because custom software development and technology are constantly changing, and it’s not the same as buying an off-the-shelf item.
Even worse, many prospects decide not to move forward with their project at all (with any vendor). It’s not because the bidders did anything wrong, but because the client did not realize the full extent of the commitment required (usually defined by cost).
I have spent 15 years of my career in software development, both as a freelance developer and as a business owner. That practical experience has taught me to quickly recognize which potential projects are going to move forward and which are just not worth pursuing. There are Seven Axioms I use to help identify the solid opportunities.
1. Documented Requirements
If the client took the time to write down what they want, it is a strong indicator that they are serious. Otherwise, you will need to do this for them. Then time and documentation flows back and forth until a project’s parameters are finalized.
Rule: Lean toward clients who have taken the initiative in identifying and drafting their own software project requirements.
2. Urgent Need
This goes right to the heart of the matter. Is software development a logical next step in their growth or does it seem more whimsical/experimental in nature? For example, does the software project tie in to the launch of a new product without which, they might falter?
Rule: Lean toward projects that have an immediate nature, where the client absolutely needs it done.
3. Deal With the Decision Makers
Many times decision makers send underlings to gather the initial project information and specifications. In my experience, information gathering usually results in little else. Decision makers are involved when projects are deemed critical.
Rule: Lean toward projects where you work directly with the decision makers — the ones who steer the project and identify priorities.
4. Budgeted Project
Could anything be more critical than having realistic expectations about the cost of development? Many prospects may have misconceptions about cost, which is further exacerbated by vendors who shy away from early discussion on the subject. Sales professionals consider rough estimates to be an important applied mechanism of the trial close, potentially saving many hours of time and effort.
Rule: Use rough estimates to measure a client’s continuing interest. You could say something like, “Based on these preliminary estimates, does it make sense for us to take the next step?”
5. Process and Timeframe
Questions about the bidding process and timeframe should be addressed up front to uncover internal processes (like board reviews) or external influences (like venture capital availability). If the process seems extensive or the time frame is not well-defined, there is good reason to question if the project will ever happen.
Rule: Realize that the quality of your work and the accuracy of your estimate will not win the project if their timeframes or processes are inhibited by roadblocks. Lean toward projects that have appropriate funding, immediate need and the attention of decision makers.
6. How do I Earn the Business?
Asking about the client’s selection criteria make sense. If they haven’t already done so, they need to think about these things now and you need to know the rules of the game. Their processes and criteria may even play into the overall desirability of the project.
Rule: Understanding what is required to get the job reveals a lot about what it might be like to have the job. Do you even want to work within the structure and environment the client creates?
7. Show Me Some Money!
Your time and expertise has value. It is not that unusual for a potential client to be looking for a free consultation, which may only be used internally (if at all). If possible, ask the client for a small amount to put together the initial requirements and specifications for the project. If they are willing to spend real hard cash on developing the specifications, they are really serious about the project (and you as a potential vendor).
Rule: Initial project analysis, documentation drafting and identifying deliverables take considerable time and effort. Describe the process to the client and don’t be afraid to ask for payment for these services.
Sophistication, Process and Specifics
Legitimately qualified software development opportunities can be summarized in three words: sophistication, process and specifics. You need all three in your approach to the sales cycle and should expect all three in return.
Sophistication is about the approach to the project, indicating that available information and outcomes have been given thorough consideration upfront. Process relates to both parties understanding the steps and effort it will take to achieve success. Specifics have to do with identifying and sharing the salient properties of all project parameters — before, during, and after the project.
Approach every potential project with these factors in mind and you will know which ones are worthy of your attention, leading you down the path to a sale.
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