A few years back, I ran a WordPress consulting business with a close friend. I knew my way around installing and maintaining the WordPress code while my friend created themes, designs, and logos for our customers. We’d been serving a mix of small businesses and self-employed for about a year when we caught a break to create sites for a number of real estate agents at one of Seattle’s largest branches.
Real estate agents are a curious mix of drive, intensity and confidence. Not every agent fits that profile but many do. My friend created a template and theme that we used for the base install. Agents would then provide feedback on the design and color scheme of their choice. A few months into the project and we began to notice a few issues that we hadn’t experienced with our other clients. One major issue was an hour training course I provided to each client at the completion of the website. Our other clients couldn’t wait to learn more about WordPress and how to add new content, moderate comments, and connect their content to social media platforms.
But we found that the real estate agents were often too busy to learn about the site we created for them. They didn’t see the need for training or thought it was a waste of time. They weren’t interested in learning about their website. With time, I realized that many had agreed to get a site off the ground but had little interest in maintaining it. Those who would attempt to add text or pictures were frustrated with the various layout options. Exasperated calls to us would start with, “I just can’t make the site look how I want!” Of course, this was Lesson #1 of the training.
Looking back on the experience, I realize that many of our best clients were in the technology field. Maybe they didn’t know their way around WordPress, but they were not afraid to learn. Many couldn’t wait to jump in. Having a technical background allowed them to quickly grasp complex concepts, such as the difference between server and client based tasks. Many clients had a broader technical base than I did. I just happened to know my way around WordPress, having used it to power my own blog for the past decade. They learned from me, and I learned a ton from them.
This week, I want to look at some techniques for working with non-technical clients. I’m sure many of you MSPs have clients who are similar to the real estate agents. We’ll look at some ways to encourage clients to invest in themselves when it comes to technical training. Ultimately, it comes down to how well you’re able to communicate the benefits of training.
Walk In Their Shoes
Take the time to learn a little more about their business especially if you notice they are not comfortable with technology. That might mean spending a day in a law or dental office and observing how employees use technology. I recently explained to a dentist why he might consider having custom PCs built for his office instead of purchasing them off-the-shelf at Costco. I spent the afternoon in his office, observing how his receptionist and hygienists access patient information, schedule appointments and reply to customer inquiries over email. This knowledge proved to be incredibly valuable when his server crashed, and I was tasked with getting him up and running as soon as possible.
Your clients will appreciate the effort you make in understanding their business. And the more you understand their needs, the better chance you’ll have in convincing them to make wise technology choices because you’ll be able to tailor a solution that fits their business. Every customer wants a solution that’s customized to how they work. If they were after an off-the-shelf solution they’d probably be working with Zones instead of you.
Use Clear Language
Last week, I spoke with a woman who orders hundreds of computers each year for her department at a major university. She asked me to make sure she could always work with a specific sales consultant. When I inquired why she liked working with this person, she said, “He doesn’t make me feel stupid.”
Do not underestimate these words. Nobody wants to feel stupid, and those of us who are around technology all day sometimes have a knack for making others feel stupid. It doesn’t really matter if it’s intentional or not. The fact is that our industry is filled with buzzwords and acronyms. I called to get help with my VOIP phone yesterday and couldn’t understand more than 30% of what the technician said. He told me to set the firewall traversal method to STUN. Or was it TURN. Maybe it was ICE? I don’t know. There was something about peer-to-peer followed by an encryption setting. When he began spouting off about SIPs and rports I threw in the towel and made calls from my cell phone for the rest of the day. He wore me down with this techno-speak.
It’s not always easy to use clear language. I have to stop and think about it before I pick up the phone to help a client. Don’t assume they understand what it means to take a backup or save a system image. You know exactly what that means, but to some clients it’s just a bunch of techno-babble. When I wasn’t getting through to the dentist about how important it is for him to take daily backups, I finally said, “You must backup your data. If you don’t and your server crashes, you will not be able to open for business.” Telling him he might not be able to open for business got his attention, and we worked toward a solution.
In short, talk about what the technology can do for your client, not about how the technology works. Use language that will help him understand how technology will allow him to see results. A great book on this subject is Essential Communication Strategies for Scientists, Engineers, and Technology Professionals by Herbert Hirsch. Don’t let the obscenely long title discourage you. It’s really a wonderful book full of real-world examples.
Educate, Educate, Educate
Even the best MSPs have to use technical terms now and then around non-technical clients. It’s nearly impossible to discuss virtual machines or private networks without some technical jargon making its way into the conversation. In these instances it might help to create a list of technical terms and their definitions, and pass it along to your customer. This can come in handy when you’re working with an IT manager who reports to a non-technical manager whose buy-in is required for your project to move forward. Again, nobody wants to feel stupid, and that’s especially the case with managers.
Some technologies are more complex than others. I’ve found that explaining what cloud services offer can be incredibly challenging, no matter how tech savvy the client is. Often, the client will have only heard about cloud outages that brought companies to their knees. I once had a customer tell me that he would never trust cloud computing because Netflix went down on him over a weekend. If Netflix, and all their cash on hand, couldn’t get it right, how would his small company fare?
As an MSP you’re probably always looking for more services to offer, and why couldn’t continuing education be one of those offerings? Even if it ends up finally being a financial break-even, it may be worth it to have an educated, tech-savvy client in your court. For more information on educating clients, we have a great guide on a few ways to make it happen.
Perfect Your Presentation
If you’ve been in business for a few years, you might not give much thought to your presentation. You’ve long since mastered it, right? But you should always be working to polish and refine how you present your services to clients. You might feel right at home presenting to a group that speaks your language only to find out the manager, who sat at the back of the room, stopped paying attention once you started talking about VPN services. If you need his signature on the contract, you might have wished you could go back and tailor your presentation to him.
Want to win over a manager? Explain to him how your product or service will make him or her look good. It’s not about you. It’s all about making your client look good to his or her boss. If you can deliver on that promise, you will have a life-long client. This is where understanding your client’s business will give you an advantage over a competitor that pitches the same array of cookie-cutter services to every potential customer.
Ditch PowerPoint if you aren’t comfortable with it. I’ve given some of my best presentations in front of a white board. A colleague of mine does his best work in front of an over-sized easel with black Sharpie in hand. Prezi is a simple, online presentation service that makes any deck look great. I’ve found that Prezi helps me tell a story better than similar products. The key is to use a tool you’re comfortable with, and one that will help you make the presentation engaging and interactive for the client.
Although the focus of this article was how we can better communicate with non-technical clients, the same tactics and suggestions can be used across a wide-ranging audience. It really comes down to how well you can communicate what you can offer. The challenge is that you may need to prep your client to hear your message either through education or using language he will understand.
We understand how our products and services can make their lives easier. Conveying that message is the tough part. Those businesses that are able to cut through the buzzwords and embrace and invest in technology will be those that not only survive but evolve in ways that best serve their customers.
What are some tips you’ve used in dealing with non-technical clients?