We’ve sold several 6-figure projects over the past few years remotely. I have never met some of our customers, and others we’ve met later on (8–12 months after we’ve already started the business relationship).
Selling expensive software remotely is a challenging endeavor. It requires a good amount of reputability in the industry, a terrific track record of successful projects, a portfolio of respectable companies, good reviews and testimonials, great folks running the project, and ongoing marketing activities.
And yes, we’ve lost a number of projects simply because we are not a local agency with an office next street, but that attitude is gradually changing thanks to the growing percentage of freelancers and telecommuters in the US, together with the lack of talent or availability by the well-known companies in the industry.
Since we’re one of the leading service providers in the WordPress space, our client had conducted a 4-month detailed background research on us and our competitors and reached out to some of us. We were proactive and understood the business problem well enough to execute on time without any downtime or notable regressions.
In terms of our process and ongoing activities that allow us to close higher cost contracts, here are the main ones we focus on.
Active Presales Engagement and Vetting Prospects
Once we get in touch with a prospect, we communicate proactively. We schedule a few calls, draft down the technical assignment, and dig deep into the business model. We identify possible challenges related to high traffic, a large volume of users or content, and alternative monetization opportunities that we could implement.
Moreover, we don’t compromise when it comes to our workflow and business model. We know what works best for us, and the more we try to be flexible, the lower quality we will produce. Therefore we’re incredibly transparent as to who’s working on the project, what roles are involved (project manager and QA involved in prioritizing and validating the work), and why cutting corners will not help the business in the long run.
More often than not we have to decline participation in RFPs or reducing timelines and budget. It’s more effective to focus on delivering the best quality possible with the right focus than trying to find workarounds that are potentially dangerous.
It sounds like common sense, but more often than not, it isn’t. We do strive to provide outstanding customer service through availability, regular communication and reporting, and a lot of time educating our customers on why we’re doing something, what would be its impact in the long run and how will it affect the business over the next 6, 12, 24 months.
Since we’re vetting our prospects, the business relationship usually starts as an agreement that we’re an industry expert and will provide the best possible options for each and every feature. We stress on the fact that quality is a priority, and it entails stability, backward compatibility, performance, and security. We can’t scale by growing technical debt, which is why we need a stable foundation from day one.
If anything seems to be derailing outside of our process, I schedule a call with our client and explain the consequences. We put the effort to get back on track and resolve any communication or planning changes that have been introduced.
Moreover, happy clients send testimonials and can serve as a validation for your work by prospects who want to ensure the quality of your service.
Ongoing Retainer Contracts
We have coined the term “WordPress Retainers” and 90% of our business revolves after this model.
Since “waterfall” is a controversial model for building successful applications, we push for “agile” every single time. I’ve been discussing the value of our retainers plenty of times online:
- WordPress Retainers and the Future of Recurring Revenue in WordPress – WP Elevation
- Moving to retainers with Mario Peshev
- On WordPress Development Retainers – Mario Peshev on WordPress Development
- WordPress Development Retainers and Ongoing Maintenance by DevriX
I share those links over the first couple of emails while initiating a contact with a client.
If I have to sum it up, retainers allow us to understand the business model better as we go, focus on an MVP (minimum viable product), built the foundation, and increment. We go live sooner rather than later and work on basic features which are iterated over and over until we reach to the right combination of features and lightweight core software.
We do insist on building a long-term relationship as releasing the software itself is one of the easiest parts of the process. Scaling it and responding to user requirements once the application is life is what we really focus on – building the right value for the right target audience.
Obviously, industry expertise is crucial for high-end projects. If you can find a contractor that would quote you $2K or $6K for a project, why pay $50K instead?
We often get those questions and are used to covering the standard problems with DIY or low-cost solutions on the market. Most low-cost service providers are not engineers, and usually bundle several components or plugins that do the “heavy lifting” for them. That comes at a price in terms of stability, flexibility, performance, and security – and inevitably leads to a clumsy and unstable project that is of no use, and cannot be extended further on.
I wrote another guide going over the challenges that an experienced agency or a software engineer takes into account while building an application – The Disconnect Between a WordPress Install and Developed Solutions – WP Elevation . Some of those include database optimization or denormalization, caching layers, accounting for the best server configuration and other fine tuning activities that really make the difference.
We have 5 WordPress Core contributors in our team and have been profiling in high-scale WordPress applications receiving 10M+ monthly views. This expertise is different than the theoretical knowledge of “how to scale an application” and is something that most clients trust. Especially when we’re still working with many of those customers on a retainer basis, and they keep paying for our services.
We have also released free software and educational content that helps out and confirms our industry know-how (you can’t educate publicly without getting backlash if you really know your craft well).
I’ve been an active member of several communities and most active in the WordPress ecosystem over the past years. Many of our team members have submitted free plugins/themes, reviewed themes, contributed to Core, helped out in support forums, presented at meetings or events and so forth.
That community involvement is important since an experienced service provider should always follow the latest innovations in the technical stack, what’s coming next, and what is currently in the works. Helping out improves your skills first, and builds a valuable network of partners and other service providers, as well as hosting vendors, plugin developers, journalists, and key people in your industry.
I probably have to “pull strings” at least a few times a month – reaching out for advice if we’re using a 3rd party solution, or ensuring that we have priority support access for a hosting provider that we’re partnering with. This ensures guaranteed stability and personal access to vendors, which is important whenever you rely on external services or products.
Building partnerships with other industry peers is also crucial. You get preferential terms for services and products, together with marketing exposure for both parties once you collaborate on an eBook, a webinar, or share a booth at an event.
I find that extremely helpful for very small businesses (1–3 people) or larger companies (50–100 people).
Solo entrepreneurs and small teams are often fully booked with a backlog of a hundred things they should do today. They prioritize 5 or 10 and push back the rest down the line. Having a person of contact there will allow for faster response times or better terms.
Large teams, on the other hand, employ a lot of people that are not necessarily aware with all of the company terms or processes. They may mislead a client and lose a deal, or cause a regression, or decline a feature request. Those could become a deal breaker for a business, and having someone to email instead will reduce the risk and get the work done.
Partners can often refer leads to you as well. If you offer development services, you can partner up with designers, hosting companies, or plugin developers that don’t do services for their users. Collaborating with other agencies is also helpful – there are high seasons for certain companies that can’t handle all incoming leads, and they need additional manpower in order to cope with all inquiries.
You can be an upsold white-labeled service provider for them, or pay them a referral fee if they send the client over and don’t want to deal with PM. It’s a win-win.
Ongoing Marketing Collateral
We do rely on inbound marketing which involves content marketing, email marketing, building landing pages, SEO, conversion rate optimization and the like.
In order to continue ranking well, we do publish a lot of content in our blog and craft designated landing pages for our services. For example, we rank in top 5 for several “WordPress SaaS” variations thanks to our landing page which includes a conference video where I talk about building a SaaS business, a portfolio of our SaaS projects, and a breakdown of our development process when working with SaaS providers.
All of those are tailored to our preferable audience – being entrepreneurs, startups, and reputable companies who want to enter the SaaS space, and need a reputable and experienced vendor.
We do maintain our social media accounts, accept guest submissions and cross-promote services whenever applicable.
We’ve noticed that customers do a detailed background research before committing to a large amount of money, which is why we try to cover all areas and be active. If you’re spending $100K on a project, you want to be absolutely sure that the team knows their stuff, and is not endangered from bankruptcy anytime soon. Being active online, publishing regular updates and stressing on your engagement helps out.
Guest Posting and Interviews
Our SEO and community activities help a lot, but most of that content comes as our own view on the market, tailored to our current visitors, and seems… subjective.
Of course, I’ll say that we’re the best provider that ever existed in the industry. I read that every single time for every single product out there. That’s what converts people at the last phase of the sales process.
But that’s not necessarily true (more often than not) and numbers are twisted. Service providers excel in different activities. For example, we can’t do low-cost projects and have a good amount of overhead due to accounting, paying for marketing or ads, office rentals and what not. What a consultant can do in 3 hours we can probably do in 15, but we don’t take on projects under 70–80 hours anyway.
We also can’t allocate 40 developers on a project simply because we don’t have that much.
Which is why we need to address the problems that we solve, and do that through our partnerships and submitting content elsewhere.
We do guest post at industry blogs and with our partners, which brings fresh traffic from people who don’t follow us, and increases our exposure. With time (all things combined) we get featured by various magazines and service experts, who reach out for interviews or podcast participation.
Which helps us get more traffic and reputability, and also helps prospects validate our process and company culture better while looking us up.
We do sponsor, speak at, organize and volunteer at events in our industry. It’s a way of contributing back to the industry and helping out smaller communities.
It’s also some exposure that we can list on our end. Lower end service providers can probably gather leads there as well, given the large amount of people at a conference and the fact that they’re looking for cost-effective solutions.
That’s not the extensive overview of selling to enterprises, but covers a good percentage of the marketing and community engagement activities, as well as the quality of work required in order to close deals, execute, complete them with 5-star ratings, and get enough referrals and support in order to get to the next one.