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Shaun Illingworth

Shaun Illingworth

Akendi Alumnus

Grow Up!

As someone on the front end of UX projects, I spend a lot of time talking with clients and prospects about their specific project.  I’ve grown into this role because I really do enjoy meeting new people, hearing about new technology and helping advise companies on service design.

I can tell you that selling UX services is not a job for the impatient.  But that’s ok, as I said above, I enjoy the interactions and the vibrant, passionate conversations with people about their businesses.  Because the value of UX is often poorly understood, time is needed to explain and help rationalize.

However, a growing lack of professionalism and business etiquette undermines our courtesies.

But first, let me explain the deal flow.  Then I think you’ll know why this is so frustrating.

If you are selling UX services correctly, then you know it is a complex, delicate consultative balancing act around many variables including time, budget, stage of development, design priorities and corporate willingness to change.  A subtle nudge of any of these in the wrong direction can lose a client.

The pre-project investment of a good UX consultant is significant and absolutely necessary for the field to grow in the right way.  By “right way” I mean the client not only gets the immediate need resolved (fixed my IA, or redesigned my site) but that they have a deeper understanding of what and how to best involve research and design in the NEXT project.

While design thinking and service design buzzwords are now penetrating the highest levels of the enterprise, I experience almost daily a level of confusion and uncertainty about what “all this” is!  In many cases, even the initial client queries become rich conversations about best practices and realistic expectations.

As with typical sales engagements, conversations continue from this point or they don’t.  If they proceed – great, we move on to deeper conversations.  If not, I endeavour to learn from the event and seek feedback.

From those who respond, I’ve learned there are things we can do better next time.  I’ve also learned there are a variety of reasons, often beyond my control that negatively impacts an outcome.

From those who don’t reply, nothing improves.  If you’re one of those who doesn’t reply, please think about why you are hiding behind email and voicemail.  Is a simple 5 minute debrief or email reply something to fear?

No worries, we get over it quickly.  The investment has been made and we rationalize it as “evangelizing.”

However, should that initial call or, more frequently, the email query progress to a phone call or meeting, the effort ante goes up!

Whenever possible, I’ll spend time in advance of a call or meeting trying to quickly ramp up on the client’s business and the specific product or service in question.  If available, I’ll access the site or service and poke around, try a few tasks, to see what UX issues I might uncover.  I’ve also been known to examine competitive offerings as there is always an alternative and increasingly, the customer experience is becoming the differentiator.

When that initial meeting or conference call happens, I (we all at Akendi), listen intently for the business goals and the user goals desired in the topic.

We’re known for asking a lot of questions, poking, probing, snooping around to understand as much as possible about the issue with the current state and the aspirations for the future state.  This deeper understanding helps us define the best possible UX intervention and deliverables to help the client get to where they need and want to be.

Often times I will ask one of our staff or a partner to join me on a call to provide a second set of eyes and ears to help in defining the best course of action.

Assuming the meeting goes well and the client need is well understood, the next interaction is typically around a proposal or statement of work.  Proposals are consultants’ lifeblood.  While most companies have templates for the look and templates for the corporate jargon pages, the effort in translating the project needs into a set of activities and deliverables that balance the organizational concerns mentioned above are significant.   Some proposals are won, some are lost.  That’s just the nature of the job and I’m good with this.

So the proposal is sent, and in most cases is a fairly customized scope of work is tailored to your specific project need.

Please remember there is no proposal fairy.  In most cases, the consultant has quickly digested the needs of the project and proposed a best intervention or in some cases a set of options for you to consider.

All good right?  Well for most, yes.  Most clients are as communicative post-proposal as they were pre-proposal.  Again, win or lose, the conversations are professional and polite.  And again, should we lose a bid, I request bid debrief.  Typically I ask for an email or quick phone call and most often the request is granted.  Debrief calls start awkwardly, but once it is clear that we are not trying to weasel back into the project, the conversations go very well.  It is common for us both to leave having learned something.

But then there are you others!  The non-responders.

You know who you are.  You are the ones whose email and outbound dialing privileges have been suddenly cancelled.  It must be so because you are unable to return calls.  Not even an email!  Really?  Have you no basic social skills?  You should be ashamed.

I am going to give you some cold, honest truth.  You are not too busy.  You are not too important.  You are rude – so grow up!  And when you do, we’ll have a great talk and both end up learning something new.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Shaun Illingworth

Shaun Illingworth

Akendi Alumnus


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About Akendi

Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.